The Hell with Politics … What About the Children?

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. We SAY our children are our most precious resource. We often SAY we should be judged by how we treat the most vulnerable in society .. that often translates to children who are either abandoned and/or neglected. We SAY “enough is enough” after a 19-year-old foster child named Bruce Jackson is found sitting in the garbage looking for food .. weighing only 45 pounds. We SAY a lot of things when it comes to protecting children, but apparently when the children aren’t our own, what we SAY and what we DO are worlds apart. We are failing miserably. The New Jersey Child Welfare Panel is a state-sanctioned group of child advocates and health professionals. This week the panel issued a report saying that the so-called “reform” of the child welfare system (which costs $320 million) is falling woefully short of its goals. We are talking about 11,000 children in New Jersey”children that are the most vulnerable and needy in society. These are the kids who have been lost along the way”some in foster care, some in state facilities we call “shelters.” These are the kids with the greatest healthcare and psychological needs.. the ones who have been neglected for too long by too many. These are the ones who have been shortchanged when it comes to the love and affection and the building of self esteem that is so critical to a child„s future. It is almost 2 years to the day that Bruce Jackson, just skin and bones, was found in the garbage by a neighbor. Other children who were in the care of the state”more specifically the Division of Youth and Family Services or DYFS”have been found dead in the basement or abused in ways that are unimaginable and sickening. There have been so many highly publicized cases of foster children who have either died or have been near death over the past decade and a half. Every time one of these children„s stories comes to light in the media, we all promise to do better. Every time we talk about the need to “reform” the child welfare system, we blast DYFS and put all of the blame on them when there is so much blame to go around. We create expert panels and blue ribbon commissions with much fanfare talking about recruiting foster care parents and adding more DYFS case workers. We hold legislative hearings and establish lofty sounding state positions”all intended to help these largely minority and poor children catch a break. Yet, after all this, the results are staggeringly dismal. According to Children„s Rights, Inc., an advocacy group for children, only 24 percent of foster children get the required monthly visit from their case worker and the number of children who live in shelters remains unchanged from the 400 that it was a year ago. According to Children„s Rights, Inc. associate director Susan Lambiase, “We„ve lost confidence in the state„s ability to get the job done. These children need medical services on a timely basis. They need to live with families and not institutions¦” That is why Children„s Rights, Inc. has ordered a “10 day mediation process.” During this period DYFS and the State Department of Human Services will have one more chance to make their case as to how they have managed this latest “reform” of the child welfare system”again at a cost of $320 million. If the mediation is deemed inadequate, the federal government could take over the child welfare system in our state. This has never happened before. What an embarrassment this would be not just for state government officials, but for the over 8 million New Jerseyans who say we are so proud to live here. How could we have let things get so bad? We talk about the property tax crisis in the state and we all know property taxes are way too high. I understand why this is the #1 issue in the current governor„s race and why every other 30-second TV or radio spot promotes either candidate„s “solution” to the property tax problem. But isn„t it ironic at best and pathetic at worst that there is not a single word about the “crisis” facing 11,000 of our most precious and needy children. No mention in any of the debates. No 30-second TV spots. No high-profile media stories. Apparently talking about and trying to deal with the needs of these kids isn„t particularly smart politics. Well, the hell with politics in this case. We„re talking about kids here. If this is not the biggest CRISIS we as a state face, then I don„t know what is. Pointing the finger at DYFS and blaming them for this entire mess is the easy way out. Yes, they have failed miserably, but so have we”all of us. But the question is, what are we going to do about it and when? As always, e-mail your feedback to Steve directly at sadubato@aol.com

The Hell with Politics … What About the Children?