Moira O'Neill


The state’s new child advocate officer has issued her first report. She concludes that the state (including family courts) errs too much on the side of parental rights, to the detriment of the children. Her concern should be carefully considered. A word of caution, however.

We have seen the pendulum swing too far in regard to this important issue. The state has let children stay in harm’s way with abusive parents. The state has then changed its laws and stance, and some state players overreact and punish parents (and ultimately their children) simply for being too strict.

We have also seen instances where state caseworkers have been derelict in their duty, allowing abusive parents to be alone with children, whom they then abuse.

The advocate says the state needs a better system for non-parental care, so that the Division of Children, Youth, and Families is not the primary caregiver. This makes sense. The advocate and state officials would be wise to listen to foster care families to make sure that red tape doesn’t hold up the process.

The advocate wants a lot more caseworkers. Democrats, now leading the Legislature, demand the same. But neither points out that current caseworker positions are vacant because of the overall worker shortage.

We are a bit leery, too, of national standards, which allegedly recommend no more than 12 cases per worker. Has research really proved this out? Or is this more of the same we see with other public sectors in which each cites someone, somewhere paying more money and more staffing and demands the same?

Child Advocate Moira O’Neill, it seems to us, is making it clear early that she is advocating for children.

We may not agree with all her recommendations, but good for her for challenging the status quo.