Author talks about making child abuse prevention a bigger topic
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent April 25, 2013 11:46AM
Britten Follett | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 25, 2013 9:38PM
VALPARAISO — Everyone failed Kelsey Smith-Biggs.
The dozen caseworkers with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. The governor, who knew of her case. Her mother and stepfather, who were never charged specifically with homicide, but who are serving prison terms for enabling child abuse.
And the media, alerted of the danger Kelsey, age 2, was in before she died.
“I feel I’m really responsible, not for the murder, but for not taking care of this little girl,” said Britten Follett, who was a young television reporter in Oklahoma City when Kelsey died.
Follett, co-author of the book, “Who killed Kelsey?,” spoke Thursday at Strongbow Inn to an audience of social service workers, law enforcement officials and community members about Kelsey’s death. The program, sponsored by The Caring Place, Giving Focus, and Prevent Child Abuse Porter County, coincided with National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is commemorated in April.
Kelsey died on Oct. 11, 2005. Her parents, who had a tumultuous relationship, Follett said, divorced before she was born. Her father went to serve in the military in Iraq and her mother remarried.
Starting with a broken collarbone in January 2005, Kelsey began to show signs of physical abuse, which came to include spiral fractures in both of her legs, requiring casts. She bounced between her mother and stepfather’s home and her paternal grandmother’s, as caseworkers and a judge continued to return her to mother, even as her injuries escalated.
Kelsey’s paternal grandmother, Kathie Biggs, emailed Follett’s television station and other media with a list of the girl’s injuries and contact information, trying to get them involved to raise awareness about Kelsey’s case.
“No one at my station called her back,” Follett said.
Within days, the grandmother set another email, saying Kelsey was dead.
“This 2-year-old’s death could have been prevented. No one listened,” Follett said, adding the case didn’t garner any attention until Kelsey died and it became a national news story.
The story, Follett said, changed her career. An Illinois native, Follett is president of the Follett Educational Foundation, founded by her family, and travels across the country to talk about child abuse prevention.
Follett urged her audience to contact lawmakers and make child abuse prevention a political issue, not just something that comes up with the next horrific case that makes the news.
“Until we make child abuse a political conversation, a dinner conversation, there will be more Kelseys,” she said.