Making Sense of Baby Bella’s Senseless Death

Let’s admit it.  State agencies tasked with given the noble mission of protecting children from abuse and neglect are essentially running band-aid dispensaries. The brave workers who staff these beleaguered agencies enter a human battlefield every day charged with the assignment of trying to mend the broken lives of mothers, fathers, and other various adults living in households struggling to be safe havens for children.  Sometimes band-aids can help close wounds from the damaged childhoods many of these adults have faced and healing allows them to become better caregivers than they ever had.  In too many cases, however, band-aids can’t heal the deep injuries caused by what are now referred to as “ACEs” or adverse childhood experiences. As a result, their children often become the next victims in line to suffer physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect.  Often the brilliant spirits of these children are dimmed; sometimes they are extinguished, despite our best intentions and fallible human efforts.

Many in Massachusetts continue to mourn the death of 2-year old Baby Bella and are confounded as to how such a bright and hopeful child could have met such a sad end. The terrible truth is there is great sense in this seemingly senseless tragedy.

Over a decade ago, CDC and Kaiser Permanente conducted the seminal Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, the largest study of its kind ever done to examine the health and social effects of adverse childhood experiences over the lifespan.  It involved 17,000 participants from Kaiser’s pool of HMO members who were asked to identify which of ten ACEs they had experienced growing up. These included: abuse (physical, sexual or emotional), neglect (physical or emotional), and living in a household experiencing divorce or separation, alcohol/substance abuse, mental illness, violence, suicidal behavior and/or imprisonment of a household member.

Researchers documented that the more ACEs a person had experienced, the more likely they would  engage in high risk health behaviors, including smoking, overeating, abusing alcohol or drugs, having 50 or more sexual partners, etc.  For example, an ACE score of 6 increased by 4,600 percent one’s chances of becoming an IV drug user.  Individuals with an ACE score of ten faced an astoundingly high likelihood that they would find themselves living on the street, serving a life sentence in prison, or dead by their own hand.

Researchers then were able to link the high-risky behaviors of these individuals to the most common causes of disease and death in our country, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes, to name a few.  With an ACE score of 4 or more, the likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increased 390%; hepatitis, 240%; depression 460%; suicide, 1,220%.

Clearly, billions of dollars are spent each year as child welfare, health/mental health, law enforcement and court systems struggle to deal with the aftermath of child maltreatment.  If we want to prevent abuse and neglect and ensure each child’s right to the safe and healthy childhood they deserve, every person - whether governor or grandmother, neighbor or legislator, mother or mayor - must make a commitment to support vulnerable parents, and reduce children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences.  We must interrupt the trajectory that leads traumatized children to become traumatized adults who then traumatize their children.

Doing this will first require a shift in our personal and collective thinking. We cannot continue to marginalize those who engage in high risk health behaviors as being “bad people” who just lack morals and the will power to get their lives together.  As the ACE study demonstrated, many are simply trying to survive emotionally by numbing the pain and trying to erase the memories of their traumatic, dysfunctional childhoods.  Unfortunately, these survival strategies for coping work but only temporarily before they begin to create their own web of problems, such as injected drug use, alcoholism, morbid obesity, chronic depression, etc.  As a result, too many find themselves living the kind of life they swore they would never replay for their own children.

 I don’t know the reasons Baby Bella’s aunt publicly described Bella’s mother Rachelle as “a very, very angry woman” or why the mother turned to drugs, prostitution, and a string of men with their own demons.  I don’t know what drove Michael McCarthy, Baby Bella’s alleged murderer, to punch the life out of her tiny body.  But the ACE study helps me imagine why. 

How many adverse experiences rocked Michael McCarthy’s world when he was an innocent child with all the promising possibilities of life before him?  What traumas did Rachelle suffer through when she was the bright, hopeful child that was later reflected in Bella’s beautiful face?  The confirmed links between traumatic childhood experiences and later adult dysfunction and disease, does not dictate that those who hurt children should not be held accountable.  But it may help us understand why a mother who described Bella as “my love, my soul, my life” was unable to keep the most precious person in her life safe from the abuser who killed her.    

                                                                                                                                          Jetta Bernier, Executive Director
                                                                                                                MassKids ~ Prevent Child Abuse Massachusetts


Governor Patrick Signs Statute of Limitations Law

Survivors Moving Forward to File Civil Actions

June 26, 2014, BOSTON, MA – Today Governor Deval Patrick officially signed into law a bill that will finally provide civil relief for victims of child sexual abuse who were previously time-barred under the old law from filing charges against their alleged abusers.  After several months of behind-the-scenes negotiations among legislators, legal experts, child advocates and the MA Catholic Archdioceses, the bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate late last week. The bill, which included an emergency provision, immediately went into effect this afternoon upon the Governor’s signing.  Given the favorable support by the legislature last week, however, many survivors already began to explore their new legal options.

Read more ...

How do the new and old SOL laws compare?

NEW LAW: Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse - age 53
For abuse occurring from this date on, a victim can bring suit against their abuser and the supervisor or employer of the abuser, any time before their 53rd birthday.

For abuse that occurred prior to passage of the new law, a victim who was barred under the old law can now bring suit against their abuser, any time before their 53rd birthday. They are still restricted from bringing suit against the supervisor or employer of the abuser.

OLD LAW: Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse - age 18
A victim of child sexual abuse upon reaching the age of 18 could file suit against their abuser and supervisor or employer of the abuser.

* * *

NEW LAW: Discovery Rule - 7 years
A victim of child sexual abuse now has 7 years after they reach their 18th birthday, or 7 years from the time they discover or reasonably should have discovered the harm caused by the abuse, to file a complaint.

There is NO age limit to the 7 year discovery rule, e.g. a victim abused at age 15 who does not discover the harm done until they are significantly older may still file a complaint if it is filed within 7 years after they discover the harm done or before their 53rd birthday, whichever is LATER.

The 7 Year Discovery Rule is also retroactive for supervisors and employers, e.g. a victim of child sexual abuse who is 40 years old and discovers at that time the harm done by the abuse would have until age 47 to file a complaint against the abuser's supervisor or employer. The victim would have until age 53 to sue their abuser as the time limit is the later of the two ages that is, age 53 or 47 years – 7 years from discovery.)

OLD LAW: Discovery Rule - 3 years
A victim of child sexual abuse had 3 years after their 18th birthday, or 3 years from the time they discovered or should have discovered the harm caused by the abuse, to file a complaint. There was no retroactive provision for this Discovery Rule.

* * *

NEW LAW: MA Tort Claims for child sexual abuse claims only
A written notice of intent to file a complaint against an abuser, supervisor or employer is no longer required.

OLD LAW: MA Tort Claims- 2 year notice & 3 Year SOL
There was a required 2-year written notice of intent to file a complaint for suits brought against towns, cities, governments, municipalities and a 3-year SOL.

You are cordially invited to SNAP's 25th Anniversary Lecture

Hosted by Massachusetts Citizens for Children

"How did we get here and where are we going?"

Join us for a reflection on the work of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) that advocated before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child to hold the Vatican accountable for clergy sexual abuse. Our distinguished speakers will discuss next steps in the drive to deter cover-ups of these crimes by the Church and to hold perpetrators and their enablers accountable.

When: March 23, 2014 ~ 3:00-5:00 P.M

Where: New England Law | Boston 154 Stuart Street, Room 301 Boston, MA 02116

Vince Warren is the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a national legal and educational organization dedicated to advancing and defending the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Bishop Tom Gumbleton is a retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He is one of the very few church officials to take real action in the fight against clergy sexual abuse. Gumbleton is a courageous advocate for reform and passionately defends sexually abused victims.

Twenty-five years ago Barbara Blaine founded SNAP. She works to help other survivors expose wrongdoers and prevent clergy sex crimes and cover ups.

Suggested ticket prices or absentee donation amount:

Champion $1,000 --- Sponsor $500 --- Angel $250 --- Patron $100 --- Regular $25

Please RSVP (312)455-1499 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Or you can purchase your ticket online:
or mail a check to:
SNAP Network, PO Box 6416, Chicago IL, 60680


A Superbowl Message from our Partners, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey:


Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey is working with the Department of Children and Families to strengthen efforts to combat human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in our state. Human trafficking is a serious problem in NJ with young girls from ages 12-14 at highest risk for being exploited sexually. And, you may not know that this is a major cause of concern for some of the children in our state. Many children will be bought and sold during this time. The Super Bowl will be in less than two weeks. Learn what you can do to prevent the devastating toll of these atrocities on young people.