Evil is among us. Moreover, it is most often undetected until something horrible, and formerly concealed, is revealed. I know this as a former homicide detective, as the current Department of Child Safety (DCS) Director, and as a human being. It is natural for compassionate people to become angered and emotional upon hearing such revelations. It is also common for those emotions and the resultant ire to be directed towards the child protection agency. I said it is common, not that it is acceptable.
The recent case of Machelle Hobson brings us all pain. Moreover, we hurt for the children whom were entrusted to her care. Although I would like to, I cannot opine or share information regarding her alleged crimes against these innocent children. The law, and a person’s right to due process are part of our society’s guiding principles. Justice will be served and information will be shared when appropriate.
I can, however, opine on the condition of dark hearts and their mastery at manipulating children, systems, and onlookers; and in this particular case, 800,000 YouTube subscribers. As a Homicide detective, I solved many murders; some prolific cases involving children. One such case involved the torture over six years and eventual killing of ten-year-old Ame Deal. She was crammed into a box (similar to a footlocker), padlocked in, and left to die on a July evening in Phoenix. The entire family, including six children, consistently told a tale of hide-n-seek gone wrong. In reality, Ame was abducted from her birth mother 7 years prior; and was tortured in three different states before succumbing in Arizona. Eventually, 5 family members were convicted, two of which were sentenced to death.
I can name many such cases where a masterful abuser, or killer, was able to deceive and chronically harm without detection. There’s a reason that some of the most secretive, long term abusers have no criminal records. They use deception, manipulation, fear tactics, and the use of medical or mental health diagnosis and psychotropic drug prescriptions to silence or discredit children while they gain credibility. Moreover, they provide evidence and records of former professional system engagements to divert suspicion during newly reported concerns. In this most recent provocative case, at least 20 systems or agencies were involved with this foster/adoptive mother and these children. To name a few: a foster care licensing agency, occupational therapists, respite providers, attorneys, Foster Care Review Board (FCRB), guardian ad litems (GALs), behavioral health providers, family support providers, two police departments, a forensic interviewer, and DCS staff (investigators, on-going social workers, adoption and licensing personnel). Moreover, the adoptive home was certified and a judge finalized an adoption just weeks before this discovery. And let’s not forget, this family was visualized on YouTube more than one million times and had 800,000 subscribers. Things are not always what they seem.
However much I wish someone would have detected these alleged horrors sooner, no one did. At DCS, we are committed to protecting children, and in some cases, finding them a loving adoptive family. Foster parents, DCS, and all of the aforementioned system partners dedicate their lives to preventing and healing the suffering that comes from human frailties and evil. Can we all do better? Should we aspire to continuously improve? Of course. But, these issues are much more complex and require more than just blaming one entity within an entire system of care and community. We ask that everyone remain vigilant, but not irrationally suspicious of your neighbor. We ask that everyone report and intervene to disrupt child maltreatment, and be tenacious if efforts don’t result in the right outcome. We ask that all people have investment in and accountability for all children. We ask that children be empowered to speak up and not be shut down. We ask that everyone involved in child safety and child well-being exhaustively pursue the best outcomes; and fervently, trust but verify. If you suspect child abuse and/or neglect please call 1-888-SOS-CHILD.
Director, Arizona Department of Child Safety