Social Justice at Children’s Expense
By Richard J. Gelles
When Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann asked me if I would review materials of a case that was to be presented to a Philadelphia grand jury, I accepted with concern. I knew something about the case of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly, who died on August 4, 2006. My first knowledge of it came when our school’s associate dean for student affairs alerted me that the FBI was interviewing one of our Master of Social Work (MSW) students. When I asked for more details, I learned that our student had been assigned to Danieal’s case as part of his internship with a local social service agency. The agency, MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, owned and operated by one of the school’s graduates, was a longtime field placement for the school. I knew a little bit more from conversations with reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer who were working on an investigation of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS).
Even with some foreknowledge, I was completely unprepared for what I read in the case materials. As detailed in the 263-page grand jury report, Danieal, who had cerebral palsy, wasted away while supposedly under the watch of DHS and MultiEthnic Behavioral Services. When she died in a urine-soaked bed, Danieal weighed 42 pounds and had bedsores that nearly reached her bones.
After the grand jury report, McCann and the District Attorney’s Office proceeded to prosecute Danieal’s parents, family friends, DHS employees, and the owner and employees of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health. In the end, 17 individuals were either convicted or pled guilty to charges ranging from perjury to third-degree murder.
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