Daniel Valerio from Victoria, Australia, was failed by official inaction. His death shook the nation and led to the introduction of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse in Victoria, Australia.
2-year-old Daniel was living with his 4-year-old brother, Ben, his mother, Cheryl, and his mother’s new boyfriend, Paul Leslie Aiton. Cheryl and the boy’s father, Michael, had split up months beforehand and had cut all ties with her and the children. For a prolonged period, Daniel was being subjected to unimaginable abuse at the hands of Paul. He often bragged to his workmates that he often punched the toddler in the back of the head and kicked him and threw him against walls. Paul liked to shove Daniel’s face in faeces and beat his genitalia with a wooden spoon for urinating. Where was his mother when all of this abuse was unfolding one might question. Why wasn’t she there to protect her son? She dismissed his wounds and contusions as the marks of a clumsy child.
Shortly before Daniel’s death, police found extensive bruising on the toddler. Daniel’s brother, Ben, even told police that he and his brother were being abused and beaten and even showed them a tree branch which had been used as a weapon. In fact, over 21 professionals were alerted to the abuse over the preceding months yet failed to intervene. Several neighbours and Ben’s teachers noticed disturbing changes in the children. They were often spotted with large bruising on their faces and bodies and became defensive and unhappy. It was clear to anybody with an ounce of sense that these boys were being abused at home.
Several GP’s made a note of their injuries and in July of 1990, Daniel was taken to hospital after one GP became concerned about the bruising in his head. They noted that he was extremely happy to be given attention and cuddles by any members of staff. “The child’s behaviour in hospital was the sort of behaviour one sees in a neglected child,” he noted. Nevertheless, he was sent home where child services soon received an anonymous phone call which detailed how Daniel was thin, pale, covered in bruises and had suffered two broken collar bones. There was no follow-up and Daniel remained in the abusive home.
Another concerned call came from an electrician who saw Daniel laying motionless in bed. His face, arms and legs were covered with bruises. One eye was closed and the other was partially open due to the swelling. His cheek bones and jaw was swollen. He went home and called the police. When police arrived, Ben told them that they were being abused and directed them to the tree branch which was used as a weapon. The next day, Daniel was examined and the doctor found that he couldn’t be sure if the wounds were non-accidental and sent Daniel home.
On the 8th of September, 1990, Daniel was punched in the stomach one last time as he lay in his bed. Paul, who was 30-years-old and 105kg, told police that Daniel, who was 30-months-old and 10kg, was crying. He said he lay the toddler on the bed and punched him in the stomach over and over again. He died then and there. As he lay in the mortuary, his body was literally covered head to toe with bruises. The pathologist said it looked like he had been involved in a fatal car crash.
For reasons completely unknown, the day after murdering her son, Cheryl agreed to marry Paul despite the fact that he confessed to the murder. Paul was found guilty and sentenced to 22 years but was released in 2011. Cheryl ultimately divorced Paul and he went on to re-marry and start a new life – something he denied Daniel when he beat him to death.