Kay Osborne noticed the first sign of something unusual about David less than two weeks after she brought the six-year-old back from Jamaica to live with her in Highland Park. “One evening after his bath I was lying next to him on his bed reading to him. All of a sudden he picked up my free hand, placed it on his genitals, and squeezed his legs together,” she says. “I was startled and removed my hand. Then he did it again. I wondered if he had been abused. I asked him who had done that to him before, but he didn’t answer. He said he did it because it felt good. I thought I could teach him about good and bad touching.”
In the following weeks David (not his real name) made several other sexual advances toward the woman who planned to adopt him. “One time when I bent down to kiss him he offered to kiss me back with his mouth open and tongue out,” Osborne says. “Another night he said he was afraid and asked if he could sleep in my bed. I sensed that he was fidgeting, but I dozed off. Then I woke up and realized he was on top of me, moving his hips up and down. I pulled him out of bed and confronted him about who, what, where, how.” David revealed nothing.
Then one Sunday morning Osborne awakened to hear her dog, Lucky, making a strange noise. “I looked over the banister, and my world kind of went upside down,” she says. “He was on the floor below having anal sex with the dog.”
Osborne felt her hopes for adopting a child from her native Jamaica had been destroyed. “My idea was to give something back to Jamaica,” she says. “After all, I’d been poor myself.”
As a young widow in the 50s, Osborne’s mother had moved her three children to Kingston and opened a small store. “When I was growing up,” says Osborne, “the drive was to get an education, to come out and be somebody.” And that’s what she did. In the late 60s she mixed with the country’s political and social elite as a member of the women’s national cricket team, and in 1967 she won the Miss Jamaica Nation beauty contest. “It was a lark,” she says, “but the prize intrigued me.” The prize was a trip to London
and Africa, where she attended official ceremonies in Zambia and Kenya. “I was a kid, and it was fabulous. I realized there was a bigger world, and the world was welcoming.”
Osborne moved to the United States in 1980, first working in marketing in Atlanta, then coming to Chicago in 1986 to work for Abbott Laboratories; eventually she would wind up at Hewitt Associates. “Levelheaded” and “strong” are words friends use to describe her. A striking woman of African, Indian, Jewish, and Scottish ancestry, Osborne married and played an active role in raising two stepdaughters in the suburbs. “I loved being a mom,” she says. The marriage lasted eight years, and after the divorce she began to consider adopting.
In 2001 she made a trip to Jamaica and met with the government’s adoption board. “I told them I wanted a child no older than four and I wanted a girl,” she says. “But the adoption board convinced me girls were very hard to come by.” A 2002 UNICEF report confirms that the state is caring for many more boys than girls. Osborne agreed to take an older boy. Back in Illinois she went through the procedures required of prospective adoptive parents in this country, including a home visit by the Children’s Home & Aid Society. She returned to Jamaica in late 2001 and was sent to meet several children, all boys. None of them seemed a good match: one was severely retarded, and there were twins who could not be separated.
Then the authorities sent her to an orphanage in the country, the Pringle Home for Children, which is run by the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. “It’s on top of a hill, kind of isolated–an old institution with a lot of kids running around playing,” says Osborne. “But it seemed clean and orderly.” She produces a copy of a letter from the director of the adoption board to the superintendent of Pringle, asking that she be allowed to meet David. “He was a sweetheart,” she says, her eyes filling with tears as she remembers meeting him for the first time. “He was engaging, a nice boy. That first day he told me some older kids were beating him up. I realized he was already recruiting me to be his advocate. That was pretty impressive. I liked that.”
But Osborne wanted another opinion about the boy. “I asked an 80-year-old woman, a friend’s mother, to go back to the home with me,” she says. “She’s a wise woman and knows children. She also was charmed.” Osborne thought she’d found the right child. “I asked him if he’d like me to be his mommy, and he said, ‘Can you come back for me on Saturday?'”
Together the two visits with David had lasted only about three hours, and Osborne wanted to do more checking before she finalized arrangements to take him to the United States. “I spoke with his caregivers, and the consensus was he was the most popular child in that home,” she says. “I asked why he complained about other kids beating him up, but they told me not to worry. I dismissed it. I remember them telling me that although he was a nice boy, he was a little slow.”
The Pringle staff told her how David had become a ward of the state. “When he was two years old eyewitnesses in Kingston saw a woman exit a bus with a little boy, slap him, and leave him,” she says. “The witnesses brought him to the police. The surname he was given was that of the policeman who took him to one of the local orphanages.”
There are two types of orphanages in Jamaica: “places of safety,” which are meant to be temporary havens for new wards of the state, and children’s homes, such as Pringle, which are intended for long-term residents. In 2000 the Ministry of Health listed a total of 52 orphanages, 14 government owned and 38 privately owned. The policeman had taken David to a privately owned facility called Reddies Place of Safety in the Kingston neighborhood where he was found. “I visited there too,” says Osborne. “The caregivers assured me he had had no problems.”
She learned that David had stayed at Reddies from 1998 until 2000. “He stayed longer than usual” at Reddies, she says. “Then he was transferred together with a bunch of kids to Pringle. He’s since named several of them as engaging in sexual activity at both places.” When she asked why he’d been moved to Pringle she was told “he was bright and needed to go to school.” She thought that was odd since she’d been told earlier that he was slow, but she didn’t dwell on it.
On May 31, 2002, the director of the Ministry of Health’s Children Services Division wrote a letter to the superintendent of Pringle asking that David be “discharged for adoption,” because he would “be traveling to the USA to reside with Miss Osborne.” Osborne picked David up in early June, spent two weeks with him in Jamaica, then flew with him to Chicago, where, because of a paperwork mix-up, the adoption process continued.
“The woman who was taking care of my house while I was away had left an American football, a soccer ball, an American flag, and a Jamaican flag on the bed in David’s room,” she says. “He loved them. For days, wherever he went there was an American flag sticking out of one pocket and a Jamaican flag in the other.” She had a big yard with a swing set in back and toys that had belonged to her stepchildren. “My friends and neighbors were wonderful,” she says. “The neighbors had a surprise party, with a banner that said Welcome.” There was a cake with candles, the first David had ever had. The Jamaican community welcomed him, and friends who weren’t Jamaican made an effort to help the boy feel at home. “After a few weeks he asked a neighbor if he would be his father, after he’d found some Jamaican food to have with us.”
There were many poignant moments in those early days. “Every morning I would ask if he wanted cornflakes or porridge for breakfast,” says Osborne. “What he loved was the idea that I’d give him a choice. No one had ever given him a choice before.”
Then the sexual incidents began. “I felt I could establish boundaries,” she says. “I decided he would bathe himself and dress himself. I told him he could close the door to his room, and I would knock before coming in. I noticed his zipper was down all the time, no matter how often I told him to pull it up. I realized he was masturbating a lot, and he must have been exposed to sexual contact. After speaking with a friend who’s a therapist, I told him it was OK to touch himself in his room but not elsewhere. But still, his zipper was always down.”
Osborne disciplined David by giving him time-outs and withdrawing privileges. He responded by becoming angry and defiant. He poured glue on the furniture. He hit Lucky. Then Osborne caught him having sex with the dog. “I can’t remember the next few minutes,” she says. “I know I confronted him, and he cried a lot. But he wouldn’t tell me anything. Looking back, I realized this may have happened before–I’d heard the dog making noises when they were out in the yard–and I subsequently caught him a few times with the dog.”
She talked again with her therapist friend. “I wasn’t sure what to do,” she says. She repeatedly asked David to tell her what had happened to him in the past. Finally one night, she says, “he admitted that he used to do that with dogs at Pringle.” She begged him for more details. “Tomorrow I will tell you two more things,” he said. Eventually he related a string of events. “He told me about the dogs, other children, and beatings by adults,” she says. “He also admitted he had done things with young children since he’d arrived here.” Later he admitted to doing things with the dogs of her friends here too. She tape-recorded his answers and included quotes from the transcript in letters she subsequently wrote to the Jamaican government.
Osborne took David to a pediatrician, then to Children’s Memorial Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. “Before we went to the hospital,” she says, “he also told me about adult abuse at both places” he’d lived in Jamaica. The prospect of an evaluation seemed to scare the boy, who threatened to “cut himself.” The hospital’s discharge summary states that he suffers from “Axis I post traumatic stress disorder,” requires “constant supervision,” and should have “no unsupervised time with other children or animals.” David had been in the U.S. only seven weeks.
Osborne decided to stop the adoption process. Children’s Memorial referred her to several experts for follow-up evaluations. A letter from the Center for Contextual Change in Skokie states that David is “a highly sexualized child” and recommends intensive treatment in a residential program. If David “does not receive specialized treatment,” it says, “he will progress to more severe and sexually aggressive behaviors.” Osborne visited a residential facility that treats children with problems like David’s. “I was told he’d need at least a year of individualized care, and it could cost $94,000,” she says. “He needed to be in an utterly controlled environment.” At that point, “I knew there was no option of keeping him at home. I was told it would be a full-time job for me to work with this child.” Although she’d been laid off earlier in the year, she decided this was too much to handle.
In early August, Osborne sent two letters to Jamaican officials. “If the child’s accounts are any indication of the level of child abuse that ineffective supervision and guidance at our children’s homes allows, then the care and protection system is little better than a process for creating psychologically destroyed children, future sexual deviants, and predators and purveyors of unimaginable suffering and tragedy through the spread of diseases like AIDS,” she wrote the director of the adoption board. “Consider as well the legal liability that I face should a parent or dog owner sue me” for David’s conduct and “the resulting trauma that his or her child(ren) or dog(s) may suffer.” She threatened to go public if the authorities didn’t investigate sexual activities involving children and dogs and act to stop any they found.
She also sent a copy of the letter to the minister of health, John Junor, whom she’s known for years, and included a note saying she was contacting him on “an informal, nonofficial basis” to make him aware of what David had told her. “This state of affairs cannot continue,” she concluded. “I’m sure you agree. If I can be of additional assistance, I’m just a phone call or email away.”
Osborne began making plans to return to Jamaica. “I decided I had to take him back,” she says. “My goal was to do an investigation, put people in jail, and get help paying for his therapy.” A flurry of communications ensued. In late August she had a phone conversation with an official in the Children Services Division and told him she was bringing the boy back. A letter to the same official stated in capital letters that a child therapist had advised her David “should not be placed in a foster home or place of safety home with children or animals.”
On August 28 the director of the Children Services Division sent a letter to Osborne expressing his regret at the developments. He wrote, “I am happy that you were able to identify the aberrations early so that interventions can be pursued aimed at resolving these inappropriate and abnormal behaviours.” He denied that adoption officials had any prior knowledge of the problem. “Understandably we are concerned about the other children in the institutions.We will now take appropriate action to seek professional help for these children.” He said that the ministry would also “access professional help” for David on his return to Jamaica. And he noted that the adoption process “understandably cannot be pursued at this time,” adding that David remained a ward of the state.
Osborne quickly grew frustrated after she arrived in Jamaica. When she visited Pringle she found dogs there, even though she’d pleaded in her letters to the ministry that they be removed. In mid-September she received a letter from the ministry saying the government had given the home “14 days within which to take corrective action.”
Ministry officials asked that another psychiatric evaluation of David be done in Jamaica, and on September 13 Osborne took him to a Children Services therapist. “The government psychiatrist told me the evaluation could take several months to complete, so he would need placement in a foster home,” she says. “I refused to hand him over to the first foster mother, who had two kids.” He was placed in another foster home. On September 17 Osborne wrote the ministry that she and David had “formed a very special mother-son attachment” and she expected “free access” to him as long as he was in the foster home. A short time later she returned to Chicago to wait for the evaluation to be completed.
Osborne says that after David’s evaluation was complete, she called several times asking to see it but was brushed off. Then she learned that as far as the government was concerned, she no longer had any legal rights concerning the boy. She was furious, since she’d assumed she was still his legal guardian. She got Junor’s cell phone number, called, and threatened to get an attorney and go public if she wasn’t allowed to continue working on David’s behalf.
In mid-November she flew back to Jamaica. Despite her legal status, she says, “I was invited to a meeting with the ambassador for children and the minister. They handed over the evaluation and asked me what I was going to do.”
The government psychiatrist’s report, written in October after several visits with David, paints a picture of a charming boy who is “eager to please” and “mirrors the environment in which he is placed.” The psychiatrist stated that David “was restless during the interviews but was able to maintain a conversation with me while he played with the available toys. He spoke of wanting ‘to work on a computer’ when he is big or be a doctor ‘and heal people, to test their blood to see if it is getting bad.'” The report also included darker observations. When David was asked how he came to be involved in sexual activity, he replied, “Big people did it with me then I did it with children and dogs.”
The report concluded that David needed “individual psychotherapy, probably long term, to help in building his self esteem so that he will no longer need to be easily led and seduced into inappropriate behaviours to gain love, attention and affection.” It recommended he receive therapy through a nonresidential child guidance clinic at a local hospital. But Osborne says, “I don’t believe he can get the care he needs in Jamaica.” In her letters to senior ministry officials she’d repeatedly offered to pay for the boy’s airfare back to Chicago and “provide parental oversight” if he were placed in a residential facility for sexually aggressive children. She’d also asked that the government help pay for his treatment.
Osborne says Children Services wouldn’t tell her where David was until Junor intervened. She then saw him three times, never alone. She described her first, distressing visit in a letter to Junor. She charged that despite the psychiatrist’s warnings David was “neither supervised nor monitored for many hours each weekday.” She said that the boy’s foster mother had been kept “partly in the dark” and his school principal “completely in the dark” about David’s history. She also said that the foster mother had showed her a large bald spot on the side of his head: “The child has literally pulled out numerous hairs from his scalp creating the bald spot.” Worse, she said, David “told me that he has had sexual contact in his new school’s bathroom with ‘a little baby boy in kindergarten.’…Whether fact or fiction,” she continued, the confession was “a call to action.” She demanded that officials enforce the protective plans they had for all children known to be sexually aggressive.
Osborne had never believed that David was a lone victim, so she started pushing for a broader review of children’s homes in Jamaica. She met with workers in various homes and outlined some of their allegations of abuse and mistreatment in long letters to Junor. In one case a 12-year-old who became pregnant claimed the father was a church deacon at the home where she lived. The matter hadn’t been reported to the police, and no one had been charged with any wrongdoing. Osborne also claimed that some sexually aggressive children had simply been moved to new homes, where they could prey on new children. She again asked that the government start an independent investigation into sexual abuse and neglect of institutionalized children.
In late December the government ordered a review of the island’s temporary shelters and children’s homes to ensure they comply with United Nations standards. Officials announced the review on December 30, setting off a furor. Newspapers ran a string of front-page articles on the issue–one of which included Osborne’s story, though neither she nor David was named. In a story in the Jamaica Gleaner, a leading newspaper, the chairman of the board at Pringle denied that sexual incidents, including those involving David, had occurred at the home. Other press reports said Ministry of Health officials had given conflicting responses about sexual activity in children’s homes, but had confirmed some reports of bestiality involving children.
Osborne was shocked to learn that the government had known for some time that there were serious problems in the system. The Gleaner reported on January 12 that a 1999 joint study by the Children Services Division, UNICEF Jamaica, and a children’s advocacy group had recommended an “urgent review” of the island’s child-care services, which it described as inadequate, poorly staffed, and lacking in clear policies to help children who have disabilities or have suffered physical or sexual abuse. According to the Gleaner, the study found that “10 percent of wards in residential care had been victims of sexual and physical abuse, with another 35.7 percent admitted to the institutions due to abuse (physical, sexual) and neglect.” Nevertheless, little treatment had been offered. The study “concluded that there was still ‘no provision in place for sustained treatment and rehabilitation’ of children who have suffered abuse.”
Osborne, who’s now back in Jamaica, worries about what will become of these children when they get older. A 2002 International Labour Organization study of child labor in Jamaica highlights the problem of child prostitution; it estimates that 4,000 children, ages 10 to 17, are involved in the sex trade, many of them serving foreign tourists.
Osborne believes she has to keep pressuring the government. On January 23 she sent the prime minister’s office a formal request asking the government to investigate 23 specific cases of alleged mistreatment and sexual abuse. “I feel sadness but also outrage at how something like this could have happened,” she says. “If this is a dangerous mission, so be it. These kids are helpless. If I don’t say something, who is going to?”
She still hopes to find funding that will allow her to bring David back to the U.S. for treatment. “I cannot adopt him, but I want him here to get the residential care he needs,” she says. “In Jamaica he’s not going to get a chance.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.