The stepmother of a 15-year-old girl who ran away from home starved and vastly underweight was sentenced Friday to five years in prison on reckless endangerment and mental harm convictions.
Melinda Drabek-Chritton, 43, of Madison, had a role in the neglect of a girl who badly needed professional help to cope with lifelong emotional issues.
But although she initially tried, those issues were not addressed between 2008 and Feb. 6, 2012, when the girl ran away from home barefoot and dressed in pajamas and was found by a passer-by who called police.
……Genovese said that Drabek-Chritton and the girl’s father, Chad Chritton, initially did try to help the girl when they brought her to Wisconsin from Texas in 2006, where she had been living with her birth mother and her mother’s husband, who was a sex offender.
The girl initially claimed that the man had sexually abused her, then denied it, but Dane County Human Services investigators found there was ample evidence to show that she had been sexually abused.
After the girl’s last medical appointment in 2008, Genovese said, Chritton and Drabek-Chritton decided that they “didn’t want to be bothered with her problems and gave up.”
When the girl was found she weighed only 68 pounds. She told police that she had been confined to the basement of the family home, starved and was not allowed to use the bathroom upstairs.
She said Drabek-Chritton abused her and encouraged the girl’s younger half-brothers to treat her badly as well.
Chad Chritton, 42, was convicted in March of felony child neglect but a jury deadlocked on other charges. Prosecutors will re-try him in November.
Drabek-Chritton’s son, Joshua Drabek, 19, is scheduled to stand trial in February on sexual assault and child abuse charges. –Ed Treleven, Stepmom of girl in abuse case Sentenced to five years in prison
This statement from the above article is one reason why I fear the system may fail Richard and Tracy‘s kids (another is the slap on the wrist he got for choking his kid, and other cases I’ve read about in our state in the past several years, of kids being killed after CPS did not do its job):
But he said there is lots of blame to go around. Despite near-constant intervention with the family by Dane County Human Services, nobody helped the girl. “This case is a system failure,” Ozanne said.
Reading about this case is also when I first came across this information about food hoarding.
This raised new red flags about Richard and Tracy, because they once told me their kids were hoarding lunchmeat.
Since by now we already knew about the abuse and Richard choking one of the children, my husband and I both wondered if there was more going on than we knew about.
This isn’t about kids sneaking away snack food because their parents don’t want them to have it. This is squirreling away things like lunchmeat and other foods because you don’t know when your next meal will be:
“She said the girl’s behavior in the hospital was consistent with that of a persistently starved person. The girl ordered as many items from the menu as she could, then hoarded the food and tucked some away for later, Knox testified.” —Judge orders trial in Wisconsin starved-teen case
So why does a child hoard food? Often food hoarding is directly connected to significant neglect that the child has experienced in consistently having their basic needs for life sustaining food denied or inadequately met.
As a result, the child is forced to become prematurely self-reliant in meeting their own basic needs. –Charley Joyce, Child Neglect and Hoarding Food
Cracker crumbs found under a pillow. Moldy food rotting under the bed. A stash of food hidden in a backpack. A child who sits at a table and eats – and eats – and eats, until you are afraid their stomach can handle no more. Sound familiar?
…Children communicate needs through behavior. On a deeper level, this issue is not about food but about control. The child is not yet ready to trust the adults in his or her life to provide a secure, safe environment.
That trust cannot be won by threats, punishments or shaming behaviors. This behavior does not come out of a vacuum. Rather, it is an adaptive response to deprivation. It often stems from years of food insecurity. –Lisa Dickson, The Power of Food: Tips for Handling Hoarding
Incidences of food maintenance syndrome have been linked to acute stress, particularly from personal traumas such as abuse or maltreatment.
In many cases, children with food maintenance syndrome have undergone periods of neglect where they did not have access to adequate amounts of food.
The child then develops a heightened survival instinct related to food; whenever the child has an opportunity to consume food, he or she does so in excess and hoards any remaining food.
In situations where food is not consistently available to meet basic needs, overeating and food hoarding are natural reactions to fight off potential future starvation.
However, these habits can continue even when food has become readily available thus causing food maintenance syndrome. The characteristics of this disorder are a sign that the person afflicted still feels insecure about whether his/her basic needs will be met….
Food maintenance syndrome is rare in the general population but there are certain demographics where it is very common. In particular, foster children are prone to food maintenance syndrome.
Abused or neglected children who are not in foster care also frequently display symptoms of food maintenance syndrome. —Food Maintenance Syndrome
Read more about this case here.