More than 1,400 Georgia children were detained because parents were unable to cope with their child’s behavior or found help.
ATLANTA – It was December 2019 when a mother took her 14-year-old son with Down syndrome to Grady Memorial Hospital and left with no idea what was going to happen to him next.
The police found her from the hospital surveillance video. When she was arrested for abandoning her child, several other mothers came forward to defend her.
“We saw the news and our hearts are broken. And we had to come and support them, “said one mother before revealing,” I did the same thing she did a few years ago. “
Many in the community were surprised by the confession. At that point, 11Alive’s investigation team, The Reveal, decided to do a little digging. We found in 2019 that at least 1,417 children in Georgia were detained because parents couldn’t cope with their child’s behavior or couldn’t find help.
Over the next several months, Reveal Investigator Rebecca Lindstrom will introduce you to some of these children and parents who are grappling with a complex system that requires families to “find their way” to receive the care they need. We will examine the loopholes that lead to abandonment and what is needed to keep these children safe at home.
We began our research by speaking to several parents who made the decision to abandon their child or who are currently struggling with the issue. That’s how we met Kayleigh.
While she was born with multiple mental and physical problems, her mother said it was the lack of services and patchwork systems that led her to turn custody of Kayleigh to the state.
But when the Georgian Department of Family and Children’s Services was in charge of her care, Kayleigh was a teenager with a long list of diagnoses, police run-ins, and a history of escape.
The last time she ran away, her mother found her malnourished, bruised, with signs of rape and human trafficking.
KAYLEIGH GROW UP
“You have no one to hold on to. You don’t have anyone who interests you, ”she explained, her voice becoming a little more confident with each sentence.
Despite the sadness in the lyrics, Kayleigh seemed happy to be lost in the melody. When she started singing, it seemed almost impossible to stop her.
“You are at home with me. Right where you belong, ”she sang and switched to another melody.
“Are you right where you belong Kayleigh?” Lindstrom asked and knew everything that she had experienced in the 19 years of her life. “Yes,” she replied quickly, pausing from her singing to put a smile on her face as she sat next to her mother.
Your mother would agree. Kayleigh belongs next to her mother, a reality that comes at a high price for both of them.
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When Kayleigh was born, her mother, Christina Henry, knew early on that there were problems.
“She vomited across the room with projectiles and sometimes she wanted to hold on to my arms and her eyes rolled back,” she explained.
Doctors believed the seizures were caused by a Chiari malformation, which essentially meant that her brain was too big for her skull. Two surgeries treated the deformity, but Kayleigh’s developmental delays and behavior problems got worse.
Early on, the stress and focus on Kayleigh’s needs put an end to Christina’s marriage. The constant calls to school and doctor’s appointments ended her career. In 2019 they lost their home. A single mother, Kayleigh and Christina, now live in their parents’ basement.
When Kayleigh was a teenager, she was diagnosed with intellectual disability, mitochondrial disorder, leaky gut, oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, and PTSD – to name a few.
“She can’t really count money. She couldn’t read the time on a standard clock, ”said Christina.
It also means that Kayleigh is impulsive, had attacks of aggression, and had a habit of running away.
“There was a short time when our house was very, very scary, just, you know, the damage to the house and the throwing of things,” Christina explained, before adding, “My kid is getting out of a moving car get off, move your car on I-20 and drive over this freeway. “
She said after Kayleigh tried to commit suicide – overdosing on two drugs used to treat depression – Christina became desperate. Believing the state could help her daughter get better treatment, she gave up custody.
“I never wanted my child to leave my home. I just wanted help. I just needed this village. And it was terrible. It was such a traumatic experience. I just felt like I was failing, “explained Christina.
Tom Rawlings, director of the Georgian Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), said when it comes to the task, there really are two groups.
First, it’s the parents who just can’t handle it. Last year, that was around 5 percent of children taken into DFCS custody, although that number is significantly lower than it was years ago. These children are usually babies or toddlers with parents struggling with severe substance abuse or mental health problems.
Then there are children like Kayleigh who are abandoned or abandoned, often because of the child’s behavior. That’s another 12 percent.
“You tried and tried and tried to get help for the kid, you know if it was autism spectrum, if it was mental health or substance abuse. And they just can’t do it anymore, ”explained Rawlings.
RELATED: She took her son to Grady Hospital and left. Why it is not protected under the Safe Haven Act
This includes children who have been in the system twice, “failed adoptions,” which means that children who became teenagers and were in puberty more than the adoptive parents wanted to manage.
“It’s generally a process,” said Rawlings. “These children have gone through a number of crisis internships and treatments. They want to care for their child, but what if their own child may pose a danger to other children in the area?” At home?”
On a data scholarship with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, 11Alive evaluated data on all of these children. Their age, diagnosis, and what happened to them after they were taken into care.
We have learned that long-term care is expensive because when the state determines that there is a real need, it is our taxpayers’ money that collects what insurance companies don’t.
“Each year our agency spends approximately $ 40 to 50 million dollars to meet the needs of children with very high levels of mental health or developmental disabilities,” said Rawlings.
While in state custody, Kayleigh was taken to a group home before running away. She was then taken to a therapeutic nursing home. Kayleigh left again. But this time she was old enough to claim her independence. Kayleigh said she doesn’t remember much about her time in state custody, although it’s unclear whether she really forgot or just doesn’t want to talk about it.
Kayleigh, now 19, has returned home. Ironically, her mother went to court to gain guardianship over her now adult daughter and to remain an attorney in her medical care.
Kayleigh’s struggles remain the same except that she is now of an age where it is even more difficult to receive treatment. Her father’s death also affected her health insurance.
While Kayleigh sings, Christina writes and openly shares her experiences on Facebook. The page title – Keeping Kayleigh.
The first thing was to find services and support to keep Kayleigh at home. Now Christina wants to keep Kayleigh alive.
“I got a call from an elderly woman who said, ‘You know, we kept Kayleigh here and she’s very sick, she was beaten and raped and we think she was trafficked, you know, can you come? you? “Christina remembered.
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The last time Kayleigh ran away, Christina found her at a motel six on Candler Road, vomited again and malnourished. In January, Ricky Bailey was arrested and charged with rape. He pleaded not guilty, but a judge ordered him to be detained pending trial.
“I never thought we’d be sitting where we are today and I just don’t want my child to die, you know, and it’s really that serious,” said Christina.
Christina says her daughter was given medication instead of her treatment. She has filed several appeals with Kayleigh’s insurance company for more testing in hopes of finally getting a full picture of her developmental, physical and mental health needs. So far the answer has been no, the tests argued, treatments that have yet to be requested are “medically necessary”.
Kayleigh sings while she ponders what to try next. Your song choice is poignant for the moment. A song of heartbreak and just heart.
“You have to cry a little and let your poor heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love, “Kayleigh sang.
The Reveal is an investigative show that exposes inequality, injustice and incompetence caused by rulers across Georgia and across the country.
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