Tuesday, April 29, 2008

1.8 Eldorados every day

During a Dateline NBC story Sunday night about the raid on the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, the Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, made two comments that are absolutely accurate, and very, very scary.

First, when asked about things like taking away children with little evidence and taking children not only from suspected abusers but also non-offending parents, he noted that “we do it all the time.”

Can’t argue with that. In fact, nationwide children are taken from their parents more than 300,000 times every year – that’s the equivalent of 1.8 Eldorado raids every day. In some cases, taking away those children was essential. In many others, it will inflict enormous suffering needlessly. Indeed, thanks to the landmark MIT study of foster care outcomes, it’s theoretically possible to calculate how many more children will wind up in juvenile jails, be unable to hold a job and, yes, become pregnant, as a result of needless foster care.

As for Abbott’s “but everybody else does it” rationale, well, we all know what we told our own children when they’d say something like that.

But even scarier was Abbott’s astoundingly casual answer when asked: What if it turns out that the allegations are untrue? Replied Abbott: “If it turns out it’s untrue, they’ll be put back in their home. It happens every day.”

Oh, well then. If we just put the children back, no harm done. It’s just like delivering a package to the wrong address, right? I don’t know what’s worse, if he’s trying to put one over on us or if he really believes this.

Yes, some of the children might be “put back.” Someday. But they’re going to be a lot worse for the experience. Some of the children already have become ill. Given the usual odds, if the children stay in foster care long enough, at least 100 of them are likely to be abused in foster care itself. Most of them are likely to suffer enormous, debilitating emotional trauma that may haunt them for the rest of their lives.

And almost all of this trauma could have been avoided had Abbott and his pals at Texas CPS simply decided not to do what they do “all the time.” If only they’d decided that the challenge of Eldorado was to find a more humane way to deal with children. If only they simply treated the mothers and children as refugees and kept them together – keeping them away, until things are sorted out, from the only people ever likely to be accused of impregnating one of the teenagers: The men living at the ranch.

Instead, they decided to do to these children precisely what they do to so many others – every day.