Advocates for Children’s Rights Question State Authorities’ Decision to Leave 5-Year-Old Zoey Felix in a High-Risk Household

by Ryan Lee
Child welfare system shortcomings

Zoey Felix’s life was characterized by instability and neglect. Prior to her tragic demise at the age of five, local residents in Topeka, Kansas, had often observed her in an unkempt and malnourished state. Law enforcement agencies had been called to her residence on multiple occasions, and educational authorities had expressed concern over her frequent absences from preschool. Notwithstanding allegations of abuse from both parents and the mother’s arrest following a DUI incident with Zoey in the car, the state’s child welfare agency had been alerted yet took no action.

In September, Zoey and her father left their home, leading neighbors to speculate that they had started living in a makeshift camp in a vacant plot nearby. Tragically, Zoey was later found dead, and a 25-year-old homeless man, Mickel Cherry, has been charged with her murder.

While much public outrage has centered around the parents, advocates for children’s welfare are questioning the lack of intervention from the police and the beleaguered Kansas Department of Children and Families, critiquing the state’s failure to remove Zoey from a clearly perilous domestic situation.

Shakti Belway, executive director at the National Center for Youth Law—which previously sued the state over deficiencies in its child welfare system—termed society’s inability to safeguard Zoey as “both heartbreaking and inexcusable.”

Mickel Cherry faces charges of first-degree murder, rape, and capital murder and could potentially be sentenced to death. Neither his attorney nor his family have issued any statements. Law enforcement authorities have confirmed that Cherry was homeless at the time of his arrest and had lived at the same address as Zoey in the past.

An in-depth examination of legal documents and police reports depicts an increasingly tumultuous home life for Zoey. Court records reveal that her father had successfully obtained a restraining order against her mother, who admitted that her husband had temporary custody but refused to answer further queries.

Both parents remained unresponsive to communication attempts. Zoey’s father was employed at the gas station where efforts to resuscitate his daughter proved unsuccessful. The establishment’s management and corporate owners have also remained silent on the matter.

While the police investigation continues, it remains uncertain whether additional charges will be filed. Laura Howard, the senior official at the Department for Children and Families, labeled the case as “tragic” in a legislative hearing but offered no further details.

Mike Fonkert, deputy director of Kansas Appleseed, another organization that sued the state over its child welfare system, questioned the department’s inaction, stating, “How was that child not removed? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Residents near Zoey’s former home describe her pitiable conditions: she was often seen wearing the same clothes for days, had no access to utilities, and was occasionally cared for by neighbors who also reported concerns to child welfare agencies.

According to court and educational records, Zoey’s domestic troubles escalated in the months leading up to her death. Despite multiple interactions with child welfare services, Zoey remained in a precarious environment, finally culminating in her tragic end, raising grave questions about the efficacy and responsibility of the state’s child welfare system.

On the evening of October 2, emergency services received a distress call about an unresponsive five-year-old at a gas station. Despite attempts at resuscitation, Zoey was declared dead upon arrival at a hospital. The specifics surrounding her death remain undisclosed.

Nearby residents have erected a makeshift memorial in her memory, leaving many to grapple with the unsettling questions surrounding her untimely demise. As one neighbor poignantly asked her granddaughter, “Did Zoey go to heaven?” Her reply was a simple yet devastating, “Yes, she did.”

Report compiled by journalists in Mission, Kansas, with contributions from AP news researchers Jennifer Farrar, Rhonda Shafner, and Randy Herschaft in New York.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Child welfare system shortcomings

What is the main focus of the article?

The main focus of the article is the tragic death of 5-year-old Zoey Felix and the serious questions it raises about the efficacy and vigilance of the Kansas Department for Children and Families. The article delves into multiple aspects of Zoey’s life, detailing the numerous red flags that were seemingly ignored by authorities.

Who is Zoey Felix?

Zoey Felix was a 5-year-old girl from Topeka, Kansas, who died under tragic circumstances. The article examines the turbulent and unsafe conditions in which she lived, leading up to her untimely death.

What role did the Department for Children and Families play in Zoey’s life?

The Kansas Department for Children and Families had been notified of the issues surrounding Zoey’s home life but did not remove her from her perilous domestic environment. The agency has not yet released any information regarding her case.

Who else is implicated in Zoey’s case?

Other than the state agencies, Zoey’s parents are also implicated for failing to provide a stable home environment. Mickel Cherry, a 25-year-old homeless man, has been charged with her death. Neighbors and educators had also raised concerns about Zoey’s welfare.

Have there been any legal actions taken against the Department for Children and Families?

The article mentions that advocacy groups like the National Center for Youth Law and Kansas Appleseed have sued the state over problems with its child welfare system. However, specifics related to Zoey’s case are not provided.

What reactions have there been from the public and advocacy groups?

Public anger over Zoey’s death has been significant, focusing both on her parents and state agencies responsible for child welfare. Advocacy groups are questioning why more was not done to remove Zoey from her dangerous home situation.

Are there any ongoing investigations?

Yes, the police have stated that their investigation is ongoing, although it is unclear if additional charges will be filed against anyone other than Mickel Cherry, who has already been charged with Zoey’s death.

What did the neighbors do to help Zoey?

Neighbors like Shaniqua Bradley took it upon themselves to feed Zoey, bathe her, and provide her with clean clothes. They also called child welfare agencies to report the unsafe conditions Zoey was living in. Despite their efforts, Zoey remained in her hazardous home environment.

How did Zoey’s school respond to signs of her troubled home life?

Teachers and paraprofessionals at Zoey’s preschool raised concerns when she came to school dirty and missing essential clothing. They reported these issues to the school’s social worker, although the article does not specify what actions, if any, were taken afterward.

What are the next steps in the legal process regarding this case?

Mickel Cherry is charged with first-degree murder, rape, and capital murder and could face the death penalty. However, there is no information about further legal actions concerning the Department for Children and Families or Zoey’s parents at this time.

More about Child welfare system shortcomings

  • Child Welfare in Kansas: An Overview
  • National Center for Youth Law
  • Kansas Department for Children and Families
  • Understanding Child Abuse Laws in Kansas
  • Kansas Appleseed: Advocacy for Justice
  • Legislative Hearings on Child Welfare in Kansas
  • Police Reports and Child Welfare Cases: An Analysis
  • U.S. Child Welfare Statistics and Reports
  • Child Advocacy Groups in the United States

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Sandra Williams October 16, 2023 - 5:12 pm

This is so sad. Why weren’t more steps taken to protect this little girl? she clearly was in a dangerous environment and still nothing was done? Shameful.

James Thompson October 16, 2023 - 7:05 pm

Wow, this is heartbreaking. I can’t believe the system let Zoey down so badly. It’s stories like this that makes you wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes at child welfare agencies.

Mike_Harris October 16, 2023 - 7:05 pm

I’m livid after reading this. As a father myself, can’t wrap my head around how any parent could let this happen. But where were the authorities? They’ve got blood on their hands too.


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