January 10, 2011

When Children’s Service Agencies Won’t Respond to Complaints



     It happened again. Another child, fifteen months old, dead, their parents in jail, accused of the infant’s murder.

     While Madison lay on a floor in a filthy home, dying, her mother was smoking crack cocaine and sleeping it off at a friend’s house…she said she didn’t plan on being gone long…Madison was been left with seven of her siblings, ages 3 to 16…the father told police he came home that evening, rigged up a replacement for Madison’s feeding tube, placed her on the living room floor, and went to bed.**

     It happened in Fayette County, in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where I lived for eight years.

  • State police at Uniontown charged Robert David Dodson, 55, and Tammy Jo Bohon, 35, of 601 Morgantown St., Point Marion, with criminal homicide and endangering the welfare of children in the death of Madison Violet Dodson…Trooper Scott Kroftcheck said the child was found dead at home. District Attorney Jack Heneks Jr. said he supported filing of charges based on preliminary autopsy findings and preliminary state police investigations… Heneks said preliminary findings indicate Madison died from a combination of dehydration and malnutrition, with secondary causes that he did not explain…Heneks said homicide charges can include intentional, knowingly reckless or an unintentional cause of death. “We believe their conduct led to the death of Madison,” Heneks said.*
  • Lead investigator Trooper Timothy Kirsch said police found the residence “unkempt, with clothing throughout and cats coming in and out of the kitchen cabinets. There were animal and human feces and dirty diapers in the residence. There were no trash cans, only trash bags. Some of them had burst open. One room was full of dirty clothes. The beds were only box springs and mattresses, no linens. The toilets and showers were unclean.”*

     Is this the lifestyle of residents of Fayette County? I wonder…

     Looking back, I remember a woman (I’ll call her Alice) with an eight year old daughter I’ll call Bonnie. The two often visited us—Alice sought counsel and education. She was ill, and often had to leave Bonnie in someone’s care while she was in the hospital. Most of the time, the Bonnie stayed with us.

     Alice and Bonnie lived in a small one-bedroom apartment. Her shower was filled with plastic bags of clothes and trash. Dirty dishes were strewn all over. Cat feces was never cleaned up. Cigarette butts were spread all over. I could continue, but I suspect you get the idea…

     Alice invited another woman to stay in the apartment with her and Bonnie, which meant Bonnie was displaced to the couch in the living room while their “guest” used the bedroom.

     Bonnie and Alice always smelled so bad I wanted to shove them into the shower before we visited. Their “perfume” was powerful—combined cigarette smoke and animal feces smelled so strong it covered their body odor, and it clung to the air in my house long after the two left our house. The times Bonnie came to be in our care I had her take a shower immediately after Alice left. She was embarrassed, but grateful—the kids at school must have been making fun of her, and/or avoiding her, at school. Didn’t the teachers notice?

     I called Children and Youth Services and explained who I was (a local pastor’s wife) and my background (domestic violence counselor who had designed and overseen a Children’s Trust Fund Grant program in a previous community).

     Their response? We have so many families like this in the county we cannot deal with them. I wonder if neighbors or other concerned persons had attempted to report this family to the agency, and the report was ignored. After all, this was the norm for Fayette County.

     I would hope the agency has improved since I tried to obtain their help for Bonnie.

     I worked to see that Bonnie was protected, that she knew someone was on her side. I accept the responsibility for not doing enough, for not contacting the state concerning the response I received when I tried to get assistance for Bonnie.

     We lost touch with Bonnie. Ultimately, she went to live with her father when Alice became too ill to care for her. I trust and hope Bonnie’s life improved, that she finally escaped the odorific life she experienced in Fayette County.


** Police: Baby died as mom smoked crack, Greensburg Tribune-Review, January 8, 2010. pp. B1 


    When a child needs help, and the children’s service agency ignores calls from neighbors and semi-professionals, what action can be taken?

  • Call the regional or state office of children’s services
  • Be there for the child to offer support
  • Offer the caretakers support
  • Pray for the child and his/her caretakers.






 BRAMBLES (Brief RAMBLES) 1-9 August 15, 2008




  1. I reported Madision and her family to child protective services in Morgantown, West Virginia when she was four or five months old. The police came, and CPS left her there. I and many other people have reported this family to CPS and CPS did not take action to have the children removed. They had been “under supervision” for years. This was a community tragedy. It was not only her parents’ neglect, but the neglect of the entire community that killed Madison Dodson.

    Comment by Rachel Fetty — January 11, 2011 @ 12:36 pm | Reply

    • Rachel, thank you for reassuring me that there were—and are—people in the community who care. Yes, it was a community tragedy. From the point of view of the children’s agency, caseworkers with 30 to 70 dysfunctional families assigned to their care most certainly cannot do a decent job.


      Comment by carolyncholland — January 11, 2011 @ 3:49 pm | Reply

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