Deadly abuse of 5-year-old boy has Michigan senator working to change CPS information law

Ethan Belcher’s parents charged in his murder

DETROIT – Local 4 is continuing its look into the death of 5-year-old Ethan Belcher and whether changes are needed within Michigan’s Child Protective Services.

Critics say CPS has been ineffective and underfunded. But the agency also stands behind a law that prevents information about how the agency works from being made public.

The system has received considerable criticism over the years as ineffective and needing much more funding. But the agency also stands behind a law that prevents information about how the agency works from being made public.

Belcher’s family is preparing for a funeral this week. A funeral they neither expected nor could afford.

Read: ‘A house of terror’: What officials are saying about CPS after 5-year-old was killed

Driving to Michigan from Tennessee is Candace Rush, Ethan’s aunt, who spoke to Local 4 Tuesday (Jan. 31) from her Bristol, Tennessee home.

She is devastated by the loss of a little boy she says she tried to bring to safety.

“It shouldn’t ever came this far,” said Rush. “It should have been listened to when we had reported it several times before.”

Rush was in tears knowing both she and her sister attempted to pull their two nephews, 5-year-old Ethan and his 6-year-old brother, out of the abusive home.

She pointed to some baby pictures of Ethan before his parents split when he lived with his stepfather, Shane Robert Shelton, and his mother, Valeria Hamilton, who is charged with his torture and murder.

Murder charge in horrifyig child abuse case of Detroit mom, stepdad on city's east side

Rush says she even tried to convince a case worker to take in both boys.

“I told her I would come from Tennessee and pick them both up, and because it was an ongoing case, she hadn’t been proven unfit yet that if I was to remove them from the state, I could potentially face kidnapping charges,” Rush said.

These family situations are a legal minefield, but Republican State Senator, Jim Runestad of White Lake, says Child Protective Services hides behind a secrecy law, exempting it from freedom of information requests to understand what’s going wrong.

Runestad says he is looking to change that.

“This is the only area that I am aware of that they can completely bottle up and stonewall any information about what went wrong in a case that we can’t figure out how to fix it,” said Runestad.

As for Ethan’s funeral, Rush says it will be difficult.

“It’s going to be one of the hardest days of my life,” Rush said.

Runestad will put his bill up on the floor of the Senate and start looking for co-sponsors on Wednesday (Feb. 1.).

Local 4 will stay on top of this as Ethan’s parents will also be in court Wednesday for a probable cause hearing.

There is a GoFundMe page for the family, and they’ve brought in about half of what they need to bury the 5-year-old.

Also: Detroit mom, stepdad charged with abuse that killed 5-year-old son, injured 3-year-old

About the Authors:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.