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The death of a child is always tragic. When it could have been prevented, it's appalling.

Appalling, in fact, may be too mild a word to describe what happened to 22-month-old Jaymaya Auls, who was in the custody of her foster mother, Arthurlein Holcomb. The woman is charged with killing the little girl. The toddler's tiny right arm had been twisted so hard that it fractured. She had teeth marks on her arms and legs and scars around her neck. Her forehead was bruised, her gums bloodied and three of her ribs broken.

If that's not disgusting enough, consider this: The county apparently ignored credible warnings that the girl had been abused.

As outlined by News reporter Jay Tokasz, county Child Protective Services received a report in August of abuse of Jaymaya and her three-year-old sister, Kayshonna. The report was made by a local day care center director, but investigators chose not to remove the children from the foster home. Making a bad matter worse, the day after the abuse report was made, Holcomb pulled the two girls out of the center, the director said.

Someone, and perhaps more than one person, in the protective services department needs to be told to find another line of work. No one disputes the size of the caseload faced by these workers, but when a day care director files a report of abuse, and county workers fail to even notice the obvious signs of mistreatment, someone is not doing his job. In this case, the carelessness turned fatal. There simply is no excuse.

The Department of Social Services, at the direction of the county executive's office, has launched a full investigation.

As Deputy County Executive Carl Calabrese said, "Obviously something went seriously wrong. It needs to be identified, so that it never happens again. Whatever the problem, personnel or procedure, it has to be eliminated and fixed."

Foster care is a broken system that continues to sag under the weight of too much demand and too few qualified foster parents -- in part because of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act that took effect in 1997. That act sped up the adoption process, and as more foster children left the system, their foster parents also dropped out of the system. In addition, many families are unwilling to take children with health and emotional difficulties, although they make up an increasing percentage of the foster care caseload.

Foster care recruiters contend that such tragic incidents are rare. Jaymaya was the first child since 1993 to be killed while in an Erie County foster home. In comparison, 62 children across the country died as a result of alleged maltreatment by foster parents between 1996 and 2000. Still, one child who dies while in the care of a so-called responsible adult is one too many.

For it to happen after officials charged with the safety of those children are warned of abuse, and then ignore the warning, is intolerable.

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