Washington state has long been a fierce protector of parental rights. Too fierce at times.
As a general rule, government shouldn’t intrude into family matters. But if you’re the child of abusive or neglectful parents, it’s painfully obvious that the state needs to be more flexible.
Back in November, the starvation deaths of Justice and Raiden Robinson in Kent, Wash., shocked the public. One child was 6 weeks old; the other was 18 months. Their 2-year-old brother was able to survive by foraging for food.
When police arrived, they found the mother passed out on a couch. They also found 307 beer cans strewn about the apartment. The mother had been reported to state social workers 10 times. They repeatedly told her to get treatment for alcoholism.
Yet, investigators said they never saw cause nor had the legal means to remove the children.
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, has vowed to alter laws to make intervention in such cases easier. She has introduced a bill, but some senators are skeptical of its chances, citing the $19 million price tag in a tough budget year.
There’s no question that increased intervention comes with increased legal and foster-care costs. But the price of inaction is much higher.
Mary Meinig, ombudsman for the state’s Office of Families and Children, recently conducted a random check of child welfare reports, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She found that 38 percent of families had been referred to the state at least 10 times and that 24 percent had been referred at least 20 times. Yet, the state’s current laws make it difficult to separate children from their tormentors.
Are legislators really going to wait for sunnier budget days to act?
The Priorities Of Government process has been embraced by public budget writers across the state, and for good reason. The idea is to gain a consensus on the real purposes of government and to channel resources accordingly. Any state with a conscience would place the protection of abused and neglected children at the top of the list.
Children are called dependents, because they depend upon adults for their safety and well-being. When parents or guardians fail to perform those essential duties, the government must step in.
Washington state needs to make an important tradeoff. To protect society’s most vulnerable people, it must intrude on the independence of their tormentors. People with qualms about that should immerse themselves in the ugly details contained in child welfare reports. The bruises, broken bones and limp bodies speak for themselves.