A mother in Colorado reports her 5-year-okd daugher missing. Police issue an Amber Alert, frantically searching for the missing girl, assuming she was abducted. While this happens all too often in these cases, the danger was not somewhere out there, but something much closer to home.
The child’s grandmother tipped off police that things may not be as they seem. So after getting conflicting stories from the mother who reported her daughter missing, police executed a search warrant and found 5-year old Maha Li Hobbs dead inside a closet at her Aurora apartment home. Her mother, Alexus Tanielle Nelson, was arrested on suspicion of child abuse resulting in death and tampering with physical evidence for hiding the body.
Police weren’t yet releasing a cause of death, but earlier in the year a maintenance worker had observed the rope tied between a bedroom and bathroom, suggesting Maha Li’s mother may have been keeping the girl locked in a bedroom. Whether she was beaten to death or neglected to death makes little difference now.
To many people, such inexplicable cases seem like unavoidable tragedies. They are anything but that. They are an unintended consequence of the structure of our society. First, we place families on an isolated island, often with inadequate support, which allows situations like this to develop right underneath our nose. Cases like this don’t happen in more natural communal child rearing environments. If a parent is abusive or neglectful, other adults step in to fill the void. The child spends more time around others, which alleviates pressure on the parents, which in turn alleviate conditions that lead to abuse.
Second, it’s also a consequence of a response system built around force and punishment, rather than support and solutions. We spend twice as much time and money condemning and punishing people for their failures as we would if we were working to support them. CPS, as it operates in its current form, is a horrendous bureaucracy that functions like a police agency, taking an adversarial approach towards child maltreatment. As a result, CDC responses tend to harm kids more than the abuse they rescue kids from, and children are also more likely to be murdered in foster care than they are in their natural homes.
Obviously, this grandmother had concerns. But she’s also stuck in a difficult position, and unfortunately, waited until it was too late. Would you be able to call the authorities and have your own daughter arrested for child abuse? Might she have been a bit bolder in her advocacy for her granddaughter. If she weren’t stuck between two bad options. If a call would have resulted in actual productive assistance, rather than a rush to condemn and punish, all while authorities rushed into their situation like a hand grenade and blew up everyones life, (including the child’s) in the process?
Who knows what circumstances made this mother neglectful and abusive, but people’s behavior is largely dictated by their circumstances and environment. In that respect, we as a society are as much responsible for this girl’s death as anyone.