Legacy of Kylie’s death
In the normal course of a child’s development, at twelve months first steps are being taken and first words are being uttered. The adventures of life are expanding beyond the confines of one’s immediate world. For Kylie Ann Kirbis-Fernoff, life ended there. She died on April 4, 2001, becoming, at age 12 months and 25 days, one of three children who die nationally, each day from the result of child abuse and neglect. On that day Nevada County lost an innocent young child and a little bit of its soul.
The investigation and prosecution of the defendant, Albert Jimenez, Jr., took more than 13 months, longer than little Kylie’s short life. On May 7, 2002, Albert Jimenez, Jr. was convicted after a trial by jury found him guilty of murder in the second degree, child abuse causing death, and an assault on a child likely to cause great bodily injury or death. Mr. Jimenez had previously been convicted of child abuse for which he served a prison term. He now awaits sentencing in Nevada County Superior Court on June 10.
The death of any child is a tragedy. The death of a child that may have been prevented is multiplied many fold. In California, lawmakers have declared the importance of protecting our children by enacting mandated reporting laws. In the case of Kylie Kirbis-Fernhoff, as many as three such mandated reporters had knowledge of her circumstances and suspected abuse. Beyond these three mandated reporters, the child’s mother and perhaps other relatives, friends and neighbors may have suspected the suffering and danger Kylie faced. Yet, little Kylie died.
Fear of involvement, fear of making a mistake, or fear of reprisal does not excuse mandated reporters from exercising their obligation to report reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities. The list of mandated reporters is long and includes all health and mental health practitioners, pharmacists, clergymen, therapists and counselors, law enforcement officers, firefighters, all school personnel (public and private), child care providers, film processors and animal control officers. While protected from civil or criminal liability should a report prove to be unfounded, mandated reporters are subject to fines and a jail term for failure to make a report. While not mandated to report, private citizens are afforded the same protection as mandated reporters, without being subject to the same penalties for failure to report. Whether a mandated reporter or a private citizen, we all share in the responsibility of protecting our children. We must all keep a watchful eye out for our young children and step forward to protect them if we suspect they are being abused or neglected. While Kylie’s tragic death is disturbing and saddens us all, perhaps her legacy has been to teach us all the importance of protecting our children through prevention.
Because questions about suspected child abuse and neglect abound, and because the circumstances surrounding abuse and neglect are complex, all mandated reporters are required to receive periodic training on this subject. Such training is available through the state mandated Child Abuse Prevention Councils which exist in each county. Private citizens, fraternal organizations, service and social organizations, churches, and service providers can all obtain information about the importance and specifics of reported suspected abuse and neglect from their local Child Abuse Prevention Council or their county’s Child Protective Services Agency. In Nevada County we are fortunate to have two such agencies. The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Western Nevada County serves the Grass Valley/Nevada City areas, as well as the entire western portion of the county. Information is available through CAPC at 470-0701 or through Nevada County CPS at 265 1340. CPS’s 24-hour number is 265-9380 or their toll free number is 1-888 456-9380. In Eastern Nevada County, information is available through the Tahoe-Truckee Children’s Collaborative at 587-8322. In an emergency, reports can be made to your local law enforcement agency by dialing 911.
In recent years much has been done to protect children, but there remains enormous gaps between what is being done and what needs to be done if we are to protect the most vulnerable among us. Reporting is only one aspect of what must be a multi-faceted, community-wide, and long-term effort to prevent child maltreatment and to heal the wounds already inflicted on our children and our community. Kylie would not have wanted her death to be in vain, so please carry her torch forward and do your part in preventing further abuse and neglect.
Dr. Danita Sorenson is Director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Western Nevada County. Rod Gillespie is Project Coordinator of the Nevada County Victim/Witness Assistance Program.
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