Haleigh Poutre, 10 years later

Haleigh's case sparked changes in the Department of Children and Families

SOUTHWICK, Mass. (WWLP) – 22News first introduced you to then 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre in 2005 when her adoptive mother and stepfather were accused of beating her so severely it was questioned whether she would survive her injuries.

Her case is best know for changing how the then Department of Social Services operates in the state of Massachusetts. In 2008, after a three year trial, Jason Strickland from Westfield, was convicted and sentenced to 12-15 years in prison for his connection to Haleigh’s abuse.

In January this year, Strickland requested a new trial but his appeal was rejected by the state’s highest court.

Now, in an exclusive interview, 22News shows you what life is like today for Haleigh, 10 years after she made what doctor’s called a miraculous recovery.

An early morning dance party as the girl the public once knew as Haleigh Poutre, now Haleigh Arnett, gets a day off of her typical routine of school, occupational therapy, and doctor’s appointments.

You may remember first hearing Haleigh’s name in 2005, when her first adoptive mother and stepfather, were accused of abusing her so severely doctors didn’t expect her to recover.

Haleigh’s injuries left her with permanent brain damage, impairing her speech, mobility, and development.

“She doesn’t have like a vivid memory. She can’t tell you exactly what happened, but she knows she was hurt,” Keith Arnett, Haleigh’s adoptive father told 22News.

Haleigh’s child-like spirit was left untouched, however. It was noticeable as she patiently used her spelling board to tell 22News about her favorite candies, M & M’s.

Haleigh, now 21 years old, is the care of her new parents, Rebekah and Keith Arnett of Southwick. The Arnett’s, already experienced foster parents, and biological parents to three boys welcomed Haleigh into their home 7 years ago.

Dad, Keith said soon after she moved in he left his job as a special education teacher to better care for Haleigh’s extensive needs.

“It became too much to work with special needs kids during the day and then come home and work with Haleigh. And now I drive a truck which I fix more than I drive…” Keith explained, but was interrupted with a look out of the corner of Haleigh’s eye.

“I’m sorry,” Haleigh said. “It’s okay Hayl.. it’s a choice I made and I’m happy I made it! So there,” Keith responded.

The Arnett’s say Haleigh’s injuries have meant major adjustments for their family but that their deep religious beliefs get them through the difficult days.

“On a daily basis Haleigh is a pretty happy-go-lucky kid who’s heart is just full of love and we are blessed to be the recipients of that,” Keith said.

The family says that while they’re aware Haleigh’s case sparked changes in the Department of Children and Families, the state agency responsible for protecting children in the state from abuse and neglect, but say right now, their focus now is providing Haleigh with her best possible future.

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