I-Team: Foster mom dedicates life to helping child abuse victim


A tragic child abuse case led to a bond between the prosecutor and a Las Vegas valley woman.

That valley woman is now in need after giving so much.

This little boy Joel had already been through so much at just two years old. He had recovered from a severe beating when he was two months old. His father was sent to jail.

Then as a toddler, it happened again. Joel’s mother was sent to prison, this time. But that second beating left the once healthy child needing around-the-clock care.

Paula Cheney starts her day just after 5 in the morning with suctioning, medicine, bathing, and more as she gets Joel ready to head to school.

The first time Joel was hurt, he and his sister Jennifer, who was not physically harmed, were placed in Paula’s home through protective custody.

She was a foster parent.

Child Protective Services then placed both children back with their mother.

After the second time Joel was hurt, Joel was expected to be placed in an out-of-state facility.

“The biological relatives, they only wanted Jennifer,” said Paula Cheney, foster mother. “They didn’t want him. And so I’m thinking, I told them, I’ll take him.”

Paula adopted both children.

“At this point I’m thinking, I got to do something. I can’t let him go this time. I got to do something.”

“Paula took on a little boy who was never going to walk again, never going to be able to eat on his own, never going to be able to go to the bathroom on his own, and I mean she didn’t even blink twice at it so to say that that is rare is an overstatement. Like she is truly such a special person,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Jacqueline Bluth, Clark County.

Bluth prosecuted Joel’s mother’s but her involvement with the family didn’t stop when the criminal case was over.

she has helped the family and even showed up with christmas gifts but there’s one thing she’s hoping the communty can rally together for.

“They need a wheelchair accessible van,” Bluth said.

Joel is about 80 pounds and growing and Paula is 72 years old.

It’s difficult for her to load Joel in and out of her car. Even a medical appointment is a struggle.

So, Joel’s mainly restricted to home and school.

“I think she blames herself a little bit for that, as well, because she wants him to go out right? She wants him to live as normal of a life as possible,” Bluth said.

The second time Joel was beaten, he was expected to die. Paula stayed by his side and prayed. When Joel did survive, he was expected to be in a complete vegetative state. But with Paula’s care, he’s improved more than anyone could predict.

Reporter Vanessa Murphy: “He knows what’s going on around him?”
Paula Cheney: “He’s aware of what’s going on around him.”
Reporter Vanessa Murphy: “And he calls you mama.”
Paula Cheney: “Mama, yeah. Mama.”
Reporter Vanessa Murphy: “What is that like to hear that from that little boy?”
Paula Cheney: “Well, just overall, it’s just so heartwarming to see him and you see how happy he is. He’s a happy little boy. He’s laughing. He’s making all kinds of sounds, you know and so it just makes me feel good.”

In January, Joel turned 10 years old.

“I just think that there are certain cases out there and certain people that are so special that they stand out. And not to say that I haven’t worked with amazing families cause I have, but very, very few have struck me like Paula has, and I think she just deserves so much more than I could ever give her,” Bluth said.

If you would like to help Paula and Joel get a wheelchair accessible van, a GoFundMe page has been set up, just click here for more information.

To learn more about what unfolded with Joel as a baby, you can see the I-Team’s previous story here.

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