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OPENING FAMILY COURT WILL HELP CHILDREN

I was so pleased to read that Family Court will now be more accessible to the public and the media. I believe this is an important step toward safeguarding the children of New York State, particularly victims of child abuse and neglect.

And I must take issue with a statement made by law guardian Donna Castiglione, who said in a Sept. 13 News article that the new regulations are "not at all going to protect children."

The primary reasons that a more open Family Court will give children added protection are accountability and education.

Public scrutiny of the way child abuse and neglect cases are handled by Social Services, law guardians and judges is our only means of monitoring how well our legal and social systems are functioning.

Are the children well-represented? How are their best interests determined? How much weight is given to their best interests in judicial decisions?

Ask any foster parent how many times he has met a law guardian assigned to one of his foster children. While there are certainly law guardians who are doing exceptional work on behalf of children, some are seen only in court and never even meet the children whom they are supposed to represent.

Many parents are afraid to speak out on behalf of their foster children. Bound by laws of confidentiality, they feel powerless to act when their foster child is returned to a potentially dangerous physical or damaging psychological situation.

Some have learned through experience that when they attempt to protect their foster children, they are accused by Social Services of having a private agenda toward adoption or of becoming "over-involved."

Tragically, the result of their speaking out is sometimes the removal of the child from their home by Social Services.

We all recognize the tremendous load our courts and our caseworkers bear. I applaud the efforts they are making -- for their job is certainly difficult and at times, frightening in its immense responsibility.

However, making Family Court more accessible should not be viewed as a threat or an attack by those who work within it. Rather, it should be viewed as a vital key in educating the public on the complex issues involved in child abuse and neglect, and how these issues are dealt with in court.

The better informed we are, the better we can gear public policies and budgets toward increasing the protection of children. We need to improve their opportunities to live in safe, permanent families and decrease the time these children spend in foster-care limbo.

Andrea Caruso, R.N.
Niagara Falls

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