The news reports of the deaths of Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick reminded me that I came to Maine in 1967 to help prevent such tragedies. Fresh out of graduate school, I took the job of Portland regional director at the then-Department of Human Services, which included identifying such children and intervening before they were harmed. Now, 52 years later, they continue to die.

The staff I inherited was top notch. They understood the complexity of the job, they were competent, they worked hard and they genuinely cared about the children. For the most part, the staff connected with the children’s caretakers in ways that enabled them to parent and not be abusive. For 10 years I was the buffer between people who were responsible for saying what we were supposed to be doing, people who were responsible for providing the funds to do it and the staff on the firing line.

Since retirement, I’ve studied something called Big History and have come to understand that human culture, our culture, is now the primary driving force for evolution. It is determining who we are becoming as a species, how our habitat will sustain us and what our behaviors will be like. It does this by passing information from one generation to the next, making it important that we prepare the next generation to receive that gift and use it wisely. Education and child well-being are two of the avenues through which that information passes.

We have a responsibility to each child to do that well because culture passes through all of us together, not individually. A whole new way of thinking about how culture emerges from our individual behaviors is in order. It would seem that the beating to death of children by their parents is one of the things we should be able to do more to prevent.

James Tierney, MSW


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.