Isabella ‘Ariel’ Kalua murder case puts spotlight on systemic failures in child welfare system, experts say

Despite Hawaii's efforts to build stronger families, social workers say the child's killing is a wake up call.
Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 7:07 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 at 11:54 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Service providers who serve keiki say they’re devastated by the news about Isabella “Ariel” Kalua’s death and the horrendous allegations against her adoptive parents.

Police say her parents kept her in a dog cage in the bathroom with duct tape over her nose and mouth. They believe she was killed in mid-August, a full month before she was reported missing.

And one of her older siblings had to carry her lifeless body, police say.

“It brings tears because we know the impact on children,” said Leilani Kupahu-Marino Kahoano, cofounder of the Association for Infant Mental Health in Hawaii.

The organization provides support services for professionals and families with keiki ages 0 to 5.

She says the Kalua case underscores a host of persistent and systemic issues: A lack of funding for social workers, programs and other support services.

“Being a volunteer with child abuse, CPS in the 80s and seeing much of the same things happening today and so we talk about we have to break these silos,” said Kahoano.

Amanda Luning, an infant and children’s mental specialist and board member with the Association for Infant Mental Health in Hawaii, said there needs to be greater oversight to ensure at-risk kids are safe.

“When adults are triggered, they are going to do things that are not particularly healthy. Children tend to be in the line of fire especially in families where there has not been a lot of support,” she said.

She says family support services should be available to everyone and not considered extra.

“It needs to be viewed as essential. We need to understand that families are building the next generation of human brains so they need to be equipped. They need to be supported,” said Luning.

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