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Thursday, April 6th, 2016

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Since the time of Charles Dickens, the plight of children in state custody has been the source of great public anxiety. In the almost 200 years since Oliver Twist was published, many of us think of starving children immortalized by young Oliver who received a beating for asking, “Please sir, may I have some more?”

Or we imagine kids slipping into a life of crime like the Artful Dodger to escape constant abuse.

How much have things improved in Louisiana? Not so much if you look closely at recent stories about the State Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Tom Aswell of Louisiana Voice, examined the file of the case worker arrested for falsely reporting her visits to foster homes amid claims by others that supervisors instructed them to do “drive-by” visits and see foster parents in the driveway, instead of the mandated in-home visits with both foster parent and child interviewed separately.

First we saw drive-by funeral homes that allowed mourners to pause three minutes to grieve a loved one through a window before moving on. Was this the model for the Jindal administration to make sure children are safe in foster care? Seriously?

This might be laughable unless you consider the recent popular book– Familiar Evil by Rannah Gray — the chilling story about Baton Rouge TV personality Scott Rogers, who played DCFS like a fine-tuned fiddle. Rogers, arrested for sexual abuse of a 12-year-old boy in England more than 20 years ago, managed to get a hung jury after his defense attorney grilled the young victim on the stand for five days and paraded 17 character witnesses for Rogers. His defenders were those in law enforcement, non-profit organizations and children’s programs — not unlike the cast of friends he assembled in Baton Rouge. The problem was, as Gray’s book reveals, Rogers was sexually abusing many boys who were students at a performing arts academy where he was principal.

After the trial, Rogers fled England for the U.S. in the late 1990s, arrived in Baton Rouge and began fostering and adopting young boys in his home to be cared for by two adult males from the U.K. who had also been sexually abused by Rogers from the age of 12. Rogers simply went to a public Louisiana website, picked out a photo of the boy he wanted to adopt and set it in motion.

You might ask how this could happen. Were the DCFS workers doing drive-by visits to his Neverland on the Bayou home? If they were, it may have been to notify him of the award DCFS gave him for being a model adoptive parent. Or to let him know that a Louisiana U.S. Senator and the DCFS Secretary would personally honored him at the awards ceremony. Because that is what happened.

Now Governor John Bel Edwards has no money, but a transition report that seems to take notice of the Scott Rogers case that made international headlines, along with the cries for help by children’s advocates. First, the transition team called for a change in leadership from the top down. They also called for DCFS to examine how it used confidentiality to avoid even the slightest bit of transparency.

And that goes to the heart of how a story like Familiar Evil and a child predator like Scott Rogers happened in Louisiana. The state couldn’t release any information on Rogers being a foster parent because that would violate confidentiality policies. But it could parade him before the public flanked by a United States Senator and a member of the Governor’s cabinet and proclaim him a model citizen.

Perhaps instead of planning an awards ceremony, the staff should have been making some mandated home visits.

It’s clear we have a government system responsible for protecting children that is completely broken. It needs significant reform or we will continue turning out damaged children who turn to drugs, crime or violence. The problem isn’t unique to Louisiana, or even to the U.S.

When is the last time you heard a legislator arguing that we need to spend more to make sure children aren’t being sexually abused in foster care? April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month. Louisiana government officials should take note of the plight of children who have no one to stand up for them, and promise to do more.

Peace and justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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