As the stock market
dominates the headlines, it’s easy to forget last month’s most
tragic commonwealth news story, the death of yet another child under
the supervision of Massachusetts’ Department of Children and
Families. I think we need a slogan, something like “Children’s Lives
Matter,” or does someone have a copyright on the “Lives Matter”
Citizens were right to be
outraged at the news of the death of a toddler in an Auburn foster
home, following on the news of a little boy who was starved and
beaten by his father, with social workers visiting and yet
apparently not noticing until he was almost dead too.
Some blame Gov. Baker, who
said during his 2014 campaign that fixing DCF was his top priority.
I recall his first campaign, when he told my friend Gerald Amirault
that his first priority would be fixing the ongoing Fells Acre
injustice. Yet Gerald is still on parole for a non-existent crime at
that daycare school, still wearing a monitoring device. But while
this should have been fixed months ago, I don’t know how DCF can be
fixed even if a governor does prioritize these children’s lives.
The reason I mention both
issues is that I think they’re connected. The system needs more good
foster parents — yet the public has seen at least two instances in
which people who were helping children were victimized by the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Watching the Amirault case, and the
later “Little Mikey” case, must have given pause to many prospective
In 1992, the children’s
welfare agency, then known as the Department of Social Services (DSS),
grabbed an 11-year-old boy from his foster home of eight years while
he was at school, giving him no chance to say goodbye to his
well-regarded foster family, the Sanborns. Lynn Sanborn was the only
mother he had known, and he thought the other children were his
brothers and sisters.
I was doing talk radio at
the time, and conservative and liberal hosts alike were outraged on
behalf of Little Mikey. Gov. Bill Weld appointed an allegedly
independent social worker to handle the case: the hack backed up the
department decision and the little boy, who at a news conference
said he wanted to go home to the Sanborns, was “given” to another
A commission was appointed
to study DSS, and determined that the department was “in the midst
of an organizational breakdown” and that children in its custody had
been “exposed to repeated abuse and neglect.” It concluded that the
removal of Mikey from the Sanborn home was a “knowing, egregious
abuse of DSS power.”
And yet, Mikey was never
part of the Sanborn family again. Those of us who were protesting
heard from other foster parents about their sorry treatment from
state government. A few years later, when I started working with
Chip Ford, I met his parents, who had taken in foster children for
many years: I learned how foster parents were rarely properly
reimbursed, on time and with proper budgets.
Never mind, in 2008 Gov.
Patrick changed the name of DSS to the Department of Children and
Families: problem solved.
And yet, in May 2014 there
was another report, more recommendations. Caseloads have apparently
seen “a miniscule decrease” to 20 children per social worker, though
they are still higher than the recommended average. Roughly 47,000
children in Massachusetts are presently under DCF supervision.
After the most recent
failures of supervision, many called on Gov. Baker to fire whoever
was in charge this time, and the responsible social workers.
I am no expert on any of
this. But I don’t think we can just keep firing people who are
working on an impossible problem.
Here is why it’s
impossible: The only real solution is to make sure people who are
terrible parents don’t have children. And clearly we can’t have a
government so powerful that it can achieve this goal. Though, if I
ran the country, once a parent abused his/her child, there would be
voluntary tube-tying/vasectomies before another welfare check was
Never mind, I don’t run
the country. So we must live with the blackmail. We care about
children, so we agree to take care, somehow, of those who are
abused/neglected by the parents who shouldn’t have had them.
AP — Gov. Charlie Baker and
administration officials address the death of a child in
the care of the Division of Family Services.
In my 40 years of taxpayer
activism, I’ve never heard any taxpayer complain about money raised
and spent to take care of abused/neglected children. But I’ve
noticed over the years that this agreed-to spending is often low on
the state government priority pole, that cuts were made there in
order to make a case for higher taxes — using the “for the children”
mantra. Yet as with “infrastructure needs,” the money didn’t seem to
get where we were told it would go.
If I ran the country, all
the money spent on illegal aliens would be spent on more and
better-paid social workers — and given to good foster families who
might not know about the
Amirault and Little Mikey cases so would volunteer for this
difficult job. With so many abused/neglected American kids, we don’t
have the luxury of inviting all the third world’s children to come
here for taxpayer-funded services.
Gov. Baker is working on
another of his priorities, the opiate epidemic, which is one cause
of the abused/neglected kids problem. Mothers take drugs during
their pregnancy, so their child is abused even before birth. Parents
do drugs — and/or get drunk — instead of caring for small children.
Older children hang out on the streets, to potentially become drug
Mental illness is another
cause of parental dysfunction — and another issue I’ve never heard a
taxpayer complain about funding. And yet, poor prioritization and
waste have used up our fifth highest per capita tax burden for
decades while some essential services aren’t properly addressed.
What can we as a society
do to really help these endangered children? Aside from cutting
welfare for bad parents, institutionalizing the mentally ill, then
encouraging more good people to become foster parents and social
workers by offering both respect and funding priorities, I honestly
If anyone has an idea,
please send it to Gov. Baker; fixing DCF is his 2015 priority, and
the year is half gone.
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is a weekly Salem