Nakota Kelly's mother insists the Department of Child Services should have done more to protect her son from his father before prosecutors say the boy was killed during a court-ordered weekend visit a year ago.
Hayley Kelly provided records that show caseworkers investigated repeated claims that the 10-year-old boy was being abused or neglected by his father Anthony Dibiah.
Each time, records show, DCS failed to find enough evidence to substantiate that the boy was being abused.
Experts declined to discuss Nakota's case specifically, but told WRTV that abuse allegations can be very difficult to prove.
“The systems are not omnipresent and omnipotent. They cannot do it all; we cannot put it all on them,” said Susana Mariscal, project director of Strengthening Indiana Families. “It’s also up to us to keep kids safe.”
In 2019, 61 Hoosier children died as the result of abuse or neglect in 2019, according to the most recent data available from the DCS. Twelve of the children who died had a prior substantiated history of abuse or neglect.
A child won’t always have visible bruises or the kind of injuries that prompt a doctor to determine a child has been abused. Some abuse is hidden.
“We can't leave it up to systems, because these systems are bound by rules and laws,” Sandy Runkle, director of programs for Prevent Child Abuse Indiana.
Prosecutors Anthony Dibiah killed his son Nakota at an Indianapolis apartment during a court-ordered weekend visit on July 18, 2020. Dibiah is in the Marion County Jail awaiting trial for murder.
Hayley Kelly said she plans to sue the DCS. Her lawyer has filed a tort claim notice, which is the first step to suing a state agency in Indiana.
DCS has declined to comment.
Runkle and Mariscal say the people who work in the child welfare system try to learn from each tragic and heartbreaking death of a child.
They say Indiana has focused on preventing abuse and neglect. The goal, they say, is to help parents and caregivers find the services they need before the pressure overwhelms them.
“We want parents and caregivers to feel like they can ask for help,” Runkle said. “There's no shame in asking for help.”
Mariscal’s organization, Strengthening Indiana Families, has launched resource centers in Delaware, Grant and Tipton counties. Another center is planned to this year in Madison County.
The centers link families to various services and provide activities and other help for raising children, Mariscal said.
“It is hard to be a parent,” Mariscal said. “It's okay to not have all the answers and kids don't come with instructions. We're here to help.”
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.
Anyone feeling overwhelmed and in need of help can call 211, which will connect callers to a host of social services and resources.
Indiana law requires everyone to call authorities whenever they suspect a child may be abused or neglected. You can report anonymously through the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556.