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Tanicia Goodwin case sparks debate on state's policies toward abused kids

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  March 27, 2012 01:44 PM

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How far should the state go to keep troubled families intact?

The shocking allegations against Tanicia Goodwin, the Salem mother accused of slashing the throats of her two children and then setting their apartment on fire, has raised questions about the state's handling of her case. Child protection workers had returned the older of the children to Goodwin's custody in 2010.

Globe columnist Lawrence Harmon argued that the state places too much emphasis on reuniting children and parents. "Some families simply aren’t worthy of preservation," he said. Instead, more children should be placed in orphanages.

Goodwin poses a severe test to the underlying family preservation philosophy of the state Department of Children and Families, the agency charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect. The agency sees its mission not only as physical protection but as making “every reasonable effort’’ to keep family units intact. That mission reflects, in part, the social work profession’s decades-long bias against long-term institutional care. But it also reflects a simplistic view of orphanages as some Dickensian throwback where little kids go begging for bowls of gruel. What social workers should fear instead is the isolation of the Salem public housing unit where, according to police, Goodwin tried to kill her children.

Joanna Weiss took the opposite view. No system is perfect, she writes, but on balance keeping kids with their parents is still the best policy.

What if the system works, the rules are followed, the risks are correctly assessed, and something still goes terribly, tragically wrong?

This is a cold reality of the child welfare system: It is a matter of calculated risk, built around risk-laden lives.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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