Five-year-old old Brandajah Smith grabbed the loaded .38-caliber revolver after her mother left her alone in their New Orleans apartment. It’s still not clear why she pulled the trigger, whether it was an accident or related to the suicidal thoughts the child had expressed. But when her mother returned from the store, Brandajah was dead from a single gunshot to the head.
Brandajah’s death in 2013 was shocking, but few people who knew her were surprised.
For almost a year, her teachers had repeatedly reported suspicions that she was being sexually abused. They also told authorities that she talked about her own death, what it would be like in heaven and about the gun in her home.
Following Brandajah’s death, officials from Louisiana’s Department of Children & Family Services told the Times Picayune newspaper that the agency “thoroughly investigated each of the complaints received.” But they also said that Brandajah’s mother, Laderika Smith, was not complying with the “safety plan” that the agency had set up. In November 2012 – after months of leaving the child in a home with her mother and the mother’s boyfriend, who owned the gun (both are felons) – DCFS asked the local court to either order compliance or give the agency the authority to take the child away. By the time of the kindergartner’s death, the court had done neither.
Child welfare case files are not public, so it is not clear why the court did not act in Brandajah’s case. But that inaction came amid a growing push by liberal advocacy groups, child welfare agencies, and some judges to leave children in troubled homes instead of placing them in foster care.
No one argues that foster care cannot be improved. But this movement, which boasts strong financial and political support, is drawing attention for two reasons. First are concerns that it puts children at risk. The second is that it is based on racial ideology that ignores the evidence about child maltreatment.