Joyce Terhaar

From the Executive Editor: Giving a voice to abused teen crucial to helping kids at risk

Joyce Terhaar
Joyce Terhaar

Lilly Manning came to The Bee because she wants to know her story.

A teen who was abused and tortured by her adoptive mother, Manning wants to know why no one helped her – not the county's Child Protective Services, not teachers, not the police. She's old enough now, at age 19, to want the details and help uncover them.

Manning called The Bee's Marjie Lundstrom in pursuit of that truth. While Lundstrom has covered many issues at The Bee, she is perhaps best known for her expertise in child abuse and neglect issues. She's written extensively about children who died at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them, winning a Pulitzer Prize for such work earlier in her career. In Sacramento, her reporting has influenced reform at Sacramento's Child Protective Services.

Lundstrom's coverage, and that of other journalists who report on child welfare, tends to focus on child deaths – not those who survive abuse – because the Juvenile Dependency Court and Child Protective Services strictly safeguard the confidentiality of children in the system.

"In California it almost always takes a child's death to penetrate that veil and examine the record fully," Lundstrom told me.

In this case it took a child who lived to be an adult, and criminal court records to corroborate her abuse.

Manning escaped from her adoptive mother, Lillian Manning-Horvath, and the woman's husband, Joseph Robert Horvath, about four years ago. Since then the two were charged and convicted of multiple felonies for their abuse of Manning, leaving behind an extensive and public court record.

What Lundstrom soon found from those records was that "these were not the ramblings of a distraught and traumatized 19-year-old. The records bore her out."

The resulting story last Sunday, "The girl with 100 scars," was an account of horrific abuse, yet also courage and resilience.

It is just part of Manning's story. While journalists and the public do not have routine access to her files, she is entitled to them. She has requested her records from the Juvenile Dependency Court and CPS. She is determined to share what she finds.

It's difficult to read what happened in the privacy of Manning's childhood home. Manning and her siblings were taken from their biological mother and placed with Lillian Manning-Horvath. She was chosen to nurture and protect them. Manning's physical scars will be a lifelong visual reminder of just how wrong that decision was.

Yet it's critical to the welfare of all vulnerable children that we tell her story and, by doing so, give an abused child a voice. It's a community opportunity to re-examine what went wrong.

Many of you already have responded. We received so many calls with offers to help Manning last week that Pam Dinsmore, The Bee's community affairs director, worked with Bank of America to set up a donor fund.

"I think it's awesome so many people want to help," Manning told Lundstrom. "I didn't think anybody really cared."

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