Child advocates: Change needed in Mass. after death of autistic boy in Fall River

BOSTON — Child advocates say after the death of a 14-year-old autistic boy in Fall River, the state needs to make a real change – to make sure these high-risk kids are seen in person, even during a pandemic.

“I think this case was the fear of every child welfare advocate,” said Terry Craven, executive director of Boston Court Appointed Special Services.

Craven spoke of the death of a 14-year-old autistic boy found malnourished and with fentanyl in his system in his father’s squalid home last October.

Craven is among child welfare advocates who were devastated to learn about the boy’s death. She says the pandemic forced agencies to go virtual, and many child abuse cases slipped through the cracks.

[Report: Death of teen the result of ‘multi-system failure’]Edit info

“We can’t close our eyes just because we can’t get in,” Craven said.

Craven says her advocates found ways to get children to give them a virtual tour of their home – and conducted drive-by visits outside – just to get a better look at a child’s physical conditions – when everything went virtual.

“When you go into homes whether you’re a service provider or state agency, you’re trained to see, hear smell, and so when you take some of those senses away – it makes the assessment really challenging,” said Tammy Mello, executive director of the Children’s League of Massachusetts.

Mello agrees the pandemic has been awful for children who are at-risk for neglect and abuse.

Not only were social workers restricted from home visits, but kids have also not been seeing their teachers, doctors, and other adults in person.

“So all of those sets of eyes in which there are multiple eyes on these children that have suffered trauma, were not there and we all knew there were going to be consequences to pay for that,” Craven said.

The consequence this time was the life of a child.

Craven says they’re now preparing for an ‘after shock’ as this pandemic ends.

She believes there will be an increase in child abuse cases that were easy to hide behind closed doors.

“I think we are really concerned about what we’re going to see once kids are back and visible in the community,” Mello said. “We have a real opportunity to act and I think it would be shameful if we didn’t do that.”

These advocates say teachers and other mandated reporters need to start being on the lookout for signs of abuse as these kids get back to school.

And they hope the state finds a way to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.

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