Kristie Sluder

Kristie Sluder

Channing got seven years. Chloe Evans got life. Channing will live in the closest thing to hell on earth as an inmate in the North Carolina state prison system — especially as a child killer. Even the self-righteous wicked cast disparaging glares on those who murder or sexually abuse children.

Chloe will never know anything but peace for eternity. Her joy will remain unabated throughout eons of time. Her laughter will be immersive and her beauty will shine brighter than all the stars.

Yet, the fact remains that those who truly love her will bear the burden of loss for the rest of their lives. What makes their injuries more grievous than the loss itself is the burden of knowing that it was preventable. Yes. Completely preventable.

Chloe was well known to Haywood County Child Protective Services. It was obvious to more than one community member that she was in danger. In fact, a 911 call reported that Channing was physically abusing the child in broad daylight. This was only one of multiple reports. How could they have missed the risk?

The vulnerable always pay a high price for the negligence of the powerful. The scripture says, “the one who is slack in their work is a brother to him who destroys.” Irish statesman, Edmund Burke remarked that, “Evil prevails when good people do nothing.”

In the case of Chloe Evans, the price was her life, in its entirety. The memories. The laughter. The love, even the trying times that shape character and destiny will never be shared by those who grieve her loss.

I wish I could say that the worst is over. Justice has been served for the victims. The violent got their just punishment. And the system learned its lesson.

If it were a single event, I would say that’s true. But, it’s not. Just a year earlier Kyler Presnell was murdered in a very similar and brutal way. He, too, was beat to death by someone who had a history of violence and active addiction. He too was known to Haywood County Child Protective Services. He, too, was left in harm's way.

You see, the over arching problem is that it keeps happening. These are just the latest victims of an inept and confused Child Protective Services system.

I’ll say again, these murders were completely preventable. The violence of the perpetrators and the risk of injury to the children was obvious to everyone but county officials.

DSS is the only agency in our constitutional republic that has the statutory authority to superimpose their will over the constitutional rights of biological parents.

They are given that authority for one reason and one reason only – to protect vulnerable children. All too often, they fail catastrophically by working to protect the parent or reunify the family. When they loose their priorities, children loose their lives.

Bureaucracies are not granted powers that supersede the US Constitution in order to make family reunification the priority. Child safety Must be the priority and with a record like CPS it obviously is not.

Our society insists that those who have no means of protecting themselves be prioritized. Adults have means. Even those in poverty and active addiction have powers not available to small children. Child safety must be prioritized above family systems.

Far too often family preservation efforts leave children in oppressive environments. According to the most recent audit by the US Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half of all children involved with North Carolina CPS are not kept safe in their own homes.

The price victims and their loved ones pay is a cruel one, yet officials who are slack in their work enjoy immunity from recourse and accountability.

What I have noticed in over 25 years of professional experience is that child protective service workers often seem incapable of discerning risks and recognizing manipulative, predatory behavior.

Improper investigations are the critical fault line of CPS work and the demise of child safety. Particularly insulting is that arrogant bureaucrats are too reliant on their own skills and fail to heed the warnings of common people.

The collective witness of extended family and community members possesses a wisdom that a dozen officials and a pile of professionals do not.

These bureaucracies will never be wise, nor provide an effective service to vulnerable children until the warnings of community members and extended family are heeded.

There were many warnings in both cases. Six calls were made to CPS within one year about Kyler. The man they allowed Kyler to be placed with had a history of violence including conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Kyler didn't stand a chance.

If the system doesn’t change how investigations are conducted, then it’s not going to be a matter of if a child dies, but when, and who?

At a rally for Chloe and Kyler, the current Sherriff of Haywood County instructed his chief deputy, Jeff Hayes, to work with Ira Dove, Director of DSS to improve outcomes by improving they way in which investigations ware conducted.

When I met with them to discuss this, they rounded up the wagons, protected their own and suggested that I work on passing new legislation instead.

It’s not lost on average people who is at the top of their priority list. Nor is it hard to see who their power is being used to protect.

Average people must do the duty of showing up at official county board meetings. Learn the chain of command, disseminate information, publicize decisions and get to the polls to change that command chain when necessary.

Don't leave it to DSS to make the wise decisions. Their record is clear. Bring accountability to the Boards by assembling a scrutinizing public and apply the pressure necessary for positive change in leadership.

If changes are made, loved ones will be kept safe. If not, it’s only a matter of time until the next headline reads of another preventable tragic loss.

Kristie Sluder is a human services professional and child welfare reform advocate who lives in Weaverville.

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