Michigan family calls for transparency after 5-year-old dies

Ethan Belcher, 5, died January 22.
Ethan Belcher, 5, died January 22.(Amber Belcher)
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 6:48 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - A family is mourning while trying to fix what they say is a broken system. Ethan Belcher, 5, died near Detroit last week and now his parents are facing charges.

Ethan’s aunts said Child Protective Services knew about the abuse. Now, the family hopes a proposal just introduced in the Michigan Senate allows CPS to release some information to people who hold the agency accountable. They are pushing for a new law to improve accountability so another child doesn’t die.

“Ultimately, the system failed these babies,” said Ashley Belcher, Ethan Belcher’s aunt. “He was in a horrific situation. It’s one of your worst nightmares about what these kids went through.”

Belcher said Ethan and his little brother were living in a house of terror years before Ethan died. She told WDIV Ethan had more than 100 cigarette burns and even a missing toe. She shared pictures with News 10 of bruises on Ethan’s face.

Belcher said she called CPS several times.

“I had begged and pleaded for them to let me help these babies before something happened,” said Belcher.

Despite that, Ethan ended up back with his parents.

State Sen. Jim Runestad said he used to be a foster parent. He wants to change the law so sitting lawmakers and news outlets can get information. He said his proposal will help hold CPS accountable.

“The number one job of the government is protecting the people, particularly little kids like this. That’s the number one job,” said Sen. Runestad.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement “the department endeavors to be as transparent as the law allows. Both state and federal law prohibit MDHHS from sharing specifics about Children’s Protective Services (CPS) cases.”

“Confidentiality of CPS records has been part of state law for decades. The confidentiality requirement in state and federal law protects children who have been abused or neglected – and their siblings – from the additional trauma of having the intimate details of their alleged abuse and neglect made public.”

But Belcher said that means some kids fall through the cracks.

“It just blows my mind that the system is like this,” said Belcher.

MDHHS said it is willing to work with lawmakers to protect the safety and well-being of children and families.

Belcher said Ethan’s younger brother is currently in foster care while CPS works to place him with a family member.

Ethan’s funeral arraignments are still being finalized.

His parents will be back in court on Feb. 21 on murder, torture and child abuse charges.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released the following statement:

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