DALLAS — As more details continue to come out surrounding the death of a five-year-old boy in South Dallas, Kathleen LaValle is sickened.
"I can't even describe the impact," LaValle said.
LaValle is the president and CEO of Dallas Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA. The group is appointed by local judges to cases involving children who have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services because of abuse or neglect. The advocates work to build relationships with the children, learn the details of their situations and make informed recommendations about the safest options for them.
On Monday morning, Dallas police found the five-year-old dead in his home. The child's mother, 26-year-old Kimberly Williams, was arrested and charged with injury to a child causing serious bodily injury. According to the arrest affidavit, Williams admitted the abusing the little boy daily.
CPS confirmed it had history with the family. LaValle confirmed Dallas CASA worked on a case involving the family that was closed more than a year ago.
Five other children were removed from the home Monday, according to CPS. They range in age from three months old to seven years old.
"The suffering of that child is obviously what, at first, just breaks your heart," LaValle said. "But then I think about the seven-year-old, the six-year-old and the three-year-old…the one-year-old….the three-month-old. What is the impact to them? What is the lasting impact to them?"
CPS said the children were all placed in foster care.
LaValle said, from an advocate standpoint, her first concern is whether the children will be placed together. She said it will likely be difficult to find a home that can take all of five of them.
The next step, she said, will be to find the appropriate therapy and resources for children who are so young to help them cope.
"It's going to have a lasting impact," LaValle said.
The timing of this case raises more questions.
Last September, multiple laws went into effect in Texas that change the way child abuse and neglect reports are classified and addressed.
House Bill 567 creates a more narrow definition of the word "neglect", adding a requirement that a child must be in "immediate danger". House Bill 3379 now requires someone reporting child abuse to have "reasonable cause".
“There is certainly a higher standard to meet now, even as a matter of practice," LaValle.
She said the higher hurdle for removing children from homes is playing out in case numbers. In May 2018, she said, nearly 200 children were removed from their homes in Dallas County. Last month, less than 30.
The number of calls to CPS to report abuse hasn't decreased.
“We just have much closer scrutiny about removing a child, and you never want to remove a child that you don’t need to remove but the community has to stay focused on the children," LaValle said.
WFAA is waiting on more details from CPS on the department's history with the family in this case.
“In the last six months…nine months…has it come to the attention of CPS?" LaValle asked. "And was it a situation where an investigator might have wanted to take action but didn’t think they could meet that standard?”