Summary: Kenneth Edwards, an unlicensed therapist with a criminal past working with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of sexually abusing a child referred to him. The harrowing and gruesome details and circumstances of this case relates to Steven Estey’s landmark Doe v. Giarretto case that awarded a record-high sexual abuse settlement of $30 million in California, and could very likely serve as precedent in future proceedings against the DCF.
Yesterday, justice was brought to a cruel and abusive man in Boston, convicted and sentenced to 10 years of prison for sexually assaulting a vulnerable 13-year-old boy multiple times back in 2010 while working as a therapist for the boy. This follows a depressing trend we have written about in the last week – predators exploiting positions of trust to abuse and exploit vulnerable children. This story is a special type of heartbreak because of the circumstances leading up to the trial, which are not for the faint of heart:
– Kenneth Edwards, the predator, was not licensed as a therapist, social worker, or a psychologist. Yet, he was still hired by Pyramid Builders, a non-profit organization to whom the Massachusetts Department of Children and Family (DCF) contracted out to.
– DCF referred the boy to Edwards. One noteworthy fact is that Pyramid Builders doesn’t require their workers to be licensed; they let them operate under the company license. Also from Edwards’ defense, “I got caught way over my head with a case I was unprepared to work for.”
– Edwards has a criminal past. He was sent to prison after kicking his wife, then eight-months pregnant, in the crotch while wearing construction boots. He also used a vehicle without authority in 1999, and had a firearm charge in 1990.
– Edwards abused him repeatedly in his car and his home. Edwards also volunteered to have the boy sleep over at his house after a Six Flags field trip. When Edwards told the boy the graphic details of what he would do to him, the boy purposely got himself “grounded” to prevent going on the trip.
– Edwards told the boy that nobody would believe him because of the boy’s past behavioral problems; he was partially right. When the boy reported the assaults, the DCF brushed aside his claim. In fact, the DCF finally acknowledged the teen had been abused…several months after the boy’s school called the police.
– The Massachusetts DCF has their hands full. In addition to this case, Olga Roche, the DCF Commissioner, is under fire for recent failures of the DCF. Those include abuse of foster kids, unlicensed social workers, and convicts living in foster homes.
– Pyramid Builders didn’t return a message when asked about their background check procedures; DCF says the agencies it works with are responsible for checking credentials and background of its workers.
These circumstances underscore the blunt miscarriage of trust placed in this organization. This story also hits close to home for us; we represented a John Doe in an eerily similar case – a case that we won for our abused victim to the tune of $30 million, which still stands today as California’s largest single-case sexual abuse settlement, and one of the largest ever in the United States. We bring up this particular case because of the harrowing similarities between our case and this case.
– Background checks or lack thereof, played a significant role in allowing a predator access to a vulnerable child. In the Giarretto case, it would have prevented a foster father from ever having access to children. Same with Edwards.
– Both the Giarretto Institute and Pyramid Builders were contracted to perform monitoring and supervision roles for the state agencies.
– Neither organization had investigators qualified to investigate such cases, leading the claim to be unsubstantiated. Nether organization properly trained their employees.
– The case was not just about the victim, but about the safety of all children under institutional care and beyond. The Suffolk D.A. in this case alludes to the same sentiment: “Other children are safer today because of his courage.”
– As a result of the Giarretto case, Santa Clara County stopped outsourcing foster care, and assumed the role themselves. Time will tell if the state of Massachusetts does the same, but I recommend that they do.
As a father, my heart breaks twice; once for this young man, and a second time when I imagine if that was my child in this situation. No boy should ever be obliged to saying this as a 17-year-old: “I find it ironic that a person who claims to be helping kids was actually destroying their lives, and he nearly destroyed mine. I will never fully get over [it]. Despite this, I will face this awful truth in my past and fight to stay in control of my feelings of hurt, anger, sadness, and betrayal. For three and a half years, I wondered what was wrong with me; I felt lost in the past, trapped in a nightmare.” In this young man’s words, I can see this kid’s remarkable strength and resilience in the face of unspeakable fear and horror. I wish this young man the best attorneys, medical care, and luck as he attempts to move his life forward.
When ruthless cowards such as John Jackson and Kenneth Edwards are brought to justice, it sends a strong message that abuse is intolerable. When their employers are held liable in the courts for shoddy hiring processes and poor training, it sends a forceful missive to out-of-control institutions. Children in these types of institutions need strong advocates, and with our Giarretto case as precedent, juries across the U.S. will seek to ensure that the institution will pay dearly if they don’t have one. The reality for the DCF is this; when this young man takes them to court, his attorneys need to look no further than Estey & Bomberger’s work in the Doe v. Giarretto case for precedent to hold institutions responsible.