Child-abuse settlement money donated to child-advocacy groups

July 23, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Michael Jenkins always saw the 1986 death of his 9-year-old daughter, Myeshia, as a sacrifice that could save others from child abuse.

Now, at Mr. Jenkins' insistence, the bulk of a $250,000 settlement approved yesterday by the state Board of Public Works will be distributed among 10 child-advocacy groups in Maryland -- to be spent on preventing abuse and domestic violence. Mr. Jenkins, who lives in Baltimore, will receive $50,000.

"There are a lot of heroes in this story, and certainly one of the big heroes is Mr. Jenkins," said Kathryn V. Shulman, executive director of the Public Justice Center, part of Mr. Jenkins' legal team and one of the groups that will receive money as a result of the settlement.

"That's a terrific gesture and contribution on his part, especially in that he himself is not a wealthy man," she said. "It's a terrific and precedent-setting settlement that gives the money back to the groups that handle the problems."

Michael A. Millemann, former president of the Public Justice Center, said it was "a happy ending to an unhappy story. And the people who deserve the credit are Hogan & Hartson [a law firm] and Michael Jenkins, who in effect waived their right to recovery in order to prevent child abuse."

Mr. Millemann also praised Gov. William Donald Schaefer for his willingness to cooperate in this innovative settlement.

Since the lawsuit was started in 1986, according to attorneys, Mr. Jenkins had insisted that money collected in a lawsuit must go toward solving the problems that had led to Myeshia's death at the hands of her mother's boyfriend.

"I figure that my daughter sacrificed her life so people could see just what's going on with child abuse and social services," Mr. Jenkins said just a few days after the discovery of his daughter's body, on March 6, 1986, alongside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Prince George's County.

Houston Lanteon had beaten Myeshia with a belt, immersed her in a cold bath, then resumed the beating until she lost consciousness. The fatal attack was just one of several inflicted on the girl over a seven-year period, but she had never been removed from the home.

Lanteon and Myeshia's mother, Paulette Jenkins, are still serving prison terms in connection with the girl's death. But her death also led to key reforms in the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, including the hiring of more child protective workers and changes that make it easier for workers to document repeated abuse.

"I personally think that children are better off in many ways," said Charlotte King, executive director of the state Department of Human Resources' Social Services Administration. "The caseload ratio has improved tremendously."

But Elaine R. Fisher, director of Parents Anonymous, which will receive $20,000 through the settlement, said her agency sees families with increasingly severe problems.

"Children are indeed in more risk now because of worsening economic conditions, which places many parents under increased amounts of stress," Ms. Fisher said. "And, at the same time, fewer services are available to assist those parents in dealing with the stress because of funding cuts."

Other groups that will receive grants through the settlement include: Advocates for Children and Youth Inc., $20,000; Baltimore City Child Advocacy Network, $20,000; Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland, $25,000; House of Ruth, $25,000; People Against Child Abuse, $10,000; Sexual Assault Recovery Center Inc., $10,000; and the Maryland Network Against Family Violence, $25,000.

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