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Sunday, October 12, 2008
May Erin Maxwell rest in peace.
The adults who are charged with protecting children, however, must not rest until New York state corrects the deficiencies in a child welfare system that might have not only have spared Erin from death, but saved her from a wretched life.
The details of that life continue to unfold after the arrest last week of her 26-year-old stepbrother, charged with her death, and of her father and stepmother, charged with endangering her welfare. Not only did Erin share her home with snakes, a chicken and 100 cats, but she was treated like an animal herself, with her cage being a locked bedroom.
What is especially troubling about this and other abuse cases is the often conflicting portrayals of the victim's life. Neighbors, relatives and school officials paint a picture of a child in severe distress. The child protective agency talks about how the home life seemed to be stable during its investigations.
In Erin's case, school officials said they provided her with clean clothes when she arrived at school every day, then redressed her in her reeking, cat-urine-stained attire before she went home, so as not to offend her father. The school principal bought her lunch; the school nurse fed her animal crackers. Her relatives say she was underfed, depressed and friendless. Police said she was routinely locked in her bedroom at 5:30 p.m. even imprisoned while her family entertained relatives at a cookout. Why the relatives didn't come to her aid is not clear.
In a report released last week, the Oswego County Department of Social Services carefully detailed how four social workers had responded to three calls made on behalf of Erin in 2003, 2004 and 2006. During the first two years, they interviewed Erin and school officials and did not find conditions that warranted her removal. In 2006, the report said, the home did not meet "minimal standards." DSS workers advised Erin's parents to clean up the home, which they did. No other reports were made, said the department.
The DSS report said that that "unless the child is in serious danger, the goal, as established by federal and state law, is to keep the family together."
But state and federal laws often seem to put the interest of parents over children. Families who mistreat their children including chronically underfeeding them and dressing them in putrid clothing don't deserve to stay intact.
The state Legislature has been working at reforming the child protection system for years, but the efforts seem to be piecemeal and driven by high-profile cases such as Erin's.
Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, wants to take advantage of that unfortunate fact and is drafting legislation that would define in clear language when children should be removed from homes, require that calls to the abuse hotline be recorded, give a threshold for police intervention in abuse cases, and increase penalties for abusers.
One of the most promising efforts could come from Gladys Carrion, the state commissioner of Child and Family Services. She is meeting with county social services commissioners next week and will address how to reform the child welfare system, spokesman Edward Borges said.
Good. It's too late to help Erin Maxwell. It is not too late to improve the protection of children statewide so that others in her situation can be identified and rescued.
My two cents--
No they need to ABOLISH "child anything BUT protective Services" then let the public decide how to truly protect children -- take the money (INCENTIVES" out of it and then perhaps there will be a chance at saving abused children!