Experts say 32-pound Mo. girl faces long recovery

A severely malnourished 10-year-old Kansas City girl who was found locked in a closet remained hospitalized Monday and likely faces an extended recovery after an initial "failure to thrive" diagnosis, experts said.

Police found the 32-pound girl Friday after responding to a call from a child abuse hotline. She was taken to Children's Mercy Hospital on Friday and remained there Monday, said Mike Mansur, spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor's office. He said the child's condition hasn't been released.

"The next few months of her life are going to be pretty critical to her recovery," said Ann Thomas, a vice president at The Children's Place, a Kansas City nonprofit that is not involved in this case but treats young children who have experienced trauma.

The child's 29-year-old mother appeared in Jackson County court Monday. She was shackled at the wrists and quietly listened as a judge read the felony charges against her — assault, child abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. The judge also entered a not guilty plea for the woman, who was ordered held on $200,000 cash bond. She requested a public defender for her next court appearance, scheduled for July 12.

The Associated Press is not naming the mother to protect the child's identity. The mother's two other children, ages 2 and 8, have also been placed in protective custody, Mansur said. Police also questioned the mother's boyfriend, but he has not been charged. Mansur said the investigation is ongoing.

A probable cause statement police filed Saturday when the mother was charged said she told police she didn't let the girl leave the house because the child is malnourished and she would "get in trouble if someone saw her."

Hospital personnel who saw the child Friday said she had been at the hospital in January 2006 for an unspecified visit and weighed 26 pounds then, according to the probable cause statement. They also told police the 10-year-old wears a 2T, or toddler size, T-shirt, and that the "current diagnosis is multiple healing skin injuries and failure to thrive."

Andre Riley, spokesman for Kansas City Public Schools, said Monday the child was enrolled as a kindergartner at Woodland Elementary School in 2006 and attended until April 2007.

"That's the last record we have of her," Riley said, adding that he couldn't comment further about the child's attendance record, whether school officials had raised concerns or where she might have attended school after spring 2007.

Rebecca Woelfel, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Social Services, said in an email that the department could not comment on this specific case, but that DSS "strongly encourages anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect" to call the 24-hour hotline.

Dr. Doug Carlson, professor of pediatrics at Washington University in St. Louis and director of hospital medicine at St. Louis Children's Hospital, said doctors are likely checking the child for various ailments, such as intestinal problems, that could have contributed to the diagnosis.

He said, however, a 6-pound weight gain should have pushed a parent to seek medical attention.

"There's no question that based on this child's size that a reasonable parent would have sought medical care," Carlson said.

It's unclear how much time the child, who turns 11 this summer, spent in the closet. In the probable cause statement, the child told police that her mother put her in the closet "a lot." She also said that she wasn't allowed to play outside when she was at home like her sisters, but could go to "the playground and park while she was at school."

The mother told police that she puts the 10-year-old in the closet when she leaves the house, securing the door with shoelaces and blocking it with a crib, according to the probable cause statement. She said she did that because her daughter had once gotten out and "eaten until her stomach got big and full."

Thomas said recovery would likely depend on what the 10-year-old's home life was actually like and how she perceived it.

"She's going to need people around her to help her begin to make sense of what's going on," Thomas said.