Raylee's Law

“Raylee’s Law,” which Del. Shawn Fluharty originally offered up in 2019, was named for Raylee Browning, an 8-year-old girl from Oak Hill who died of abuse and neglect the day after Christmas in 2018. The bill, or even portions of it, have gained no traction in the Legislature.

Unfortunately, a proposed amendment aimed at protecting children suspected of being victims of abuse and neglect failed in the House of Delegates (last) week, further cementing this Legislature’s growing reputation of not knowing how to care for and protect vulnerable populations across West Virginia — especially young children.

It all came to a head when Delegate Shawn Fluharty once again pitched en element of “Raylee’s Law” to be amended to a bill that was making some minor and noncontroversial adjustments to the Hope Scholarship for students leaving the public school system.

“Raylee’s Law,” which Fluharty originally offered up in 2019, was named for an 8-year-old girl from Oak Hill who died of abuse and neglect the day after Christmas in 2018.

The people responsible for the girl’s injuries and, ultimately, her death? Marty Browning Jr., Raylee’s biological father; Marty Jr.’s wife and Raylee’s stepmother, Julie Browning; and Julie’s sister, Sherie Titchenell. They would all be arrested, indicted and convicted on charges of a death of a child by a parent, guardian, or custodian and child neglect resulting in death.

But, yes, help came too late to save Raylee. And in the four years since her gut-wrenching death, neither the state nor the Legislature — or Gov. Jim Justice for that matter — has lifted a solitary finger to provide protections that might remove other children out of harm’s way. And with more than 6,000 children in the state’s foster care system, yes, there are other kids with bruises who are going to bed hungry, their welfare and care neglected.

Fluharty wanted to build in some checks and balances. His amendment would have prevented parents and guardians from removing students from public schools to homeschool environments if there was a pending child abuse or neglect investigation — as there was with Raylee.

When a teacher was getting wise to the neglect the 8-year-old was experiencing, reporting a bruise to Child Protective Services (CPS), her father removed her from public school for the expressed purpose of home schooling the child.

And that, as we now know, was a ruse to cover up the young girl’s deteriorating health and her horrific home life, giving the adults responsible for her care, free rein to beat her, to torture her, to starve her, to deny her any semblance of an ordinary life, to destroy her physically, emotionally and psychologically.

And that is exactly what they did.

The criminal complaint alleged that Raylee had been starved, forced to drink out of a toilet after the adults “grounded” her from having liquids for three days. She was also forced to wear a diaper and sleep on the floor at night.

The underlying problem, of course, is that CPS knew, they had the teacher’s report, and yet they chose to do nothing of any consequence.

And that is just how badly broken the system is. So, yes, Fluharty’s idea is a good one, but the whole ball of wax needs to be melted down and a vastly improved model with professional leadership — no political hacks need apply — needs to take its place.

Trouble is, our elected representatives in Charleston have shown no appetite or skill in fashioning policy that would protect the next Raylee. And, yes, odds are there will be another Raylee.

What is the excuse then?

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