We now know more than ever about the events that led up to the 2018 death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy.

We known that she succumbed to prolonged battering at the hands of her mother and stepfather, the people most responsible for her health and safety. Her school, health care providers, neighbors, local police and state child protective workers were alerted that something was wrong with the family, but no one was able to stop the abuse in time to save her life.

Now that her stepfather, Julio Carrillo, and her mother, Sharon Kennedy, have been convicted of murder and sentenced to prison, the state has released a detailed report recounting repeated missed opportunities, dating back as far as 18 months before her death. Missed school, repeated emergency room visits, even a neighbor reporting seeing Carrillo hitting the little girl in the leg – they were all duly recorded in her Department of Health and Human Services file.

But even though we know more than ever about what happened, we don’t know enough about why.

Why weren’t these reports enough to prompt a more aggressive intervention? Why wasn’t she saved?

Was it simply a case of an overwhelmed and understaffed agency that let a case like this slip through the cracks?

Or does this report, as horrible as it is, represent an unremarkable record for a family that is under scrutiny by DHHS? Would it have been handled differently today?

These are difficult questions because child protective records are kept confidential. We have so much information about Marissa Kennedy’s case only because she died as the result of her abuse.

Had she survived, we would probably not know her name. Had she lived, she might still be in that home. Or she may have been rescued – but only after she endured years of torturous abuse that would have affected her mentally and physically for the rest of her life.

Since we have this level of transparency only in the relatively rare cases that end in death, we are left to extrapolate from what we know to the entire system. Although the new administration at DHHS under Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew appears to be doing the right things in hiring more caseworkers and changing the culture at DHHS, it’s hard to have full confidence in the department when so much is still unknown.

We continue to support the effort of state Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, to create an ongoing legislative oversight process that would ensure that confidentiality for families doesn’t hide future dysfunction in the department.

We need to better understand why this happened, and we shouldn’t have to wait for another murder to find out what is going on.

 

 

 


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