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Friday, December 05, 2008

Foster care protester knows pain of losing a child

Foster care protester knows pain of losing a child

Valissa Reynolds and Rob Whitman mourn the loss of their 2-month-old son, Robert Whitman Jr. The infant died Oct. 2 while in the custody of foster parents, just two days after being removed from his parents. Whitman cradles the infant’s teddy bear. The child’s ashes are contained in a tiny angel on the table next to him.
Foster Parents Call for Foster Care Overhaul

Some foster parents are demanding an overhaul of the foster care system. They met in Milwaukee Wednesday to protest the beating death of a baby in foster care last month.
Rebecca Welk organized the protest in front of the child welfare office on the city's south side. Welk is a former foster mother who's outraged by the death of Christopher Thomas. The 13-month-old baby died in early November, after being severely beaten. His foster mother -- who was also his aunt -- is accused of causing his death. Welk also blames the boy's social worker, saying she failed to recognize signs of ongoing abuse.

"In Christopher's case the woman did not do her job. She is -- as far as I'm concerned -- she's as much at fault as the foster parent. She needs to be punished for what she did," Welk says.

Welk says she's witnessed numerous problems with the foster care system over the years, and feels it's finally time to take action. She and the other protesters say they're demanding justice for Christopher and for any other children who've been abused while in foster care.

The protesters are circulating a petition, spelling out what "justice" means for them. Foster mother Donna Pluta-Eisenmann read from the document: "...that the abuser is punished to the full extent of the law and serves the full sentence..."

Pluta-Eisenmann says the group has other demands, including improved training of foster care workers, and better screening of foster homes.

"There are so many unfit foster parents that shouldn't be fostering, because these children go into these foster homes and they're being abused, they're being neglected, they're going from one bad situation into another bad situation and that's not fair to this child," Pluta-Eisenmann says.

Cyrus Behroozi heads the state division that oversees the foster care system and the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. He's sympathetic to the protesters.

"We've had a terrible, terrible tragedy in Milwaukee County. We first have to acknowledge that we've had a terrible tragedy. We respect the public's right to let their opinions be heard and we will listen to and work with that public and that community to do the best job that we can," Behroozi says.

Behroozi admits that there have been problems with some foster care workers and some foster families. He says his division is continually working to improve the system and to keep foster children safe. Behroozi promises to find out what went wrong in the Christopher Thomas case.

"We're going to be looking at this particular case in a way that we never have before, utilizing members of the community -- professionals in the community -- so that if there is any way that we can do a better job for kids we will continue to drive for improvements for children in Milwaukee County," Behroozi says.

One person who'll be waiting for answers is Rebecca Welk, who organized the protest.

"I have a big mouth, I'm not afraid to use it, they can slam doors in my face, I will keep knocking until somebody opens it and talks to me, that's all I can do," Welk says.

Welk says she's so dedicated to this cause because she adopted a baby girl who was removed from her parents after being severely abused.

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