Social Services did not ignore child's plight

The death of Ciara Jobes is a tragedy, and is the worst nightmare for those charged with the protection of vulnerable children. The Sun's article "No one stepped in while a child died" (June 29) points to the fragile nature of America's child welfare system.

However, it is misleading for reporter Allison Klein to imply that the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (DSS) silently acquiesced in the placement of Ciara Jobes with a guardian whose mental illness was so severe as to result in the girl's horrendous and tragic death.

Child welfare workers do not ignore the signs that would put a child at risk, and we are confident that this did not happen in this case.

The court awarded custody and guardianship to Satrina Roberts as it awards custody and guardianship to many grandmothers, aunts and godmothers in this city. At the time of this placement, all parties to the decision, including the child's court-appointed attorney, acted in good faith and recommended this action.

After this new guardianship arrangement ended DSS' oversight of Ciara Jobes, the girl was surrounded for 23 months by community, family and others who had a role in supporting her. But it is clear that most of these people did not know that Ms. Roberts apparently suffered from a serious and impairing mental illness.

We expect to be held accountable. As was done in this case, whenever a child known to a local department of social services dies or is seriously injured, the local department and the state Department of Human Resources (DHR) conduct in-depth assessments to determine how our internal processes can be improved.

I also want to clarify the misimpression that the work group I assigned is the first time this case has been examined by the department.

For the last several months, DHR has been assessing all of our child welfare systems. As part of that review, I have asked a work group to look again at our involvement in Ciara's life and to determine what we can learn. The goal of the state and all the stakeholders in our system is to examine the facts of this case and determine what, if anything, can be done differently to lessen the likelihood of such tragedies recurring.

Our staff dedicates itself to the work of protecting children, and grieves any time a child dies, even for children who were never in our care or are no longer in our care.

We want to make sure that when it comes to the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, we provide the best services possible and that no other child suffers as Ciara did.

Christopher McCabe


The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

Poor custody choice leads to tragedy

Who in his or her right mind would grant custody of a child to a person with a history of mental illness (including several suicide attempts) - a person, no less, whose application to become a foster mother had previously been denied ("No one stepped in while a child died," June 29)?

One can argue forever about who dropped the ball in the case of Ciara Jobes, the child who died while in custody of an unfit guardian, but the overwhelming fact is that Maryland's child welfare system is broken.

Susan Leviton, director of the Children's Law Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law, said it all in noting that the state simply lacks the resources to ensure that children at risk stay safe. Continuing scandals in our juvenile justice facilities only underscore this fact.

Clearly, considerably greater resources are needed to ensure that vulnerable children are adequately protected. But in this age of tax-cutting madness, such resources are not likely to be forthcoming. So the public should be prepared for more of the same, or worse.

Howard Bluth


Bush leads us back to robber baron era

Jules Witcover asks whether a free society should be placed on a new course of imperialism without the understanding and approval of its people ("Bush goes back to well," Opinion Commentary, June 30). But of course President Bush has the understanding and approval of the people - the people on the boards of Halliburton, Bechtel and Fox News Corp. Does anyone else matter?

Mr. Bush is leading us on a living history tour of the robber baron era, kicking world opinion in the backside as he goes, and caring not a whit about us or the world.

Barry McKernan


City juries believe in convicting no one

Regarding the article about the man acquitted of animal cruelty in the killing a 10-pound dog with a pickax ("Man acquitted of killing toy poodle with pickax," June 28), I can only assume that the decision to acquit represents yet another bewildering verdict from yet another befuddled jury in the city that "Believes" (in convicting no one).

Sharon Drescher


CareFirst's CEO runs out of chances

There are more than 6 billion people on Earth, and there is one who we all know should not be running Blue Cross of Maryland ("CareFirst's chief alters views, seeks to remain at helm," June 29).

William L. Jews has changed (or so he says); so did Strom Thurmond. But I say a leader should not change with the times but should lead for change in his time.

As an insured person, a physician and an employer with a dozen employees in a Blue Cross plan (whose cost went up 20 percent, while reimbursements went down again - where does the money go?), I say that Mr. Jews is one of the premier examples of what is wrong with leadership today.

Sam Akman


U.S. should act to aid Liberia

I was so pleased to see The Sun's editorial "America's orphan" (June 26).

I have never understood the United States' reluctance to assist Liberia - especially since the United States offers help to so many other countries that don't have the same relationship to us.

I've lived in Liberia and have many friends there (and know many others who have had to flee because of the wars) who often ask why they get no help from the United States.

I, of course, have no answer.

Irene Reid


Time with children is most valuable

Why is more value placed upon working for someone else than raising children? Why do people get more respect for spending time at the office than spending time with kids?

Although I have to work full-time, the (evening, weekend, and vacation) time that I spend with my children going to parks and museums, riding trains and merry-go-rounds, visiting friends and shut-ins and traveling is all valuable, essential quality (and quantity) time. We learn, we bond and, most of all, we remember these times together.

Not every day at the pool is as haggard as the one described in the letter "Mom's days at pool are far from carefree" (June 25). But please do not vent against people who spend time with their children.

Elizabeth L. Grove


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