Austin Watkins' death: What happened? - - Jackson, MS

Scott County 11/14/08

Austin Watkins' death: What happened?

By Cheryl Lasseter - bio | email

SCOTT COUNTY, MS (WLBT) - Authorities say the two adult relatives whom little Austin Watkins lived with were involved in methamphetamine. But it's hard to believe that even the blindness of drug addiction would obscure the reality of child starving to death right under your nose.

"Even if you put the stressors aside, looking at the most financially secure family, we know abuse occurs in well-off families and in dirt poor families," says Richard McMullan, Child Services Director for Region 8 Mental Health Services.  McMullan says child abuse and neglect happens more than we will ever know, because it's estimated that fewer than half of the cases are ever reported.

You may wonder where the Department of Human Services was in this situation. Julia Bryan with DHS couldn't confirm or deny to WLBT News whether a case was open on Austin. She released a statement saying, "Our people in Scott County are working with authorities to help gather information on the case."

But we're told that the agency had been involved in Austin's case in the past, taking the child away from his mother due to drug abuse.  It's unclear whether the case had been closed for good, or if the agency should have been checking up on Austin's well-being.

If Region 8 therapists observe abuse or neglect, they're obligated to report it to DHS within 24 hours and follow up on what happens to the child. Neglected children are often removed from the home, McMullan says.

And why would some children be singled out for neglect? Austin had several siblings that appear to be ok. "If it was a parent, hypothetically, that child may in some way remind that parent of an adult in their lives that abused them, perhaps even their own parent or someone they're involved in a relationship with, a spouse, and they can take that out on the child, tragically," McMullan says.

Anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect should call police, and be persistent if the situation is not investigated the first time.  

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