October 22, 1995 in Nation/World

Social Workers Cite Racism Poor, Uneducated Commonly Targeted In Abuse Cases, Fired State Workers Say

By The Spokesman-Review
 

When Detective Bob Perez began arresting child abuse suspects from the ranks of the uneducated and extreme poor, three state social workers were not surprised.

Their agency, the Division of Children and Family Services, works hand in hand with police, they said, and has targeted poor and minority families for years.

Perez knew who the families were because he attended daily morning staff meetings with the social workers, said Juan Garcia.

Garcia, Paul Glassen and Juana Vasquez recently were fired from their state jobs for various reasons ranging from interfering with the sex ring investigation to insubordination.

They are suing for wrongful discharge, alleging they lost their jobs only after speaking out about the case and racial discrimination within their agency.

All three were interviewed by The Spokesman-Review and by Olympia attorney Kathryn Lyon, who launched an independent review of the sex ring case. Lyon, who has an interest in defending child abuse cases, said she spent $40,000 researching her report. Her only motivation, she said, is a possible book.

Lyon’s 200-page report documents a pattern of prejudice she says is at the heart of the sex ring investigation. The accused molesters are almost all poor and uneducated. A few are Hispanic. Lyon’s report helped prompt a federal investigation into the case.

“These are extremely vulnerable people to start with, often retarded people, people who came from extremely deprived backgrounds,” Glassen states in the Lyon report.

Several Wenatchee-based social workers named in Lyon’s report either refused to comment or did not return telephone calls. Wenatchee manager Tim Abbey referred questions to Department of Social and Health Services spokeswoman Kathy Spears in Olympia. The department oversees the Division of Children and Family Services and its Child Protective Services and Child Welfare Services.

Spears would not address specific allegations, but denied any discrimination.

“I’m not going to deal with personnel issues,” she said. “They don’t work for us anymore. I think the department in Wenatchee has taken great strides to recruit minority foster homes. Within DSHS, we place a very high value on diversity.”

Vasquez, the former director of minority affairs and assistant dean of admissions at Gonzaga University, recently sued her agency for racial discrimination in another case. An all-white jury awarded her $60,000 plus $44,000 in attorney’s fees.

Among several instances of harassment, Vasquez cited a comment from a co-worker “that he would never allow himself to be supervised by a Mexican.” Vasquez is a first-generation American.

She said co-workers commonly referred to underprivileged parents as “scumbag,” “sleazeball” and “retarded.”

Vasquez also said her Wenatchee office has the state’s highest rate of removing children from their parents, mostly Hispanic families or the poor - people not prone to hire attorneys and fight back.

“People all over the state would be amazed at how many terminations we did,” Vasquez said. “Termination for minority parents went very quickly, within a matter of six months. … As far as low IQ people, I would see the same pattern.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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