“Between his return home on March 13, 2020 and his death on October 21, 2020 David experienced abuse, starvation, and was deprived of a safe and nurturing home environment.”
This statement is from the 106-page report of the investigation into David Almond’s death released only last week. Why were David and his siblings entrusted to their father when New York State authorities had slated them for adoption to another family? The Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) documents how systems in our state including the Department of Children and Families (DCF) either missed or didn’t take into account facts that should have prevented the father and his partner from having custody.
David, 14-years old, was one of three triplets who had autism spectrum disorder. The OCA report states that DCF’s lack of knowledge about disabilities was a factor in the poor decisions made on David’s behalf: “the lack of general knowledge about disabilities, and the lack of specific knowledge of how these children’s disabilities presented in them as individuals, resulted in state systems overlooking the risk factors and warning signs that precipitated David’s death.”
Ignorance about disabilities has significant ramifications. It is reflected in how we treat children and adults or in how we ignore their common human needs. Societal stigma leverages this ignorance, resulting in segregation and rejection. Persons with disabilities, committed family members, staff, and others must fight against a tide of bias, implicit and explicit. As the report states: “Children with disabilities are at least three times as likely to be maltreated than their peers without disabilities, and they are more likely to be seriously injured or harmed by abuse or neglect.”
David’s death may seem to some as an aberration committed by abusive caregivers. But his placement reflected lack of knowledge and egregious errors in judgment by professionals.
The goal of The Arc’s advocacy is to “foster social inclusion, self-determination, and equity across all aspects of society.” Let’s ponder that. Would David be alive today if social inclusion and equity were the norm?