The story of Haleigh Poutre is one of tragedy that highlights
many of the things wrong with our child protective service system. It’s also a story of hope and survival against all odds.
Haleigh was born February 24, 1994. She was 11-years-old on
September 11, 2005, when she was badly burned and beaten
severely with a baseball bat, allegedly at the hands of Jason and
Holli Strickland, her stepfather and maternal aunt, respectively,
who had legally adopted Haleigh. The beating put her into a coma. Her foster parents were arrested on various criminal
charges associated with the beating. The Department of Social
Services (DSS), in predictable fashion, was criticized for ignoring signs that the child was in danger, apparently buying into
claims by her foster parents that injuries on the girl reported as
possible abuse were “self-inflicted.”
Haleigh found herself fighting for her life, with severe head injuries and brain damage. Her doctors declared that she was in
a persistent vegetative state (PVS). CPS workers, who had delivered the girl into an abusive situation where she had been
bludgeoned with a baseball bat, wasted no time in trying to kill her in order to save the state on medical costs.
A mere eight days after Haleigh’s near-fatal beating, the Department of Social Services sought a court order to try and remove her from life support. Jason Strickland objected, (presumably hoping to beat murder charges), but in January of 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that DSS could remove Haleigh from life support. Rather than suffering a slow death by starvation, Haleigh surprised everyone by starting to breathe on her own. When it was revealed that she could even follow simple commands, and thus was not in a persistent vegetative state after all, DSS graciously halted plans to remove her feeding tube.
At the time of writing this, Haleigh was 14-years-old and has stayed at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton for more than two years. She is described as a friendly child who routinely smiles and waves to staff. She can speak some words and is attending a day school in a wheelchair. She reportedly can eat, write her name and flex muscles–activities the doctors once said
would be impossible. She was even starting to make statements
describing the abuse she suffered. A juvenile court judge had recently declared her to be functioning at a level “too high” for placement in a nursing home, so she is likely to go into an adoptive home with a personal assistant or an available group
Sadly, stories like Haleigh’s happen way too often: children are removed from their original homes, often for trivial and unnecessary reasons, only to be put in a foster home where they suffer horrific abuse. (As far as child abuse, state custody is actually far more dangerous for children than their natural homes. See ‘Child Maltreatment: A Cross-Comparison.’) Considering what she went through, we’re just glad Raleigh’s story turned out just about as well as it could have.