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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.