Files provide unprecedented look at child abuse in Kentucky

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJuly 22, 2012 

Kayla Mosley had been dead several hours by the time her drug-addled parents realized something was wrong and called an ambulance to take her to the Pineville hospital, her cold, nude body wrapped in a blanket.

Kayla's parents, both high-school dropouts, did not know their precocious 2-year-old had gotten into their stash of pills in March 2010, authorities think. She died of an acute drug overdose.

The gut-wrenching story is one of many contained in thousands of pages of documents released last week by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees child protection in Kentucky.

The files give an unprecedented look into how Kentucky's abused and neglected children die and how the state's child-protection system operates.

The cabinet and the state's two largest newspapers, the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville, have been fighting in court for more than two years over access to the case files of children who were killed or critically injured in 2009 and 2010 as a result of abuse and neglect.

The cabinet had long refused to release such files, but began doing so in January after Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled they are public records.

The cabinet had released a few files each week — 76 in all — since the first of the year, but released an additional 43 case files last week after another court ruling earlier this month. There are still at least two dozen case files the cabinet has refused to release, saying the documents might jeopardize pending criminal charges.

So far, 40 of the case files released by the cabinet have detailed the deaths of 41 abused and neglected children.

One of those kids was Nathaniel Knox, 4, who had severe injuries when he arrived at the Stanford hospital, including a skull fracture, bruises all over his body and an adult-size bite mark on his arm.

Doctors at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center, where he was transferred, said the story Nathaniel's mother told — that he had fallen off a low deck and hit his head — did not square with his injuries.

It would have taken "tremendous force" to crack the toddler's skull, one doctor said, and lesions on his retinas showed it wasn't the first time Nathaniel had been beaten.

Nathaniel died Aug. 1, 2009, from blunt-force injuries to his head.

A Herald-Leader analysis of the files shows that children 4 and younger are by far the most vulnerable to lethal abuse, accounting for 37 of the 41 deaths.

The files also show that toddler boys are killed more often than girls; that men are much more likely to be perpetrators of physical abuse; and that in most homes where a child dies because of abuse or neglect, at least one adult is a high-school dropout.

Beth Musgrave: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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