When a Child Dies Needlessly

Brooklyn, NY: – The faces of the grief-stricken pallbearers tell the story—and so too, does the size of the casket. A white box large enough for a child of three.

Kyle Smith was given a raw deal in life. His parents weren’t together, and even his older brother Darien, 6, was living with a relative. But Kyle didn’t even have that luxury, as his mother had placed him with an acquaintance to live while Gina Holmes went off to get married, kick a drug habit and establish a life for herself in South Carolina. Her new husband has said she was making plans to take the child back.

The acquaintance with whom Kyle was entrusted, Nymeen Cheatham, had previously lost custody of her own children, aged 3 to 10, after authorities in Texas found them locked and alone in what was described as a filthy home without running water. The children were malnourished.

Bizarre Forms of Punishment and Child Abuse

Now living in Brooklyn with her companion, Cheatham agreed to care for Kyle, and in the beginning all seemed well. But it wasn’t long before neighbors started noticing bruises on the child, and witnessed bizarre punishments including seeing the child required to stand outside in shirtsleeves, in sub-freezing temperatures.

On another occasion neighbors in the 24-unit building where Cheatham lived saw the child outside wearing a long-sleeved jacket in the midst of a heat wave, while his caregiver was wearing a tank top. In hindsight, the observers felt that the sleeves might have been hiding bruises.

Unnecessary Death of a Child

The child died, of blunt-force trauma, two days later. The boy had bruises on his face and body, and had suffered lacerations of the anus.

Critics of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which had visited the home last fall, feel that the agency could have done more to help the boy. However, a spokesperson for ACS notes that when Cheatham had filed a petition for custody of the child late last year, the agency duly inspected the home and found nothing out of order. The child seemed fine, leading to the belief that the abuse had begun only recently.

In defending its actions in the Kyle Smith case, ACS notes that a standard petition for custody requires a basic inspection of the home. In such a context social workers are not looking for signs of abuse or neglect, and there had been no reports filed, officially or anonymously, of abuse.

A National Child-Welfare Database Could Have Helped

As for Cheatham’s previous troubles in Texas, there is no national child-welfare database. Thus, social workers in Brooklyn would have had no knowledge of Cheatham’s other children, and the circumstances that led to their removal from her home in Texas—unless, of course the woman shared the situation with social workers voluntarily. Few do. And if a prospective custodial parent were to be asked if there are any pre-existing children, and the individual chooses to be untruthful there isn’t much, given current regulations, an agency can do to prove otherwise.

Susan Jacobs, Executive Director and President of the Center for Family Representation in New York, notes that while Cheatham applied for custody of the little boy in November of last year, she left court in February before her case was called. Jacobs said that kind of behavior should serve as a red flag. Instead, the matter was dropped, the petition was retired and there was no follow-up.

Police Previously Visited the Abused Child’s Home

Police who visited Cheatham’s home on several occasions were there to hear visitation issues raised by the boy’s father, who worked as a doorman in Manhattan. There were no reports of abuse, and no investigation thereof.

Meanwhile, recent signs of abuse were everywhere. Neighbors heard the boy crying, and his caregiver screaming and cursing at him, hearing her say at one point, “I hate kids.”

No one called authorities, even anonymously. No one wanted to get into an altercation with Cheatham. No one wanted to get involved, and a child fell through some massive cracks in the system.

Kyle Smith, 3, died June 6th. His mother, who hadn’t seen her little boy since November, attended the funeral.

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