Letters to the Editor

From the week of September 14

The Mother Country

Parent trap: The next time a state or county child-welfare official piously proclaims that they only take away children in cases of severe abuse, the next time they say they only do it when there is absolutely no alternative, the next time they say they wouldn't even think of taking a child from a loving parent just because that parent is poor, remember the case of Ponciano Lazaro-Avina and his daughter, Rosa, whose story was told so well by Julie Jargon in the September 7 "Baby Formula."

No one claims that Mr. Lazaro-Avina ever abused or neglected his daughter. No one claims there ever was a threat that he would do so. After her birth to a woman with a drug problem, Rosa was taken from Mr. Lazaro-Avina, her father, solely because the Denver Department of Human Services didn't like his living arrangements.

Instead of helping Mr. Lazaro-Avina get a better job and a better place to live, they took his child and ran, leaving him to fend for himself. Even when he succeeded, they still wouldn't give Rosa back because, with the logic of a loan shark, they said he didn't have enough money to repay the cost of their wrongfully taking his child in the first place.

A system that truly valued the needs of poor children over the desires of childless, middle-class foster parents would have responded to this case not only by leaving Rosa with her father, but also by helping the mother find drug treatment, so they could ultimately live as the kind of two-parent family we all supposedly cherish. This should have been done not for the sake of the mother, but for the sake of the child.

In a University of Florida study of "crack babies," half were placed in foster care, the other half with birth mothers able to care for them. After six months, the babies were tested using all the usual measures of infant development: rolling over, sitting up, reaching out. Consistently, the children placed with their birth mothers did better. For the foster children, the removal from their mothers was more toxic than the cocaine.

So imagine the emotional torment inflicted on Rosa, forced to endure four different foster home placements in a year. (Then the fourth foster parents' hired-gun psychologist manages to blame the birth parents for the child's emotional difficulties.) And at that, Rosa was lucky. Recent news accounts have made clear that foster care can be a very dangerous place for a child (and contrary to the low-ball official estimates bandied about by foster-care apologists, several studies have found rates of abuse in foster care far higher than the rate in the general population). Can anyone seriously believe the DDHS was a better parent to Rosa than the ones she was born with?

Colorado foster homes are filled with children like Rosa. They take places that should be reserved for children in real danger. Then the state moans and groans about a "shortage" of foster parents.

But the smarmiest argument is the one that says, in effect, "Sure, we never should have taken this child in the first place, but so what? She's attached to her middle-class foster parents now." Even if that's true in this case -- and that is far from clear -- to allow such logic to prevail would send a signal that it is open season on any poor family. It would ratify the current trend of turning the child welfare system into the ultimate middle-class entitlement: Step right up, and take a poor person's child for your very own.

Indeed, to those who uphold this approach to law, I pose this question: If a stranger breaks into your home, kidnaps your newborn daughter, flees to Mexico and then returns two years later -- can he keep her?

Richard Wexler, executive director
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

It's all relative: I'm the cousin of Dawne Gomez, and I have strong comments about what was written in a negative way about Dawne and her husband, Chris. Their baby is probably the happiest baby in the entire family tree: Every time there is a family gathering, the first thing I notice is how Rosa (not her real name) is smiling with joy beyond belief.

The job that they have done raising her so far -- and I stress, so far -- is simply phenomenal. I could not recommend two better parents to give her what she needs -- their true love most of all! I'm not too concerned about the matter if the judges involved truly do follow what this country was founded on: justice.

Paul R. Romero
via the Internet

Culture vultures: Well, well, well...I see the baby-snatchers are still going strong in the DDHS. I think it's a sad commentary that in this great big melting pot, there's no room for the embracing of "alternate" cultures (i.e., Hispanic, African and Asian) that place emphasis not on money, sex and power but on families, tradition and values. In this country filled with teenage pregnancies, materialism and school shootings, who are we to decide this child will be better off with the Gomezes? People who are already demonstrating that they will teach their stolen child that it's okay to do anything necessary to get what you want, no matter who it hurts. It's very obvious that there's a strong cultural bias within the DDHS to anyone who is not white, affluent or living the "American dream" of greed, materialism and excess.

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