State Eye on Abused Kids

They have names like Rilya Wilson, of Florida; Brianna Blackmond of Washington, D.C.; Elisa Izquierdo of New York. And now the Williams kids of New Jersey join the list of children lost, abused, or killed while supposedly under the watch of the state.

Last week's heartbreaking story of three boys found in a Newark, N.J. basement - two chained and emaciated, the third, Faheem Williams, dead - must not be allowed to turn into a case of momentary attention with no follow-up or systemic change.

New Jersey's governor has ordered a probe and plans to reform the state's child-welfare services. Two of his predecessors, however, tried that path. As the Williams case shows, their work was incomplete.

The Williams brothers are not an isolated case, although it's worth remembering that of all children in state custody around the nation, few are abused as these boys were.

Still, the gravity of the situation can be seen in these statistics: New Jersey says it can't find 110 children it suspects have been abused; in the past five years, 37 children have died in Florida from abuse or neglect, even though caseworkers were warned of danger; Michigan admits it has lost track of about 300 children.

Pressure for change must come from all concerned adults. These poor kids don't vote, and have few lobbyists working on their behalf. And despite fiscal woes, states with inadequate child-welfare services must beef them up, providing better-trained caseworkers and managing them better.

The caseworker for the New Jersey brothers apparently never went to see the children before closing the case. The governor now insists that all 280 homes where complaints of abuse have been filed should be visited. That's a standard worth imitating.

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