Letters

The Parent Rap
Karla and Raul Larranaga's double tragedy is sadly not unique ("Taken Baby Syndrome," Tony Ortega, October 31). Child Protective Services, in its usually well-intentioned zeal to protect children, has acted as investigator, judge and jury in child-abuse cases. The agency usually gets it at least partially right, but far too often, it gets it totally wrong. The 1991-92 San Diego County grand jury, on which I was deputy foreman, spent one year investigating Child Protective Services. The jury found a system "without checks and balances . . . which could not distinguish real abuse from fabrication, abuse from neglect and neglect from poverty or cultural differences." We also found "a system too quick to pull suspected abuse victims, especially infants and toddlers, away from their families and put them up for adoption."

It appears unequivocal that baby Desiree Larranaga died of injuries suffered in her home. It appears equally evident that CPS decided, without a complete investigation, that her parents inflicted those injuries and that CPS remains absolutely unwilling to consider any exculpatory evidence which contradicts what appear to be deeply flawed conclusions.

When a child dies, no matter what the cause, parents feel immense guilt. How much greater the burden of that guilt when a child has died of avoidable child abuse. Baby Sophia Larranaga could have been the first step toward healing this family; she has instead been deprived of essential infant-bonding time. A different social worker might have chosen to provide intensive services until assured of the Larranagas' parenting abilities. Those services could have included requiring that a grandparent be in the home and/or subjecting the family to frequent and unscheduled visitations. Far too often, the decision to remove a child from the family, or, on the flip side, to leave the child in a dangerous home, is random and reflects the biases of the social worker making the decision.

Unfortunately, another truism of CPS bureaucracies across the country is their unwillingness ever to go back and revisit decisions. Hopefully, the continued attention of New Times will make the Larranagas' case an exception.

Carol L. Hopkins
San Diego, California

Mental Floss
I read "A System Gone Mad," the article about Donald Ellison (Paul Rubin, October 24). I wholeheartedly agree that those systems there to protect him dropped the ball. Sad to say, but Ellison was one out of the many persons who have fallen between the cracks of the mental health system. I worked eight years in the Behavioral Health Division of the Department of Health Services and I have heard and seen a lot.

Arizona's health-care services for the mentally ill are going backward. ComCare is a joke and its bottom line is money. The services that the mentally ill need in the community are not in place, and the supervised living arrangements many of the clients need are not being developed.

The Legislature is not really interested in mental health and deals with it because it appropriates the funds. ComCare has conned the Legislature into thinking it will provide all the community services a client needs so it will receive a great deal of money. The trend to place patients who are in mental hospitals into the community is a good one if it is well-planned and appropriate placements are made. The Arizona State Hospital is downsizing and perceives itself as doing a good job in discharging patients appropriately. The state hospital is working with ComCare to provide this service.

New Times should follow up with contacts from the Division of Behavioral Health Services, the V.A. Service Commission and Donald Ellison's ComCare case manager. How are they going to change their procedures so they will assure their remaining clients that they are safe? The public should know how its tax dollars are spent.

The Division of Behavioral Health Services plans to privatize the state hospital. It will keep the plans a secret until everything is in place. It will put on a front, saying this privatization will improve services. How can it be, when there will not be any accountability? The Legislature then can wash its hands of the matter, ComCare will be able to do whatever it chooses and the administrators at Health Services can say what a good job they did.

Diane Robinson
Mesa

Steeple Chase
The Eastern half of the United States was founded by men in search of God. The Western half, by men in search of gold. This explains the mindset and actions of Phoenix government and the shadow government of Downtown Phoenix Partnership ("Parking Breaks," Michael Kiefer, November 7). This can be confirmed by the DPP answer to my request to include the First Presbyterian Church on tourist/visitors' information, Downtown Phoenix Directory maps and events calendar.

The response was that this would be illegal under the Downtown Enhancement Municipal Services District. First Presbyterian Church, which is one block outside the "district," has served downtown Phoenix--before there was a downtown--since 1879. When others abandoned downtown, First Presbyterian Church stayed, working for a better downtown. This, long before it was popular and before taxpayer-subsidized incentives to do so.

Jerry Colangelo refers to downtown as the heart and soul of Phoenix. With restaurants, sports bars and sports events, it indeed has an economic heart. But a soul is determined by the moral, spiritual and emotional nature of man.

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