Seminar declares foster care crisis in county, nation

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 16

“Foster care is in crisis in this county and this country.”

That was the verdict of Robin Reese, the coordinator of placement services for Lucas County Children Services at a conference on foster care held yesterday at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

“Oftentimes, we don’t give children the attention they need until they’re lost,” she said.

The seminar was sponsored by Mercy College of Northwest Ohio and attended by more than 100 foster parents, county officials, and social workers.

The event was filled with stories about the sad shape of the children they see daily. One mentioned a 14-year-old girl who was HIV-positive, had been sexually molested by at least three members of her family, and was a drug addict. She was not receiving treatment for either the virus or her drug problem.

John Hollingsworth, Children Service’s director of protective services, said he acknowledges the problems in the system. “In my opinion, in child welfare, there is a limited commodity of common sense,” he said.

Blade staff writer Sam Roe said Children Services and other government agencies should be more forthcoming with information about publicized cases, such as 15-year-old Vicente Guevara, who will stand trial soon for the unprovoked killing of a 7-Eleven clerk.

“I know confidentiality is a concern. There is also a public good in accountability,” Mr. Roe said.

Mr. Hollingsworth said he agreed some information should be released, but noted that he was limited by law. “I didn’t write the law. Until it’s changed, I have to follow the rules,” he said.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Charlotte Lopez, the 1993 Miss Teen USA and a former foster child. Miss Lopez spent her childhood in six foster homes and a group home before winning the title. Since then, she has traveled across the country advocating foster-care reform.

She said children should be able to learn where their biological siblings are living. She was separated from her brother as a toddler and did not know where he was until Christmas, 1993.

“He had been 20 minutes away from me my entire life,” she said. “Finding out was devastating.”

Miss Lopez said children should have the right to examine the files children services keeps on their lives. “It’s their life, after all,” she said.

Mr. Hollingsworth said children have that right in Lucas County.

Miss Lopez said her last foster parents were strict fundamentalist Christians. Because her birth mother was known to dabble in Satanic activity, she said they believed Miss Lopez might be a child of the Devil.