Anne Taylor Fleming considers a California children's shelter.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, essayist Anne Taylor Fleming considers a California children's shelter.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: This facility in the heart of Orange County, California is really quite appealing-eight and a half acres of low-slung Spanish buildings with cheery décor. There's a pool and a large equipped gymnasium--a motel, a rehab facility? No, it's a children's home, a shelter on any given day, on any given night, for up to 300 children, newborns to 18-year-olds, who are plucked by police or social workers out of abusive or neglectful homes and brought here. They come 24 hours a day every day of the year, including holidays-America's bruised and neglected children. We read about children like this every day now-often horror stories of children who were not taken from parents, despite signs of abuse, and ended up dead. Reports of child abuse and neglect have quadrupled nationally since the late 1970's, with 969,000 confirmed cases in 1996. Violent crime may be down and teen-age pregnancy may be down, yet, we are hurting our children in record numbers. So what can we say then about the kids here, that they are the lucky ones? What a thing to say. In a way, of course, that's what they are. There are beds and food and kind hands. But their tenure here is brief. Within 30 days most of the children will be moved again. 40 percent will be reunited with their families or taken by relatives. 60 percent will move on into foster care situations, individual homes or group homes. There are now ˝ million American children in foster care and too many of them are also being abused and neglected, tortured even, in their new homes. Finally, there's been a change. Due to new national legislation, a lot of these children will now be available for adoption. They won't be held in limbo, waiting for some illusive recovery of a drug-using or abusive parent. In short, what we're seeing here is the ever so tentative beginning of a revolution, a shift in emphasis. But nobody knows how or whether it will work. Michael Reilly is the director of Children & Family Services for Orange County.
MICHAEL REILLY, Children & Family Services, Orange County: The pendulum had swung too far the other way with the emphasis on family reunification and family preservation, is what it was typically called. Now, with the new laws, we're going to look at a much shorter time period to keep the kid in not-I should say get the kid out of the system, placed in a more permanent environment for the kid's safety, and obviously, so the healing can begin at a much sooner period if they are put in a permanent position.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: These are, as they say, high risk children, damaged babies, broken-hearted toddlers separated from other siblings, angry teens. Some act out and are medicated, too medicated, or incorrectly medicated in some cases, to keep them manageable, or so it has been charged. The county says the problem has been fixed, but all the controversy points out is the urgency of getting these kids into good homes. That's what adopting parents need to know, that they don't half to fly halfway around the world to get children anymore-to China or Russia or Peru-where the children are often as damaged as these, just in a different language. In fact, Orange County has established a new partnership with Sharon Kaplan Rozia and family social worker and program manager here at the Kinship Center in Tustin to try to make these new adoptions work, to put an ongoing safety net under them of counseling and care.
SHARON KAPLAN ROZIA, Social Worker: I see families in the community every day, and we see families here at the center who are coming in for post adoption services, who had no skill-based education and very little support, and really didn't have a clue what they were getting themselves into, and they have been struggling in a great deal of pain and certainly have affected the other children in the family who were there even before a fost-adopt scenario was a part of this clan. So our belief is that this is absolutely necessary for success. It's rare to run into families who did it all on their own, with no education and no support.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: I look through these books at these impish and angelic faces. Some were exposed to drugs from their mothers; some were sexually abused by their fathers. They are three, four, eight years old. Some are plenty bright, do well in school, despite it all. Some are sullen and scared, wounded to their toes. They and their new families will need plenty of support, or they won't make it together. Kids will be returned and bounced from place to place and end up never finding a home or family to call their own. I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.