Sidney James hides what haunts him.
His broad smile and vibrant personality draw people to him easily and comfortably. But beneath the surface is a lingering bitterness.
James lost his only son nearly 10 years ago. The boy, 2-year-old Dominic, was killed by his foster father.
“He took my son’s life. But he only got 15 years,” James lamented.
His anger toward the man who still denies the murder is to be expected. But James also has a relentless resentment toward Missouri’s child welfare system.
“These people feel above the law,” James said.
Dominic had been put in foster care after a domestic disturbance between James and Dominic’s mother.
“There was no reason for Dominic to be in foster care—no abuse. No neglect,” James insisted.
The boy was taken anyway under the guise that he would be in a safer place while authorities figured things out with the family.
But he wasn’t.
“The end result is my son dead,” James said.
It wasn’t long into Dominic’s stay with his foster family that James started noticing subtle changes in his son.
Bruises that couldn’t be explained, a lack of a desire to play and other small differences set off alarm bells.
“There were signs and all they did was ignore me,” James said.
Then, when Dominic was hospitalized for some unexplained symptoms, his parents insisted he be taken out of the foster home. They left a later meeting with authorities thinking Dominic would be sent somewhere else.
In fact, several local officials left that same meeting thinking the child would be moved, but something — some say a misunderstanding of the plan, others say an out-right rejection of it — led Dominic to go back to his foster home.
“Then in two or three days he was dead because they sent him back to that house,” James said.
Dominic’s death sent a shock wave through the community. Numerous reforms were implemented in both local and state policies, giving many hope that these new measures would prevent a similar tragedy in the future.
But James is unconvinced.
“I thought my son giving his life would make a change,” James said.
“If this is all that’s changed—it didn’t change anything.”
James wonders what, if any, impact the state law bearing his son’s name has actually had.
Ultimately, he hopes Dominic’s lasting legacy will be a change in the child welfare system.
This summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of Dominic’s death. James is planning a celebration of his life — to remind people of Dominic’s legacy and to remember the little boy who used to love to pray.
“There’s still a lot of anger and bitterness there,” James admitted. “But I’ve learned to turn that into a positive.”
He hopes keeping Dominic’s name in the public consciousness will promote change. He hopes no other parent will face what he has faced: the burden of a death that could have been prevented.
While he misses the boy, he also feels that Dominic has buoyed him over the past decade.
“I know he’s my guardian angel.”