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This is why reporting, we believe, is not the major issue. I have a feeling there is a tendency among lawyers to deal in the area with which we feel most comfortable, and something like the emotional needs of a child generally sends us scurrying to the hills.
There has been a tendency, therefore, for legislators, when they address themselves to the problem of child abuse, to focus primarily on reporting.
But let me put it this way, our feeling is we do very little to help the families who are now reported. What benefit is there to increase the number we report on, if we do not really provide services once they come into the system?
We believe this bill will speak to both of these critical needs, reuniting the child where possible, for adoption where it is not possible.
The major innovation of this bill would be to establish a center which can work with the entire family.
Now, without getting into the debate that you have heard today as to where to locate the center, the one thing that is clear to us is that these services are not now being provided.
You will hear shortly from Anne Riley who explains she is, as far as she knows, the only professional working in the field of psychotherapy for these parents at the present time in the District of Columbia. One person.
The Denver program, by contrast, that Mr. Fraser has described works with families and has been able to reunite parent and child in a phenomenal 90 percent of the cases it handles.
We believe this bill might make possible similar results here in the District of Columbia.
For those children who cannot be returned home, clearly new homes must be found. Adoption has been hampered in the District, though, for several reasons.
First, many families were willing but simply not able to care for these children without some financial assistance. They were forced in the past, therefore, to serve as foster rather than adoptive parents.
The recent passage by this Congress of a subsidized adoption bill for the District which was signed into law by the President last winter should alleviate this hurdle. But a technical one remains.
Even when parents are missing or unable to ever care for their child, adoption cannot be authorized until the legal rights of parents are terminated in a court proceeding.
Apparently through legislative oversight, as far as we have been able to determine, a statute to guide such terminations was omitted in the 1970 revision of the D.C. court system.
The Board of Judges has attempted to fill this void with a rule which permits such terminations, but the legal validity of this procedure is open to question, to say the least.
Judge Ketchum of the Superior Court observed only two months ago:
3 See D.C. Super. Court Rule (Neglect) 18 (c).
Such substantive issues as the rights of parents should be the subject of legislation rather than the rule-making authority of judges. The Court invites the attention of the United States Congress to this serious oversight in the D.C. Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970.1
The present rule, moreover, provides no guidelines other than to authorize termination when the judge finds it would be in the best interest of the child.
This bill, by contrast, establishes some helpful standards to guide judges in the difficult exercise of their authority to terminate parental rights.
More importantly, it requires that hearings occur on this issue at regular intervals to ensure that the Department of Human Resources does not continue to allow children to languish in foster care as it has in the past.
If the time limits to hold these hearings seem short, I ask you to remember that especially with abandoned infants their chances for adoption decrease the older they become, while the chances for irreversible psychological damage increase.
I thought I might take a minute to respond to several issues that have been raised in earlier questioning, and then I will yield the balance of my time to Professor Mylniec.
First of all, you will hear in a while from FLOC, the community association, which will recommend that there should be a provision which requires the court to, first, try to alleviate the problems by providing services to the child in his or her home, and only as the second measure to consider removal.
I think that is a needed and important change that should be made in the bill, although I point out to change the law doesn't help if we continue, as is now the case, to have no services to provide in that
I was delighted to hear Mr. Yeldell indicate that protective services will be improved, but I point out, this is hardly adequate, because protective services, by definition, focuses on the child and the welfare of the child.
What we are trying to say is the problem here is, there is still a chance to get the child and the family together, but we have to pay attention to the family as well as the child. Protective services isn't the answer.
On the issue of the makeup of the therapeutic team, when you got into the consideration of whether to include a parent, I would just point out they will be making the therapeutic decisions, not the legal decisions as to removal. That remains in the court, where I believe it should remain.
That raises the question of how we might get more community input into the legal proceedings. There are various suggestions that have been made for that, but I think that is where the concern should focus.
In re J.S.R., D.C. Super. Ct. No. J-0084-69, 102 Wash. Daily L. Rep. 1393, 1396 (June 18, 1974).
Finally, just a word about the battered child syndrome. It has come up indirectly, if not explicitly, this morning.
The phrase was coined by a radiologist to describe the pattern of injuries that have been found in some children. From that, some early psychological research was done, and a profile was developed in which they suggested that a parent who had these specific psychological characteristics had the battered child syndrome. Sort of like measles, you either have it or you don't, and we will go around with our test and identify those parents.
Well, subsequent research has demonstrated conclusively that this is absolutely ridiculous.
I refer you to the book of David Gill, "Violence Against Children," in which he documents that while it is true that in some cases it is a psychological pattern inherent in the parent, it is not true in all cases. Often there is a social cause that has recently occurred, someone has lost a job, they live in an apartment that is too small.
And yet we hear examples-recently I was told of one judge who was asked to declare two siblings as abused children, and he looked at the facts of the case and he said, "Now, I have read the profile of the battered child syndrome, and I know they only abuse one child at a time," and he therefore refused to declare those children abused.
On the issue of identifying them, I would add that in addition to the reports that come in after the fact, because of the influence of the social environment, better social services will help the child abuse problem.
I think we might also consider establishing a Parents Anonymous group in Washington. You know, there is some voluntary instincts, some voluntary reporting that does go on in other districts, if it doesn't mean turning yourself over to the court.
Parents Anonymous groups, which are exactly parallel to the Alcoholics Anonymous, have worked with some success in other parts of the country. If you feel an urge to batter your child, a telephone call may help to prevent it, even though you wouldn't call the police.
Finally, the center in this bill, as we understand it, would encourage and allow for parents to voluntarily walk in and receive services. That is something that doesn't exist now, and that is one of the reasons a center or the equivalent of a center needs to be established in the community.
Professor MYLNIEC. My name is Wallace Mylniec. and I am codirector of the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic, and past chairman of the D. C. Bar Committee on Juvenile Practice.
I would like to address myelf briefly to three legal aspects of the bill.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM
We are opposed to provisions providing the guardian ad litem, at least with respect to the District of Columbia context.
We believe that in terms of the District of Columbia practice right now, this would be a step backward.
Rule 20 of the Superior Court Rules on Neglect provides that an attorney should be appointed for the child, rather than a guardian ad litem.
Our experience in representing over 250 people by now, 250 juveniles, that is, is that an attorney would be far better suited to representing the interest of a child than a guardian ad litem.
Section 301 (a) of the current bill would give to the guardian ad litem the right to investigate, interview witnesses, cross-examine witnesses, examine witnesses, make recommendations, and otherwise participate in all judicial proceedings.
Unless a person is trained in these skills, as a lawyer is, representation of the child's interest would be substandard.
Further, as the Board of Judges noted in their comment to Rule 20, the interest of the government of the District of Columbia is not always the same as that of the child.
The move to close Junior Village some years ago, various law suits brought on behalf of children to close the Meriwether Home, to close the D.C. Receiving Home, and the current pending suit to compel the Department of Human Resources to provide a comprehensive plan, which they hadn't done for the past few years, are indications that lawyers and strong and independent attorneys can represent children's interest better than the nonlegally trained guardian ad litem. SIBLING STATUTE
Two provisions of the bill, however, are very good.
One is what we refer to as the "Sibling Neglect Statute" and also the provision providing that a child could be declared neglected for the actions of a person.
These are not academic problems. We have had to deal with the complexities of determining that a parent has been neglectful because of the abuse of a baby sitter when the baby sitter was an ill-chosen baby sitter.
The present statute refers to only abuse by the parent, and we had to prove in a two-step process the parent was neglectful in picking the baby sitter who was then abusing the child.
We have also had to sit back, in terms of the sibling neglect statute, and wait for the brother of one of our abused children to have his skull fractured before the court could intervene and take him away from his parents.
NEED FOR LEGISLATION
I have to say that in the past two and a half years that I have been representing children in the District of Columbia, I have regrettably come to the conclusion that children are not a priority item in the District of Columbia.
Courts are reluctant to administer the shortcomings within DHR. There is a lack of coordination between public and private agencies, and within the public agencies themselves.
We often run into three or four social workers dealing with one family situation who are not altogether clear as to what the other workers are doing.
There are inadequate facilities for children, many of which may result in suits in the coming future.
There are inadequate services for parents, and there are inadequate laws to deal with the problems today.
We welcome any questions.
Mr. MAZZOLI. Thank you very, very much. We appreciate your testimony.
I was just wondering, Professor Areen, have you finished or is that book being published now, the one that compiles the 50 state laws?
Professor AREEN. It will be published sometime this fall, but in the meanwhile I would be happy to make copies available to the committee, if that would be useful, or work with the staff in the area.
Mr. MAZZOLI. Speaking for myself, I think it would be very, very helpful to the committee to have this compiled series of laws.
Professor AREEN. I might point out, since you raised it-it may be of some interest--the origin of the laws in this area, which is why I got started looking at the question-I was curious, how in a culture that is committed to parents raising their children did we develop this legal proceeding in which we take some children from some parents, and it turns out they all derived sometimes word-for-word, even today in some states, from the Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1601, and they were established originally as a welfare program. Only poor children were taken, and they were taken so that money did not have to be given to their parents, so that instead they could be put to work, indentured as servants.
It is striking that many states still allow that wording to exist in their statutes.
I might add my research convinced me that D.C. already has one of the more enlightened statutes, and with these changes I think will be well in the forefront in this area.
Mr. MAZZOLI. Well, fine. It seems to me, because of the lateness of the hour, and the shortness of the year and all, if we provide for the newly elected City Council a body of evidence, plus some recommendations, then I think that would be helpful and we would fulfill our function.
Mr. BRIAN FRASER. Mr. Chairman, I publish a book that contains every state statute in the country. We revise it twice a year, as revisions become available. Congressman Fraser has a copy. I would be glad to send a copy along to the other members of the committee. Mr. MAZZOLI. That would be very helpful.
Professor AREEN. May I just add, I believe those are only the reporting provisions, am I correct?
Mr. BRIAN FRASER. Reporting, guardian ad litem, and child abuse. Professor AREEN. They do not include the definitions, so I would be happy to provide that.
Mr. MAZZOLI. I will try to read them both.
Mr. STARK. Mr. Chairman, I would like to add that Mr. Fraser, in addition to compiling the laws, has probably been in most of the states performing his very excellent work with the National Center, and also on his own time traveling around the country in the furtherance of this cause. Mr. Fraser, if you would comment in some written form as to how you feel the proposed bills relate to what goes on in other states, both as to the weaknesses and strengths, and as your suggestions, why it would be appreciated.
Mr. BRIAN FRASER. My pleasure.