When we think of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, more often than not children come first. They are completely reliant on their caregivers to provide them with food, shelter, safety, and love. This is why we abhor the abuse of children. To harm a child, one who has no choice but to trust the one responsible for them, is a despicable crime. We do what we can to prevent the abuse and neglect of children, and more so to save children when they are found in those conditions. However, sometimes there are cracks in the system, and some children fall through. The results of these failures are often tragic, but none so much as the story of Adrian Jones.
Adrian Jones was found dead in his family pigsty in late November 2015. It is believed that the seven-year-old died two months earlier in September, and the family failed to report the death. Video and photo evidence obtained from Heather Jones’s computer show a tortured and starved Adrian prior to his death. Eventually the body was dumped in the sty to be eaten by pigs.
A caseworker first became aware of Adrian’s potentially neglectful and abusive living situation after a hotline caller alerted them two years prior to his death. The caseworker examined the family home in Plattsburg, Missouri and spoke with the father, Michael Jones, the stepmother, Heather Jones, and several children in the home. Adrian’s interview was unwisely held within earshot of his abusive stepmother. However, a lack of evidence made substantiating the neglect allegation impossible.
Four months later another hotline call was made, again claiming the presence of abusive conditions in the home. When the investigator went to the home again, Adrian wasn’t there, and wasn’t interviewed until nine days later. At that interview there were no physical signs of abuse, but Adrian gave specific details of abuse that were being perpetrated by both his father and stepmother. It was determined that a physical examination and a forensic interview were necessary.
Late in the afternoon of July 18, 2013, Adrian’s father and great uncle accompanied him to the physical examination where the concerns were not substantiated. After the exam, the family arrived at the Child Advocacy Center to be interviewed. There, Adrian stated “my dad doesn’t hurt me.” He also spoke of being pulled by the arm and ear by his stepmother and that he gets locked in his room for taking snacks out of the kitchen. The excessive talk about food and being hungry was concerning, however in that interview, Adrian did not disclose any further details of abuse or neglect.
The manager of Adrian’s case asked another worker to contact the juvenile office about taking protective custody, however the officer didn’t believe the facts warranted a removal, and the Children’s Division does not have the authority to remove children from a home on their own. The officer directed them to develop a safety plan with the family and attempt intensive in-home services. However, after less than two weeks of participating in these in-home services, the parents stopped cooperating. They argued that a Missouri office had no right to interfere with their lives due to their primary residence being in Kansas. Adrian was beyond the Missouri Children division attempts to help.
There are a number of things that went wrong in the handling of this case. First, when the initial caseworker went to the home to investigate the claims of abuse and neglect, Adrian should not have been interviewed with his stepmother sitting nearby and within earshot. Second, after telling a child welfare worker and police officer that his father and stepmother hurt him, the potential perpetrators were allowed to transport the child to a doctor for the examination and then to the forensic interview. This time could have allowed the perpetrator to coach Adrian on what to say, resulting in Adrian’s very clear quote “my dad doesn’t hurt me.” The final misstep in the handling of this case was when the Juvenile office chose not to remove the child from the home despite the fact that the Children’s Division workers thought it was needed.
Some experts say that it’s not fair to solely blame the Missouri’s Children’s Division. Without the authority to remove a child from a home, the Children’s Division workers lack the tools they need while investigating high-level cases, such as that of Adrian Jones.
Heather and Michael Jones both plead guilty to one count of first-degree murder and have been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murder conviction. Heather Jones has received an additional sentence of five years and eight months in prison for child abuse.
Bauer, L. & Rizzo, T. (2017, March 31). Guilty plea in murder case of Kansas City, Kan., boy fed to pigs. The Kansas City Star. Retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article142008244.html
Bauer, L. (2017, May 8). ‘Imagine the screams,’ detective says of KCK boy’s torture as dad is sent to prison. The Kansas City Star. Retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article149316569.html
Bauer, L. (2017, May 18). Torturous death of Adrian Jones ‘a failure of the system,’ child welfare experts say. The Kansas City Star. Retrieved from http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/crime/article151294907.html
Smith, J. (2017, May 23). How seven-year-old boy suffered years of abuse including black eyes and had to steal food from trash cans to survive before he was killed and fed to pigs by his father and stepmother. Dailymail.com. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4535562/Records-years-abuse-suffered-Adrian-Jones.html