Would the judge who allowed the so-called supervised visitation between Josh Powell and his sons agree herself to step inside the home of a “person of interest” for murder? The idea she would allow any visit by Josh Powell with his children is a legitimate discussion. The idea the judge would agree to let it occur in his home is unbelievable.
Powell was prepared for the visit. He had at least a hatchett for a weapon and gasoline ready and waiting. No one could foresee exactly how he might hurt his children, but it’s not hindsight to say those two little boys were at serious risk. The people whose jobs it is to protect children didn’t heed the evidence and the warning it presented. And then, as we know, on February 5th Powell pulled his children into the house where he was waiting for them, and killed them.
The media are filled with information about Powell. We can find information about his actions, his background and the unproductive investigation into his wife’s disappearance on any news outlet. Thousands of people have opinions about what we should have been done differently. The conversation is a waste of breath though unless we connect the dots.
In the few weeks since the Powell tragedy the Senate Judiciary Committee has met to discuss funding for a critical tool to protect families from violence. In February 2012 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) made it out of committee, but just barely. Eight senators opposed it. A bill that has enjoyed the rare gift of bipartisan support suddenly faced a brick wall. Sen. Grassley and his GOP colleagues opposed it because the new version includes an amendment to protect gays from intimate partner violence. If they read the Act’s section on Safe Havens for children at risk they didn’t put much value on it, given their votes against it.
Here’s where we connect the dots between the Powell case and VAWA. The Act contains a range of programs to protect women and children from violence by another family member. It specifically identifies the need for Safe Havens, facilities designed for supervised visitation of children by parents suspected of abuse. In its most basic form a Safe Haven can be a room in a police station or childrens’ services agency.
This begs the question – Why didn’t the judge who let the children go to their father’s home use this simple solution? If the judge or child protective services agency were not familiar with Safe Havens, why not?
The Violence Against Women Act will almost certainly survive the budget process. However, the budget for Safe Havens is facing a huge cut. In 2012 we allocated and spent $20 million. In his proposed 2013 budget the President has only requested $11.5 million. Before the 2013 budget posturing and arguing even begins we are poised to lose 40% of the funds for Safe Havens.
We don’t know why the officials in Graham, Washington didn’t set up a Safe Haven for Charlie and Braden. When the full Senate and the House consider the Violence Against Women Act and funding for Safe Havens I hope they will remember the Powell tragedy. The government should fund them, communities should create them and officials should use them. Safe Havens are meant for cases such as this. If we don’t connect the dots between budget numbers and real people then we are all to blame when the next tragedy happens.