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Helping children and smoothing out domestic adoptions

JACK SCOTT

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, when we hear many

heartwarming stories about formerly abused or neglected children who

have found loving, permanent homes with adoptive families. As the

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grandfather of three adopted grandchildren, I have personally

experienced the joy of adoption. While this is a great time to

celebrate the good fortune of those children who are adopted, we

should not forget the rest.

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The good news is that the rate of adoption of children from the

foster-care system is on the rise. But for each child who is adopted,

countless others languish in long-term foster care with no realistic

hope of returning to their birth families or finding safe, loving,

adoptive homes.

The numbers are sobering. In Los Angeles County alone, there are

more than 30,000 children in foster care. More than half will

eventually return to their parents. What about the others? Some, many

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no more than toddlers, are considered too old. Some are thought to be

too troubled. They are deemed “unadoptable” and usually live their

entire childhood in foster homes until they “age out” of the system

at 18.

In Los Angeles, where only 2% of foster children have

court-designated plans of adoption, even the children lucky enough to

be deemed adoptable wait an average of three years for legal

permanency. As a result, California falls far short of federal

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mandates for timely adoption.

Gaps in the foster-care system can be deadly. Last December, baby

Angelo Marinda died in San Mateo County after a short but violent

life. Angelo was placed into foster care when he was only 12 days

old, because of unexplained fractures to his thigh bones, lower legs

and ribs.

Two successive foster mothers warned social workers that Angelo

was in danger during visits with birth relatives. Nothing was done.

On Christmas Day 2002, Angelo died of “shaken baby syndrome” during

an unsupervised visit with his birth father.

The judge in Angelo’s case, Marta Diaz of the San Mateo Juvenile

Court, investigated and concluded that simple steps such as giving

caregivers the phone number for the boy’s attorney could have saved

his life. Senate Bill 591, a bill I authored after Angelo’s death,

allows caregivers to get the information that Judge Diaz found to be

crucial. SB 591 also requires that attorneys be informed when the

children are moved to new foster homes, and judges informed when

caregivers want to adopt.

While SB 591 is a positive step for children and caregivers, it

will not prevent all tragedies. Even when good rules are in place,

they are not always followed. Consider what happened in the case of

Isaac Lopez, a Lancaster boy who died shortly before his second

birthday.

Isaac was apparently beaten to death by his father, who had a long

criminal record of spousal and child abuse. Social workers assigned

to his case reportedly never informed the Juvenile Court of the

father’s criminal history, and failed to investigate other obvious

signs of danger. One child advocate asked to comment on Isaac’s case

was quoted in one newspaper as saying. “This is really bad. Have they

given up entirely on protecting children there?”

Good question, but there are many others, and they are for us, not

for social workers. How much do we really care about these children?

Are we willing to pay social workers the salaries that would attract

highly qualified individuals to the profession and lighten a workload

that by all accounts is overwhelming? Are we willing to provide the

services that birth parents need to reunify with their children --

like counseling, job training and drug treatment? Finally, are we

willing to bring these children into our homes when efforts to

reunite them with their parents fail?

During the month of November, as we give thanks for our blessings

and our families, let’s also take time to think about the children in

foster care and what can be done to help them. We need to shine a

light into the workings of the child welfare bureaucracy and

eliminate the discouraging hurdles families encounter when they try

to adopt.

The number of children stuck in the child welfare system in

California is a moral scandal. Far too many children who grow up in

state-supported care end up in prisons and homeless shelters, and

contribute to a cycle of neglect and abuse for generations. We must

commit as a society to bringing about the massive changes required to

protect kids and increase the rate of domestic adoption, or pay a

high price as a society for failing to do so.

* STATE SEN. JACK SCOTT represents the 21st District, which

includes Glendale, La Canada Flintridge and parts of La Crescenta. He

can be reached at senator.scott @sen.ca.gov or call his district

office at (626) 683-0282.


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