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Closer control can't cure ills of foster care

In August, newspapers carried alarming stories about lapses in Maryland's systems for tracking orphaned, abused and neglected children. The source was a state audit raising questions about the monitoring and delivery of critical services ("Audit finds lapses in Maryland's foster care," Aug. 23).

No one will argue against tighter controls in Maryland's child welfare system. I am worried, however, that a focus on controls will distract us from addressing the real problem -- inadequate staffing.

Maryland's Department of Human Resources has been subject to a statewide hiring freeze since Oct. 17 and to a salary freeze since July.

These freezes have placed our departments of social services in a precarious position. They are struggling to deliver critical child protection services with a declining number of caseworkers. The remaining workers are, in turn, being asked to handle increased caseloads, at frozen pay levels.

Maryland's child welfare system is indeed dangerously stressed, as the state's audit recently showed. Fiscal pressure will tempt some to respond with half-measures focused on tighter controls.

But Maryland's under-staffed child welfare system needs a real answer -- in the form of funding sufficient both to hire more caseworkers and to retain the ones we have.

The cost of instituting half-measures that fail could be far higher -- in tragedy striking children.

Mark Poerio


The writer chairs the board of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services.

Foster care system dehumanizes kids

The recent legislative audit revealed many weaknesses in the state's foster care program ("Audit finds lapses in Maryland's foster care," Aug. 23). I am not surprised to see how flawed the system is.

The system does not concentrate on the needs of the human beings who are products of dysfunctional families. Its rules and regulations have no human touch at all.

The children in foster care are treated as cases without human faces. And that's why some caseworkers are negligent in the way they deal with children coming into the system.

It's a fact that caseworkers are overworked. But increasing their number cannot replace a concern for human beings who are removed from their natural parents.

Until foster care programs deal with children as human beings and not cases, deficiencies will continue.

The Rev. Steward H. Frazier Jr.

Ellicott City

The writer is Howard County's representative on the state's Citizens' Review Board for Children.

Abuse survivors can't trust clergy

Thank you for publishing the list of six St. Mary's Seminary students accused of sexually abusing children as seminarians working at various local church facilities ("Archdiocese lists 6 accused of child abuse," Aug. 21). And it is encouraging to see proactive treatment of this scandal by church officials.

As for the new abuse policy the Archdiocese of Baltimore unveiled in August, the church's efforts to ensure that such criminal activity will not continue are appreciated. Yet the strategy for abuse victims who wish to come forward must be revisited ("Criminal checks for archdiocese staff planned," Aug. 29).

As I understand it, Monsignor Richard Woy, the director of the archdiocese's Office of Child and Youth Protection, will be the person taking information from those who were abused. Many of the survivors I've talked with aren't comfortable reporting the fact that they were sexually abused by a priest to another priest.

In light of the circumstances, I can't blame them.

There needs to be lay involvement in handling incoming callers from the start.

Jeanne Befano

New Market

The writer is a spiritual director for the Concerned Therapists Network, a group of therapists who work with survivors of clerical abuse.

Why not employ foreign teachers?

I have been reading recent articles about the critical shortage of teachers in Maryland and the use of under- and unqualified teachers in certain areas ("Teacher shortage critical as schools begin new year," Aug. 28). I find it interesting that, with all this concern, most Maryland school districts have policies that prevent their recruiters from employing foreign teachers.

There is, for instance, a huge pool of highly qualified teachers trying to come to the United States from Argentina.

They are unemployed because most of their country's private schools have closed down -- because in Argentina few parents can now afford to pay private school tuition.

They are not asking to immigrate to the United States permanently; they are asking for a job that will allow them to earn a decent wage for a few years while they wait for the Argentine economy to improve.

All these teachers need is a job offer to qualify for the visa that our government makes available to foreign college graduates.

I have personally been trying to assist just such a person, with 30 years teaching experience in a bilingual school in Buenos Aires, to find a position in the Baltimore-Washington area. I have contacted every county in the state, the state superintendent of education, the media, politicians, private schools and public schools. Still no job offer.

How can we justify complaining that we can't find dedicated and qualified teachers when we don't take advantage of every resource?

Nicki Shonfeld


How to get in on Ravens' deal

About the Ravens' land grab: I want to get in on this deal ("Time for revised finger-pointing in matter of welfare for Ravens," Aug. 30).

There's a vacant 6-acre lot next to my house. I want to turn it into a training facility.

If I make the same deal with the county the Ravens did, here's how my land grab would work: The county would purchase the vacant land adjoining my property, and loan it to me almost rent-free for 25 years. And if I like this deal (what's not to like?), I can have three 10-year extensions.

I'll build an addition to my house on the land. I won't pay a dime for the land for the next 55 years, but I will pay the property tax on it.

County taxpayers will provide roads, sewers and water lines to my new property. In return, I will continue to pay the property tax on my existing home.

And if I ever sell the naming rights to the House of Maguire Annex, the county will get one-third of the proceeds.

Where do I sign?

Jim Maguire


Selling stadium site much too short

I am a property owner in Ednor Gardens and I am extremely concerned about the new owners of the 30-acre parcel of land that was formerly Memorial Stadium.

I read in The Sun that the price for the site was reduced to $728,000 and that the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp. is its purchaser ("Selling price for site of Memorial Stadium lowered to $728,000," Aug. 29). How was this decided? Did anyone else bid on the property?

Seven hundred twenty-eight thousand dollars can purchase one McMansion in Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard and, yes, even Baltimore counties. Why are we nearly giving this valuable land away?

There is no reason to put a low-cost housing project in that lot. We have enough low-cost, high-density housing in the area. And we have enough boarded-up empty houses and drug-infested areas.

We need more middle- and upper-middle-class housing in the area. Why didn't the city try to sell the parcel to a developer who would make the best possible use of this land?

State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer seems to be, as usual, the only voice of reason in this whole situation.

I bless him every day for what he has done for Baltimore, and I thank him for speaking out against this sale.

Nelia A. Talley


Prisoners seek rights that everyone is due

Many people wrongly believe that prisoners at the Baltimore City Detention Center have no right to "complain" about the conditions at the jail. However, the people incarcerated there are requesting guaranteed constitutional rights, not special privileges ("Conditions in jail found to violate prisoners' rights," Aug. 31).

And what is really going on at the city jail? The United States Department of Justice reports that "persons confined suffer harm or the risk of serious harm from deficiencies in the facilities: fire safety protections, medical care, mental health care, sanitation, opportunity to exercise, and protection of juveniles."

The Justice Department has recommended 107 sweeping changes to protect basic civil rights, not turn the city jail into a luxury hotel.

According to its report, some detainees may not receive a medical exam until four weeks after being admitted to the jail and are consequently deprived of treatment they may need to survive.

Medical records are not kept, staff is poorly trained and correctional officers don't use CPR. Should an inmate collapse in his or her cell, prompt help is nowhere to be found. The Justice Department also details lapses in suicide prevention.

No one should have to suffer mistreatment, violation of civil rights and violation of human rights or death at the hands of the state.

And need I remind people that most of those detained at the city jail have not been convicted of a crime, and are innocent until proved guilty?

Sosha Stuckey


To cut crime, toughen its consequences

I had mixed feelings reading about the recent Baltimore Believe Day celebration ("Putting 'action behind faith,'" Sept. 1). While the South Side Steppers Marching Unit should be commended for their hard work, it's hard to believe a few festivals will have much of an impact on the crime choking the city.

As a parole and probation agent for more than 16 years, I've been in the belly of the beast. And I can tell you much is wrong in the anti-crime, anti-drug fight.

It is not unusual to see offenders with seven, eight, nine or more convictions on their rap sheets still get put on probation.

It is patently ludicrous to reward criminal behavior with yet another round of probation. At a certain juncture, enough should be enough -- and incarceration should be automatic for a new conviction.

And as far as drug treatment, the state needs to fund more locked-down, in-patient drug treatment -- modeled after the sort of treatment offered in a psychiatric unit. Outpatient treatment, by and large, should come only after a successful stint in an in-patient program.

Only when the state toughens the consequences for and expectations of the criminal element will we make a long-lasting impact on crime.

Rai Douglas

Glen Burnie

Dealing with death is the hardest task

A great big "Amen" and thank you to Diana K. Sugg for her insightful feature on the hardest task in medicine and nursing -- telling the patient's family that the worst has happened ("Death, then a search for kindest of words," Aug. 11).

In the course of a long career in nursing, I have been at the bedside of the dying and the newly dead countless times. Once we realize our patient is indeed gone, we catch our breaths and steel ourselves for the next task.

Then, usually the nurse and doctor together will go to the family, both praying that they can help them -- somehow, some way -- after they hear those world-changing words, "We did all we could."

The kind words we search for are soon forgotten, if indeed they are ever heard. We say them anyway.

It never gets any easier. During my years at Bon Secours Hospital in West Baltimore, we were supported by caring chaplains. They ministered with great compassion to the family after they learned the news, but we were the ones who had to tell the family.

I retired two years ago and still miss the involvement in nursing and the contact with my longtime co-workers. But I don't miss the suffering.

Mary Catherine Knoll


Libraries help us handle tragedy

Now more than ever before, people are turning to libraries to help them cope with the aftermath of Sept. 11 and our changed society. Libraries across the country are helping patrons gather information, providing resources and bringing community members together to discuss the implications and significance of the recent events.

For example, on Sunday, the Enoch Pratt Free Library will offer a special program of readings by contributors to September Eleven: Maryland Voices. This is a commemorative anthology of more than 200 stories, poems, journal entries, sketches and other artistic reflections created by Maryland residents in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The anniversary of Sept. 11 reminded us to value the freedoms that keep our cities and nation strong. And librarians believe in the importance of freedom of information.

Since the tragedies of Sept. 11, I along with the more than 64,000 librarians whom I represent have supported our nation's leaders who seek to preserve and protect our hard-fought rights to knowledge.

We will cooperate with the authorities within the guidelines of the law. However, we recognize our responsibility to protect the privacy of our patrons while responding to legitimate security concerns.

Carla Hayden


The writer is director of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library and president-elect of the American Library Association.

Lessons of history aren't always valid

As the author of books on World War II America, I'm often asked what light history can throw on the events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath.

History never exactly repeats itself; thus analogies between past and present, and any apparent "lessons of the past," must be carefully examined.

In the case of the most common analogy between Sept. 11 and the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the differences are fundamental. On Dec. 7, military forces of Japan attacked American military forces far from the continental United States and a formal state of war ensued -- and all of this is quite unlike what happened on Sept. 11. And the year after Dec. 7 involved massive mobilization for war, major ground, air and sea combat and booming prosperity after the Great Depression.

But this is not to say that there are no useful comparisons between Sept. 11 and Dec. 7, 1941, and their aftermaths.

As just one example, the well-known story of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II has militated against wholesale violations of the civil liberties of Arab-Americans and Muslims.

But essential though knowledge of history is, facile analogies between past and present must be avoided, for they can be not just misleading but also counterproductive in shaping understanding and policy.

John W. Jeffries


The writer is a professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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