Thursday, May 8, 2008

DSHS--more bureaucratic idiocy in the name of "protecting children"

Here's a link to a Court of Appeals' decision here involving DSHS's ongoing attempt to deny a foster care license to a previously-licensed Eastern Washington couple, Joshua and Janet Ruland.

So what, exactly, was the horrible crime this couple committed to be denied an opportunity to continue as foster parents for needy children? What heinous acts were devised and carried out by this well-meaning couple against vulnerable kids? What depraved indifference and incredible idiocy did these people demonstrate that the state felt compelled to act to keep them away from children?

Answer: Nothing.

The Rulands had been caring for a two-year old boy and his one-month old sister. On one occasion, Janet left the baby girl napping on the floor of their home and went outside and mowed the lawn. When she came back inside a few minutes later, the infant's toddler brother had bitten her on her head and scratched her face a bit. The Rulands took the baby right away to the emergency room where her wounds were determined to be "superficial." Then the Rulands, following foster parent rules, reported the incident to DSHS.

DSHS determined that the Rulands were "negligent." Some time later, the Rulands moved into a new home, and per DSHS rules, because of the move they re-applied for licensure as foster parents. DSHS denied them license renewal.

The Rulands appealed, but for some reason their appeal was filed one day late. On the basis of this one day late filing, and on the one incident, DSHS again denied the Rulands their license.

I know that DSHS workers have a really tough job, and that nobody wants to make a mistake where a kid ends up abused, neglected, or dead. But adversarial actions like these actually hurts the kids who the state is supposed to be helping, and it prevents well-meaning people who want to help those kids from doing so.

Parents and caregivers make mistakes and errors raising children, but it doesn't follow that every mistake or every error rises to the level of "neglience" or "abuse." It was a mistake for these foster parents to leave the toddler alone and unsupervised for a few minutes with his infant sister, but it's not something that should prevent these good-hearted people from being foster parents.

Biological parents make the mistake of leaving toddlers alone and unsupervised with infant siblings all the time. There simply isn't any parent in the world who hasn't had to deal with similar toddler-on-baby bouts of jealousy, rage, harassment, nit-picking, acting out, aggression and fights between siblings. That a toddler boy would bite his infant sister when given an opening to do so isn't unusual, or unexpected. In fact it's normal, and not realistically preventable.

When such an incident does occur, however, the parents need to act to evaluate any injury, treat it quickly and appropriately, and then take steps to socialize and discipline the aggressive child in an age-appropriate manner. This is exactly what the Rulands did. And what did DSHS do? Accuse them of neglect and move to prevent them from ever being foster parents ever again.


I wish the Rulands the best in their continuing court battle to restore their right to be foster parents. We need more people just like them.

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