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A story we no longer can bear to read

A few weeks back, I heard from a woman. Five children, one after the other, had just died of abuse, the majority of them in the bay area. The woman had children of her own, and she clearly could no longer stand it. The terrible news, I mean.

It always goes like this, she said. A case hits the news, and she can't bear for the next few weeks to read the paper, watch TV. It hurts too much.

Now it hurts again. Now a 2{-year-old Tampa boy, Jonathan Flam, is dead, and this woman who never left her name will embrace her own children more dearly, will wonder _ or is the better word despair? _ at how somebody can fracture a toddler's skull.

The woman wanted somebody to tell her what she could do, how she could help, because her own helplessness hurt most of all, she said.

I might suggest that she volunteer, in case she has the time, to be a guardian ad litem, one of those wonderful ordinary, caring people who are trained to represent a child's interests as the case against those who have abused or neglected him moves through the courts. I know of no courthouse where they have more guardians than they need.

The suggestion at least keeps the mind focused on the positive in a moment of unrelieved gloom _ although a guardian wouldn't have done Jonathan Flam a bit of good.

His case never got to the right court until the boy was all but dead.

Two months ago, when his mother's boyfriend was arrested the first time for beating Jonathan, the boyfriend, a security guard named Jose Antonio Cortez, was charged in Circuit Court with aggravated child abuse.

Jonathan had two black eyes. Both sides of his face were bruised.

But state social workers didn't bother to bring word of what Cortez allegedly did to Jonathan to a judge in Juvenile Court.

If a case worker had in fact bothered, Jonathan Flam almost certainly would be alive now.

He would be alive because a Juvenile Court judge probably would have yanked the boy from his mother and placed him in the temporary custody of other relatives or a foster family.

Instead, a social worker simply told the boy's mother to stay away from her boyfriend.

There was no court order. No injunction. No threat from a judge that might have scared her into doing the right thing.

So first the case worker blew it and then Nadine Flam blew it. She ignored the social worker. She went back to her boyfriend. She let him near that child again.

It was as good as putting him in the path of a speeding car.

This is not, I know, so unusual _ even though 20 years of feminist preaching has created the belief that women are always, and only, victims.

Some women take a part in hurting their own kids, if only by going back to the men who hurt them in the first place.

Sometimes fear drives them.

Sometimes just sick need.

It is also not so unusual for a grade-A abuse case, like the first one in August involving Jonathan Flam, to not get kicked into court immediately.

Either the case workers are so beleaguered, they have to pick and choose from the worst, or they see so much that a toddler with two black eyes and bruises on both sides of his face no longer shocks them.

Now I consider that woman who called me, and find I'm short, so short, on answers.

She probably won't be reading the paper today or watching the TV news. It is too much to read, to watch.

It hurts not just her. It hurts us all.