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John Hill

John Hill is the Investigations Editor at Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at jhill@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @johncornellhill.

The details of the state’s involvement in placing and overseeing 10-year-old Geanna Bradley are still hazy. What can we conclude so far?

Here, tragically, we go again.

Adults who were supposed to nurture a child instead restrained her with duct tape, Honolulu police say. Confined her to a tiny space while they collected money for her care. Removed her from school. Starved her. Beat her. And in the end, police say, they killed her.

Geanna Bradley was 10 and lived in Wahiawa. Ariel Sellers, the victim of what until now had been the most shocking child abuse case in recent Hawaii history, was 6 and lived in Waimanalo.

Ariel’s parents, Isaac and Lehua Kalua, are accused of murdering the girl they renamed Isabella in 2022. Geanna’s legal guardians, Thomas and Brandy Blas — as well as Brandy Blas’ mother — are accused of killing her last month. They were arrested Friday. The cases are uncannily similar.

It goes without saying that any case like this horrifies the community. But there is a key question that separates a tragedy from a tragedy that demands answers from public officials: Was the government involved in placing and overseeing the child in the home that ultimately proved fatal?

In Ariel’s case, the answer was yes. The state’s Child Welfare Services placed Ariel with the Kaluas as a foster child, and then a Family Court judge approved her adoption. Unfortunately, CWS has done everything in its power to avoid answering questions about what it did and did not do in that case, as I have written about several times now.

But what about Geanna?

Geanna Bradley, 10, was found dead when first responders were called to her home in Wahiawa on Jan. 18. Police later arrested parents Brandy and Thomas Blas, and grandmother Debra Geron. They face charges of In addition to second-degree murder, they face charges of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment. (Courtesy: HPD)
Geanna Bradley, 10, was found dead when first responders were called to her home in Wahiawa on Jan. 18. Police later arrested parents Brandy and Thomas Blas, and grandmother Debra Geron. In addition to second-degree murder, they face charges of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment. The photo is of her in third grade, taken in 2022. (Courtesy: HPD/2022)

Here’s what we know. The people accused of killing her, Thomas and Brandy Blas, had been her legal guardians since 2018. They were getting monthly payments of about $1,961 for caring for Geanna, according to documents filed in the case.

The state pays foster parents who take in children. Under certain circumstances, it pays parents who adopt a child out of the foster system.

But people like the Blases who become guardians of a child coming out of the child welfare system can also get money called “permanency assistance” payments. CWS policy is apparently to only make these payments to people who have been foster parents or had a child through a kin placement.

We also know that Geanna had been living with the Blases for two years before they became legal guardians.

Putting all of these things together suggests strongly that Geanna was in the child welfare system, that the Blases took her in as foster parents and then became legal guardians.

Of course, I could just ask CWS if that’s what happened. Oh, wait — I did. No answer.

So if true, that means the state or one of its contractors approved the Blases as foster parents and then would have been required to monitor the girl at regular intervals while she was in foster care. Was she being abused during those first two years with the Blases? None of the information released Friday addresses that question. Police just said that the abuse had been “chronic.”

It’s quite possible that after the Blases became legal guardians, they were no longer being monitored by the state, much as happens when a child is adopted.

But there are exceptions to that rule. According to Hawaii law, legal guardians must report on the condition of the child if ordered to by the court. That could happen if some other person, such as the child’s biological parents, asks for it.

The fact that Geanna was under legal guardianship means that the court had not terminated the rights of her biological parents, leaving them free to stay involved in the case and check in on her condition and maybe even try to reunite with the child. We have no idea, though, if that happened.

One very odd thing about this case is that the Blases told police that Geanna suffered from schizophrenia and biopolar disorder, as well as other issues. Those conditions usually don’t become manifest until late adolescence or early adulthood.

Combine that with the fact that the Blases were being paid $1,961 a month. That is much higher than the going standard rate for foster care or permanency payments. Did the Blases get paid more by making the case that it was unusually difficult to care for her because of her conditions, which allows for a higher rate?

Dept of Human Services.
The Department of Human Services should explain its role in placing and overseeing two children allegedly abused in a Wahiawa household. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

One of the disturbing parallels with the Ariel Sellers case is that Geanna, too, had been removed from school, away from teachers and other school officials not only required, but probably also quite ready to, report any signs of abuse.

If the Blases started home-schooling Geanna in October 2022, they would have been required to file “an annual progress report, showing satisfactory progress in all content areas” at the end of the 2022-23 school year. Did they do that? What did it say?

None of this even touches on the circumstances surrounding the 4-year-old boy who police say was also horribly abused in the Blas household. The Blases had adopted this child as a toddler.

It’s possible, I suppose, that the Blases went through a private adoption agency, but I doubt it. So that leaves the probability that he, too, came out of the foster system. And that also means that a whole crew of child welfare professionals — CWS social workers, perhaps CWS contractors, a guardian ad litem or other representative of the child’s interests — may have weighed in on the placement and that a Family Court judge approved it.

The Department of Human Services, the parent agency of CWS, said it got no reports of abuse after the Blases became Geanna’s legal guardian, until the sickening conditions of her death were revealed last month.

It’s possible that CWS had no reason to believe anything was amiss at the times it was involved. Maybe no abuse was occurring then. And even if it was, as I have written before, we cannot expect them to be all-seeing.

The problem is that CWS has repeatedly stonewalled about its actions in the Ariel Sellers cases and other cases. The public is understandably angry and upset about these deaths and injuries.

If the department wants to reestablish trust, it should talk openly about what happened in these cases. Or the Legislature or Gov. Josh Green could make them explain.

Otherwise, we’re left to draw our own conclusions.


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About the Author

John Hill

John Hill is the Investigations Editor at Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at jhill@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @johncornellhill.


Latest Comments (0)

These parents and foster parents should not be allowed to remove the child from school. So tragic. They should be charged with 1st degree murder.

Logical · 3 days ago

The HCCPR, Hawaii Coalition for Child Protective Reform, submitted companion bills this session to reduce the court caseload for CWS, thereby allowing for workers to make mandatory checks on children in foster care, just for starters. The House and Senate ignored our bills. This reporter spelled out the outrageous number of children removed from parents without a court order, without oversight, in September 2022. Yet, the solution is not addressed in this legislative session!

jusbecuz · 1 week ago

Such a horrifying story. Trace the money, I'm sure the State Accounting Dept. can say what budget it came from. Who granted legal guardianship to these people? If it was a judge, my understanding is that a psychosocial assessment would have been written by someone, usually a social worker. The whole State failed this child and all the kids they didn't monitor who have died.

Uluvale · 1 week ago

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