Salo: Who is to blame for child abuse deaths

Megan Salo

Two adopted, home-schooled teenagers have recently died of neglect in Iowa and the similarities in their cases are not only terrifying, but evidence of a desperately needed change. 

The most recent case is of 16-year-old Sabrina Ray. Sabrina was found dead in her home in Perry, Iowa on May 12, weighing only 56 pounds at the time of her death

In this same home, her adoptive parents, Misty and Marc Ray, ran a daycare for as many as 16 children. 

State inspectors and social workers were called to the daycare multiple times after reports of abuse, but they didn’t find any evidence of an abusive environment.

The Ray parents have been charged with four counts of child endangerment resulting in serious injuries, three counts of neglect or abandonment of a dependent person, and one count of child endangerment resulting in death. Some of these charges also pertain to Sabrina’s two adoptive sisters. 

They are being held in Dallas County Jail and their trial is set for June 2017.

This past October, 16-year-old Natalie Finn was found in her West Des Moines home in critical condition – starved, unconscious and lying on her back, wearing an adult diaper with vomit in her mouth. The bedroom she was in had no furniture and was completely bare besides urine soaked blankets. 

The window to Natalie’s bedroom was nailed shut by her adoptive father, after Natalie and her two other adoptive siblings were caught climbing out of it to beg for food at a nearby gas station. 

According to the Polk County medical examiner’s office, Natalie died of emaciation. 

Natalie’s previous school principal had contacted child protective services after Natalie had come to school dirty and hungry. The Finn home was inspected, but the inspectors reported it to be fine. 

The parents, Nicole and Joseph Finn are divorced and the three adopted children lived full time with the mother at the time of Natalie’s death. 

Both parents are being charged with several charges of kidnapping, child endangerment resulting in injury or death and neglect or abandonment. 

Nicole is also being charged with first-degree murder. 

They are being held in Polk County Jail and their trial is set for October 2017. 

The death of a child is always tragic. The death of a child at the hands of someone who was supposed to be caring for them – someone who was supposed to dry their tears instead of cause them – is devastating. 

What makes these deaths even worse is knowing that they could have been prevented. So, who is to blame for these deaths? It’s complicated. 

The parents

Obviously, the parents who reportedly withheld the basic care that a child needs to live are ultimately responsible. If they are guilty of what they are charged with, they made the conscious decision to let their child slowly die right in front of them. They brought this child into their home out of foster care – gave them hope – and then killed them. If they are guilty, then they are to blame. 

The Department of Human Services

In both of these above cases, human services was aware of, at the very least, reports of abuse. In Natalie’s case, the DHS investigator who claimed the Finn household was safe, was fired after Natalie’s death. Sen. Matt McCoy also said in a report by The Des Moines Register, that “he believes the fired investigator had genuine concerns about the children that weren’t reflected in the detective’s affidavit. The senator said the worker told him that it was apparent during interviews with the siblings that they feared Nicole Finn, but that there wasn’t enough evidence found to remove them from the home.” 

I can’t imagine how that investigator is feeling right now – knowing that they could have removed this girl from a terrible home before it was too late. 

But as much as I feel for this worker, they are also at fault. As is the entire DHS. Why weren’t these reports thoroughly investigated? Why did no one speak up about what they saw in these homes? Why didn’t they care? 

I’m also not claiming to know anything about the requirements to take a child out of a home, but they could have done more. 


We, as community members, are also responsible. When we see signs of abuse or neglect and don’t speak up, we might as well be pulling the trigger on the gun pointed at these children. 

To learn about the warning signs of child abuse, click here.

To find out how to file a report of suspected child abuse, click here.