Letter to the editor: Haters need to stop and think of Sabrina

Meetings of the Dallas County Board of Health are usually held at the Dallas County Human Services Campus at 25747 N Ave.

To the editor:

In the past week, I have seen many, many posts to social media about the situation that has happened in Perry with the adopted girl, Sabrina Ray, who died and how DHS and providers who worked with that foster/adoptive family “failed” her.

As someone with a decade of experience in the field, I have been asked my opinion many times. Here it is:

There is a common misconception that social workers have the legal ability to remove children in cases of suspected child abuse. The only three people who have that legal ability are judges, police officers and doctors. In order for any of them to do so, however, there has to be evidence that the child’s safety is in imminent danger.

Despite trying to do thorough investigations, DHS can’t always prove imminent danger if the kids aren’t talking or if the perpetrators are really good at diverting and covering up the abuse.

Also, although it would be good for DHS to just show up with no advance notice, this doesn’t mean the people will be home or will even allow DHS into the home to have access to the kids. Think of all of the time and resources that would be drained from social workers who don’t have much of it to begin with.

I don’t argue that this is a systemic issue. However, everyone I see on these news articles claiming that these DHS workers failed this girl need to take a step back and remember that just because you’re a social worker, you don’t have some almighty, omniscient power to do what you want without having to have evidence to back it up.

Remember that social workers are human. People are manipulative, and no one is perfect. As with any profession, I’m sure there are bad eggs or people who don’t do a very good job. However, in my experience, there are way more social workers who do their jobs and do them very well. Anyone who thinks they could do this job should go try. It’s not an easy one.

Additionally, I see a ton of people who have said, “Oh, I would take that kid,” or “I would do more but . . .”

There is no “but.” Do more! Put your money where your mouth is! There is a desperate need for foster homes in Iowa right now. There is a huge need for donations to food pantries. There is an immense need for clothing donations. There is always need for volunteers in local children’s programs.

Most importantly of all, there is the greatest need for people to open their mouths and report things when they see them and not just walk by and mind their own business simply because it doesn’t affect them.

If people want to see things change, it starts within the community. It starts with knowing your neighbors and being good to one another and – not to make this political – voting for people who want to help people instead of cut the services in their communities, especially in rural communities like Perry, and put more restrictions in place!

Lastly, I worked with this family years ago because they fostered prior clients of mine. They had their ducks in a row. They seemed “normal” and safe. So normal and safe, in fact, that they did daycare for my own son on a few occasions when his normal daycare provider needed a day off or was sick.

Do those of you who have written hateful, horrible things on the news articles posted about this situation think that I, as a mother and a social worker, haven’t already questioned and scrutinized myself over and over about whether or not there was anything I possibly missed?

The horrible, judgmental posts on Facebook I’ve seen about the people who “failed this girl” or “allowed her to be murdered” need to stop. Just because you read a news article on Facebook, it doesn’t mean you know everything about the situation or events that have led up to this horrible tragedy.

Step away from the safety behind your keyboards and if you truly want awful things to stop happening to children in our communities, then do something to actually contribute and be a solution to the issue.

Hate breeds hate, but luckily love and support breeds unity and safety to kids who need it the most. Thank you.

Elizabeth Skurdal


  1. I don’t think she said they were great. I think she said they were great at putting up a front, covering for themselves and fooling those who are experienced.

  2. Too many people are so caught up in the evilness of this situation that they forget where our concentration should go. It should go on all the other children out there that need help before they face the same fate. Don’t judge the perpetrators. They will pay for their sins one way or another. For those of you who are Christians. remember what Jesus taught us: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I beg everyone to gather together and pray, support one another and be a community of love for all the children.

  3. She didn’t say they were great. She said they put up a great front, and that’s exactly what they did with me and my child. I had no idea. If I had, I never would have taken her there. People let you see what people want you to see.

  4. Really, Elizabeth? You don’t have to be the brightest person in the world to know that a 16-year-old weighing under 60 pounds is being abused. This DID NOT happen over night. If the DHS cannot pull the child, then the police need to be called. You people need to throw a fit, make a formal complaint against the police or anyone else if they do not make corrections. You can try to turn this political if you want, but I am not falling for that. It has nothing to do with having food or clothing if those items are present but not being shared. We can see the parents were getting quite plump on all of that food.

  5. I call BS. I get that social workers have a difficult job, but they weren’t listening to the foster kids at all. This is, what, the third death from malnutrition in the last year or less? How could any social worker look at this girl, knowing her age, and not realize that she was malnourished? Whether anyone likes it or not, some of the responsibility goes right into DHS’s lap. I don’t care what spin you put on it.

  6. Obviously, she is in thick with DHS. The true reason DHS does not want to investigate adoptive families is because they are the ones who placed those children there, making them (DHS) responsible. And DHS never admits to doing anything wrong. Call me a hater. I have every reason to be one.

  7. I totally agree with Debi. Everyone failed them — DHS, neighbors, police, schools. How did they find her? Prays for Sabrina and her siblings. Amed.

  8. Why can’t you get a young girl out of a home when she OBVIOUSLY was losing weight and had to be looking gaunt and listless? It takes quite a bit of time to die of starvation. Don’t tell me you cannot do anything about it.

  9. Oh, please. Get real, folks. It’s bad enough the girl died, but the attitudes of some folks are just abominable. Please, think twice before saying or doing anything that only adds insult to injury. Face it. The couple didn’t just buffalo the professionals. They fooled the whole darn town. Let the cops and courts do their respective jobs. Your indignation and finger pointing is not going to bring the girl back. All your anger will succeed in doing is to raise everyone’s blood pressure. Take a deep breath. If you can’t say or do anything positive, don’t do anything.

  10. Iowa DHS violates Relative Placement Law 232 every day! Data supports higher rates of abuse and death in non-relative foster-to-adopt homes. DHS is supposed to keep children safe and strengthen families, bur sadly they are failing at both. We don’t need foster homes. Keep children where they belong: with their biological family. Things will only change when the court system does what is in the best interest of the child and not DHS.

  11. I totally agree with you. For years we’ve told our children that if there’s something wrong, go to a responsible adult to get help. Children are not crazy. They see how many times those in charge pay no attention to them. As with some of these cases, the children have spoken and been sent right back to their abusers.

  12. Everyone did fail Sabrina. I keep seeing excuses. Need for food at pantries? These people clearly had plenty of food or they wouldn’t be pushing 500 pounds. They put up a great front? So you are telling me a social worker went to this house and saw this emaciated girl and thought she was being fed? How is that possible? From the pictures I’ve seen (two of them), you can clearly see she is not being fed and has a lifeless look in her eyes. I wish I had seen her. I would have called someone. Not that that would have helped though, as I see. I didn’t even know this family had other kids. They were regulars at Subway, coming in with their oldest son (the only one I’ve ever seen) and ordering food for themselves. Also heard they bought a Mustang for this kid as well. Everyone failed Sabrina. The parents, foster parents, the oldest son who saw what was going on as well, family and friends that came over and did nothing and, yes, DHS failed her. You did have the authority to get her out (you guys waste your time harassing people who actually do love and take care of their kids), yet you did nothing. She deserved a chance at life and we failed her miserably. #wefailedSabrinaRay

  13. These foster children all should be in public/private schools. That alone would be a safeguard, plus they would be seen every day. Even after adoption, they should see a counselor. I wonder how much time is spent on personal email, etc., that could be spent on managing families. What is the ratio of management to workers at DHS? It seems that everywhere is top heavy these days. Drive down the street, one person is working and three watching. Just wondering. What we’re doing isn’t working. Tough questions have to be asked and decisions made now and not in nine months after we form committees to decide who to have on the committee and where to meet and what to talk about, etc., etc., etc. Children are dying! Stop blaming one another, and look for a solution. We need people checking on and seeing these kids, not sitting in an office somewhere. Stop worrying about stepping on toes. What about lives, children’s lives? Because I’m sure there’s another one out there right now.

  14. The letter writer sounds like a social worker who does not know there are many family advocates all over the state of Iowa already fighting for children like Sabrina, Natalie and Malayia. My own granddaughters are in this same kind of abusive home. DHS, the two legislators in the area, the law enforcement, Matt McCoy, the Government Oversight Committee and many other legislators know all about this situation. I tried to fight for the safety of these girls in Washington County court, but of course being an outsider, the judge dismissed all the evidence, DHS report, medical report, photo and witnesses’ testimonies and put these girls back in a very dangerous, abusive home. So please tell me what else I can do? And yes, I am a volunteer in my church and food pantry beside donating food and clothing.

  15. We have a governor who defunded our schools and stripped our firefighters, police and state workers of their rights and wages. He has closed down our mental health facilities and is now leaving, thank God! We need to hope them silly folks under that golden dome correct this immediately before more children are starved to death in Iowa.

  16. I am sorry, Elizabeth, but I disagree with you. Police cannot remove a child unless it is drug related. The social worker has the responsibility to remove the child. This child obviously was very emaciated. These parents got thousands of dollars in subsidy for adopting these children. I am a CASA. My work is volunteer, and I put in hours. I drive to make unannounced visits. Am I let in? No. What is that? It is a red flag. Do you interview the children themselves? Do you ask them if they are safe? Is staff instructed on how to interview a child, to recognize the signs of emaciation? Do you ask WHY are your children home schooled? How in the world do you home school children and run a full-time daycare? No doubt a daycare that had subsidy from DHS? Do you do a criminal background check? Food pantries don’t mean the starving will be fed. Do children fostered and adopted deserve new clothes? This 16-year-old should have been enjoying life, attending homecoming, and instead she had a horrific life. I have to wonder if her biological parents would have starved her to death. DHS will not get a pass on this. I have great admiration for some workers. I once knew a worker who had a child and sat in a parking lot until 2 a.m. until a judge signed for removal. That is dedication! That is a worker who did her job. I am going to say that if you want to help children, become a CASA. Become a voice for children. They need you.

  17. I will agree that I am glad Branstad is gone, but I hardly think this child died because of his lack of support for our public needs. It is a shame we do not have better mental health facilities. However, the only one needing mental health facilities in this picture would be the mother and father. No, wait a minute. I guess they need to be put in a dungeon behind bars for life. Give them bread and water until their dying day, and maybe they might get it. This happened because of two cruel, inhumane, greedy adults who were living off of the state and at the expense of poor children. The DHS worker will not be given a bit of pity from me on this one. Of course, all of our great politicians will come out and denounce these cruel actions. Soon this will pass until the next child dies.


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