A fund has been set up to benefit a developmentally disabled Schoharie County eight-year-old whose legal guardian is facing felony assault charges for pulling out three of her teeth with a pair of pliers, state police announced last week.
The fund was set up at the Schoharie branch of NBT Bank by Schoharie County Social Services, the agency responsible for the girl's care. Funds made payable to "Paul Brady, Custodian" will be set aside for the girl's future needs, said Brady, commissioner of the agency.
"Long term, this child may not be in my care and custody forever. I'd like to establish this for her so as she gets older she can use it for whatever she'd like," he said.
Brady said he was urged to set up the fund by state police, who were contacted by many people who read about the grisly case and wanted to help. The girl's assault at the hands of 34-year-old Steven Walker, a Gallupville resident who was arrested in November, has struck a nerve in the community and beyond, Brady said.
"This is a unique circumstance. This might be the first time I have actually had people from the community reach out and say, 'We found out about this, we would really like to make some sort of a contribution,'" Brady said. "I have been amazed at the phone calls we've received."
Several dentists have also stepped forward to offer dental care or prosthetic teeth to the girl free of charge, Brady said.
Initial news reports of the case stated that Walker was the girl's foster father, due to a mistake in a state police press release. In fact, he is a member of the girl's extended family, and her legal guardian. The girl ended up in Walker's care about a year ago, after her grandmother, who was Walker's wife's aunt, became terminally ill, the Times Union reported.
The assault was discovered after the girl, who has difficulty communicating, complained of mouth pain at school. A dentist found that three of the girl's healthy permanent teeth had been pulled out, for no apparent medical reason. State police investigators searched Walker's house -- which was filthy and in disrepair -- and found two of the teeth, along with implements that could have been used to perform the extractions.
Because of confidentiality issues, Brady said he could give out little information about the girl. But he said she had been placed in a foster home, and was doing well.
Walker's other children remain with their mother, Brady said.
According to Brady, Schoharie County Social Services currently has 44 children in foster care. Cases are on the rise in Schoharie and other neighboring counties, he said, due in part to increases in drug abuse in the region.
Most reports of child abuse and neglect do not get the level of attention from the press and the public that this particular case has, Brady said. When asked what community members can do to help other children in the county who may be in similar situations, Brady urged people who are aware of abusive situations to come forward.
"It really does take a community to raise a child. People do need to be cognizant of what's happening in their neighborhood and their community. Don't be afraid to report or to get involved," he said.
Schoharie County Social Services investigates between 500 and 550 child protective reports a year, Brady said, ranging from minor issues like head lice to grave charges of physical or sexual assault.
"Obviously not every report results in a child being placed in foster care. It's a small percentage of those reports," he said.
In a story about Walker's arraignment last month, the Times Union reported that a friend of the family, identified only as "Anthony," said he made several reports of suspected child abuse to local officials before the girl's teeth were pulled.
"For the longest time there was no running water, no working toilet. It was disgusting," said a close family friend who only wished to be identified as Anthony. "I called CPS (Child Protective Services). The school called, too. Lots of people called them for a while, again and again, but nobody ever did anything."