Lives on Layaway: Faltering system makes fatal mistakes

Date: 1998-05-21

By the 1990s, overburdened juvenile court judges and child welfare workers were making fatal errors both ways. They returned children to unstable parents. They entrusted children to foster parents who shouldn't be allowed to watch houseplants. Children died as a result:

In Chicago in 1993, Amanda Wallace, a mentally ill woman, hung her 3-year-old son, Joey Wallace, with an extension cord after social workers returned him to her.

The following year, in Pittsburgh, a man with a criminal record beat his 2-year-old daughter, Shawntee Ford, to death a month after a judge turned her over to him.

The next year, in New York, even though caseworkers supposedly were routinely checking on a mother known to be abusive, she beat her 5-year-old daughter, Elisa Izquierdo, to death.

But at the same time, foster parents sexually assaulted, brutalized and killed children placed in their care:

A Pittsburgh man punched to death his 2-year-old foster child, Michael Wendt, in 1991.

A man in Bradenton, Fla., in 1995 starved and beat to death 7-year-old Lucas Ciambrone, whom he'd taken as a foster child then was permitted to adopt despite misgivings expressed by a social worker, medical and school officials and neighbors.

The following year, in Philadelphia, foster parents who were supposed to adopt 8-year-old Tara M. tortured her for months and then nearly burned her to death with boiling water.

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