After nearly one year and eight reports of suspected child abuse, a 7-year-old Wyoming child was finally removed from the home two weeks ago — when authorities discovered the boy was living in an outdoor cage.
“This was an absolute fail on the part of the sheriff’s office,” said 9NEWS psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel. “They came out eight times in nine months. The kid was starving. The kid missed 18 days of school, and all the sheriff’s deputies did was say, ‘Well, try and get him to come to school.'”
The boy’s mother, Jena Harman, and her boyfriend, Alexander Smith, were arrested on July 24 when Albany County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a new tip about the child being caged outside in Laramie home. Jena and Alexander each face one count of child abuse and three counts of felonious restraint.
Police haven’t commented on the investigation. The official arrest affidavit reveals the child was held in a 6-by-6-foot cage for weeks. He was fed “at least once a day” and had to sleep in the enclosure, even if it was storming. His mom would occasionally permit him to come into the home when her boyfriend was away; she told police she also put plywood on top of the cage to protect her son from inclement weather. She referred to the cage as a “playpen.”
The boy was permitted to pee outside, but was only allowed to poop when they went into town. He also reported physical abuse at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend.
Prior to the arrest, the boy’s school complained to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department “several times.” Police investigated and once noted seeing the boy ravenously eat food out of a cafeteria trash can. However, they said the child abuse reports were “unfounded.”
The child is now in the care of the state, but Dr. Wachtel said it’s “almost a given” that the 7-year-old will develop anxiety, depression and anger problems. He added, “Probably the worst thing is the potential for the child to not be able to relate to other people.”
The mother and her boyfriend remain in custody. Both could face more than 40 years in prison.