The Mother Country

Letters to the Editor

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.

Courtney Jones
Atlanta, GA

All in the family: I'm the aunt of Dawne Gomez. When I read this article, I was totally devastated and fell to my knees and asked God for mercy for my little precious Rosa, who concerns me more than anyone else in this situation. Here is a little child who has been through so much, and where was the concerned biological family when she needed them? Here is a couple who rescues her out of a bad situation and have been the only parents she has ever known. She is in a happy and secure environment, loved not only by her intervenors, but by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Here is a gift God gave to the biological parents who could not be the parents Rosa needed: In his mercy, he gave Rosa to a loving couple who truly look out for Rosa's best interests.

As for this Romero attorney, if she cared for Rosa, how could she try to take her from the Gomez family without even considering the trauma it would have on Rosa? I don't appreciate how she has portrayed Dawne and Chris Gomez to be the bad guys in this situation when they have done nothing but love her! What gives Romero the right to take the law into her own hands and go against what is right?

Lorraine Cazares
via the Internet

Daddy dearest: As a parent who has been dedicated and responsible to this blessed opportunity from its planning to its conception, and now as an ongoing father to this child/ adult who is now a college freshman, I know that parenting is not an inalienable right just as a result of the mere collision of two cells in utero, in a tube or in a petri dish. I have had many self-willed and well-planned successes in life, but I always say the finest and proudest thing I have ever accomplished is being an effective, loving father. It has been, and continues to be, a privilege with certain prerequisites that define and drive that privilege.

The case described by Julie Jargon is indeed tragic, but likely commonplace in this part of our country, and there is no "right" decision. But what is the "best" decision? "Best," a term too often used cavalierly and with thoughtless embellishment, can better be arrived at when one considers what is most appropriate for a nineteen-month-old child -- regardless of the "legal rights" of the biological parents, their extended family, the foster family or what "looks good." It is hard to believe that thousands of scenarios like this don't exist in the southwestern U.S., so why not study outcomes of similar cases and then arrive at the "best" (if difficult) decision for this loved child?

J. Matthew Dietz

Not Elián: Why does your paper favor a man who cannot take responsibility for his blood child? Children do not need a father who decides after the fact to get a new apartment, apart from five other men, to provide for his daughter. Children do not need a father who cannot decide to separate from a drug-addict mother to provide an appropriate environment. Your article also mentions that Chris and Dawne Gomez sold their house for $163,000; you assume that they did this to move into a higher-class neighborhood -- as if this should be looked upon with envy by the reader favoring Mr. Avina's humble and poor situation. Assume for the moment that maybe Dawne and Chris are not moving because they can afford a high-class neighborhood, but that maybe, just maybe, they are literally willing to sell the house to save this child's life and future at any cost.

A family is the thing of value that proves the difference between the two sides involved here. Our family has already accepted Rosa as family. Furthermore, this family is as tight as they get. This is not Elián Gonzales. She needs to stay in the environment that provides the only safety and security she has ever known -- not with a biological father who couldn't take care of his responsibilities before having a child and who wants to just send her off to Mexico and not take care of her himself. If that is all they can offer as a solution, then that is pretty weak.

Mr. and Mrs. J. Carney
Commerce City

The Letter of the Law

The writing's on the wall: Justin Berton is due special thanks for his courageous article on the latest, but unrecognized, danger imperiling society: "tagger gangs." His September 7 "Up Against the Wall" makes repeated (although unsubstantiated) references to the taggers' "thuggery" and pistol-packing propensities. We can now appreciate the great dangers to Denver Police Department graffiti cops and their vice-squad allies who bravely pulled a fearsome (but unarmed) tagger from his car at gunpoint.

We are informed (gasp!) that Robert Iron's criminal horde was vandalizing walls and maybe stealing car stereos! The group, "loosely modeled...after an organized gang," was apparently prevented from purchasing more paint (gasp, gasp!) from their alleged binge of thievery (and thus probably preventing them from transcending their apparent "disorganized gang" status). Whew!

Hopefully the gang-taggers' habit of squealing on themselves, fellow taggers and related dark secrets in 45-minute videotaped confessions will prevent the dastardly assassination of Denver's finest by taggers, as the article (and Officer "It's inevitable" Gavito) firmly convinced me will happen. The dark secrets of gang-taggerdom are apparently contained in this hush-hush video so sensitive that the Columbine tapes must undoubtedly pale in comparison! I am shocked (yes, shocked!) to know that Mr. Iron's confession could lead his cohorts to "kill him."

I am gratified, however, that law and order's firm hand is exercised in these matters via punishment, that would-be Capones like Mr. Iron are given the chastisement they deserve (in this case, "thirteen days in jail, seven of them suspended" for "criminal mischief"). Maybe Justin Berton's next exposé can enlighten readers about other unexplored but bizarre and impending threats like, uh, the link between terrorism and truancy, skateboarding serial killers, or something. How 'bout it, Mr. Berton?

Ernesto Vigil


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