LETTERS

Suffer the Children
Regarding Michelle Dally Johnston's "The Clients," in the August 23 issue:
The timing of your article regarding the GAL program in Denver was eerie, since I had started to look into the availability of such a program just last week. I moved here approximately eight months ago from another state, and after getting settled in, I intended to find volunteer work involving children and their protection. In the state and county where I lived before, the GAL would ask the court (through the bar or legal aid society) to provide a "volunteer" investigator if the GAL felt he would not be able to interview the child, the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, teachers, foster parents, etc., or to collect information that needed review, e.g., court documents filed by other attorneys on the case, copies of Social Services interviews, etc. I was one of those volunteer investigators.

I received training from the legal aid office along with dozens of other volunteers; we were screened and interviewed and, like so many GALs, received no compensation for any of our out-of-pocket expenses. It is my understanding that while some GALs were paid, many opted to work pro bono over paying bar association dues (they had a choice). I did my "legwork" at lunch or after work or on weekends; sometimes it was frustrating, because some Social Services caseworkers felt threatened by a GAL investigator who requested copies of interviews with an abused, neglected, hospitalized, abandoned or delinquent child. Other caseworkers knew that, unlike them, we were not influenced by budgetary pressures or public-image concerns, etc., and we could therefore help that child. Parents were wary until they learned that we were not paid workers. Children, already traumatized by abuse, neglect, the system or whatever, were distrustful and skittish of our motives until they found that they had rights and confidentiality.

My experiences with the children (and I represented dozens) were wonderful and painful and exhausting and time-consuming, and given the opportunity, I would do it again. My life's experiences prepared me for my investigations/interviews. My background at one time was not much different from that of the children or, later, their parents. My own children had a rough time early on; yet with direction, assistance and, most important, encouragement, I broke the pattern and am now able to give back.

Like the spotlighted attorney in your article, Allen Alderman, I have also had my losses/failures, but not to death, and not because I wasn't there. If Mr. Alderman thinks that two deaths (or so) in a ten-year period is an acceptable risk, then he is obviously not working in the best interests of the child. A child's best interests, last I checked, did not include lack of life.

Please continue to do stories on this vastly ignored commodity and wealth--the children. Maybe if enough kids read the stories, they'll learn to defend themselves from those who are there to protect them.

A.L. Baez
Golden

As a public-health pediatrician, I am compelled to comment on your recent cover stories. Having trained in Philadelphia and worked in other cities larger than Denver, I have always followed the investigative stories that a paper such as Westword pursues. The inherent dangers in the recent child-related articles are the extreme responses they might incite and the fact that fundamental issues may be ignored. Sweeping, broad generalizations are counterproductive.

Not all GALs perform their duties with monetary motivation. Not all pedophiles escape prison, rehabilitation and retribution. Not all county social workers are middle-aged, uncaring, overworked women with bad backs from carrying heavy charts and caseloads. Not all therapists or evaluators use controversial therapy or methodology. Not all children languish in temporary-shelter care while their parents drag their addiction-ridden bodies to civil court to argue with judges.

Child abuse happens. Children are hurt physically, sexually, emotionally and fatally every single day. Laws protecting these children, as well as adults, need periodic review and revision. There are wonderful people in all areas of child welfare in Denver who work harder than anyone I have known in other cities. As in any field, professionals whose work involves the diagnosis, evaluation, treatment or civil protection of such children need to maintain objectivity, credibility and accountability for their work.

Finally, there is no "industry" of such professionals who profit from the misery of the painful events of child abuse and neglect. Hysteria, paranoia and labels do not fix a faltering child-welfare system or benefit the children or families who are in trouble; they can only wound the integrity and determination of dedicated people who, contrary to what the public may now believe, work to protect children.

Andrew Sirotnak, M.D.
Denver Health and Hospitals

What's in a Name?
I found Michelle Dally Johnston's article on the Kempe Center ("Do You See What I See?" August 2) interesting and appalling. The fact that James Plunkett would allow his name and his children's names to be printed shows he doesn't feel his children have been put through enough hell. I question what kind of parent he really is and what kind of reporter would allow this.

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