Fixing the impossible problem
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, August 27 2015


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” theme?

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 caregivers.

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 family.

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 issued.

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 users themselves.

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 don’t know.

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 News columnist.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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