Fifteen years old and weighing less than 40 pounds. Covered in feces and locked in a room, alone and for an unknown amount of time, by her grandfather. The police reports released in Anderson, Indiana about the shocking abuse against a teenager with a disability raise significant questions about how this situation could go unnoticed in the community and unmonitored by a litany of state agencies which allowed this child to fall off the radar.
It has been reported the girl was removed from school to be home schooled – Indiana law does not require ongoing involvement from public schools when a family removes a child to be home schooled. Indiana’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) had contact with the family at one time, but the case was closed. The police have learned that the child lost access to Medicaid which helped cover nutritional supplements, but as there is no requirement for Medicaid case workers to follow up in such cases, this loss of coverage went unnoticed.
“This is a tragic situation that should never have happened. The question now is, what can we as a community of advocates, state agencies, and individuals do to learn what went so terribly wrong for this young girl, and how can we all seek and act on ways to keep others safe and free from harm,” said John Dickerson, Executive Director of The Arc of Indiana.
“This is a shameful case of abuse and neglect that should force the system and society to think about how this young girl was hidden in plain sight, starving and without access to medical care, and to force action to prevent something like this from ever happening again. People with disabilities are far too often victimized, without regard for their basic human rights. And now this teenager is fighting for her life,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
The National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) is operated by The Arc and is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof. NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for criminal justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are over represented in the nation’s criminal justice system. Currently, NCCJD is developing training for law enforcement, victim service providers and legal professionals that will support police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other professionals in the criminal justice system to effectively and fairly administer justice for people with disabilities.
NCCJD is a much needed resource for the Anderson, Indiana police force and local prosecutors as they pursue this case and will continue to be a resource for many other communities facing similar tragedies. Persons with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be victimized – people with cognitive disabilities have the highest rate of victimization. Children with intellectual disabilities are at twice the risk of physical and sexual abuse compared to children without disabilities.
The Arc Advocacy Network in Indiana can provide information, referral and advocacy to assist and guide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families in understanding and applying for government programs, including Medicaid and home and community based services through the Medicaid Waiver program. It can also serve as a resource to schools and local public and private agencies serving children and adults with disabilities.
Finally, The Arc has launched an online pledge to generate support to end acts of violence, abuse, and bullying of people I/DD. The Arc and The Arc of Indiana encourage members of the public to sign this pledge to show their support.