Two-year-old Kim was "essentially starving to death" because her mother "did not grasp" the concept of "nutritional needs." Maya, also two, was born with amphetamines in her system, thanks to a drug-addicted mother and a violent, alcoholic father who often lives in the county jail. Nine-month-old Sierra received cuts to her face and arm during a fight between her parents, both methamphetamine addicts, both living in a cheap motel. Patrick, 2, sustained a broken leg and arm from his incarcerated mother's live-in boyfriend. One-year-old Esperanza tested positive for opiates at birth from a mother who refused prenatal care and who'd used heroin twice a day during pregnancy while her father, a career criminal, watched.
These situations, gleaned from government records reviewed by the Weekly, are just a horrific glimpse into the underworld of Orange County's neglected and abused children. There are hundreds, if not thousands, more.
But the story of five-year-old Raven is unusually complex, because even as it offers a glimmer of hope, it is also wracked with frustration. Although Raven's mother is physically abusive, by all accounts she has a loving father. It just might not always be obvious, because he just happens to be delusional.
Consequently, Raven has bounced in and out of child protective services, while her father battles the state, trash and reality.
In May 2005, investigators with the Orange County Social Services Agency entered the family's house and found filthy, cluttered rooms—a cat litter box overflowing with fecal matter, clothes soaking in a urine-filled bucket, dishes with rotting human and animal food, stuffed and reeking garbage bags hanging on kitchen knobs, electrical wires dangling from ceilings, huge holes in walls and a front porch packed with full trash bags and animal cages . . . empty, except for one which contained seven rats.
"The house was so cluttered with debris and trash it was difficult to walk through," notes a government report, which concluded Raven's living conditions were "deplorable."
Like anyone delusional, Raven's father reacted poorly to the government agents who'd come to check on his daughter's well-being. He angrily insisted that there was no mess. As agents inspected, he chased them with a video camera. Raven, whom social workers describe as a "darling little girl," was taken to Orangewood Children's Home.
Two months later, after her parents had cleaned their home, Raven was returned. Her mother, an alcoholic, then beat her. Raven developed a severe case of bed-wetting. Mom moved out, and the court awarded custody to her unemployed father.
By March 2006, Raven and her father—who was taking parenting classes—lived in a motel. Two months later, the father lost custody after Raven was found with significant bruises on her arms and buttock. The situation might have gone unnoticed, except for an alert school official who saw the bruises. More alarming, Raven was filthy.
"She was dirty, had bad body odor, and her underpants were worn backwards and had dried feces in them," according to a report. "Her shoes were falling apart, and she could not remember the last time she had a bath."
One other condition prompted concern: a painful, itchy rash covered Raven's genital area. Her father had refused to get her medical attention. He blamed "too many bubble baths" for the condition. He lost custody again. Days later, a doctor said the little girl also suffered from ringworm.
Two months later, after Raven's father had found a job, leased a two-bedroom apartment and was attending parenting school, he wanted his daughter back. And Raven, who missed her father, said she wanted to live with him.
Late last year, a juvenile court judge consented, but made the following conditions: no corporal punishment, continued parenting school, guaranteed hygiene and social worker monitoring.
The terms were unacceptable to Raven's father. He filed a lawsuit to overturn the conditions and declared that he'd never neglected his daughter. Earlier this month, the Santa Ana-based state appellate court disagreed.
For now, however, Raven still lives with her father.