Failure to Protect
homelogan marrcaseworker fileschild policydiscussion
photo of logan marrphoto of maine dhs buildingphoto of brian being carried to the car
join the discussion: What are your views on the difficulties facing the child welfare system in determining the best interests of a child?

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a family nurse practitioner I have dealt with ME DHS for years and my patients are foster children, foster parents and DHS employees. I have three comments: 1. DHS desperately needs a board of oversight, similar to what has been created for the Bureau of Mental Retardation. The decisions made by DHS should be discussed evaluated in the light of day. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I also know that foster parents, children and individuals in the system refuse to discuss the abuses and problems for fear of retribution.

2. Addiction is the most poorly handled of DHS neglect problems. Consider: An alcoholic parent has her children taken away while she goes into residential treatment. While there the state charges her for the care of her children in foster care. Once out she is told she must hold a job. But she must also go to AA, individual therapy, family therapy, parenting classes, take her children to counselling, have meetings with DHS, go to court, and all of these activities are during working hours. She cannot find nor hold a job that would allow her to take all that time off. She has no money, loses her car, her home and DHS takes the children because she has not met their requirements.

3. I am alarmed about the new emphasis for rapid termination of parental rights and adoption. One colleague commented that DHS traffics in black market babies. That is, the parents with adorable children with few problems are the least likely to get them back and the children will be pushed through the system and adopted by eager parents. Those children with problems and disabilities are unadoptable and more likely to be returned. I hope for my peace of mind that DHS statistics do not support that assertion. Frankly the thought horrifies me, but I fear that is the unintentional result of our best intentions.

caribou, me


Dear FRONTLINE,

I enjoyed Frontline's excellent and unbiased reporting. However, as I watched I found myself getting scared and angry. Today I was not feeling well, and my kids strewed toys all over the house while I slept. My sink was full of dishes and my floor badly needs washing. There was still popcorn on the floor where the kids had spilled it. I was dizzy and tired from my cold medication. Our house is still in disarray after we put a new floor in the living room, and some of the tools were still out. If a DHS worker like Shayleigh had stopped by my house today, I have no doubt that she would have reported that I was probably under the influence of drugs and was permitting my children to live in a filthy, cluttered, unsafe house. It is for that reason that I am withholding my name and location.

Parents, be afraid. Be very afraid.

anytown, your state


Dear FRONTLINE,

The responses and comments that I have read in this forum express many different emotions, such as shock, outrage, anger, denial, hurt, etc., and then the finger pointing and blaming others takes over. Yes, I fully agree there is a problem with the system and the problem is ìLack of Fundingî for DHS, whereas just like we saw tonight, one case worker is responsible for 8 to 80 abused and/or neglected children. Yes the children are being lost in the system and we start blaming the case worker because he or she has not spent time with the child while being in foster care. Once a child is in foster care, typically there is a case review about every 3 months, which means the case worker is spending countless hours every week preparing for the case review, as well as spending hours and hours in the courtroom. We can not blame the case worker. Each state needs to increase funding to DHS, so more case workers can be hired and properly trained. A great comparison is our Health Care system, whereas proper care is not being given to our elderly in nursing homes, because of the lack of nurses and what nurses we do have spend over 50% of their time doing paperwork, rather than spending time with the residents. Yes, our seniors are also abused and neglected.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for the children! I am a CASA Volunteer and I am doing everything I can to make the system better. CASA stands for ìCourt Appointed Special Advocateî. So now when a child is removed from their home and placed in foster care, the Judge has the power to also assign a CASA Volunteer to the case. Typically CASA works with only one child or the children from only one home and the CASA stays with the child from the beginning to the end. Many times the CASA is the only stability that the child will have while in foster care, since DHS may need to reassign the case worker or the case worker quits or the foster home is not the right place for a particular child which means the child may be in 3, 4 or 10 different foster homes.

Just like many of you reading my comments, I also have a full time job and have many personal responsibilities on a day to day basis, but I do find the time to see the child I am representing. I work parallel with DHS, by doing my own investigating and research and I will also have a powerful voice to the court as to the best permanent placement for the child. I find the time to talk with teachers, doctors, lawyers, DHS, neighbors and other family members, which I feel is a major help and benefit to the DHS case worker. Again, I am only working with one child or the children from only one family and again I AM A VOLUNTEER.

If you really want to help a child and help fix the system, please take a look at the CASA program and become a volunteer (www.nationalcasa.org).

Take it from me, having a positive impact in a childís life has got to be the most overwhelming and gratifying feeling you will ever experience.

If you can not volunteer your time, please help CASA with your donations. If there is not a CASA program in your area, please start one.

Scott Johnson
austin, arkansas


Dear FRONTLINE,

As a frontline worker in community services for families with children at risk of placement I commend you for your extraordinary program. You told it as it is. Caseworkers are underpaid, under trained and overworked. So are workers in private and non-profit community services. It is time to put our money where our mouth is. Child service workers are not gods and they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

barto, pa


Dear FRONTLINE,

As a foster parent, I would like to respond to tonight's panel discussion on the Foster Care System. There are some families who can get things back in order and have the children come home, but there are many others who are using the kids and the system as a meal ticket. I don't understand parents who cannot accomplish a case plan in a year's time. In our county, if the biological parents are showing progress, they may file for two extensions. That means another year, which is acceptable if effort is really being made. What about the parents who haven't done anything in the ten months since removal? How about consoling your foster children every week when mom does not show up for her visit? It is hard not to want to keep the kids when you have seen such a dramatic change in them in such a short time.

They come to us thin, hungry, dirty, infested, many repeating the same grade because they did not attend enough days to pass. We feed them, clean them, take care of them, watch them gain weight and self-confidence. They flourish in school, make attachment, and learn how to be CHILDREN instead of caregivers. How long should parents get? We know that these problems are cyclic and generational. Sometimes the only way to break a cycle is to start over. Why shouldn't the best interest of the child be priority? An 8 year old boy will want to go home 95% of the time, but does that make it the best choice? Should his future be decided based on what his child mind knows as normal? Many more children die at the hands of their parents than in foster care. If you are outraged by what happened, become a foster family! Give the state more placement options so that the best home is found instead of a mediocre one with an available bed. Action is the best reaction!

Amy Brookover
mantua, ohio


Dear FRONTLINE,

My husband and I are court appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteers in Kenosha, WI and previously in Milwaukee. We are assigned to a case or two, never more than two, and we commit ourselves to the case for a minimum of a year. We are appointed by the court either at the request of the caseworker, guardian ad litem or judge. We make a minimum of weekly visits to the foster home or parents home, wherever the child might be. We talk to the teachers and any other professional involved with the case. Our visits are unannounced and can be any time of any day. We write reports that go to the caseworker, GAL, judge, etc. We report on what we hear and see, quoting statements made and giving only objective findings. We do not provide our opinion or subjective viewpoints because we realize that our personal lifestyle and parenting style may not be that of others. We attend permanency plan hearings and court hearings providing testimony. We do not get paid for our services. We have to go through 40 hours of training and have 12 hours of continued training a year. We do it because we love and care for children and do not want to hear of the severe abuse we read about in the papers. The children get to know us and trust us because they soon learn that we are the one constant in their life at that point who really cares and they know we will be there often. It also puts the caregiver on notice that they have to watch themselves, whether it be foster home or birth parent home.

The thing we don't understand is that cases are not referred to CASA. We have volunteers anxiously waiting to help but social services seems to have one excuse after another as to why they are not referring cases. They claim to be overloaded and overworked. I'm not sure why cases are not forthcoming but CASA volunteers are not taking anyone's job - they are just another set of eyes and ears for the court in order to protect and hopefully get quicker permanency for these children. We should all be there working together so every child can feel safe.

Rosemary Albrecht
oak creek, wi


Dear FRONTLINE,

Four of my mother's siblings were placed in orphanages after the death of their mother in childbirth. My mother was 14 and considered too old for an orphanage. This was back in the early 20th century. The child born at the time of the mother's death lived with the father until she was 3 when he died. He was much older than the mother and it was his second marriage. The orphanage was in Pleasantville, NY. The 4 children in the orphanage always remembered the time in the orphanage in a positive way. The 3 year old was placed in a foster home in another state. She never got over her horrible experience living while living in a foster home. The terrible experience she had remained with her until she died at the age of 94. She would only tell us some of it but it affected her her entire life.

Perhaps we should think about orphanages fashioned after the one in Pleasantville, NY. Quite a few very successful well known people came out of the Pleasantivlle orphange and also remember it well. This orphanage which consisted of groups of small houses still exists today, though not as an orphange.

The fact that the children in this orphanage fared much better than the one in a foster home.

new york, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

There are no clear cut answers to the serious problem surrounding foster care, child protective services, etc. As a child protective specialist in my state, I am, at times, torn between the issue of imminent risk or that of child protective policy and procedures. It saddens me greatly when any child is hurt, whether intentionally or accidentally, by a caretaker. However, everyone deserves a right to a second chance. Unfortunately, the innocent victims of these multiple chances pay a deadly price. And for this reason, no one should take the chance and leave a child in a home privy to such vunerability. Thank you for taking the time to bring together such a vast variety of professionals, all of which truly care about the children who are caught up in these difficult situations.

Sincerely,

Sharlene Mullings

Sharlene Mullings
kew gardens, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

As a professional with close to 30 years of public child welfare experience, I felt that all three installments of the series were excellent. Thank you for a much more nuanced, in-depth examination of the system than we can usually expect from television. One thing I do need to take issue with: in both parts one and two it was suggested or stated that prior to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), the over-riding mission of public child welfare was to preserve families and protect parents' rights. This is simply not true by any objective measure, and although this was part of the mythology that helped fuel ASFA, in New York City - for example - family preservation spending has never comprised more than 10 - 12% of the total budget of the public child welfare agency.

Mike Arsham
new york, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

I've been working as a Caseworker for a little over a year now and my main fear is that I'll miss something, leaving the child in a dangerour situation. Caseloads are large and unmanageable--mainly because of the MOUNDS of paperwork. Cases are reviewed as they "explode" because of the limited time available to visit children regularly. My responsiblity is a shared one though in our agency--in home services and therapeutic support are there to assist in the monitoring and assistance to the families. The main goal of child welfare is the safety of the children and the sanctity of the family--as the Frontline show pointed out...these two goals are sometimes on opposite ends of the spectrum. How do I believe outcomes can be improved? Money--more caseworkers, more services, more training, more, more, more. This is an epidemic that is out of control in our nation. Prior to working in the field, I was unaware of the magnitude of the problem and the great amount of work needed to provide safety for children.

pittsburgh, pa


Dear FRONTLINE,

I was surprised that noone on your panel of experts spoke of the assessing the birth mom's home in terms of their strengths and assets and that not all incidences of domestic violence are alike. Was the incident with the bottle an isolated one? What was going on in the home the other days where violence was not exhibited? What about friends, support system, community options outside of the professional ranks? There is a whole movement of interventions focusing on community protection whereby neighborhoods are rallying around troubled families, providing support--moving a percentage of the less serious situations out of child protective services as the only source of intervention. It was disappointing that this was not discussed/addressed at all during the program.

Michael Marks
saratoga springs, ny


Dear FRONTLINE,

Wow, Frontline, you've done it again, an excellent overview of the problems inherent in human services-esp. those involving children. I have been intimately involved with two states' foster and adoption systems because four years ago I adopted an older child. Although my daughter is 13 now, although she was born addicted to heroin, although her birth mother abused, neglected, and abandoned her multiple times, she still longs for her. The attachment of a child to her birth mother cannot be underestimated. My child's birth mother is deceased; there is no longer any hope of her reunification, yet she cannot attach to me, or anyone else. She waits. And waits. We are one of the families created by the govermental push to place children in adoptive homes, with no follow up treatment and services. I've fought and fought for four years for my daughter to get treatment, and not one person in either state-SC and Ga-has responded with any concern for my daughter's emotional and mental health. If you want to do another incredible program, do it on Attachment Disorder. The agony of these children, and the families they are in, is unbelievable; unless you live with an attachment disordered child you cannot begin to comprehend the damage done to them and the usually bleak outlook for healing. Come to my house.

Joyce Peters
augusta, ga


Dear FRONTLINE,

While watching the show tonight, I was very astonished and upset about the blackmail used to steal children from their homes. It was very disturbing to realize that the DHS system in Maine will force a parent to admit to something that may not be true with the threat if they did not admit to this, they would lose their children. What is going on in our country where just a phone call from someone who does not know the full story has more merit than the parent. I am sure there are situations where children should be removed, but are we stealing children from homes without proof of neglect. A dirty home is not always the worst place for a child.

Linda Van Lengen
purmela, tx


Dear FRONTLINE,

I am just "coming down" from viewing the Caseworker Files segment of Frontline's series. I want to let you know that I am aware of the gruesome job faced by many caseworkers every day in Maine and everywhere else in the U.S., but I was SO disturbed by the segment about Robin Whitley's client, Shirley. Robin, it appears, needs to get a life. I agree with DHS's concern with the whole sexual abuse issue with the daughter, but the incredible circus of manuevers orchestrated with the poor victim, Shirley, an obviously intelligent yet challenged mother, was so disturbing! Shirley's fear of losing her boys was very real--not because it had merit, but because DHS was, like a badger, bent on blaming Shirley for what I perceived as beauro-babble that named her for causing "psychological harm" on her sons for not believing them when they reported certain activities within the home. What bull-funky!

Shirley was portrayed as a clean, intelligent, concerned, and emotionally involved parent--especially with her boys. The fact that DHS even considered taking her boys away is TOTALLY ABSURD. She perceived DHS as the enemy trapping her into talking herself into losing her kids. She is RIGHT. DHS had nothing better to do that to do that!

Whitley needs to get a life. Shirley was willing to receive counseling, was a loving and concerned parent. As long as the daughter and her abuse was taken care of, I am convinced that Shirley, who chose her kids over her boyfriend, is a good mother and an intelligent woman.

Whitley creates a bad name for the rest of the social workers in Maine.

Constance Tucker
madawaska lake, me


Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching tonightís program following the Maine Department of Health Services I am struck with one main thought. Thank God!! Thank God I donít live in Maine. I can only hope that the system where I reside is better than what I watched tonight. First and foremost, Cindy Post and her subordinate should immediately be terminated. They obviously are unable to separate their personal views with the reality of the world around them. They assumed to know more than the experts charged with making a clinical diagnosis on the condition of ëShirleyí and her sons. They quickly dismissed the findings and replaced them with their own misguided opinions. They preyed on a single mother who they saw as nothing more than white trailer park trash. Fortunately, the Maine Family Court has appointed Judges that see the DHS system for what itís really worth. The Maine Department of Health Services should be hanging their heads in shame. They have developed a flawed mission statement that ignores the dynamics of family for a system created to take hearsay tips of abuse and turn it into a witch hunt automatically opposed to the concept of due rights. If they feel so strongly about their role as watchdogs of society then let them allow tort reform that permits someone like ëShirleyí to turn the system in her favor. Allow ëShirleyí to seek punitive damages from both the DHS and THE INDIVIDUAL DHS worker. Then weíll truly see just how devoted to the system they are.

Michael Bartlett
warwick, ri

more

home | introduction | the taking of logan marr | a national dialogue
caseworker files | child policy | producer chat
join the discussion | interview with the producers
readings, links & resources | tapes & transcripts | press reaction
credits | privacy policy | FRONTLINE home | wgbh | pbsi

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation.

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Stickup KidDecember 17th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS