Dealing with child abuse is something every Child Protective Services employee dreads — and something struggling parents fear being accused of. Some abuse cases are so cruel, so flagrant, so extreme that the justice of taking children from their mothers and father is never in doubt.
But the case of Daniel Panico and Mona Kirk isn’t one of them, although it seems so at first. On Feb. 28, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department arrested the couple after a general investigation of an area of Joshua Tree, California.
What they found would horrify almost anyone. Panico and Kirk were raising three children ages 11, 13, and 14 in a cobbled-together plywood shack.
Human waste was everywhere, and the family didn’t have any running water. Additionally, there was an abandoned trailer on the site, and 30 or 40 cats roaming about.
“Children should not have to live like that,” Cindy Bachman, a representative of the Sheriff’s Department, told The Los Angeles Times.
“As parents, they have a responsibility to provide the basic necessities for their children to grow up and be healthy and safe.”
Yet once Panico and Kirk had been taken into custody and held in lieu of $100,000 bail, people started telling the press that the police were unfairly penalizing an indigent family.
“The Sheriff’s Department is punishing those kids for being homeless,” Leanna Munroe, a family friend who has known Panico and Kirk for nine years, said.
Yucca Valley, California, resident Jackie Klear said that the couple had struggled to make ends meet and had never abused their kids. “I know this looks like crap,” she said, referring to the family’s makeshift home.
“But they were very well taken care of. … [The children] were very much loved.”
Klear and another friend, Marsha Custodio, said that Panico and Kirk’s real crime was refusing the help of others out of a misplaced sense of pride. The Sheriff’s Department also stated that none of the couple’s children were or confined in any way.
When Panico appeared in court with Kirk on March 2, he seemed confused, saying to the judge, “I’m wondering why all this is happening. … It’s ridiculous.”
So what do you think, readers? Did the authorities do the right thing by the children or are they penalizing a family simply for being poor?
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