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From the week of January 25, 2001

Life in the Foster Lane

From here to eternity:I must congratulate Julie Jargon for her January 18 story, "Home for Dinner." She took a very complicated issue and made it easy to understand, focusing on one important point: Children deserve to be put in good homes, and be put there quickly. A year to an adult is not much time, but for a child to be in limbo for a year is an eternity!

Anita Rosen
Denver

Home alone:Four months ago, Westword told the real story of the child-welfare system when reporter Julie Jargon described the case of Ponciano Lazaro-Avina and his daughter, Rosa ("Baby Formula," September 7, 2000). Rosa's mother had a drug problem, but her father didn't. The father never abused or neglected his daughter. The child was taken from him solely because authorities didn't like his housing arrangements.

But in "Home for Dinner," Jargon has substituted the version that's always been more comforting to the child-welfare establishment. In this version, the system supposedly bent over backward to lavish help on ne'er-do-well parents, while forcing their children to languish in foster care or worse, then sending them back to cruel birth parents. This version is fiction. Of course there are such cases, but they are to the child-welfare system as the old "welfare queen" stereotypes were to public assistance.

The legislation Jargon praises, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, already is backfiring. While promoting adoption at all costs and encouraging slipshod, quick-and-dirty placements by paying states huge bounties for them, it also pushes states to needlessly remove far more children in the first place. As a result, the number of children in foster care continues to increase -- an increase that far outpaces the increase in adoptions under ASFA. Nationwide, there are now more children trapped in foster care than ever before. The way to fix that is not to "take the child and run," as both ASFA and Expedited Permanency Planning encourage, but to finally get serious about trying to keep families together.

As for claims that EPP will ensure real help to families, who's going to enforce that, when all the praise from politicians and the press go to taking away more children and rushing to terminate parental rights? And when the services are not provided, won't advocates of the new approach say, "Gee, that's too bad, but now the child has bonded to the foster parents, so tough luck." But most pernicious of all is the repeated claim that working to keep families together is in the interest of "parents' rights," while tearing them apart is in the interest of "children's rights." That is belied by the story's own discussion of the terrible emotional harm to children when they are taken from the only parents they have ever known.

Well, here's a news flash: That harm occurs even when those parents don't happen to be white, middle-class -- and foster. Furthermore, localities that have embraced the take-the-child-and-run approach have consistently seen more child-abuse deaths as they overwhelm their systems with children who never needed to be taken. In contrast, the few places that have embraced keeping families together have slashed their foster care caseloads and improved child safety. The approach Jargon now embraces isn't "children's rights"; it's destroying children in order to "save" them.

Last fall I said the case of Mr. Lazaro-Avina illustrated 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. I never thought I'd see Westword endorse that trend. But wait: I hear there's a woman getting welfare under fifteen aliases and driving around in a Cadillac. Maybe that'll be on the cover next week.

Richard Wexler, executive director
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

No kidding:"Best interests of the child" -- how did 28 times more likely to be sexually abused become the best interests of the child?

"We've got to protect the children" -- how did doubling a child's chances of being murdered ever get credit for being protection?

Kids' "rights" -- how did the loss of everything that matters to a child become that kid's rights?

Westword has run so many wonderful articles on the torture of children in Denver's (and America's) "child protection system." You described reactive attachment disorder and how the loss of family causes many children to become so psychotic that they must be institutionalized for the rest of their lives.

And now you have run an article advocating faster destruction of a child's family. If this worked, it would be one thing. If we rescued only Sarahs and left the vast majority of children in their own homes (in most cases with supervision while anger-management and parenting classes and drug rehab continued), then we would do some good. But most of these homes are not abusive homes.

It's about time the actual welfare of the child counted for something. A child terrified of home should not go there; a child aching for his family (that's at least 90 percent) should. I've talked to several adults who were foster children. All said they were much more abused in their foster home than they ever were with their parents -- even when the foster parent was a relative.

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