Letters 06-01-2000

Jimmy Doesn't Live Here

Overbearing protectors:For the third time in less than a year, New Times has courageously shed light on one of the darkest corners of any state government -- the misuse and abuse of Child Protective Services in ways that destroy children in order to "save" them.

The story of Jimmy Rodriguez, told so well by Terry Greene Sterling ("In Harm's Way," May 18), and the stories described in Sterling's article, "Fostering Sexual Abuse" (July 1, 1999) and the story of Mary C., whose children were taken primarily because she was unemployed, about to be evicted, and a poor housekeeper ("The Once and Future Mom," Paul Rubin, May 27, 1999) have one thing in common: the confusion of a family's poverty with child neglect.

Such cases are far more common than the horror-story cases about brutally abusive or hopelessly addicted parents who make headlines. Other cases fall on a broad continuum between the extremes, the parents neither all victim nor all villain. As a result, foster homes and group homes are filled with children who don't need to be there. That leads to overcrowding, lower standards and even more abuse in foster care itself -- on top of the emotional trauma caused by tearing children from poor but loving homes.

Thousands of such children could be safely back in their own homes with the right kinds of services. Intensive family preservation services programs, for example, are more humane, less expensive, and, most important, safer than foster care. But such programs are smeared when politicians and media slap the label "family preservation" onto any decision to leave any child in any home under any circumstances.

It's been a very successful smear campaign, and nowhere more so than in Arizona. Beginning in the early 1990s, the very notion that the state took away children where the major problem was poverty was dismissed out of hand. Now, thousands of children are paying the price. The state's foster-care population has soared 60 percent since 1993. Their suffering won't end until the pols and the pundits who did so much to scapegoat family preservation revisit their assumptions and set the record straight.

Richard Wexler
Executive Director
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
Alexandria, Virginia

Jimmying the System

Vengeance is mine: The article covering the years of physical and sexual abuse toward Jimmy Rodriguez should be copied, bound and sent to every state and federal elected official in America. How could so many "caregivers" have been allowed to traumatize and abuse this man before a true advocate and friend stepped in to protect him? This story made me so incredibly angry at so many levels, I just wanted to search for all the demonic individuals who terrorized Rodriguez and see if they wanted to take on a 6-foot, 225-pound healthy adult, rather than a human with no defenses.

Mike Fritz
Gilbert

The cavalry arrives: You did a great job on Jimmy Rodriguez's story. I work with the hearing handicapped and have often been in the classroom of his teacher (and now guardian) Dale Whitney. She kept me informed all along about his situations. You think you are all alone fighting for a student and the system, and then a reporter like Terry Greene Sterling comes along and makes it all worthwhile. Here's hoping it helps others, and most of all gets those in the "system" to get their act together! Jimmy is a great kid. His favorite sport was to come at me in his wheelchair, then veer off just in time to avoid hitting me.

Mary Lou Luvisa
via Internet

Bad apples: As a caregiver, I am appalled at the behavior of the caregivers mentioned in "In Harm's Way."

But I want to assure people that this is only a one in a thousand action. Most caregivers are loving and caring people who want only the best for their consumers. I work with a man with autism and I care for him like he is my own brother. Don't judge all caregivers by the actions of a few bad apples.

Howard Wagner
Phoenix

Powerless: Poor Jimmy Rodriguez. Who's to protect the children? Certainly not Child Protective Services. Certainly not the court system. His case isn't the first time a child was torn from his family. Judges can rip a family apart in Phoenix with not one person investigating.

Sure, CPS workers are busy with their own lives, but why not two caseworkers to a case? CPS caseworkers go and talk to the abuser, believe his many lies and, without telling you, they close the case. They do not talk to the children the abuser is lying about.

And a judge can take your baby out of his home. Mothers beware, they don't even give you a chance to prove you are guilty of nothing but being a good parent. You have no idea why a judge ruled the way he did until after the fact, when you see all the exhibits the judge saw, in secret.

Innocent until proven guilty? Not in Phoenix.

It's a money system. Once a victim, always a victim, if you cannot afford an attorney. Sad, but attorneys have a license to lie. Judges know they do, but do not care.

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