Failing Kalab | Chapter 5 – Dealing with the fallout
Kalab Lay’s death has sparked dialogue, but is it enough?
- Kalab Lay
By Kate Braser, Libby Keeling
Posted June 14, 2009 at 12:08 a.m.
EVANSVILLE — He was just a little boy, an innocent with no agenda, who inadvertently became a symbol of flaws within the system responsible for keeping children safe.
His parents’ choices and circumstances, with consequences both painful and enduring, marked Kalab Lay before he was born, an unheeded warning of the marks his 3-year-old body would take to the grave.
Addiction, crime, violence, poverty, neglect and harsh punishment were Kalab’s unfortunate inheritance, one for which he paid a dear and devastating price.
“I don’t think there’s been a child that’s died in our community that’s touched a nerve more than this child,” said Rep. Dennis Avery, D-Evansville, a longtime champion of children’s issues and transparency in the system designed to prevent maltreatment of the state’s youngest citizens.
Dysfunction simmering for decades in Kalab’s family finally erupted within a system that had numerous opportunities, but ultimately failed, to keep him safe from harm.
“Kalab opened many doors to possibilities so that children do not have to endure what he had to endure. The question is how many people are willing to walk through the doors that he has opened,” said Melanie Doty of the WE CARE (Wholeness, Empowerment, Community, Awareness, Recognition and Education) project that supported the victims’ rights bill, authored by Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, and signed into law in May.
“It’s just a matter of when are people going to walk through those doors and do what needs to be done to protect our children,” said Doty.
Amanda Brooks, Kalab’s mother, was abused and neglected as a child. Kalab’s father, Terry Lay, was a juvenile delinquent who matured into a felon with a lengthy criminal history including episodes of violence.
The volatile combination of Brooks, 34, and Lay, 41, ultimately proved deadly. Three months into a court-ordered visit with his parents in the family’s home at Eastbrook Mobile Home Park, Kalab died of blunt-force trauma. Both he and his twin sister, Kayla, had been brutally beaten, reportedly by their parents, over a period of days.
“I think it is absolutely clear that the biggest problem was the judge ignored recommendations from the people close to the case,” Avery said.
Embracing the memory of a boy they never knew, outraged individuals in the community came together, crying out for justice, holding vigil, raising funds for Kalab’s headstone, promoting awareness of abuse and neglect and calling for legislative change.
“There were a number of incidences where children suffered unfortunate tragedies as a result of abuse and neglect,” said Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, who co-authored the bill known as Kalab’s Law with Riecken.
The bill was referred to but did not receive reading in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill calls for a registry of those convicted of child-selling, neglect of a dependent or battery upon a child.
Indiana has not released its 2008 data, but in 2007, 36 Hoosier children died as a result of maltreatment by caregivers. In Illinois fiscal year 2008, 88 children died as a result of abuse or neglect. The most recent data available from Kentucky is from 2005, when abuse or neglect took the lives of 41 children.
“It’s all the Kalab Lays throughout the state that cause legislation like this to be drafted …” Crouch said.
Although 14 months have passed since Kalab was killed, his legacy — including demand for transparency and accountability in child protective services — has endured even as new tragedies have moved into the headlines.
At best, Kalab’s story will promote successful outcomes within the system that failed in its duty to protect him and keep him safe.
“In my opinion, it brought to light to everyone, especially in this community, how important it is to report any child abuse and neglect,” said Suzanne Draper, executive director of Vanderburgh County CASA (the Court Appointed Special Advocate program).
The amount of information released about Kalab’s life and death has fueled the community’s passion, Doty said.
The Courier & Press obtained a copy of Kalab’s Indiana Department of Child Services death investigation file through legislation championed by Avery in 2004. The law requires disclosure of DCS investigations into the death or near-death of a child as a result of abuse, abandonment or neglect.
In the first three months of this year alone, three children ages 16 months and younger have died, reportedly as a result of action or inaction by parents or stepparents.
“I just don’t think it’s right using him as a poster child,” said Kalab’s uncle and Brooks’ brother, Patrick Lawrence. Ongoing media coverage and the community’s focus on Kalab have been difficult on Kalab’s surviving half brothers, who are in their teens, said Lawrence.
Still, it is Kalab who wears the mantle of child welfare reform.
Kalab was just a little boy who liked jelly beans and Spider-Man, according to his obituary; a little boy who enjoyed cartoons and playing with his twin, according to the Indiana DCS investigation; a little boy described as holding “big secrets” by former baby sitter Heidi Frazure; and a little boy who died of traumatic brain injuries from repeated blows to the head, according to Vanderburgh County Coroner Annie Groves.
He was a little boy who never had the chance to blow out candles on his fourth birthday cake or pick out school supplies for the first day of kindergarten.
He was just a little boy, beaten, neglected and allowed to die by the people who were supposed to love him most.
In December, Brooks pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent resulting in death in connection with Kalab’s death and felony battery resulting in serious bodily injury to a person less than 14 years of age related to the physical abuse Kayla suffered.
The plea agreement includes a sentencing recommendation of 20 years on the battery count and 35 years on the count of neglect to be served concurrently in the Indiana Department of Correction.
It also stipulates Brooks must testify “completely and truthfully” against Lay if called upon to do so. Vanderburgh Superior Court Judge Robert Pigman is waiting to impose a sentence until Brooks has cooperated fully with law enforcement and testified against the man she filed for divorce from in February.
If the judge accepts the plea agreement, charges of murder, neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury and battery resulting in bodily injury will be dismissed.
Authorities believe Brooks and Lay physically abused the twins, but Lay is responsible for Kalab’s fatal injuries.
Lay is charged with murder, neglect of a dependent resulting in death and neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury and is scheduled to stand trial in September in Jeffersonville, Ind.
If convicted in Clark County Circuit Court, where the case was moved because of pretrial publicity, the jury also could deem Lay to be a habitual offender, which could add as many as 30 years to his sentence.
According to Brooks’ public defender, she was sexually, physically and mentally abused by men for more than 20 years. Speaking on the day of her plea, Evansville attorney Russ Woodson said evidence shows abuse continued after Brooks married Lay.
As a result of her background, Woodson said he did not think Brooks was capable of being a good mother. Avery concurs, saying child abuse is a learned behavior passed from one generation to the next.
That doesn’t sit well with everyone.
“Being a product of generational abuse is no excuse, because you are a grown-up,” Doty said. “You know you have choices and it is up to you to make the choices that are best for your child and yourself.”
Information in Kalab’s file indicating Brooks faced a 1997 charge of child neglect in Delaware County, Ind., is incorrect, Lawrence said. The Delaware County Clerk’s Office could not confirm the charge.
Lay, however, pleaded guilty in 1996 to felony charges of resisting law enforcement and neglect of a dependent after being accused of fleeing Evansville police while “driving at an excessively high rate of speed, running stop signs and weaving in and out of traffic” with his 2-year-old and a 3-year-old in the car, according to court records.
He was sentenced to three years in the Indiana Department of Correction. The children’s mother, Roselyn Stanton, was facing jail time on a separate matter and there reportedly was no one to care for the children, Lay told Illinois Department of Children and Family Services during a 2007 assessment. The couple relinquished their parental rights, and the boy and girl were adopted.
Lay has said there was “no doubt in his mind” Brooks caused Kalab’s injuries, and told investigators he had no knowledge of the injuries Kayla suffered.
Lawrence said his sister told him Lay delivered the fatal beating four days before Kalab’s hospitalization on March 31, 2008.
“My theory is that Amanda knew something had happened, OK? Something serious had happened. I think Amanda was scared. I think Amanda knew that once she took that baby to the hospital, here it goes all over again. They’re going to come yank up all the kids. Here we go all over again, domino effect,” Lawrence said.
“I believe Amanda was hoping everything was going to be all right and that (Kalab) would pull through. The worst-case scenario happened, you know what I mean? He died.”
Kalab was seen last by an Illinois caseworker March 18, when Reagan Nelson of Lutheran Social Services informed the family she would be out of the office until March 31.
On April 1, Brooks’ mother, Patricia Bivens, called Nelson at 8:45 a.m.: “(Bivens) was crying and screaming and telling (Nelson) how sorry she was. She did not know what was going on in the home,” according to the caseworker’s notes.
Bivens said Brooks had told her Kalab was brain dead, at which point Nelson became “speechless.”
Both Brooks and Lay already were incarcerated at the Vanderburgh County Jail as Kalab remained on life support in preparation for organ procurement April 2.
His heart went to a 23-month-old girl in Wisconsin; his liver to a 1-year-old girl in Ohio; and both kidneys to a 75-year-old Ohio woman, according to Rick Posson, Indiana Organ Procurement spokesman.
When Kalab was hospitalized, one of Brooks’ sons from her first marriage was living with the family at 2415 Long Point Drive. His father picked him up. Indiana DCS took custody of Kayla; Brooks’ nearly 2-year-old daughter, whom Lay had not fathered; and the couple’s 1-month-old son.
Bivens sought custody of the surviving Lay children: the older two, still in their Illinois foster home; Kayla, who was returned to her Illinois foster home; and the two younger children, who were placed in Vanderburgh County foster care.
Her effort was unsuccessful, turned down because of a “significant history” with child welfare services that began with allegations of abuse and neglect of her own children in the mid-1970s, according to an Indiana DCS report.
Lawrence said he believes Brooks has relinquished her parental rights to the five surviving children she had during her relationship with Lay. He does not know if Lay has relinquished his parental rights.
However, Lawrence said no one in Brooks’ family, including her two oldest sons, is being allowed to visit any of the children who are wards of Indiana or Illinois.
“I sit back and cry sometimes about that. I really do,” Lawrence said. “I loved them all.”
Illinois DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said when children are in the system, sibling visitation is a high priority. Maintaining sibling contact is of critical importance to children, he said, and DCFS operates under a mandate requiring good faith efforts to facilitate visitation for siblings and half siblings not placed together or not in the system.
“Once a child is adopted, the adoptive parents have sole legal authority to make decisions about who a child sees and when, just like any other legal parent,” Marlowe said.
In Indiana, sibling visitation occurs at the discretion of the presiding juvenile judge, said Indiana DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth.
The last official word on the status of the three children in Illinois came from Saline County (Ill.) State’s Attorney Mike Henshaw, who said the process for termination of parental rights is on hold.
Although Saline County Circuit Court Judge Todd Lambert was voted out of office by a narrow margin in November, he was appointed in January to serve as an associate judge. Henshaw said Lambert has recused himself from the Lay children’s proceedings.
In the weeks after Kalab’s death, Vanderburgh Juvenile Court Judge Brett Niemeier attempted to provide insight into the workings of the court and DCS by granting media access to the proceedings of the two youngest children in the Brooks-Lay case, who were — and still may be — in local foster care.
Niemeier also cited specific Indiana Code stating a juvenile judge may grant “any person having a legitimate interest in the work of the court or in a particular case access to the court’s legal records.”
In June 2008, the Indiana Court of Appeals granted a motion for a temporary stay filed by Brooks’ attorney, effectively barring the media from attending the custody proceedings. The court later ruled Niemeier erred in releasing CHINS (children-in-need of services) records related to Kalab’s siblings.
“Openness and transparency better serve children,” said Amy Harfeld, executive director of First Star, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that focuses on improving the lives of children victimized by abuse and neglect.
Both Harfeld and Avery said Indiana law gives juvenile court judges the authority to open or close proceedings.
“More often than not, when decisions are made to try to keep proceedings a secret, the state is more interested in protecting the identity of their employees who may have erred than they are other children that may be at risk after a fatality like this,” Harfeld said.
In April 2008, First Star and the University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute released a report showing only a handful of states were in compliance with federal requirements for public disclosure of the deaths and near-deaths of abused and neglected children.
According to the report, a majority of states have policies giving confidentiality priority over children’s welfare while preventing scrutiny that could lead to systemic reform.
The report also issued each state a letter grade based on its laws and policies related to disclosure of child death and near-death information. Only two states, Nevada and New Hampshire, earned an “A.” Indiana was among four states to receive an “A-” grade.
Twenty-eight states got a “C+” or lower, and 10 flunked. Illinois earned a “B+” and Kentucky a “C-” grade.
In this year’s general assembly, Avery said he worked to clarify Indiana’s disclosure laws to advance the state’s grade to an “A.” The bill, which passed, provides more specificity in terms of what information should be released.
According to Kalab’s file, the Lay twins and their two older siblings all had developmental delays, and the two living with foster parent Pam Sullens were described as having behaviors that pointed toward abuse. Kalab and Kayla were exposed to methamphetamine, alcohol and cigarette smoke while in the womb.
After Kalab was pronounced brain dead, the twins’ LSSI caseworker arrived in Evansville to return Kayla to Illinois, according to notes written by Nelson and included in Kalab’s file. During the drive, Nelson tried to reassure Kayla that nothing that had happened was her fault.
Standing in a McDonald’s parking lot at 8 p.m., Kayla began crying. She did not want to go with the new foster parent and did not want Nelson to leave her side.
In an effort to comfort her, Nelson gave her a stuffed hippo to keep her company, a kiss and a promise to see her the next day.
Eventually, Kayla was returned to foster parents Michele and Gerald Mitchell, who had cared for Kalab and Kayla since they were removed from their parents’ care at 2 months of age.
The transition from the Brooks-Lay home also proved difficult for the twins’ younger sister, who was placed with the same foster parent as their 1-month-old brother.
“She still wakes up at night screaming and has to be reassured and put back to bed,” the foster mother told Indiana DCS family case manager Amy Brandsasse about one week after the children arrived in her home. “(She) follows her from room to room, and they have to be in the same room.”
As Indiana repeatedly denied Illinois’ request to place the children across the state line in Illinois, Avery said the welfare of the younger children should have been given greater consideration.
“I wonder if those smaller children were abused …” he said. “If those 3-year-olds were at risk, I believe those younger children were at risk.”
Houseworth said statutory requirements for the interstate compact are more rigorous than those of an investigation stemming from a report of abuse or neglect.
The compact, for example, requires an FBI criminal background check while a reported allegation does not.
While the twins still were in Illinois foster care, LSSI called the Indiana child abuse hot line to report that Brooks repeatedly had lied about being pregnant. After her daughter was born in April 2006, Brooks told LSSI the child was her sister-in-law’s and refused to provide access to records regarding the pregnancy and the baby’s medical care.
“LSSI believes it is vital to assess her safety and well-being considering Amanda’s past history,” according to an Illinois DCFS report signed by LSSI caseworker Angela Nalley.
In the hot line call, Nalley reported Brooks, a prior meth user, had four children in Illinois foster care, all of whom were malnourished and in poor physical condition when they entered the system.
When Vanderburgh County DCS investigator Matt Murphy checked on Brooks, she admitted the child was hers. She said she had planned to put the baby up for adoption but changed her mind.
Murphy informed Nalley he was not concerned about the child’s health because Brooks and the baby were living with Brooks’ mother and had appropriate food, according to Illinois DCFS records.
In August 2006, Nalley saw Brooks and Lay after a court date they missed by arriving 30 minutes late. Nalley told the couple the case had passed legal screening, a first step in the adoption process, and Illinois DCFS would be preparing a petition to terminate their parental rights to the four children in state foster care.
One of the primary reasons for Indiana’s repeated denial of interstate compact requests for the twins’ placement was Lay’s extensive criminal history.
“That’s something we should look into. That might be something that would be valuable information for the (Indiana) DCS caseworker that’s doing the investigation,” Avery said. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have that information.”
While Kalab and Kayla were in Illinois foster care, three LSSI child welfare specialists working on behalf of Illinois DCFS recommended the court change its goal from returning them home to substitute care pending termination of parental rights.
The foster parents the four Lay children were placed with had indicated interest in adoption. Eight records from Kalab’s file show from July 2005 to November 2007 LSSI/DCFS recommendations to the court almost were split equally among returning the children to their biological parents, terminating parental rights and preparing the case for legal screening, a step in the adoption process.
“The whole system in itself is very complex and there’s a lot that goes into these types of cases and the end result is horrific …” said Draper, executive director of Vanderburgh County’s CASA. “It’s a more complex issue with two states involved.”
The Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children has been in place for decades, said Anita Light, director of Children and Family Services at the American Public Human Services Association in Washington, D.C. The Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children is an affiliate of that association.
Under the ICPC, the association of administrators has the authority to advance regulations related to more effective application of the compact’s terms as well as to mediate disputes potentially arising between states.
When 35 states have ratified a new version of the ICPC, it will take effect. So far, nine states — including Indiana — have ratified. ICPC program manager in the Children and Family Services Department Carla Fults said Kentucky has introduced the legislation, and Illinois has attempted to move toward ratification but the legislation has not passed.
Both Light and Fults declined to discuss the specifics of the Brooks-Lay case. However, Fults did say the existing ICPC includes language outlining violations, but the determination of whether a violation of the compact has occurred is left to individual states.
Enforcement authority, data collection, electronic usage, constitutionality, judicial authority and private versus independent adoption were among the issues evaluated in preparing the new ICPC, Fults said.
Providing more guidance to help states better understand what’s expected and what can be resolved from one state to another are among the reasons for the development of the new ICPC, Light said.
The new compact would provide greater uniformity in application but not complete uniformity.
“States are very much in the business of accountability and examining what it is they’re doing, where improvements need to be made and a real objective analysis of the kinds of resources that are needed to provide those services to children and families,” Light said.
Indiana denied Illinois’ third request for an interstate compact in March 2008 after the twins were placed with their parents.
“The interstate compact as currently written requires cooperation between states toward the protection of children and has achieved that goal in thousands of cases over the years,” Marlowe said.
“The compact only succeeds … when agencies, courts and attorneys fully understand and implement its requirements.”
Illinois and Indiana authorities began exploring another agreement in support of the compact and to better coordinate the work of agencies, courts and attorneys in both states after Kalab’s death, Marlowe said.
“In our day-to-day practice, we have increased scrutiny and follow-up on cases that were denied under the compact to ensure that they are handled properly,” Marlowe said.
In addition to Lay’s criminal history, an interstate compact was denied because of both parents’ convictions on methamphetamine-related charges and lack of bonding between the twins and their parents.
Vanderburgh County DCS informed Illinois DCFS the twins should be removed from the Evansville home in a letter dated March 14, 2008 — 18 days before Kalab died.
“Due to the fact it was a judicial order that sent the children here, we were unable to take any action,” Houseworth said.
If the same situation were to arise today, with a “sending” state ignoring denial by Indiana as the “receiving” state, Avery said changes in state law would allow Indiana to take the sending state to court.
Indiana DCS officials have said they still were waiting for Illinois to remove the children from the home when Kalab died.
If Indiana can be faulted for anything in the case, Avery said, it would be an unwillingness to get involved.
“Our unwillingness was based on sound reasoning,” he said. “The children shouldn’t have been in that family. … This judge pretty much ignored the law.”
Initially, Brooks and Lay indicated they would like the surviving children to be placed with Brooks’ mother. However, in the divorce documents Brooks filed, she declined the opportunity to recommend someone to assume custody of the children.
Susan Tielking, former Indiana DCS spokeswoman, said the case caused state officials to reconsider policies for supervision of children who are placed in a home where an interstate compact was denied.
“Every year it seems like we do a little bit more but the only way we can know about those problems is if someone brings them to our attention,” Avery said. “It seems like children keep dying and it should be of concern to us all. Is there something else we could be doing?”
Failing Kalab | Reunification
By Libby Keeling
Posted June 14, 2009 at 11:24 p.m.
Brooks released from Lincoln Correctional Facility, where she had completed a parenting program and drug counseling through the Gateway program.
Brooks completed a Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center mental health assessment. No recommendation for counseling.
Brooks completed 10 relapse-prevention groups.
Brooks completed substance abuse evaluation; recommended completion of 10 relapse-prevention groups.
Brooks completed a Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center substance abuse treatment program.
Lay released from Jacksonville Correctional Facility, where he completed Gateway substance abuse treatment.
Lay received mental health assessment; recommendation to continue random drug testing and follow up with parole officer.
Lay completed substance abuse assessment at Deaconess Cross Pointe with recommendation for continued urine screening.
Brooks attended appointment with psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.; second session scheduled.
Brooks, because of illness, canceled second appointment with psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.
Lay was scheduled to begin parenting classes at Lampion Center.
Brooks completed psychological evaluation by psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.
Lay completed parenting and behavior management programs.
Lay missed an appointment for evaluation with psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.
Lay attended appointment for evaluation with psychologist Michael Althoff in Carbondale, Ill.
Lay completed psychological evaluation by psychologist Marilyn Marks-Frey at Paris Community Hospital in Paris, Ill.
Brooks appointment for family counseling at the Lampion Center rescheduled because of weather.
Sources: Indiana Department of Child Services investigation of Kalab Lay’s death, court documents, court proceedings, law enforcement records
OTHER LINKS TO THIS STORY:
Failing Kalab | Family history
By Libby Keeling
Posted June 14, 2009 at 11:22 p.m.
Failing Kalab | Court proceedings
By Libby Keeling
Posted June 14, 2009 at 11:19 p.m.
THE FULL SERIES:
KALAB LAY: YOU COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED
FAILING KALAB-CHAPTER 2
FAILING KALAB-CHAPTER 3
FAILING KALAB-CHAPTER 4