We now know that little Bella was just shy of her 3rd birthday when she was murdered. According to the story given by the mother, she and her boyfriend were having trouble getting Bella to sleep one night. The boyfriend then said, “I’ll get her to sleep.” Then went to put the little girl to bed. Later on, the mother went in to find the little girl listless, her face swollen. She had apparently been smothered, and was obviously dead.  She then says it was the boyfriend’s idea to put her daughter’s body in a bag and place her in the freezer.  She then says they disposed of the body by putting weights in the bag and dumping her in the water.

The boyfriend has not talked to police.  However, there are other reports coming out from some of his associates that suggest he had no idea the little girl was even dead. They say he was under the impression that she had been taken by CPS, which would make sense, since the mother apparently had two other children who were taken away in the same manner. Suffice it to say that we probably won’t ever know for certain precisely what went on, or who actually killed the girl. But the smothering story at bedtime seems consistent with the other evidence.

Adding to the craziness and mystic of this story, her mother apparently claims that both she and her boyfriend believe Bella was possessed by the Devil. (Both have a history of substance abuse.) I think just about every parent of a 2-year-old had thought their child might be possessed at some point, but then most parents remember that the child is only two, and chalk it up to a normal developmental stage. But I guess when you add a little meth to the situation strange things can happen.

Bella herself had been the subject of two separate CPS investigations, both of which found substantiated neglect. This will no doubt lead to hand-wringing and calls for CPS officials to take stronger action in cases like these. To the lay person this seems reasonable: err on the side of precaution, save the life of girls like Bella. But the reality is far more complicated than that.

CPS removal in itself is a traumatic, abusive action. No matter how marginal parents may be, their children still love them. In fact, research suggests that CPS removal is far more damaging than physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and even worse than most cases of abuse. The only time you can justify removal is when a child’s life is in danger, because pretty much the only outcome worse than being taken from your family, is death.  State workers already abuse around a million children a year by snatching them away like this, only to have most of the children eventually return to their home.  The entire system, as it is set up now, does nothing more than add another layer of trauma upon kids, many of whom were never even abused. (about 50%) We don’t need more of this. See the information at our sister site: http://www.keepyourchildsafe.org/raising-children/attachment-injuries-in-children.html

Even the idea of saving a life of an endangered child is an illusion, since children are actually murdered far more often while in state care and foster situations than they are in their natural homes. If you factor in the number of child suicides and trauma related illnesses that plague children who have been taken, the situation grows even more dire.  What children like Bella need is a completely different system of protection — one that is organized around support for at risk parents. They would also benefit from more involved communities and a more communal approach to child rearing.

Every time something like this happens, I find myself wishing for some type of Batman-like bat symbol: a magical shining light that would direct help to where it is needed. Maybe a special phone or button parents could push to summon a little child care assistance.  I’m growing tired of watching children die for lack of access to a competent caretaker.  It all seems so unnecessary, akin to seeing a child die of dehydration while sitting in a field that’s littered with bottles of drinking water. There is so much potential help out there, yet it’s so difficult to find when it’s needed. Parents have become an island unto themselves, and it is deadly in situations like this.

I would have loved more than anything to put that girl to sleep that night, and every night thereafter if I had to. And I’m sure many in Bella’s neighborhood would have been eager to do the same, had they recognized the dire situation she was in at the expense of her need. But in American society where everyone is separated into their own isolated nuclear family that exists separate and apart from everyone else, there is little opportunity for surrogate caretakers to assist in situations like this. Instead we have family units so isolated from one another that a little girl can flat out disappear for months on end and no one will even notice she is gone. We’ve become accustomed to living alone in a crowd.

If we want to save future Bella’s lets stop pointing the fingers elsewhere and get back to the root of the problem: our lack of a supportive community. Children like Bella won’t be saved by spending more money on government workers to come in a blindly traumatize them. What they need is more community: to be surrounded by surrogate caretakers in the neighborhood who are willing to offer non-judgmental support to parents in the time and place they need it. Someone who, when the parents get high, can step in and take over child care duties.

If we truly want to save children, try offering up a statement of support to the parents in your neighborhood, especially those who might appear standoffish or a little bit shady: “Parenting can be hard, so if you ever feel overwhelmed or stressed as we all have from time to time, I want you to know you can give me a call or drop her off at my place for the night. I know there are certainly times when I could have used a breather, so don’t hesitate to call. I would love to help out, and you wouldn’t owe me anything.” Maybe then, when their own parents are drunk or high or too stressed out to parent effectively, children like Bella might have access to someone who could relieve the strain, someone to save their life by putting them to sleep.


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