Sabrina Ray – Not a Tragedy… A Pattern

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Sabrina Ray Photo

Written By Tanya Myers

The Iowa Department of Human Services is back in the spotlight and under much-needed scrutiny since the death of 16-year-old Sabrina Ray on May 12th, 2017.

This case mirrors the high-profile death of Natalie Finn, the teenager who starved to death in foster care on October 24th, 2016. Ray was found unresponsive in the basement of her foster home, and like Finn, she too was homeschooled.

Autopsy results are not publicly available yet, though according to rumor, she too starved to death. The Department of Human Services was active in the home before Ray’s death.

Marco Mendez, 19, recalled horrific details of Ray's abuse from when he was fostered in the same home four years ago. At least three children resided in the home at the time Mendez witnessed eight months of abuse firsthand.

“Those three didn't get to eat much,” Mendez said. “They would stash hot dogs and Pop Tarts in their diaper. Mind you, without the wrappers because if the wrapper made a noise and they got caught, they'd get spanked, beaten or disciplined with no food for the next few days.” Mendez was ignored when he reported his observations and experience.

Hoarding (hiding, or stashing) food is one of the first symptoms of starvation. These are clear and visible signs that anyone can and should notice. All evidence of emaciation/starvation parallels those of anorexia and bulimia. There is an abundance of information regarding both.

An letter to the editor posted by Elizabeth Skurdall in The Perry News details her personal experience with the Rays of Sunshine Daycare.

Elizabeth said that in her “experience, there are way more social workers who do their jobs and do them very well.” However, in this case with visible signs of Sabrina Ray's emaciation, it appears no one was doing their job either as a skilled (a.k.a. educated) social worker or as a human being.

Who could Mendez have called for help?

It is evident once again that social workers are not necessarily skilled workers. Noticing signs of emaciation should be common knowledge and obvious to all DHS staff.

What kind of people do we have working for the Department of Human Services? Aren't they supposedly the safety net for Iowa's children?

The Iowa Department of Human Services has indicated they are bringing in a third-party firm to investigate. Senator Matt McCoy stated, “It is too little too late,” for this action.

The Iowa Department of Human Services released a statement saying, “We want to convey our deep sadness at the loss of this young woman. We are taking a comprehensive review of our child welfare system and want to assure the public of our commitment to protecting vulnerable children.”

Nicholas Dreeszen, Chief Executive Director of Families United Action Network (FUAN), said “We seem to be experiencing patterns of DHS negligence and improper investigations into foster care families while at the same time seeing removals for tedious/correctable actions of birth families that do not compare to the horrific crimes of these caregivers. We must ask ourselves if we are creating successful adults through this Child Protective Services system, and be willing to make the top to bottom changes for the best interest of the children and families. Providing more family services appears to be a better option for the children in most situations”.

ToyA Johnson, (FUAN) Executive Director and founder of Iowa Citizens For Justice continues; “Families United Action Network is again heartbroken and dismayed after hearing of another unnecessary tragedy at the behest of DHS. We will continue to follow up with the investigation into the Iowa Department of Human Services during the interim. We pray another child does not fall through the cracks before much-needed changes are made, and new laws and guidelines are enforced”.

As the news continues to roll out on this latest fatality, Sabrina Ray's parents are now under arrest. According to Perry Police Chief Eric Vaughn during a press briefing, Mark (41) and Misty Ray (40) were arrested Thursday morning after their adopted daughter was found dead in their Perry, Iowa home last week.

An autopsy conducted by the State Medical Examiner’s Office found Sabrina weighed 56 pounds at the time of her death and noted “severe malnourishment.” Other tests related to the autopsy will not be available for another few weeks. Two other minor children have been removed and placed into protective custody. Their condition is not available at this time.

On Thursday, some Iowa lawmakers called for legislative oversight of Iowa's DHS in the wake of Sabrina Ray's death. At least one, Rep. Abby Finkenauer, called for the immediate resignation of DHS Director Chuck Palmer, something that organizations like (FUAN)-Families United Action Network and (IFPP) Iowa Family Preservation Project have been advocating for, for years in hopes of avoiding such tragic outcomes.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann reached out to (FUAN) and Sen. Mike Breitbach, co-chairmen of the Joint Government Oversight Committee. Kaufmann said in a written release that the girl's death “confirms the need for legislative oversight into the management of the DHS as it appears that the Finn case was not an isolated incident. The process of overseeing children placed in the state system must be re-examined. Reforms need to be considered.”

We applaud the efforts of Rep. Bobby Kaufmann and Sen. Matt McCoy for pushing these systematic child endangerment issues into the spotlight. “This is DHS-101 for the entire state,” said Rep. Kaufmann.

Nicholas Dreeszen President of FUAN says “We are confident that by returning to the basics of what children and families need in a modern society will make for easily recognizable solutions. FUAN feels that increasing family services, educational and assistance programs, and removing agency incentives for parental terminations are a few of the ways to improve the DHS.”

The next oversight committee meeting has not yet been scheduled but is rumored to be the first week of June. Return often to this website, FamiliesUnite, because news is rapidly developing in this and other child/family emergency situations within Iowa.

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More information on this situation is available from the following links…