Foster children's basic need: permanent families I must take exception to Ruth Massinga's opinion article "Aging out of foster care" (April 22). While I completely agree that children aging out of our country's foster care system are ill-prepared for the future, I am disappointed in the author's analysis of the problem.

She points to the need for "life skills assessment of children in their early teenage years." She proposes furnishing foster parents with the support and education to "talk to children about their hopes and dreams and what they will need to achieve them." Ms. Massinga's solutions completely miss the point: What these children need is a family.

Assessing the "life skills" of a 13-year-old is pointless if the goal is to have a social-service agency, not a family, teach those skills. Yet, the word "adoption" never appears in her article.

The foster-care system was designed to be a temporary haven for children in trouble. Children in foster care have two possible good outcomes. First, their birth families can be made safe and they can return home. If that's not possible, the next choice is to be adopted, as soon as possible, by a loving family. Long-term foster care is nothing more than a profound failure on the part of the child-welfare system.

The simple truth is this: The longer children are in the child-welfare system, the more damaged they become and the harder it is to fix that damage.

For many years, the goal of federal and state child-welfare policy was reunification of families, almost without exception. For many of these children, there was never any chance of returning home. These include children abandoned in garbage cans, newborns with injuries, and children traded for drugs. Consequently, they spent years bouncing like Ping-Pong balls between foster care and reunification attempts with their families. As a result, the number of children in foster care increased from 280,000 in 1986 to more than 500,000 in 1996.

In November 1997, President Clinton signed into law the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which demands permanency for all American children. Since that time the number of children adopted from foster care has increased 40 percent.

There are many reasons children wait in this country. But don't ever let anyone tell you it's because no one wants to adopt them. More than anything, a 40 percent increase in foster adoptions in one year demonstrates just how broken the system has been.

Jeff Katz Pawtucket, R.I. Executive director Adoption Rhode Island

Digital cinema: who pays? Regarding "The end of film as we know it" (April 9): I am the owner of a four-plex theater in Cody, Wyo. The big question is, who's going to pay for this digital technology for all the theaters to switch over? A cost of $100,000 per screen is not feasible for me. Besides, I'm not going to save much money. Some savings in freight and a little in labor add up to only $10,000 per year at most.

The film companies will save a bundle. I have been keeping up on this technology and heard what "Star Wars" creator George Lucas said [that only theaters with the latest technical requirements will be allowed to show "Phantom Menace"]. I say, if you're going to make a comment like that, then put your money where your mouth is.

Don't get me wrong. I think this is a great boost for the industry. But a lot of small town theaters are going to go by the wayside unless there is help from the studios. If it doesn't happen soon enough for Lucas, then I guess the second "Star Wars" saga will be directed to DVD at the video store.

Tony Beaverson Cody, Wyo.

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