A 12-year-old girl was kept locked in a basement for nearly a month by her abusive parents, according to the Middletown, Ohio police department. Emerging details from the case show that the local child welfare system missed an opportunity to save her months ago. The Middletown Journal reports:
Middletown police said an anonymous complaint led Butler County Children Services (BCCS) this month to investigate Shawn Blackston, 40, and Joanna Blackston, 36, who live at 1606 Philadelphia Ave. The complaint was that the couple [was] allegedly abusing one of their six children.
After Children Services staff members saw the “deplorable living conditions,” Middletown police were notified on July 3, said Lt. Scott Reeve.
Police found several locks on the door leading to the basement, which had boarded-up windows and no bathroom. Inside they found the dirty and malnourished girl BCCS had alerted them to:
She had scars on her back, arms and legs from what she said was previous abuse. She said her stepmother put duct tape over her eyes and mouth and bound her wrists behind her back. She hadn’t brushed her teeth in six months since her parents took the toothbrush away as punishment, she told investigators.
Her only communication with her siblings was through floor boards and under the basement door, Reeve said.
The girl and her five siblings in the home were all removed. Several months prior, a 15-year-old sister was removed from the home as well. According to attorney Randy Turner–who served as the girl’s court-appointed advocate–she experienced similar abuse and neglect:
…[Turner] said there were a number of red flags that something was wrong at the Blackston home. He said his ward was…also punished by being placed in the basement.
In February, Turner requested a court order for BCCS to investigate the home. However, he says the agency found nothing wrong:
“They either didn’t look at the basement or thought it was OK,” Turner said.
Jeff Centers, executive director of BCCS, has confirmed that staff members were placed on administrative leave this week, but would not confirm if it was related to the case:
He said the case is pending an investigation into whether “proper policies and procedures were followed.”