What is the proper balance between saving a child and destroying a family?
In a two-part series, "Failure to Protect," FRONTLINE probes the complexities and difficulties in trying to answer that question
through a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at Maine's child protective services.
Part One, "The Taking of Logan Marr," tells the tragic story
of a young girl who was killed while in state custody. On Jan. 31,
2001, 5-year-old Logan Marr was found dead in her foster mother's
home in Chelsea, Maine. The foster mother, Sally Schofield, was a
highly respected former caseworker for Maine's Department of Human
Services (DHS). She would later be convicted of manslaughter after police determined that Logan had died from asphyxiation in Sally's
basement, where she had been bound with duct tape and strapped into a
The death of Logan Marr prompted public outrage. Why did the state remove Logan
from her mother, Christy
Marr, when there was no evidence of physical or sexual abuse?
Did the DHS move too quickly to terminate Christy's parental rights?
And did it fail to heed warning signs that Logan was in danger?
Through extensive interviews with the parties
involved -- including an exclusive interview with Sally
Schofield -- the one-hour documentary investigates the events that
led to Logan's death. It also tells the
story of the two women locked in a battle over Logan: Christy, who
fought to prove to DHS that she should have her daughter back, and
Sally, who remained determined to adopt Logan, even as she struggled to
control the troubled child. Through their stories, "The Taking of Logan
Marr" casts light on a system that is almost always cloaked in secrecy:
state child protective services.
"The termination of a parent's rights to their child is one of the
most drastic decisions the state is called upon to make -- yet it
does so with little or no public scrutiny," says Barak
Goodman, who co-produced the documentary with his wife, Rachel
Dretzin, and Muriel Soenens. "The system is almost always shrouded by confidentiality
agreements and privacy laws."
While senior DHS officials in Maine
declined to be interviewed about the Logan Marr case, they did make an unprecedented offer -- they would allow FRONTLINE's producers
to film their normally confidential child protective system from the
inside for more than four months. The result is Part Two of the "Failure to Protect" series:
a one-hour documentary called "The Caseworker Files."
"The Caseworker Files" follows a small set of
caseworkers as they interact with families and each other and have to confront
some excruciating dilemmas and choices: Who decides when a child
should be removed from her parents? When should parents lose the right
to raise their own child? And how much damage might we do to children
in the name of helping them?
"We found a system where caseworkers, many of whom are relatively
inexperienced, struggle under heavy caseloads as an ever-increasing
number of children are placed in foster care," says Goodman. "We also
found angry and resentful parents who feel that their children are being
taken away from them before they've been given a fair chance to improve
"The Caseworker Files" reveals a child welfare system that in recent
years has undergone a major philosophical shift. Whereas once the emphasis was placed on trying to eventually reunite
children with their biological parents -- a policy that often left
children languishing in foster care for years -- state and federal
guidelines now favor fast-tracking adoption of children in foster care,
a move that requires the state to terminate the biological parents'
Viewers meet caseworkers like 23-year-old Shaleigh Anthony.
Armed with a bachelor's degree and five weeks of training, Anthony has
been assigned her first case involving serious allegations of neglect.
The film also follows experienced caseworkers like David Greeley, who must remove
10-year-old Matthew from his father, Keith, after receiving a report
that Keith punched, dragged, and choked the boy. When viewers first see
Matthew, he is sobbing uncontrollably at the hospital. For Greeley, it's
an all too familiar scene. "That's the heartbreak," he says. "This boy
is in there, heartbroken, crying for his dad and it's not his fault. It's
not a smooth system, and it traumatizes everybody."
Following the broadcast of "The Caseworker Files," FRONTLINE joins with the Fred Friendly Seminars in
the televised "A National Dialogue." Done in collaboration with Columbia University's Institute
for Child and Family Policy, "A National Dialogue" features panelists -- including
child welfare experts and advocates -- who share their reactions to
hypothetical scenarios that help illuminate the complex and difficult
decisions made every day by workers and policymakers in the child
welfare system. Streaming video of the discussion will be available on this website beginning Feb. 10, 2003. [For more information about "Failure to Protect: A National Dialogue," see the press release.]
NOTE: In addition to the televised panel, FRONTLINE hosted a symposium
on child welfare policy in collaboration with Columbia University's
School of Social Work and its Institute for Child and Family Policy. Two panels of national experts convened to talk about the many reform
efforts underway across the nation, as well as the effects of the
Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Transcripts of their discussions are available here.