KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The road to recovery for a girl found locked and malnourished in a closet will take a lifetime, doctors said Monday.
The 10-year-old girl was taken to Children's Mercy Hospital on Friday, weighing only 32 pounds and wearing a toddler's size 2 T-shirt.
No one knows yet exactly how long the girl's mother confined her to a closet, but doctors said it doesn't matter.
Whether it was one week or several years, the girl may not be able to fully recover from the nutritional and relationship deprivation she experienced.
The people who live on the other side of the walls where the girl lived at 13th and Highland in Kansas City, Mo., can't believe they never knew about the alleged torture.
The girl's mother, 29-year-old Jacole Prince, is currently in jail on charges of physical injury, child abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.
While the 10-year-old was stuck in a closet and starved, prosecutors said her mother took her two younger children, from a different father, out to eat.
Neighbors said the oldest girl's father had died recently.
Psychiatrists said a parent will sometimes target one child if he or she represents some sort of trauma in the parent's life.
Dr. Carla Wakefield, a psychiatrist at Crittenton Children's Center, said the targeted child will appear to the parent, "all the things she hates about herself, the child's father, the circumstances around that."
Prosecutors said the victim said her mother was the only adult who would put her in the closet.
The probable cause statement said the girl would get hit on the back when she would throw up the small amounts of food that were rarely given to her.
That's why in situations like this, doctors often introduce food through an IV or a feeding tube.
"If you've been starved, the stomach shrinks," Wakefield explained.
Doctors said starvation in developmental years has lasting effects into adulthood.
"It affects the entire body. She's hugely at an increased risk of osteoporosis later in life," Wakefield said. "All the medical issues will haunt her the rest of her life."
Children are amazingly resilient, but doctors warn it is almost impossible for a young developing brain to forget trauma. They said that kind of abuse reaches far beyond the victim.
"This child was completely alone in the world. If you don't have adequate attachment as a child, you don't care what teacher thinks, the babysitter, society thinks," Wakefield said. "You do what the impulses lead you to. It's a miracle she survived."
Doctors praised the brave anonymous caller who they believe saved the girl's life.
Doctors said an unbelievable one in four children now experience some sort of trauma by the time they reach the age of four.
The cost to society is enormous. Psychiatrists said it's about $124 billion a year - more than it costs to treat many major diseases.
If you suspect child abuse, there are easy ways to report it:
In Missouri, the Children's Division child abuse and neglect hotline unit accepts confidential reports 24/7.
The toll-free number is 1-800-392-3738.
In Kansas, the number to call is 800-922-5330.
Each call is taken seriously and every effort will be made to protect your identity.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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