Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Change of Heart at the Oregonian

Good for the Oregonian in seeing the error of its original position in the case of baby Gabriel Allred.

Steve and Angela Brandt, Gabriel’s parents since he was four months old, want to adopt him. But the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) has ruled that Gabriel should be sent to live with his grandmother in Mexico even though she has had no contact with him and, though she knew of his existence, did not seek contact with him until contacted by DHS officials about the prospect of caring for him and receiving a $400 monthly payment.

Sunday’s editorial cited one of the facts the Oregonian left out of their original editorial: “Caseworkers closest to the situation urged their superiors to let Gabriel remain in the care of the Brandts.”

Professionals who actually had hands on knowledge of the situation and personal knowledge of Gabriel were shunted aside by two professional panels who felt they could make a better decision without knowing anything personal about the little boy.

Some other factors to consider:

1. The panelists gave little thought to the fact that a Meth baby needs special care. Gabriel was getting that as well as love and a secure environment with the Brandts. If Gabriel is sent to Mexico, who will assure that he gets special attention and needed treatment?

2. The panels seemed to give no thought to the fact that Gabriel’s father, whose parental rights were taken away because he was twice convicted of attempted rape of a child, was going back to Mexico. Though Gabriel’s grandmother has said she has asked her son to stay away, while her son was doing drug dealing in the US he was sending $500/month to her. What are the chances that a mother would keep a son from his son--especially a son who had shown his commitment to her and the family by sending substantial monthly sums to her while he was able to do so?

3. The panels thought it worthwhile to inflict on 2 year old Gabriel a horrible trauma that will leave lasting psychological scars in ripping him away from the only family he has ever known and sending him to a family that he not only has had no contact with but which speaks a different language and lives in a different culture.

Not to mention the fact that after Gabriel is sent to Mexico, Oregon DHS will have no way to monitor Gabriel’s health, development or safety in Mexico. The panels, unlike the professionals who actually had oversight of Gabriel's care, valued abstract rules over the real little boy.

There are many good people in DHS, but apparently the people at the top don’t listen to the professionals on the ground, and so they come up with dysfunctional decisions. Unfortunately, this is one in a long string of DHS decisions that have been against the interests of the children DHS is supposed to protect. Some of those decisions have even resulted in the death of children (Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis).

The Oregonian summed up the essence of this case:

The alternative, the one chosen by two state panels that considered his case, was to send Gabriel to a country he has never known, to live with relatives who speak a language he has hardly ever heard, to be ripped from the only functioning family, and the only abiding love, he ever has known.

This decision, which we once applauded, no longer seems to us the best for Gabriel. Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Department of Health Services Director Bruce Goldberg have been doing much hand-wringing of late. They are stalling, waiting on Bryan Johnston, the new interim head of Oregon's child welfare system, to make the final call. Johnston now has the authority to overturn the earlier decision to send Gabriel to Mexico. He should do exactly that.

(emphasis mine)

The Oregonian is right. The best thing for Gabriel’s welfare is to overturn DHS’s dysfunctional decision made over the objections of the DHS professionals who actually worked with Gabriel. This would also follow the recommendation of Gabriel’s court appointed advocate.

Lars Larson deserves a lot of credit for bringing out significant facts in this case that Portland print and television media (though not the Newport News-Times) have failed to mention.

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