The most painful thing about the lawsuit filed in the Eric Dean case by Julie Olivier, Eric’s maternal grandmother — aside from the sadness of a 4-year-old boy tortured to death over years by his stepmother, Amanda Peltier — will be reliving the abuse that led to his death when this lawsuit hits the papers.
“Grandmother of boy whose death sparked child protection reforms sues county, social workers” (Feb. 17) is an in-your-face reminder of how bad things are for at-risk children, how vulnerable and voiceless they are, and how Eric’s torture was ignored by so many for so long.
Without the persistence and hard work of reporter Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune, Eric’s death would have remained unnoticed and child protection in Minnesota unchanged. Four Minnesota counties would still be screening out 90 percent of the child abuse calls and social workers would still be forbidden to know about prior histories of abuse in homes when investigating new reports. In short, the system would still be such that 15 reports of face and body bites, a broken arm and intestinal puncture could be ignored.
Eric’s paternal grandmother, Yvonne Moore, praises the reforms driven by Gov. Mark Dayton’s task force on child protection. But she “deplores the lawsuit.”
I understand that.
It’s embarrassing and painful to be reminded of how awful Eric Dean’s life was and how the people in his life (that includes all of us) allowed his suffering to become a slow-tortured death.
If Eric were the only Minnesota child to live such a trauma-filled life, I might agree with Moore about the lawsuit.
I don’t think Moore knows how Eric’s story is also the story of 6-year-old Kendrea Johnson’s suicide and of thousands of Minnesota’s abused and neglected children suffering years of sexual and physical abuse that remain hidden from the rest of us.
Years as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) guardian ad litem have shown me that all this trauma and sadness is hidden unless a child dies a death that inspires a news reporter to dig through the barriers that make information “unavailable” and put it in front of us.
The secrecy and lack of transparency and accountability are a piece of what this lawsuit should make public. We must know these things if we ever hope to keep them from happening again.
This lawsuit reflects directly on how we value children. It should trouble all of us that without support and oversight, our institutions let terrible things happen to children. We are better than this.
All adults are the protectors of all children.
Mike Tikkanen, of Minnetonka, is founder of Kids At Risk Action.