Safe at Home Abused Child from Chicago Finds Haven in Mississippi

Article excerpt

WHEN 8-YEAR-OLD Clifford Triplett sits down to Thanksgiving dinner, he will be with a family that loves him, in a tiny but tidy Mississippi home. There will be enough food on his plate. He will be safe.

Children should expect no less. But for Clifford, it's so much more than he ever had.

On Thanksgiving Day three years ago, Clifford arrived at a Chicago hospital bearing the marks of horrible abuse. He weighed 18 pounds - the same as an average 1-year-old. His feet, hands and bottom were burned. His body was covered with bruises. The public was outraged. Clifford's mother and her boyfriend were convicted and sent to prison for child abuse, and two state workers were fired for not detecting his peril. People wrote and sent gifts to the boy. Gov. Jim Edgar visited him in the hospital. It was the beginning of Clifford's journey to a real home. Along the way, he spent months unnecessarily in a hospital as bureaucrats struggled to determine what would be best for him, and was removed from his first potential adoptive family, a disruption that could have been avoided. Last March, Clifford joined his father's parents in the cotton fields of Mississippi, where his caseworkers hope he will stay until he's grown. "What I like is the fact that he's happy and comfortable," said Robert Harris, Clifford's public guardian, who recently visited the boy. "He looks good, seems very happy with his grandparents. He's thin, but he has a little tummy." Clifford's father never really was part of his life. His first years were spent with his mother, Aretha McKinney, and her boyfriend, Eddie Lee Robinson, an ex-con whose record included convictions for rape, burglary and theft. Family members had told child welfare officials of Clifford's mistreatment. It was not until Thanksgiving 1993, when McKinney brought the dehydrated and malnourished boy to a hospital, that the state actively intervened. "You know when they show the picture of those children starving in Somalia on TV? That's what he looked like," police Officer Antonio Artis said then. Today, Clifford weighs 45 pounds. …