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December 27, 2012 at 4:20 PM

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Protecting foster children from abuse

We share responsibility

Guest columnist Jake Dekker [aka Jacob Hovenier] identifies three needed reforms to protect children in state care from abuse, one of which is: “provide all foster children with easy access to an outside ombudsman to promptly investigate any accusations of sexual and physical abuse.” [“Lawmakers need to reform mismanaged foster-care system,” Opinion, Dec. 24.]

Unfortunately, these children, due to their age or circumstances, often lack the ability to seek help. In fact, the majority of the complaints to the ombudsman concern children ages 0-7 years. These children rely on the diligence of all adults (teachers, counselors, neighbors, relatives, etc.) to contact the Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman (OFCO) when there is any concern about the safety or welfare of a child in state care.

The OFCO is an independent office, created specifically to respond to concerns regarding the safety and welfare of children and the conduct of a state child-welfare agency. The ombudsman prioritizes all complaints regarding the safety or urgent circumstances regarding a child. This past year, the ombudsman investigated complaints regarding the welfare of over 800 children. Through our independent investigations we intervene to protect children from potentially harmful action or inaction of a state child-welfare agency.

Part of the solution is recognizing that we all share in the responsibility to protect children from abuse or neglect. (More information about the OFCO is available at: http://www.governor.wa.gov/ofco/)

Mary Meinig, Director Ombudsman

Washington State Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman, Tukwila

We have to do better

Two perspectives on the impact of “families” on children today make it clear that we have to do better for our kids [“Lawmakers need to reform mismanaged foster-care system” and Jerry Large, “Investing in families is a safe bet,” NWMonday, Dec. 24].

I worked in public health for several years. After that career experience, I felt frustrated that we rarely made a serious dent in the lives of the children who needed the most protection (helping/monitoring parents). Society has gone from the orphanages of Dickens to foster homes, where we pay people to abuse children.

Not all orphanages are bad (e.g. Boys Town) and not all foster homes are bad. But, we need to have options that will keep kids safe and help them develop to adulthood without the constant stress that is shown to impact health now and in their future generations.

Can we find a happy medium with good orphanages (when we can’t find “good” foster homes) and do a better job of vetting the foster homes where we place vulnerable children. In my opinion, it is far easier to hide what is going on in a single home than in a monitored group setting (collusion is hard to maintain). A group setting is better than a bad foster home!

Mary Meister, Seattle

Recognize those who really care

While systematic changes and overhauls of the child-welfare system are needed, can we please take a moment to recognize the hard work and dedication many bring to the table when caring for the state’s foster children?

As licensed foster parent with a current placement of two brothers, I’ve encountered frustrations with the system. However, I’ve also seen how dedicated my social worker is, how overworked she is, how many long hours she puts in, and how she cares for each one of her (many) cases.

I’ve also had the opportunity to meet other dedicated foster families who love these vulnerable children as their own and stand up to be these kids’ loudest advocate throughout the process.

Yes, changes need to be made, but there are amazing people working their hardest every day to ensure these children have a safe and loving home life. These are the majority of foster homes and social workers, and I think we need to focus on them once in a while.

Megan Neelands, Lynnwood


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