10.24.2009

How Many Charlennis Are Out There?

Like many other parents across the greater Philadelphia area, I was both saddened and shocked to hear about the death of Feltonville's Charlenni Ferreira.

Charlenni would have been 11 years old this week, only she didn't make it to her birthday. Those entrusted with her care, her father and her stepmother, killed her. Only, they didn't kill her immediately. First, they killed her spirit and then, little by little, they beat her and abused her until she died of a lung infection.

In September, Charlenni was examined by a school nurse. The nurse had noted that she had difficulty walking and six unexcused absences during the last school year due to "parental neglect/noncompliance." The nurse asked for her medical records and told Charlenni's parents to take her to a doctor. The doctor found that there were old and new injuries that included broken bones and a severe head gash.

This wasn't the first time that a school official had noticed a problem. Three years ago, a nurse at Clara Barton Elementary school reportedly alerted DHS that she suspected abuse. The case was closed in early 2007.

Schools are required to reported instances of suspected child abuse to DHS. The district then notes on the child's file if DHS becomes involved.

While the school district won't comment on the specifics of Charlenni's case, you would hope that they followed procedures. Because it's not really clear in this situation where things fell apart but it is clear that it did, in fact, fall apart in a horrible, terrible manner.

I can't fathom how a parent could hurt their own child. I also can't imagine any reasonable adult that suspects abuse just walking away from this case. Neighbors reported that Charlenni walked with a funny gait, had bruises and a swollen face and wore a wig. A wig. I just don't understand how you can see that and not want to do everything that you can to find out what you can do to help.

That said, I've heard a lot of criticisms about the roles of school officials in this case. I don't think it's fair for society to assume that schools can be solely responsible for saving our children. There were so many potential players in what could have been the race to save Charlenni, and not the march to bury her.

But I hope that the school district really pays attention to this case. From the press, it sounds like the school nurses were really involved - and I want to believe it. I've been really impressed with the school nurse at our school. However, not every school has a nurse. And even in a school with a nurse, there's only so much that can be done at the school level.

Because while our schools can't necessarily save every child that walks through their doors, they can certainly do everything possible to make children feel safe and respected and valued. Let's remember that.

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