For months, the tiny girl was known to investigators only as “Baby Doe.” Weighing just 30 pounds, her body had been found in June 2015, wrapped in a blanket inside a plastic garbage bag that had washed ashore on Deer Island in Boston Harbor. When authorities later identified her as 2 1/2-year old Bella Bond, she became the tragic face of a child welfare system that critics says fails to protect children.
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families was harshly criticized after news reports said it had left “Baby Bella” in her mother’s care even though the mother had been reported twice for child neglect and had lost parental rights over two other children. Police charged the mother’s boyfriend with murder and the mother as an accessory after the fact.
Harvard University professor Elizabeth Bartholet criticized the Massachusetts child welfare agency for its focus on family preservation and a system (since abandoned after the incident) that didn’t consider the “best interests of the child.”
But other experts say putting children in the foster system poses its own risks. In Oregon, child protection services removed a 9-year-old girl from her home in 2010 and placed her in foster care with Kamlo and Dwight Reid, even though the state Department of Human services allegedly knew Dwight had been accused of sexually abusing another foster child. The couple, who eventually adopted the girl, abused her sexually, emotionally and physically, charges a lawsuit filed against the department in May by a court-appointed guardian for the child.
Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Alexandria, Va., says cases like Oregon’s contain important lessons. Child welfare agencies, he says, often remove children from their parents too quickly, tearing families apart and overwhelming a child welfare system that already is understaffed. “When you look at those cases in which the case file had more red flags than a Soviet May Day parade, you are talking about an overwhelmed caseworker that didn’t have time to investigate any case properly,” he says.
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