Terrell v. DFCS

When 5-year-old Terrell Peterson was rushed into an emergency room in 1998, his small battered frame weighted only 29 pounds.  His body was covered in cuts, bruises and cigarette burns, and try as they may, doctors could not restart his broken heart.  Police discovered Terrell has been living a tortured life under his foster mother’s care.  She had tied him up with pantyhose t the banister ever night for an entire year.  She had burned the flesh of the bottom of his feet as punishment when she was charged with abuse and then released because Terrell’s caseworker did not show up at court.  Fed only grits and oatmeal, Terrell would scrounge through his schools garbage cans looking for nourishment. 

The state called a press conference and announced they had conducted two internal investigations and determined that although Terrell’s death was tragic, all procedures were met.  And so the truth remained buried for more than a year until someone wracked with guilt could stand it no more and made a bold move.  The “someone” knew just want to do.  “One morning I came in at 5:30 am and I had two boxed sitting on my doorstep.  What was contained in those boxes was mind-blowing,” Keenan remembered.  He backed the boxed into his car and headed up to his mountain cabin to review the documents piece by piece.  Not only did it house Terrell’s complete file riddled with negligence, but it also contained a document that because the smoking gun in the case.  It was a memo between two department heads admitting that the Terrell press release was false, but they didn’t expect the media to press the case any further.

With the help of 60 Minutes, Oprah, Larry King and a feature on the cover of Time Magazine, the Keenan’s Kids Foundation brought the systemic failure of our foster care system to the fore front of public consciousness and began the process of correcting governmental shortcomings and preventing future child abuse.  The extended news coverage of Terrell’s devastating story generated an overwhelming response from the public that helped the Keenan’s Kids Foundation lobby for governmental change.

“The saddest moment was when I realize any one of the elements of the Kathy Jo law would have prevented his death,” Keenan bemoaned. “There were at least 15 family members in Georgia that all would have been able to take him.  “Armed with this information, Keenan set out to fight the good fight, not only for Terrell, but also for all foster children in Georgia.  He took the state to court and won, and then pressed the Georgia Legislature to pass a series of measures to protect foster care children.

The Keenan’s Kids Foundation is proud to report that after successfully lobbying the Georgia Legislature for stricter foster care laws; nearly all-50 states have enacted similar protective laws since Terrell’s death.


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