The bias toward separating families

Richard Gelles' claim that America's child welfare system is "biased toward biological parents" is belied by his own data (opinion page, "Early adoptions vs. family reunification," Aug. 30). Mr. Gelles notes that nearly 600,000 children are in foster care. This figure is more than double the number in 1982. If the system is "biased" toward birth parents, why are so many children being taken away in the first place? The real bias is toward taking children away. They languish in foster care not because of efforts to return them home, but because they are filed away and forgotten by busy workers.

He supports his claim of bias with two horror stories. But far more common than parents who are brutally abusive or hopelessly addicted are parents whose poverty is confused with child neglect.

Gelles writes as though leaving a child with birth parents is risky. But for most children in the system his "solutions" are far worse. Adoption is the right course for some children. But there are nowhere near enough adoptive homes. Furthermore, between one-fifth and one-fourth of adoptive placements "disrupt" - that is, the adoptive parents change their minds and the "forever family" isn't. And adoption is the wrong answer for the thousands of children whose parents' principal crime is being poor. Indeed, in his book Gelles is more direct in acknowledging that his approach requires orphanages.

But newspaper reports suggest that in California orphanages routinely brutalize and neglect children, overmedicating them to keep them them docile. New York City's two-year experiment with orphanages ended in 1989 after the state ordered the "baby warehouses" shut down. By then three children had died.

Real family preservation programs have kept together tens of thousands of families with a far better track record for safety than foster care or orphanages. But such programs are smeared when writers like Gelles throw such success stories together with cases in which a child is left at home or returned home with little help to the family at all. It's been a successful smear campaign, and thousands of children, taken from poor but loving homes, are paying the price.

Richard Wexler Washington National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

Gun control: enforce existing laws

Gov. George W. Bush embraced a non-issue when he called for raising the legal age for purchasing an handgun from 18 to 21 ("News in brief," Aug. 30). The gun control act of 1968 states it is "unlawful for any ... licensed dealer to sell or deliver any firearm or ammunition to any individual ... whom the licensee knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than 21 years of age. The effort to ban large ammunition "clips" is a feel-good measure, a waste of intent. A 20-round magazine can be substituted by two 10-round magazines. Where is the gain?

The governor is correct in saying there were enough US gun laws on the books and they simply need to be enforced.

Warren R. Kremske Chicago

Spanish as an official language

Regarding "In this city hall, official business is in Spanish" (Aug. 25): This is an apalling report. I understand there have been some polling places where Spanish is used and I know that in the South some public schools have taught in Spanish. It is an imposition on us as taxpayers. But even more it is an imposition on the Spanish-speaking people by not urging them to learn the language of the country in which they have chosen to live.

Carol Elwell Edmonds, Wash.

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