Court makes decisions on foster children

December 10, 1996

Your Nov. 26 editorial, "A child's best interests," sets forth valid points with respect to children in neglectful and abusive family situations. The dilemma, as the editorial notes, revolves around the decision as to when the home environment is so unsafe that the child should be removed -- or, when conditions have become sufficiently stabilized as to warrant the child's return.

According to the editorial, these judgments rest with the social worker. Not so. Actually, the decision to remove the child from or reunify him with the family rests with the court. The worker's case history and testimony are essential, but not necessarily binding. If a child is to be removed, the court may rule, depending upon the circumstances, as to the length of time of separation from the family.

As foster parents for 18 years, we were occasionally involved in circumstances when, based on the child's behavior and inadequate parental involvement, a return home was not recommended. Yet the judge, we were told, said foster home placement was to be only temporary. Emphasis on family unification, as the editorial points out, can often go amiss.

You conclude that case workers need to be provided "with enough resources to devote proper attention to each family situation." Absolutely.

We found case workers overburdened with excessive cases, far beyond the recommended standard established by the Child Welfare League of America. This was compounded by emergencies, an inordinate amount of paperwork and long and exhausting court appearances. These shortcomings need to be resolved if the best interests of the child are to be served.

Abner Kaplan

Baltimore

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