Monday, January 19, 2004
ALEXANDRIA, Va., Jan. 18 /U.S. Newswire/ --
Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform will be in Denver Jan. 22 to take part in a news conference at the State Capitol at noon, and to testify on child welfare legislation at a public hearing that afternoon.
"Colorado takes children from their parents at a rate more than double the national average," said Wexler. "In fact, the best available measure indicates that a child is proportionately more likely to be taken from his parents in Colorado than in all but two other states. Yet that hasn't stopped the tragedies commendably revealed by the Post's important investigation."
In contrast, Wexler said, one Colorado county hailed as a national model takes far fewer children -- and keeps them safer. "El Paso County takes children at a rate about half the national average and less than one-quarter the Colorado average. But state data show El Paso County children are better-protected from abuse than their counterparts in other large Colorado counties."
Wexler said the pattern in Colorado is repeated all over the country. "Child welfare systems that adopt a 'take-the-child-and-run' approach quickly become overloaded. The systems become arbitrary, capricious and cruel. Workers have no time to carefully investigate any case. So even as more children are swept into foster care, other children in real danger are missed, even when authorities are warned over and over."
Wexler cited the case of Sunshine Gates, a Native American infant taken from her mother within days of her birth solely because authorities in Denver mistakenly believed the parents were homeless.
"The Sunshine Gates case required the work of caseworkers and law enforcement in two counties. They had to interrogate the mother, take away the child, find a place for the child, schedule a hearing for the parents, reinvestigate the home and finally, thankfully, figure out that Sunshine Gates never needed to be taken away in the first place.
"During all that time that all those people spent tormenting Sunshine Gates and her family for absolutely no reason -- what else didn't get done? What other child, in real danger, was missed, because workers were too busy with the Sunshine Gates case? Perhaps it was one of the children in the Post series. Perhaps it's a child we'll never know."
The effect is most pronounced in the wake of what Wexler called "foster-care panics," -- huge increases in removals that often follow highly-publicized deaths of children "known to the system." Such panics have swept through Illinois, New York City, Florida and New Jersey, Wexler said, "and in every case, the panics were followed by increases in child abuse deaths." In contrast, Wexler said, all over the country, the few child welfare systems with the best records for keeping children safe, have emphasized safe, proven programs to keep families together.
Wexler said that doesn't mean there are no horror stories in these places; one case cited by the Post occurred in El Paso County. "All the things that go wrong in the worst child welfare systems also go wrong in the best -- but they go wrong less often."