The failure in the county child protection system could hardly have been more abject. Ten-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud was beaten to death last week, a year after he twice called 911 to report that his stepfather was abusing him. Now the stepfather, Ali Mohamed Mohamud, is charged with murdering the boy.
Not just murdering, but bludgeoning, even torturing. Police say the elder Mohamud tied his stepson's hands, stuffed a sock in his mouth and taped it shut with duct tape. Then, they say, Mohamud took a baker's rolling pin and, not once or twice, but 70 times struck the boy, who a full year earlier had cried out for help.
It was a horrible crime and, from all appearances, a catastrophic failure of a system that is meant to protect children like Abdifatah. And it raises a chilling question: What other children in our community are being failed at this moment? What other lives are at risk? Perhaps none, if we are lucky, but who wants to rely on luck, especially when Abdifatah Mohamud had so little of it? Someone needs to investigate.
The obvious place to start is with Erie County Child Protective Services. When Abdifatah called 911 last April, Ferry-Fillmore District police officers who responded say they immediately called Child Protective Services. They also complied with a state law that requires them to write a domestic incident report and forward it to CPS, authorities told The Buffalo News this week. At that point, the trail of responsibility goes cold.
CPS has declined to say anything about the police report or the charges against Mohamud. But in June of last year, CPS officials investigated after the boy showed up severely bruised at school. The parents said a schoolmate attacked him. But the results of the incidents involving Abdifatah are unknown, hidden by state confidentiality laws. Still, CPS plainly never removed the boy from his home. Why not?
Someone from the state level needs to investigate this disastrous series of events, and the results need to be made public. There are good reasons for some confidentiality in child abuse cases, but when the system itself appears to have crumbled, resulting in a child's horrific death, then the public needs to know how well a critical service funded by its tax dollars responded.
This starts as a county matter, so if he isn't doing it already, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz needs to pull apart the system as it dealt with Abdifatah and determine where, if anywhere, it went wrong. Is there a problem with training? Funding? Staffing? Leadership?
State legislators have a role to play in this, as well. While there is a case to be made for a degree of confidentiality, that confidentiality also has its costs. Openness breeds compliance and diligence better than secrecy does, and with lives plainly on the line, some level of routine public accountability is required.
It is true that the system has to be wary of false or misleading allegations and the damage they can do to individuals. That is a serious matter. But the system also has to do a better job of keeping children from being beaten to death.
The investigation into how Abdifatah so tragically fell through the arms of the child protection system should already be under way. There are no moments left to waste. Or lives.