Florida's Child - Fatal Deception or Social Blindness?

 Having had a personal opportunity to speak with Ms. Liles after all this time, she shared `Florida's Child' - Bradley McGee's life story with C. Bailey-Lloyd. In her heartfelt words, she explained how she still advocates child abuse prevention, and still follows the case of Sheryl Coe, Bradley's biological mother. Today, we revisit Bradley's brief time on earth.

 

62fb5f1024529266c6e71c0c0c9ddb3c LMost of you didn't know him. Most of you may never have heard of him. He was an innocent toddler, just a little over 2 years old. He wore the face of many a child. Bradley, fondly known as `Braddie' to his foster mom, (Kip Liles), also bore the fatal scars of abused & neglected children everywhere.

His story begins nearly two decades ago. At the very tender age of just four months, Braddie was abandoned in a shopping mall (by his biological mother). Fortunately, an on-duty pretzel vendor took him to a local hospital where Braddie was quickly introduced to the `system' of governmental child supervision.

After living in a safe foster home for nearly two years, the `system' sent little Braddie back to his biological mother and stepfather. In merely 66 days after reintroduction into his original home, Bradley's life tragically came to an end (by the hands of his parents). Did Bradley become the sorrowful product of a poorly constructed childcare system?

Bradley McGee, sadly, like many other abused & neglected children are often returned to their biological families only to find ill-fated tragedy awaiting them. In Bradley's case, countless pleas fell on deaf ears prior to his horrific murder in 1989. A number of persons, especially Ms. Liles, made several attempts to have Bradley removed from his neglectful home, all to no avail.

Upon his return, little Bradley incurred insurmountable, and brutal physical abuse. Beating after beating, his abusers finally took his small, innocent life by dangling Bradley by his ankles and repeatedly plunging his head into a toilet bowl. When they finally retrieved the battered tot from the bathroom, they continued their torture by placing him in a cold shower to quiet his screams, and then beat him (with pillows) until his small body curled up into a fetal position. What was their reason for his fatal beating? He had soiled his pants. In the end, Bradley purportedly ended up on a life-support machine where he died alone.

Bradley's mother (Sheryl Coe) had repeatedly mocked child welfare workers in the past by `hiding' when they (caseworkers) arrived at their mobile home to check on Bradley. [It is my personal opinion and review of said case, that logically, at some point, caseworkers should have made an effort to attain a warrant to enter the premises.] Psychologists who interviewed the Coes found that they were `immature and explosive.' How could a judge rule in favor of them (Sheryl & Thomas Coe) with this afore knowledge? The reason for the ruling was because psychological documents were never introduced into the hearing - a slight oversight?

Upon jury-trial commencement, Thomas Coe was sentenced to life in prison and Sheryl Coe was sentenced to 30 years; however, Ms. Coe was released after 9 years of time served. To date, she is again in the clutches of yet another court battle to retrieve another biological son in foster care.

Bradley is still remembered by Kip Liles (former foster mother), neighbors and by those who watched live news reports as the incredible drama unfolded on television. While I lived in Florida at the time, Bradley's story tugged at my heartstrings and resides in my thoughts forever. His story, like so many, needed to be told and retold until no child is left to the wayside.

Below are some alarming statistics and information on Child Abuse & Neglect cases in the United States alone:

According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children & Families, 2.6 million reports of child abuse or neglect were filed on 4.5 million children, of which 896,000 cases were substantiated in 2002 alone. In other words, a little over 12 children per 1,000 became victims of abuse or neglect by legal standards.1 But what substantiates abuse or neglect?

In a report by the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, over 40 percent of allegations are made by friends, neighbors and relatives. Sixty-one percent of all reports were found to be unsubstantiated, 30 percent of all reports included at least one victim of child abuse or neglect, and remaining reports were closed for other reasons. In 2002, 1,400 children died due to abuse or neglect. Infant boys were found to have the highest rate of fatalities - 19 per 100,000. Incredibly, nearly 1/5 of child victims had been placed in foster care at some point in time. 2

According to ChildHelp USA, `...homicide is the leading cause of injury deaths among infants (under one year of age) in the United States.' Furthermore, ChildHelp USA reports that '...the actual incidence of abuse and neglect is estimated to be three times greater than the number reported to authorities.'3

ChildHelp USA lists common indicators displayed in child abuse or neglect victims in their following list:

PHYSICAL ABUSE
1. Unexplained burns, cuts, bruises, or welts in the shape of an object 2. Bite marks
3. Anti-social behavior
4. Problems in school
5. Fear of adults

EMOTIONAL ABUSE
1. Apathy
2. Depression
3. Hostility or stress
4. Lack of concentration
5. Eating disorders

SEXUAL ABUSE
1. Inappropriate interest or knowledge of sexual acts
2. Nightmares and bed wetting
3. Drastic changes in appetite
4. Overcompliance or excessive aggression
5. Fear of a particular person or family member

NEGLECT
1. Unsuitable clothing for weather
2. Dirty or unbathed
3. Extreme hunger
4. Apparent lack of supervision

In addition, the Humane Society of the United States found an interesting connection between child abuse & neglect with pet owners displaying similar characteristics. According to a 1997 survey administered to 50 of the largest shelters for battered women made a discovery that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children who entered shelters admitted to pet abuse/neglect incidents in the family. The Humane Society of the United States advocates awareness to responders to (of family violence or neglect) of this animal abuse/neglect connection to human counterparts.4

Statistically speaking, information provided by multiple child welfare organizations may lend hindsight to an ever-growing epidemic of child abuse and neglect in these United States. Though `hindsight' may be 20/20, it cannot reclaim the countless lives lost in cases like that of Bradley McGee. Was his case just a freak oversight or are there multiple cases like his that have received identical inattentiveness?

Based on findings, 4.5 million children were purportedly referred to child welfare services for possible abuse - only 896,000 cases were `substantiated.' Does this mean that over 3 million cases were all completely false? Or are there several more Sheryl Coes who hide when social services pays a visit? Rationally, one would assume after all the `substantiated' cases of child abuse and neglect reports, that governmental agencies would meticulously review said statistics and actual representations of abuse/neglect cases. Furthermore, since there are multiple, annual deaths involving child abuse and neglect, it would seem beneficial for child welfare workers to have legal authority to enter a premises with or without notice, and/or permission to review infant or child environment.

Again, I reflect on a preventable death that occurred nearly 20 years ago - Bradley McGee. His life...and death did make a difference, and society cannot allow it to be in vain. If you or someone you know suspects child abuse or neglect, don't stand silent. Don't wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late. If you are a child welfare worker, remember this story well. It may just mean the difference between the life and death of a child.
 
© Florida's Child - Fatal Deception or Social Blindness?
by C. Bailey-Lloyd/LadyCamelot

Taylor Pyles

Tom "Taylor" Pyles is a child abuse survivor and the founder The Blue Ribbon Project. He has been a police officer with Annapolis Police Department for over a decade and is assigned as a Detective in the Criminal Investigations Section.  When not working, you'll find him spending time with his family and out enjoying the countryside on two wheels. 

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