Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

September 14, 2002

Closer control can't cure ills of foster care

In August, newspapers carried alarming stories about lapses in Maryland's systems for tracking orphaned, abused and neglected children. The source was a state audit raising questions about the monitoring and delivery of critical services ("Audit finds lapses in Maryland's foster care," Aug. 23).

No one will argue against tighter controls in Maryland's child welfare system. I am worried, however, that a focus on controls will distract us from addressing the real problem -- inadequate staffing.

Maryland's Department of Human Resources has been subject to a statewide hiring freeze since Oct. 17 and to a salary freeze since July.

These freezes have placed our departments of social services in a precarious position. They are struggling to deliver critical child protection services with a declining number of caseworkers. The remaining workers are, in turn, being asked to handle increased caseloads, at frozen pay levels.

Maryland's child welfare system is indeed dangerously stressed, as the state's audit recently showed. Fiscal pressure will tempt some to respond with half-measures focused on tighter controls.

But Maryland's under-staffed child welfare system needs a real answer -- in the form of funding sufficient both to hire more caseworkers and to retain the ones we have.

The cost of instituting half-measures that fail could be far higher -- in tragedy striking children.

Mark Poerio

Annapolis

The writer chairs the board of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services.

Foster care system dehumanizes kids

The recent legislative audit revealed many weaknesses in the state's foster care program ("Audit finds lapses in Maryland's foster care," Aug. 23). I am not surprised to see how flawed the system is.

The system does not concentrate on the needs of the human beings who are products of dysfunctional families. Its rules and regulations have no human touch at all.

The children in foster care are treated as cases without human faces. And that's why some caseworkers are negligent in the way they deal with children coming into the system.

It's a fact that caseworkers are overworked. But increasing their number cannot replace a concern for human beings who are removed from their natural parents.

Until foster care programs deal with children as human beings and not cases, deficiencies will continue.

The Rev. Steward H. Frazier Jr.

Ellicott City

The writer is Howard County's representative on the state's Citizens' Review Board for Children.

Abuse survivors can't trust clergy

Thank you for publishing the list of six St. Mary's Seminary students accused of sexually abusing children as seminarians working at various local church facilities ("Archdiocese lists 6 accused of child abuse," Aug. 21). And it is encouraging to see proactive treatment of this scandal by church officials.

As for the new abuse policy the Archdiocese of Baltimore unveiled in August, the church's efforts to ensure that such criminal activity will not continue are appreciated. Yet the strategy for abuse victims who wish to come forward must be revisited ("Criminal checks for archdiocese staff planned," Aug. 29).

As I understand it, Monsignor Richard Woy, the director of the archdiocese's Office of Child and Youth Protection, will be the person taking information from those who were abused. Many of the survivors I've talked with aren't comfortable reporting the fact that they were sexually abused by a priest to another priest.

In light of the circumstances, I can't blame them.

There needs to be lay involvement in handling incoming callers from the start.

Jeanne Befano

New Market

The writer is a spiritual director for the Concerned Therapists Network, a group of therapists who work with survivors of clerical abuse.

Why not employ foreign teachers?

I have been reading recent articles about the critical shortage of teachers in Maryland and the use of under- and unqualified teachers in certain areas ("Teacher shortage critical as schools begin new year," Aug. 28). I find it interesting that, with all this concern, most Maryland school districts have policies that prevent their recruiters from employing foreign teachers.

There is, for instance, a huge pool of highly qualified teachers trying to come to the United States from Argentina.

They are unemployed because most of their country's private schools have closed down -- because in Argentina few parents can now afford to pay private school tuition.

They are not asking to immigrate to the United States permanently; they are asking for a job that will allow them to earn a decent wage for a few years while they wait for the Argentine economy to improve.

All these teachers need is a job offer to qualify for the visa that our government makes available to foreign college graduates.

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