Jennifer Little

Name: Jennifer Little
Died: June 4, 1977
Age at death: 2
Cause of death: Brain hemorrhage (neglect? abuse?)
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Details:
When she was two years old, Jennifer's parents placed Jennifer with a therapeutic foster family, reasoning that Jennifer needed help they were unable to give her. Jennifer had a habit of banging her head. Her foster mother told Family Services about the problem and tried to stop Jennifer from hurting herself. However, Jennifer's foster mother was given very little information about autism and none at all about head-banging. Jennifer was never evaluated; neither medication nor a protective helmet was ever considered. Jennifer's face was covered with bruises, but Family Services told her mother and foster mother that it was "natural for children to bruise".

On the day she died, Jennifer had been living with her foster family for a little less than three months. She was left with a 17-year-old babysitter, a foster brother who had a mild intellectual disability and who slapped Jennifer when she fussed about going to the bathroom.

Jennifer died of a massive brain hemorrhage. On autopsy, her body was covered with bruises much like that of a battered child, and her brain had multiple injuries in addition to the one that had killed her.

Jennifer's mother sued Family Services for negligence, for not getting Jennifer the protection she needed, for not educating her foster mother, and for not responding to Jennifer's injuries in any useful way. They won the lawsuit and were awarded $20,000 in damages.

Editor's Note: The timing of this case, in 1977, meant that it took place in a somewhat different social climate than today. Firstly, autism was not well-known. Secondly, child abuse was less likely to be prosecuted than it is today. The description of Jennifer's injuries as "resembling the battered child syndrome" and being evident across her entire body rather than just her head, along with the fact that her babysitter was known to hit her in the face, makes me wonder whether Jennifer's death was solely the result of self-injurious behavior. Whether that is the case will probably never be known; however, Jennifer's death could have been prevented either way if Family Services had responded to her visible injuries.

References:
Jonathan LITTLE and Hanna Little, Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. UTAH STATE DIVISION OF FAMILY SERVICES, Defendant and Appellant. Supreme Court of Utah. 1 July 1983. LexisNexis. N.p., n.d. Web.

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