NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) — A Congressman is pushing for change after our investigation into recent child abuse deaths.
"This is what happens when systems don't work," U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D, VA-03) reacted.
For weeks now, we've been bringing you "Heaven's Story," the case of the Norfolk 11-year-old who was killed, allegedly by those who were supposed to care for her.
FULL COVERAGE | Heaven's and Harley's stories: A 13News Now Investigation
Heaven's family told us failures in the system led to her death in May and they don't want this happen to another child.
“People need to know,” sobbed Heaven’s aunt, Sheronda Orridge, who had temporary custody of the child. “People need to know Heaven's story. Heaven's not here, but Heaven's not going to die in vain.”
Orridge’s pleas are now reaching the halls of Congress.
“I think the system did fail and these problems should not occur,” Rep. Scott said after the problems we uncovered.
Heaven was just 11 when she was brutally beaten to death. Our investigation showed her family had a history with child protection in Minnesota. Virginia CPS got involved in February, after the family moved to Norfolk. Caseworkers kept the little girl in her home.
Just three months later, Heaven would turn up dead, allegedly at the hands of her mother and mother's boyfriend.
Officials won't say if CPS in Norfolk knew about that history in Minnesota. We've learned there's no easy way for caseworkers to find out a family's background in other states.
“You just can't move to a state and start anew,” Scott responded. “If you have a background and information that's available, that ought to be available to the state you're in now.”
To do that, Scott wants Congress to overhaul the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). He hopes to include a tracking system for child abuse cases, so there would be a concrete way for CPS in one state to find out what happened in other states.
Scott believes this could save children’s lives.
“I think that's the entire point of the legislation is to save lives, because if someone is inappropriately placed, bad things can happen, as we unfortunately found out in Virginia,” he explained.
Lawmakers discussed creating a national child abuse registry more than a decade ago, but it stalled with questions about funding, state participation and restrictions under current law. We wanted to know why it hasn't been made a priority.
Scott, a Democrat, thinks the delay comes down to party politics. We asked if he would pledge to make this a priority should the power switch from Republicans after the November election.
“The CAPTA legislation is a high priority for Democrats and we would expect to get it passed very early in the session, if we were in control,” he said.
We reached out to the Republican chair of Scott's committee, Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina.
“What happened to Heaven is heartbreaking and unacceptable,” Kelley McNabb, spokeswoman for the Education and Workforce Committee, wrote in a statement. “Reforming and updating CAPTA and other laws that are intended to prevent abuse like this from happening to other children will require continued bipartisan commitment, and those conversations are ongoing. The Education and Workforce Committee has made serving and protecting vulnerable children and families a priority during this Congress through multiple bipartisan legislative efforts, and we are hopeful that record will continue to hold.”
Back in Minnesota, Heaven's aunt hopes a national child abuse registry will become a reality. She believes these changes to the child protection system could have saved Heaven’s life and would allow the system to protect other kids in the future.
“If you have a case, that case should follow you,” Sheronda Orridge lamented. “It shouldn't go away because you move to a different state.”