wrpbs

Brutal job

by Bob Dyer on March 23, 2012

I’m glad I don’t work for Children Services.

The horrendous story of the 17-month-old boy who died in a meth house where his mother was living brought back memories of several other awful tales in the annuals of the Summit County Children Services Board.

In the 1980s, public outrage erupted after the death of Charlie Wright and, later, the near death of Tara Cook, both of whom had been abused for long periods of time.

In 2003, in a case that became known as “the Kenmore Kids,” CSB received 30 phone calls from worried citizens but never even opened a case. The six children were beaten, locked in closets and forced to eat animal waste while CSB twiddled its thumbs. Their plight was only discovered after police found three of them wandering the streets, malnourished, after escaping from a second-floor window.

After each episode, cries for reform filled the air. Blue-ribbon panels were formed, and some changes were made. Unfortunately, no structural or procedural change can pinpoint the right thing to do in cases that reside in a vast area of gray.

Removing a child from a parent’s custody is a life-changing move for everyone involved, and a decision that never should be made cavalierly. More than one angry ex-spouse has falsely accused the other spouse of abuse.

Deciding which kids should stay and which should go is often highly subjective – at exactly what point does lousy parenting turn into criminal parenting? Exactly how much evidence should a social worker need to conclude a child is in danger?

In 2001, CSB took four children from an Akron mother who admitted occasional pot smoking. (The move was overturned in court.) If that disqualifies someone from being a fit mother, millions of otherwise happy and healthy American children would now be in foster care.

So in some cases, CSB’s blunders seem obvious. In the latest controversy, a nurse who took the mother and toddler into her home for an extended period of time notified CSB two weeks before the death that she had seen plenty to convince her that the child was in serious danger. Shouldn’t her concerns have weighed heavily?

But, again, it’s easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback. At the very least, we should acknowledge that CSB has a terribly difficult task.

Bob Dyer
This article was written by Bob Dyer, a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal. Dyer was named Best Columnist in Ohio by the Associated Press in 2011, the fourth consecutive year he has received that honor from at least one professional journalism organization. In 2008, the National Society of Professional Journalists voted him Best Columnist in the Nation. Dyer also was one of the lead writers for "A Question of Color," a yearlong examination of racial attitudes in Akron that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. In addition, he has written two books. One of them, "Omar! My Life On and Off the Field," an autobiography co-written with Cleveland Indians baseball star Omar Vizquel, spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 2002, peaking at No. 27 among hardcover nonfiction.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

This is a moderated blog. While we encourage the free exchange of ideas and opinions, NewsNite retains the discretion to determine which comments it will post and which it will not. We expect all contributors to be respectful. We will not post comments that contain personal attacks of any kind; contain offensive terms that target specific ethnic or racial groups, or vulgar language. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly off topic or that promote services or products.

Please read our full comment policy here.

Previous post:

Next post: