Web Log

March 13, 2007

How many paths must a boy walk down, before they call him a man?
How many times must a suitcase be packed, before it can be left to stand,
And how many times must the chattel laws apply, before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years must a mountain exist, before it is washed to the sea?
How many years must a placement exist, before they're allowed to be free?
And how many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many times must a man look up, before he can see the sky?
How many ears must one man have, before he can hear children cry?
And how many deaths will it take till we know, that too many children have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind.

 

February 9, 2007

TVW:

House Early Learning & Children's Servic House Early Learning & Children's Servic
February 09, 2007
Public: HB 1333 (concerning child welfare protections), HB 1334, HB 1335, HB 1425, HB 1624 (reinstating parental rights for adolescents in state care); Executive: Bills previously heard in committee.

 
Windows Media listen | watch   Real Media listen

KOMO TV4 Interview: http://www.komotv.com/news/5732701.html?video=pop&t=a

Live! From Seattle with Thor Tolo: Interview

 

1:30:00 PM   Joint Task Force on Child Safety
Work Session: Overview of Child Welfare System and Child Fatality Reviews, Task Force Organization.

 
Windows Media  Windows Media Real Media  Real Audio      

 

May 17, 2005

Gov. Gregoire signed HB 5922 today - the Justice and Raiden Act.

Here is the press release: http://www.governor.wa.gov/news/news-view.asp?pressRelease=40&newsType=2

This is another big step.  We've lost too many kids.  We are finally waking up.  This law means that the department can take action when they see chronic neglect that detrimental to a child's welfare.

 

May 13, 2005

Governor Christine Gregoire signed HB 2156 today - the Sirita's Law Task Force Bill.

Here is the Governor's Office press release: http://www.governor.wa.gov/news/news-view.asp?pressRelease=84&newsType=1

I met with the Governor for a few moments before the bill signing, with Rep. Ruth Kagi.  We looked through my photos of Sirita and I shared a few stories.  The Governor thanked me for my work and affirmed, “These kinds of tragedies happen far too often.  We should give parents a chance, but there comes a time to let the best interests of the child win out.”

She then signed the law and gave me the pen.  This is a big step forward.  There is such strong support for this now.  Nobody wants to lose any more children.

Afterwards I said a few words to the press and thanks the Governor.  She shook my hand, and then gave me a hug.  I also thanked Rep. Kagi for making this happen, and we hugged, too.

Unlike most bills, 2156 has no waiting period.  It went into effect as soon as the Governor signed it.  Now the members of the task force must be selected and we need to start meeting.

Thanks to everyone that has helped this issue get this far.  We will move this forward, and next year see a signing ceremony we can truly celebrate.

 

May 11, 2005

Robin Arnold-Williams, the new Secretary of DSHS, met with me today.  We met twice before, briefly, but this was the first time I had been in her office.  We had a good discussion about the proposals.  She said she would be on the task force personally.  "This isn't the sort of thing you can delegate.  It's too important."  I appreciated hearing her experience in Utah, and I was glad to give my perspective as a foster dad.  I felt very encouraged talking to her.

I showed her a post to the guest book yesterday, from a foster mom named Teneille, who gave a baby back to the birth mom only to have it returned black and blue.  I said I get a lot of e-mails like this and I honestly don't know what to do with them.  People hope I can help them, and all I can do is say I will pray for you and please contact your representatives and the Ombudsman.  She found the story as disturbing as I did.  She wanted to know if people didn't know about the Ombudsman, or if they didn't find it responsive.  I said I think most people don't even know it is there.

If you feel your child is at risk and your social worker is not addressing your concerns, here is the contact information.

Contacting the Ombudsman

6720 Fort Dent Way, Suite 240
Mail Stop TT-99
Tukwila, WA 98188
(206) 439-3870 • 1-800-571-7321 • (206) 439-3789/TTY • (206) 439-3877/FAX

Web site: http://www.governor.wa.gov/ofco/index.htm

 

She also wanted to know if foster parents felt supported.  I said we get lots of flyers in the mail for meetings I never attend, which is my own fault, but I think it mirrors the experience of others.  My wife attends more meetings than I do.

She said she was glad that representatives from the judicial branch would be on the task force, because it does no good to pass laws if the courts go around them.

On my drive back, my cell phone rang.  It was the governor's office, informing me that the signing ceremony for HB 2156 would be Friday, at 1:45pm.

 

May 10, 2005

Lots of people stopped by my table on Saturday at the Keep Kids Safe event.  I gave out over a hundred flyers, and 30 signed up for my e-mail mailing list.  Thanks to everyone that stopped by.  I enjoyed talking to all the kids that came by, too.  Not everyone takes kids seriously.  I do.  Kids care about kids.  This is a long term struggle.  It's not just about changing a law, it's a sea change in how we as a society think about children's rights.  I am optimistic that we can make a change now, or I wouldn't be doing what I am, but I recognize that long term, you kids are more important to changing society than any of us adults.  What physicist Max Plank said about science is generally true about any new idea:

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar to it."

Regardless of your youth, there all lots of things you can do.

 

May 4, 2005

The sentencing of Heather Ewell has been postponed until June 28, at 1pm.  The reason is that prosecution requested more time to complete the impact statement, and the defense wanted more time for psych evaluation.

--

If you missed my interview on KCTS Connects April 21, you can watch the streaming video with Windows Media Player: http://xpstream.winisp.net/siritalaw/KCTS.wmv

I will post it in other formats soon.

 

May 3, 2005

There has been a lull since the end of the legislative session.  Which is good, in a way; I don't think I could keep up that level of activity much longer.  There are many things happening this month.  To start, May has been declared Foster Care Awareness Month by Gov. Gregoire.  Here's my agenda for the month:

May 7 - Keep Kids Summer Safe at Seattle Center House, 11am - 3pm.  Admission is free.  It's another chance to get the message out, so I will be there with a table.  If you want to come help, let me know.  The event is sponsored by the Washington Council to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect.

May 11 - Private meeting with our new DSHS Secretary Robin Arnold-Williams.

May 12 - Heather Ewell will be sentenced in Snohomish County Superior Court.  If you wish to write a letter to the court regarding the sentencing, you can e-mail the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Craig Matheson: cmatheson@co.snohomish.wa.us.

May 13 - Governor Christine Gregoire will sign HB 2156 to create a Task Force bill to make recommendations to the legislature on the Sirita Law.  I'll get a chance to speak with Gov. Gregoire prior to the signing and share my memories of Sirita.

May 17 - Gov. Gregoire will speak at a State Capitol ceremony recognizing the work done by foster parents.  Here is the press release from DSHS: http://www1.dshs.wa.gov/mediareleases/2005/pr05111.shtml.  Note her reference to the Kids Come First reforms:

 

6,000 Foster Parents Earn Special Recognition During May

Olympia - Recognizing the commitment foster parents make to ensure a better life for abused and neglected children, Gov. Christine Gregoire has proclaimed May as Foster Care Month in Washington.

On any given day in the state, about 6,000 licensed foster parents are providing safety and security to about 8,000 children whose parents are unable care for them.

“Each day, foster parents, social workers, police officers, child advocates and others work to bring to life the promise that Kids Come First,” Gregoire said. “Daily they strive to do one of the most complex and emotional jobs imaginable - reclaiming young lives too often given up as lost – providing hope to those lives where so little hope seems to exist.”

Gov. Gregoire will speak May 17 at a State Capitol ceremony recognizing the work done by foster parents. Foster parents from across the state will attend the event. The ceremony is sponsored by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

The event will take place at 10 a.m. in the Columbia Room of the Legislative Building. Foster parents, social workers and foster children will speak.

The Governor will wear a blue ribbon, part of the national Blue Ribbon Campaign sponsored by Casey Family Programs, a national child welfare organization based in Washington state. The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the need for foster parents throughout the country.

The Governor said that someone does not have to be a foster parent to support a child in care or to support one of their caregivers. An innovative new program in Thurston County matches big brothers and big sisters with children in foster care.

“As a parent of two children, I know how important it is to have a supportive and caring environment in which children can grow and thrive,” she said. “Children need many caring adults in their lives. The possibilities to support children and their caregivers are limited only by our desire to do so.”

For more information about foster parenting, visit the DSHS foster parenting
website and the Washington State Heart Gallery website.

 

May 1, 2005

Christ is Risen!

Today is Orthodox Easter.  If you've never been to an Orthodox Easter service, you should try it once.  We celebrate by attending a church at 10 o'clock Saturday night, because Christ is risen at the stroke of midnight.  The priest emerges from the church with a big candle that represents the Resurrection, and he lights the candles of those standing nearby.  They in turn light the candles of their neighbors, as light spreads out from the church, person to person, symbolic of the spread of the gospel.  Everyone walks around the church three times in a candlelight procession, and then the priest bangs on the door three times to enter the church, symbolic of the risen Christ entering glory.  The greeting from now until Pentecost is "Christ is Risen!"  The response is, "He is risen indeed!"  The service goes on until 2 or 3 in the morning, after which there is a big feast.  Lamb is the main course.  Everyone has been fasting for Lent, so it is a big celebration.  Nobody gets to bed before 4 or 5 in the morning.

Sirita came with us regularly to church, including Easter services.  She didn't understand the liturgy, but she liked lighting candles and playing with the other children.  The priest was very kind to her.  He blessed her many times, touching her head with oil.  I taught Sunday School.  Every Sunday we had songs, a Bible story, and a craft.  We got very creative in Sunday School - after I told the Bible story, I assigned parts and the kids would act out the story.  Sirita was shy about taking parts, preferring group parts, such as "the crowd" or "the vineyard workers."

Saturday before Easter we all take naps.  Even so, Sirita and the other children would lay down and fall asleep in the church pews during the Service.  A friend in the church gave Sirita a stuffed Easter bunny.  During the feast, we taught her the game all children play in Orthodox countries, tapping colored eggs together to see which one breaks.  You hold out your egg to your neighbor and say, "Christ is Risen!"  Your neighbor replies, "He is risen indeed!" and taps your egg with his.  Whichever egg doesn't break is the winner.  A trip around the table usually produces a champion egg.  :Sirita liked eating the eggs, but she liked the game even more, cracking a lot of eggs she didn't want to eat.  :)  There was also plenty of candy for the kids.  On the way home she fell asleep in the car.  We put her to bed, and none of us woke up until nearly noon on Sunday.

These memories are bittersweet, strangely comforting.  Mingled with tears, I smile remembering how she was.  To Protestants, it sounds odd bringing children to church in the middle of the night.  But these traditions are part of who we are as a family.  When you bring a child into your home, you make them part of that life.  Foster care isn't some juvenile hotel service; it's about opening your heart and your home, giving a child a safe place to be and the best experience you can as an important part of your family, no matter how transitory.

Easter is about new life and the hope of resurrection.  Sirita, I know you are out there, somewhere, and you know how much we love you and how much we miss you.  Easter tells me I will see you again.  I hang on to that day.  It is my sanity in all of this.  You have moved so many people who never even met you.  They will greet you on that day, too, and say, "So you're Sirita."

He is risen indeed.

 

April 24, 2005

I stand corrected - I incorrectly stated that "reasonable use of corporal punishment"  was part of SB 5922, when in fact it is already part of current law.  I regret the error and I have edited it out of the April 23 web log.  SB 5922, The Justice and Raiden Act, is a tremendous step forward and I am very happy that it passed.  Thank you to everyone that called their legislators.

--

Having said that, let me say then that current law contains a clause that abuse cannot be based solely on "reasonable use of corporal punishment."  This is troubling.  I understand the intent.  If the parent has done nothing more than give a single swat on the butt with a bare hand, then an accusation of child abuse may be an overreaction.  However, how do we define "reasonable use?"  This is one more example of asking social workers to play lawyer in making that determination.  This is dangerous.  Many feel that no form of corporal punishment is reasonable. Others may see this as legal license to whack kids.

This not only allows individual interpretation, it actually requires it.  I doubt that the legislature could come up with a legal definition for "reasonable use of corporal punishment" that everyone would agree on.  And if we can't come up with a legal definition, how do we expect the case workers to do so?

--

This week is National Shaken Baby Awareness Week.  I mentioned Denise Isings before in this log; she has been a tireless crusader for this cause ever since she lost her grandson, Kaden.  The "Keep Kids Safe" license plates have imprints of Kaden's hands taken when he was brought to the hospital.  The money raised goes to fund education for new parents.  Check out their video on the WCPCAN website, Have A Plan.  Also check out The National Shaken Baby Coalition website.

 

April 23, 2005

Now dubbed The Justice and Raiden Act, SB 5922 made its final passage in the Senate today.  Thank you to everyone that called in support of it!  This comes just in time, as the legislative session ends tomorrow.

In its original form, 5922 was a much smaller bill that required DSHS to notify a parent of the allegations against him or her during an investigation of child abuse or neglect.

It was amended in the House to expand the definition of child abuse or neglect to include chronic and cumulative effects of a pattern of conduct, behavior, or inaction, that evidences a serious disregard of consequences, and was renamed after the Robinson boys who starved to death even though their home had been visited by Child Services multiple times.  The amendment was largely based on an earlier bill sponsored by Rep. Dickerson, who also proposed the amendment.

This bill is a huge step forward.  It now means that we can step in when we see chronic patterns of abuse or neglect.

The bill does not come into effect until January 1, 2006.  This is to allow the State time to consider the ramifications and cost of what is, after all, a fairly huge change, and develop policies.  As always, I worry about the kids that can't wait that long.  But in part, I know we may need that time.

 

April 21, 2005

Three months ago today.  It hardly seems possible.  Has it been three months already?  I miss you, baby.  But I know, somewhere in heaven, you are saying right now, "I'm not a baby!"  :)  To which I always replied, "but you're my baby."

--

NEWS STORIES:

Two big news stories today.  I was handed a photocopy of the story about the children tied up in their garage when I arrived at KCTS studios for KCTS Connects.  I broke down in the green room.  It's all personal to me now.

I also heard about the resignation of the head of the Children's Administration when KCPQ News called me for a comment.  I never knew Uma Ahluwalia, so I can't say if this was good or bad, but I can say we have lost too many children by serious errors.  Some change does need to happen.

Here are the news links from the Komo 4 News website:

Woman Arrested For Tying Up 2 Kids
BONNEY LAKE - Police were called to a home in Bonney Lake to check out reports of muffled screaming and found a 9- and 10-year old bound -- one gagged -- in their garage.

Gregoire Accepts Resignation Of Child Welfare Chief
Uma Ahluwalia, hired just 19 months ago to oversee the agency, had reportedly overspent her budget.

--

I had a brief telephone conversation with Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson today, about SB 5922.  It sounds like the concurrence committees have worked out the details and they have a version that will pass the Senate.  First the Senate had to send it back to the House by refusing the original amendments, but she believes the amendments then passed by the House today will pass the Senate tomorrow.

However, it's not over till it's over, so please call your senators and let's be sure.  It's a toll free call: 1-800-562-6000.  Tell them to protect our children by passing 5922 with the House amendment.

--

Tonight I was a guest on  KCTS Connects, along with Jon Flora, CEO of Childhaven, to discuss Child Abuse Prevention Month.  I met Jon in the green room before the show.  He invited me to tour their facility and see their treatment program for abused children.  Jon talked, in part, about the Crisis Nursery at Childhaven for parents that need help.  After the show, I told him that Crisis Nursery was how I started as a foster parent.  Sometimes parents just need a break.

Jon makes a good point that public policy needs to be intergenerational; the programs needed to save lives are expensive, but so are the costs of prisons, which is where many of these children are headed if we don't do something now.  This kind of public policy requires politicians capable of planning very long term, far beyond the next election.

Thank you, Enrique and Susan, for helping to raise awareness tonight.

--

I also saw this event on the Childhaven website.  It sounds like a fun fundraiser.  I hope it helps them care for more children.

Childhaven’s 7th Annual Butterfly Tea & Fashion Show
Sunday, May 1st, 2005 from 1:30 - 3:30 pm
At The Fairmont Olympic Hotel in the Spanish Ballroom

 

April 20, 2005

We have concurrence for HB 2156, the task force bill.  The final passage of the bill was achieved in the House today, again with a unanimous vote.  Thank you to everyone that called in support of this bill.  I will find out tomorrow when it will be signed by the Governor.

--

I will be a guest on KCTS Connects tomorrow night, Thursday, April 21.  The show starts at 8:00pm; I will be on the second half, starting at 8:30pm.  Appearing with me will be Jon Flora, CEO of Childhaven.  We will be there in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

I will also be at the "Voices of the Children" event at 6pm held by Washington State CASA, but I will have to duck out early so that I can make the interview on KCTS on time.

 

April 19, 2005

I periodically check the progress of the task force bill, HB2156, to see if we finally have concurrence, and when it will go to the Governor.  I checked it this morning and my heart skipped a beat:

-- IN THE HOUSE --
Apr 18 House refuses to concur in Senate amendments. Asks Senate to recede from amendments.

It turns out that sending it back to the Senate was actually requested by the Senate committee, to amend the membership of the task force to include representation from Washington's Native American tribes.  It has been so amended, and now goes back to the House again.

--

You may remember Cirila Bucio, who testified for us before the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.  Her four year old foster daughter, who had been with her since birth, had just been returned to her mother, who admitted hitting her on the head, putting her in a coma.  At the time, she was still in coma at Harborview and the foster parents were denied permission to see her.

She told us that the little girl said repeatedly that her mother hit her during her visits, but the social worker said she didn't believe her.  Apparently she did not report it.

It is good to hear that the child is now out of a coma, and her foster parents have been named guardians.  The birth mother is charged assault.  Click the Seattle PI news links below for more details.

Batted 4-year-old out of coma, talking
Thursday, April 14, 2005 · Last updated 9:10 a.m. PT. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. SEATTLE - A 4-year-old girl from Yakima hospitalized with severe head injuries after allegedly being assaulted by her mother has emerged from a coma at Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center. Sandra Lynn Soto was speaking and showing other signs of improvement after nearly three weeks in a coma
Last modified: April 14, 2005
 
 
Child hospitalized after being with birth parents
Thursday, April 14, 2005. SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER STAFF. A 4-year-old girl was hospitalized in Seattle with severe head injuries after state social workers returned the child to the home of her biological parents. Sandra Lynn Soto lay in a coma for about three weeks between March and April after medics found her unconscious, covered in bruises and suffering mult
Last modified: April 13, 2005

Cirila, our prayers are with you.  I hope your little one makes a speedy recovery.

 

April 18, 2005

There are several new links on the links page.  Check it out.

--

Sirita was with Magda in the computer room one evening when Magdalena called for me, "Sweetie!"  Sirita imitated my voice and replied, "yes my dear."  A moment later I appeared in the door.  "Yes my dear?"  I found them both cracking up.  I didn't realize I was so predictable.  But it's good she learned we say nice things to each other.

--

Sirita liked yoghurt.  She wanted the Yoplait Whips.  She liked any flavor, but was partial to lime.  She liked fresh fruits and vegetables, but sometimes you had to work a little to get her to eat other things.  I asked her, "Can you eat like a dinosaur?"  I would roll my head around and roar, and then chomp my mouth down on my fork or spoon.  She thought that was fun, and sometimes it worked to get her to eat.

One day Magda made homemade soup.  Sirita had never seen it before, and she didn't want to try it.  I told her it was Magda's special magic soup.  "Look what happens when I eat a carrot."  I took a spoonful of soup with a carrot in it, ate it, then blinked my eyes rapidly going, "Bing-Bing-Bing-Bing!"  "Now look what happens when I eat one of these!"  I took something else, threw my hands in the air, and went, "WHOOGA! WHOOGA!"  "Wow, you should try this!"  Before long she and I were eating and making lots of funny noises.  She decided she liked magic soup.

 

April 16, 2005

I haven't written much lately.  With the legislative session winding down, I needed to focus more attention at work, and this has also been tax time.

Since this is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I've been trying to put together a candle light prayer vigil service for all the victims of abuse - remembering those we've lost, and praying for those children currently abused.  I haven't had much luck finding a venue.  If your church or place of worship would be willing to host one, drop me a line.  It's important that we keep up public awareness of this issue.

Washington State CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is hosting an event titled "Voices of the Children" this Thursday, April 21, 2005, at 7pm in Seattle's Town Hall.  Dave Pelzer, a well know child advocate, will be speaking.  The event will be hosted by KING 5's Lori Matsukawa.  I plan to attend.  Tickets are $15.  Click on the link for more information.

--

I had hoped the Sirita's love of looking at the stars would turn into a love for astronomy.  I hoped one day to teach her the constellations.  There's no way to know, of course, what will catch a child's interest.  You just expose them to as much as you can, encourage them, and let them chase their own dreams.  We knew she was smart.  We believed she was going to college.  I looked into the possibility of opening a Coverdell Educational fund for her.  The money I wanted to put there was what I donated instead to create the Sirita Memorial Fund at Children's Home Society, to help other at-risk children, especially foster and abused children.

That's one reason why I support the educational fund listed below.  I hope people will donate generously to it and to the Sirita Memorial Fund.

--

We used to give Sirita Flintstone vitamins.  I made the mistake of giving her a choice - a mistake because she always asked for the purple ones, and refused the others.  Soon we had a bottle two thirds full of reds and yellows that she wouldn't eat.  Inspiration struck - I told her what we had were gold and pink vitamins.  Suddenly they were more interesting!  She would eat the gold and pink ones.  So you see - it's all marketing!

 

April 13, 2005

HB1050    An Act Relating to the Creation of a Foster Care Endowed Scholarship Program

Passed unanimous in the Senate!

Call your senators and representatives and say thank you.  It's obvious the legislature recognizes we need to take better care of our foster kids.  You don't get more bipartisan than unanimous.

$150,000 is appropriated from the State general fund for 2006, but it is only put into the endowment in increments of $25,000 matching funds when $25,000 of private funds have been donated.  I'll post the information when I find out where and how individuals can make donations.  If your employer also matches your contribution, that would effectively quadruple the impact of your generosity.

 

April 12, 2005

IMPORTANT EDUCATIONAL LEGISLATION FOR FOSTER KIDS:

Several bills relating to college cash have been introduced this session.

HB1408    An Act Related to Individual Development Accounts

Brief Summary of Bill
  • Authorizes an Individual Development Account (IDA) program to assist low-income individuals and foster youth.

One can open an IDA on behalf of a foster child.  The money will grow tax free and can be used tax free to go to college, buy a house, pay for health care, or pay for job needs.  By coincidence, this bill was heard by the House Appropriations Committee on the same night as my bill, HB2156.  While I was waiting to testify, I saw the paperwork on this bill in the hallway, thumbed through it, and recognized it as a great idea.  Although I didn't testify for it, I did sign in, in support of it.  I generally like bills that help people help themselves.

Status: Passed the House and Senate, and headed back to the House for concurrence.

 

SB5084/HB1079    Regarding postsecondary education and training support for foster youth

Brief Summary of Bill
  • Creates a foster youth postsecondary education and training coordination committee within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
  • Requires the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) to place a priority on former foster youth for receipt of financial aid awards under the State Need Grant program and the State Work Study program.

Status: Passed the House and Senate, and heading to the Governor for a signature!

 

HB1050    An Act Relating to the Creation of a Foster Care Endowed Scholarship Program

Brief Summary of Bill
  • Creates an endowed scholarship program administered by the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) for foster care youth and former foster care youth ages 16 to 23 years.

Sets aside $150,000 from the general fund for college bound foster kids.

Status: Passed the House, and just passed Rules today in the Senate.  Heading to the Senate floor for a vote.

 

ACTION NEEDED: Please write or e-mail your senator to support this on the Senate floor.

Here is the e-mail I sent to my senator, Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, today.  As the Minority leader he is on the Rules Committee, so I wanted to give him my thanks for passing this as well as voice my support for it:

Hi, I want to voice my support for 1050. I see it was placed on the second reading by Rules today - thank you!

As you know, a children that grow up as wards of the state are very disadvantaged. Most of us had parents that helped us well into our young adult years. I can't imagine getting through college without my parents giving me money and a place to do my laundry. After college, they gave me a place to stay while I looked for work. Even now, I turn to my parents when I need help or just good advice. It's a very important support system that children that grow up in the foster care system don't have.

College money won't replace two loving parents. As you know, I think the real solution is getting kids out of the system in the first place. But in the meantime, there are some kids out there we can help with educational money, so I support that.

Thanks again,

 

April 8, 2005

SB 5922 passed unanimously, with the amendment by Rep. Dickerson!  Thank you all for calling your representatives.  The info on the legislative website is a little confusing, because Rep. Dickerson introduced an amendment on the House floor to replace the amendment she had previously worked out in the CFS committee, but it essentially was the same: it expands child abuse to include chronic neglect.

As we all know, a bill can sail through the House and still have trouble in the Senate, so please contact your senator now.  This bill originally passed in the Senate, but now the Senate must approve the amendment added by the House.

--

I decided to contact the Washington Council for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (WCPCAN) to see how we can cooperate, because they were tapped by the legislature to participate in the task force for Sirita's Law, and they are spearheading National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  I called Denise Isings after reading her story on their website.  She lost her grandson, Kaden, to shaken baby syndrome, which spurred her to promote special "Keep Kids Safe" license plates to fund education for new parents.  We talked for over an hour.  It was good to talk to someone that had been through this before.  Does it get any better, I asked?  She said it does; the good times get longer.  Like me, she has used her grief to fuel a campaign for change.  She will be back in town next week, and we promised to meet soon.

I then talked to Chris Jamieson and Kristen Rogers at WCPCAN.  Chris told me they will hold their annual "Keep Kids Safe" at the Seattle Center May 7th, and she offered to let me set up a table.  I will be there.  I hope many of you show up, too.

--

Visitation by Grandparents denied by the Washington State Supreme Court: http://www.komonews.com/news/story.asp?ID=36180

This is outrageous.  I called Kristie Lund this morning and told her I support what she is doing 100%.  So many grandparents are stepping into the gap for their grandchildren, doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, and then getting rug pulled out from under them by the courts.  This isn't about rights - people misunderstand what I am doing, too.  I am not pushing for a new set of "rights."  We are talking about continuity of care to reduce the trauma of displacement in the best interest of the child, no matter who was in loco parentis - grandparent, foster parent, other relative, or guardian.  Kristie had seen my story on the news, too.  As it turns out, she herself is a foster child, and still very close to her foster parents.

Read the story above, and then check out Kristie's Relatives As Parents Project website.

 

April 7, 2005

SB5922 was not voted on today, so if you haven't contacted your representative yet, please do now!  It is on the House calendar for tomorrow.  Tell your representative to support SB5922 with the amendment by Rep. Dickerson to expand the definition of child abuse to include chronic abuse and neglect.

Those who oppose the amendment do so because it will cost more to protect these at-risk children. My goodness. If we aren't willing to spend money to protect children, what are we spending money on?

--

I had another silly game Sirita thought was hilarious.  I used to grab her foot and talk into it like a microphone.  "Hello, ladies and gentlemen, I am so glad to be here today..." Then I'd make a shocked expression.  "That's a foot!"  I'd drop it and grab the other one.  "Here it is - I'm so sorry for that interruption ladies and gentlemen, as I was saying...  That's another foot!!"  She'd be laughing pretty hard at this point, so I'd grab them both and hold them like it was a bunch of microphones.  "I'd like to thank the members of the Academy, my agent, the press, my fans... THESE ARE BOTH FEET!!!"

Kids never get tired of silly games, but after about 20 times I would get tired and change the game to something else.

 

April 6, 2005

At 1:30 today HB2156 passed unanimously in the Senate, 49-0, with the striking amendment which replaces everything in the bill with the creation of a task force to study these issues and make recommendations to the Legislature.  It moves back to the House now, where the amendment will almost certainly be accepted.  I thank all the Senate and House members for taking this issue seriously and I look forward to working on the task force.

Here is the link to the floor debate.  HB2156 was the first item of business:

1:30:00 PM   Senate Floor Debate
The Washington State Senate convenes for floor debate on pending legislation in Olympia.

 
Windows Media  Windows Media Real Media  Real Audio

I want to thank especially my representatives: Rep. Larry Springer, Rep. Toby Nixon, Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, the bill sponsors: Representatives Hinkle, Kagi, Nixon, Pettigrew, McDonald, Dickerson, Pearson, Springer, Rodne, Williams, the Chair of the House Children and Family Services Committee Rep. Ruth Kagi, the Chair of the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee Sen. Jim Hargrove, and each of the members of the CFS and HSC committees for hearing the bill and all their time and hard work spent on this issue.

In related news, the major provisions of HB1482, which was considered dead after not surviving a large fiscal note, have been amended onto SB5922 which was placed on the second reading in the House. It is now on the calendar for a vote on the House floor; it is likely to be voted on today or tomorrow.
 

I support for SB5922 as amended by the House Children and Family Services Committee.  The amendment expands child abuse to include chronic neglect.  This is vitally important.  We’ve had too many children die in cases where DSHS knew there were problems, had visited multiple times, and witnessed horrendous conditions, but felt their hands tied because there wasn’t an imminent threat.  The amendment would allow intervention for the purposes of investigation when a continued pattern of neglect is observed after multiple visits.

Please contact your legislators and ask them to vote in favor of the SB5922 with the amendment proposed by CFS.

 

April 5, 2005

Today HB2156 was placed on the second reading by the Rules Committee.  It is now on the calendar of the Senate to be voted on, probably tomorrow, on the Senate floor, including the striking amendment which replaces everything in the bill with the formation of a task force to study the issues and make recommendations to the Legislature.  I expect it will pass with the amendment; which means we will have a task force but none of the Sirita's Law proposals will pass this year.  So we have more work to do.  The preliminary report is due from the task force by the end of the year, because in January the Legislature will be back in session.  To read the amendment and see the composition of the task force, click here: TASK FORCE AMENDMENT.

I have already begun working directly with some of those who were opposed to the bill to see if we can't find common ground.  Obviously I don't want children removed from homes based on false allegations, and I can't believe they want children sent back to homes where they are abused, so I hope we can come to an understanding.

--

Susan Brenner, a friend of Patricia Sotelo, Sirita's mom, has asked me to post again her e-mail address: forsiritasmom@hotmail.com.  Susan monitors this account; she will forward e-mail sent there to Patricia.  One thing I have learned in this is that each of us has our own way of grieving.  So I won't pretend I know what she is going through, although we do share some grief in common.  I will say this, that for whatever problems she has had, this is worse punishment than anyone deserves.

We can all look back at this and wonder, is there something I could have done?  Is there something, as a foster dad, that I could have done differently?  Is there something the state could have done?  Is there something that you could have done, as a citizen?  We can all look back and feel just a little bit of guilt.  There is only one person completely innocent in all this.  And that is Sirita.

 

April 2, 2005

WHITE HOUSE PRESS RELEASE: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/04/20050401-3.html

National Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2005
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Our Nation has a responsibility to build a safe and nurturing society so that our young people can realize their full potential. During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we renew our commitment to preventing child abuse and rededicate ourselves to working together to ensure that all children can have a bright and hopeful future.

Creating a protective environment for our young people requires the shared commitment of individuals, families, and faith-based and community organizations. Parents and family members are the first and most important influence in a child's life. A safe and stable family can provide children with a foundation of love and security that encourages positive growth and development. Federal, State, and local government officials can also improve the lives of our young people by doing all they can to keep children safe from harm.

Together, we can protect our future generations so that they can realize the opportunities of our Nation. By providing help and hope to our young people, we will build a better and more compassionate world for our children and grandchildren.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2005 as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. I encourage all Americans to protect our children from abuse and neglect and to help ensure that every child can grow up in a secure and loving environment.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty ninth.

GEORGE W. BUSH

 

April 1, 2005

HB2156, Sirita's Law, passed out of committee today, with a striking amendment that removes all the proposals and forms a task force instead.  Now it goes to the Senate Rules Committee and then to the Senate floor.  If they pass the bill with the amendment, it will go to the House for approval of the change.

--

The website has had technical difficulties, which is why there has been no updates for two days.  I hope that is all behind us now.  I added a few more organizations to the Links page; check them out.  If you know a site that should be listed, let me know, and if you have a website, please give us a link.

--

There was an ant colony in a tree stump in front of our house.  They never came in the house, so I left them alone.  I thought it was educational for the kids.  Sirita liked to watch them.  During the summer we would sometimes have lunch on a blanket on the lawn.  Even the most ordinary lunch seems special when you call it a picnic.  For some reason, she was afraid to step on the moss with bare feet.  Sometimes I could coax her, but she was always a little afraid.  She liked to throw the Frisbee with me.  We had a badminton net set up; Magda and I would play in the evenings.  Sirita liked playing, too, or at least waving the racket and trying to hit the birdee.

We had 2 1/2 acres with a wooded wetland in the back.  We'd go tromping back there to explore.  Magda got quite a laugh when we came out of the woods, both using walking sticks.  We saw quite a bit of wildlife.  A pair of ducks came every summer.  There were raccoons, possum, squirrels, rabbits, woodpeckers, robins, blue jays, and a deer.  One morning when we opened the door to leave the house, there was the deer standing and eating our roses.  Sirita was so excited.  "It's a reindeer!"

 

March 29, 2005

The website went down last night; sorry to those of you who tried to log on.  The server has been fixed.

The big news today is that Sirita's Law was heard today in the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee.  THANK YOU, Senator Hargrove, for hearing the bill.  We were the first item the committee heard; here is the link to the archive audio webcast:

Archived Broadcast of the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee

March 29, 2005, 10:00AM: HB2156 Sirita's Law


Windows Media  Windows Media Real Media  Real Audio

There is a strike amendment in the bill which forms a task force to study these issues further.  Sen. Hargrove asked me to be on it, and I accepted.  His concern is that proposals in the bill not have unintended consequences, and that we balance any changes in responsibility placed on the parents with controls placed on the social workers.

Also testifying in support of the bill were Crystal C. and Tonya Yanity, who have posted their stories in the Guest Book on this website, and Steven and Danielle Baxter, co-presidents of Foster Parents of Washington State.  Finally, a very special foster parent showed up, driving six hours from Yakima and braving bad pass conditions.  Cerila Bucio is the foster mom of a little girl who came to her at six weeks old, is now 4, and was just given back to her birth mother, who has admitted striking the child on the head and putting her in a coma.  Cerila wants nothing more than to see her little girl in the hospital, but has been told she has no rights.  Sirita's Law would give her that right.  After the hearing, she met with several key people from DSHS and her legislators, and I hope that she will be able to visit the girl.  The child has been in a coma for 18 days now.

--

Yesterday, I met with Sen. Hargrove in his office with Rep. Hinkle and discussed his concerns with the bill.  He told me he was going to waive the 5-day rule and hold the hearing today, and that he wanted to put together this task force to hammer out these issues, so that we can come forward with a stronger bill next year.  I told him my concerns, and spent some time showing him pictures of Sirita and talking about my memories of her.

The positive side is that we did get a hearing, we are getting a task force which I will be on, and that the bill is moving forward.  I am grateful that the senator gave us a hearing and is taking these issues seriously.  Am I disappointed that the bill will likely not make it out of committee this year?  Well, of course.  Would you have believed me if I said I wasn't?  From the beginning I knew this would take a long time, but after the bill was drafted so quickly and passed unanimously in the House, I suppose my expectations level increased.  All the supporters of this bill tell me this is very good progress, and that it would have been incredible to pass the first year.  I understand that, and I am eager to work on these issues during the interim.  But - I still worry about the kids at risk now, this very moment.  Can they wait a year?

I was also very fortunate yesterday to meet the new Secretary of DSHS, Robin Arnold-Williams.  Rep. Hinkle introduced us.  I showed her Sirita's pictures and told her my story.  I felt a real connection as we spoke.  She asked me to call her to talk further.  She told me that while she was executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services they had a higher standard than is in this bill - 12 months for permanency, except for children under 3, where the requirement was 6 months.  Here is the press release announcing her appointment: DSHS Press Release.  Rep. Hinkle and others have told me they believe she is an excellent choice and that they have high expectations.  From my perspective, she seemed to be very in tune with everything I was saying.

I met her again today at the hearing, just long enough to say hi.

 

March 27, 2005

EASTER SUNDAY (Western Church)

Our family actually celebrates Orthodox Easter, which is next month.  But today is still special, since it is Easter for our Western Church brothers and sisters.  Orthodox Christians are lucky in this sense - we buy Easter candy at half price, starting tomorrow.  It's not an important religious difference, but it's fun.  As a kid, I loved those years when Easter came before my birthday (next week), because I knew my mom would buy a ton of Easter candy on sale for my birthday.

Sirita, like the other foster kids in our care, made out really well on the candy.  She got Easter twice.  She got an Easter basket from her mom, candy from us, and candy from the church.

I've written that each holiday adds a special sadness.  I cried on her birthday, cried again on Valentine's Day, and again on the first day of spring.  Easter is different somehow.  We look at the crucified Christ, and know that God shares our sorrow and our pain.  We look at the risen Christ, and know that we share that hope.  Easter is about new life.  Easter is about resurrection.  Easter is about the power of God being stronger than the power of sin and death.  Easter is about me knowing that one day I will see my little girl again.  Some jokingly say the crux Christianity is feeling guilty.  I might reply one doesn't have to look far to see much to feel guilty about.  But that isn't the message of Easter.  Easter is about forgiveness and rebirth.

I am still crying, but there is also hope in my heart.  This may be the first holiday I actually celebrate.

Happy Easter.

 

March 26, 2005

GOOD NEWS:  We will get a hearing in the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee.  I have a meeting on Monday with the Chair of the committee, Senator James Hargrove.  He has asked me to join a task force he is putting together to look at these issues, and of course I said yes.  I understand there are concerns about how various parts of the bill would work in practice, and I am eager to discuss them and find common ground.  None of us want to remove children from good homes based on false allegations.  We may have some work to do to make sure we protect the best interests in all situations.

This is why from the very beginning I decided against doing an initiative, even though many of you suggested it.  My initial proposals were exactly that: proposals.  I would rather work through our legislators, have the debate, and hammer out the best possible solutions.  That's what we pay them for.

The trouble with an initiative is once you start gathering signatures, there's no room for discussion.  Make one change and you have to throw out all the signatures you've gathered.  And the cost is staggering.  I would rather raise money for the Sirita Memorial Fund.

Not every component in the bill is controversial.  I hope we can pass at least those items we can agree on, to not lose the momentum.  The more complex issues we may have to work on during the interim before the next session.

The hearing has not yet been scheduled.  As soon as it is, I will announce it here.  You can also check the bill's progress on the Legislative website for yourself: HB2156.

--

I eat oatmeal just about every morning, and usually the kids that stay here eat it, too.  I made a game of it with Sirita.  After a bite of oatmeal, we would say, "sticks to your bones!"  I recalled that was my mother's reason for feeding it to us when I was little.  When we visited my parents Mom corrected me; she claims she said oatmeal sticks to your ribs, because it fills your stomach.  After that, Sirita would say, "sticks to your ribbons!"

That weekend was also about the time I was teaching Sirita the song, "Jesus, There's Just Something About That Name."  I told her my parents knew that song, too, and the three of us sang it with her.  She was thrilled to sing a song with so many adults.  It was a very special feeling.  The faith I had received from my parents I was passing on to her.  And it's a comfort to me now.

 

March 24, 2005

Whenever I tried to teach her something, I would usually start with a question.  "Sirita, do you know what it means to be polite?"  No matter what the question, she would smile and say, "yes."  "Sirita, do you know what it means to be considerate?"  "Yes."  Hmm.  "Sirita, do you know what it means to have a thermo-nuclear reaction?"  "Yes."  Yeah, that's what I thought.

I explained that if she knew what something was, she should say yes, but if not, she should say, "no, what?"  We worked on this for a while.  She never did say "no, what?" but she did come up with her own compromise: she said, "yeah, what?"  I guess she couldn't quite admit there were things she didn't know.  I know a few adults like that, too.

--

Sirita's Law has made the international press.  It was in the Danish newspaper Ekstra-Bladet last Sunday, and a friend of mine saw the story in a Korean newspaper.  This website is listed by all the major search engines now.  Reading the server logs I see we get quite a bit of traffic from various websites around the country giving out a link.  Thanks!  Keep it up.  If you have a personal website, please give us a link.

 

March 23, 2005

Heather Ewell, Sirita's stepmother, was arraigned in court today.  She pled guilty.  There was a plea agreement; the prosecutor charged her with first degree manslaughter instead of second degree murder.  She indicated to the judge that she understood by pleading guilty she waived the presumption of innocence, the right to remain silent, the right to call witnesses to testify at no expense to herself, and the right to appeal.  She also waives the right to appeal the sentence, as long as it's within the standard for first time offenders: 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 years.  The prosecutor recommends the upper limit, because of the severity of the injuries.  Sentencing will not take place for 6 to 8 weeks.

Because she she is not a danger to the public and has demonstrated that she is not a flight risk, she was allowed to remain free until sentencing.  The prosecutor asked for bail at $75,000 because of the nature of the crime, but the judge ruled that the only factors are public safety and flight risk.

Heather acted very subdued and agreeable.  She had several supporters in the courtroom.  She turned and smiled at them when the judge ruled that she could be released on her own recognizance.  She looked relieved.  Afterwards, she looked even happy, as she smiled and hugged her family.  I can understand relief, but it seemed odd to see her smiling like that.  Does she feel any remorse?

As they hugged, one of her friends said, "It's okay, honey.  We know the truth."  I had to wonder - what truth is that?  Didn't you just hear her admit she was guilty?  What truth is it you know?  Please speak up if you know some truth the rest of us don't.  Sirita is dead.  She didn't kill herself.  The injuries are so extreme, it's obvious she was severely beaten by an enraged person.  Please tell me which of these facts disagree with your "truth."  Or maybe your truth is simply that you love your friend no matter what she has done.  That at least I can understand.  I only wish Heather had been as good a mother as you are a friend.

A family member said on camera that Heather was a good mother.  I suppose you can expect family members to say that for you.  But killing one of your children is not going to win you any prizes in parenting.

Heather must be punished for what she did.  She deserves the maximum because of the savagery of the beating, because the victim was a child, and because, seeing what she had done, she failed to contact 911 or make any attempt to render aid.  She let Sirita suffer and die alone.  She doesn't appear to show any remorse.

Having said that, eight and a half years seems an appropriate length of time.  Most murderers get less than nine.  The emotional part of me wants to see her go into a dark hole and never come out, but I realize that would not actually serve any purpose.  She is not a danger to society, except perhaps to children, and she will never get them back.  She's lost everything - her family, her home, probably her marriage, her children - and now she is going to spend a decade behind bars.  Child killers are the lowest strata in prison.  They aren't treated well by other prisoners.  She will go through nine years of hell.  And when she gets out - what will she do?  "Convicted murderer" doesn't look so good on a resume, even for fast food.  She isn't built for manual labor.  She won't be so young, and I don't think bachelors will be lining up.  She has thrown her life away.  Don't worry that she won't be punished enough - she is being punished already.

I am thankful that she at least admitted her guilt and spared us all the pain of a long trial.  The next step is to say she is sorry, to Sirita's family, to the foster families, before God, and yes, to Sirita.  I doubt the family will ever forgive her.  I doubt that I will either.  But there is a little angel in heaven that just might.  Heather, if you are reading this, I tell you in all seriousness, this is the only way to save your soul.  You took the first step by pleading guilty.  Now take the second.

 

March 22, 2005

HELP FOR PARENTS

I feel a responsibility to try to prevent this from happening again any way I can.  Raising kids isn't easy.  They don't come with manuals.  If you are a parent, and you are at your wit's end trying to cope, there is help for you.

The person who did this to my daughter did not get the help she needed, help which was available.  Now she has destroyed own life.  She not only killed one child, she deeply scarred the lives of every child in that home.  And she has deeply wounded all of us who loved Sirita.  It was all so avoidable.

Life is hard for most people.  Kids make it all the more stressful.  If you are having a tough time, please - do not hit your child.  Take a deep breath.  Remember, you are the adult.  Pick up your phone: there is help for you.  Maybe you need an extra hand.  Maybe you need a friend.  Maybe you just need to talk.

The Crisis Nursery line at 425-252-6293 can provide counseling, respite care, and connect you with parenting classes. The VOA Care Crisis Response Services at 425-258-4357 or 1-800-584-3578 can help with counseling and connect you with resources for a wide range of services.

Do it for yourself and your children.

 

March 21, 2005

Sirita had very fine, beautiful, blond hair.  The strands were so incredibly thin, it tangled constantly.  Even after shampoo and conditioner, it was difficult to comb.  Usually Magda handled this, but sometimes it was my turn.  We sat on the couch and she watched cartoons while I combed.  It was tough working out the tangles.  She'd yell "ow!" when I accidentally pulled too hard.  "I'm sorry!" I said.  Then I told her, "It hurts to be beautiful."  She didn't get the joke.  She wanted mommy to do it.  "Let me try again; I'll be very careful this time.  I promise."  Eventually I learned to hold her hair with one hand while working out the snarls with the other.  I was never great at arranging hair pretties, though.

She would ask for "ponies" - a pony tail or pig tails.  Magda loved fixing her hair up.  It kept her hair out of her food, too.

Occasionally people walking by us on the street would see this blond haired, blue eyed girl with the two of us dark haired, brown eyed adults and ask where she got the blond hair.  They meant to be friendly, but I always thought it was a little rude from total strangers.  We usually made up some dumb reply.  Funny, they never ask when we have African-American foster kids...  :)

--

I was thinking about her today when I wrote this e-mail:

Do you know what it is like to wait for a child that is never coming back?  Do you know how it feels to see each holiday tick by?  This is the beginning of spring.  I left her in the winter.  It's so wrong.  She should have seen the spring.  She's a child - she is the spring.
 
She loved to dance.  She loved to sing.  She loved to play games.  She loved it when I was funny.  And when a child loves it when you're funny, you try to be funny a lot.
 
Sometimes at night I stroke her head, run my fingers through her hair.  It's really just a blanket, the back of a chair, or just my hand going through empty air.  Sometimes it feels so real, I have to look and be sure it really is just a blanket.
 
So many times I have dropped a child off for a weekend visit, including Sirita, and prayed, please God, please just keep her alive until I can pick her up on Sunday.  That only sounds melodramatic if you haven't read the case studies.  And now one really did die.  My precious Sirita.
 
Is it really spring?  It still seems winter.  I wonder if it will ever be spring again.

 

March 19, 2005

I must refute some of the claims made by the defendant, as reported in the charging papers.  Sirita had no mental or cognitive problems.  This was a very smart little girl.  She could point out Mars, once I showed her how.  She could learn the words of a song after hearing it once, and sing it on key.  She was very intuitive.  When I would check on her at bedtime, she would look up and smile, "are you checking to see if I'm asleep?"  Um, pretty much kid, yeah.

As far as emotion problems - my goodness, try spending your whole life bouncing from home to home without having emotional problems.  Nearly all children in foster care have scars created by the system.  Sirita had nightmares nearly every night.  I am something of a night owl, so I would be the one to hear her cries and go pick her up.

Only in the first few weeks with us did she have wetting accidents.  After that, she calmed down.  Bear in mind that a small child entering this situation is terrified.  Our job as foster parents is to calm them down, make them feel safe, secure, and loved.  Most the nine months she was with us she was perfectly potty trained.  She never defecated herself while she was in my house.  Loss of control is a physiological response to extreme stress and fear.  If she was still having problems after a full year, there was something seriously wrong with the placement.  Why wasn't this noted by the social worker?

It was disturbing to read the claim that she had said, "I wish you were dead so I could live with my daddy."  My first impression is that this is a rather complex sentence for a four year old.  She certainly never talked like that in my house.  Nobody did.  Where did she learn a phrase like that?  Children repeat what they hear.  Considering the outcome, who wished who was dead?

It is distasteful to hear someone blame the victim, and particularly outrageous when the victim is a four year old child.  No child deserves to be murdered.  She deserved a much better life than she got.  If she was such a "problem child," why didn't they give the problem back to me?  I would have loved to have had that little problem back in my life.

I still would.

 

March 18, 2005

Some ask if this makes me question God.  The answer is simple: no.  It makes me question Man.

Is it God not doing His job, or us not doing our job?  We live in a democracy.  We have all the power we need to change the system.  All you need is to pick up the phone and make a toll-free call.  Why are we still waiting for diving intervention?

We Christians believe God knows what it's like to lose a child.  We know He cares, because it cost Him too much not to care.  I know not everyone who reads this website shares my beliefs, but if you don't believe that still small voice inside you is God, believe at least it is the voice of your own conscience.

So why doesn't God do something?  He is doing something.  He's sending you.

 

March 17, 2005

Yesterday was the last day in which bills could be passed in the house of origination, which means both the House and the Senate were pulling marathon sessions up until midnight last night to get legislation passed.  Today they are all likely sleeping in, so don't expect much out of committee before next week.

However, we are up against a deadline - all bills must be out of committee by April 1, or they are dead.  It's time to start canvassing Senators.  Please contact your senator, say that you support Sirita's Law, ask that it be given a hearing in committee, and ask if she/he supports it.  And please, send me an e-mail with the response so I can post a list of who is in favor of this.

--

When I first started this, I had to decide if it should be "Sirita's Law" or "The Sirita Law".  I chose the latter and registered the URL www.siritalaw.com.  However, when Rep. Hinkle drafted the legislation, he included a citation that it be known as "Sirita's Law," so that is the official name now.  Even before the bill was drafted there was confusion.  Many people told me they couldn't find the site because they were typing in the wrong name.  So now, I have registered "siritaslaw.com" as a forward domain.  Type it in, and it automatically forwards you here.

--

There are three ways to get on my mailing list:

For most updates, you can read the daily website blog.  I will only use the mailing list when I urgently need your help.  I will not sell or give your information to any other party without your consent.  I might possibly cooperate with foster parent groups to forward mail to you when there are urgent issues.  We as foster parents are very splintered, and yet we all share the same frustrations with the system, which seems to trivialize the trauma caused by years of disruptions, and places the well-being of the child as less important than the rights of the parents.  If we all stand together, we are a powerful force.  Our goal is the safety of the children.  Who can possibly be against this?

I have heard so many stories from all of you that have come to this website.  There is so much shared angst.  Many of you have asked if I can help you.  The answer is you have to stand up for yourself and your child.  Be the loud noise in your senator's ear.  Most of them are good people, of both parties, but most of them have no idea just how bad this problem is.  Thank God, most children don't get killed.  But is a lifetime of abuse any less tragic?  If we all stand together, they will listen.  They are listening now.  If we waste this opportunity we have no one but ourselves to blame.  And when the next child dies, we will all be crying again.

Help me stop the madness.

 

March 16, 2005

The details of the injuries have me profoundly shaken.

Before today, I thought perhaps in frustration and rage you struck her with your hand, repeatedly, and it went too far.  But this was no strike of the hand.  I don't want to dwell on the morbid reality of the things you must have done to cause these injuries.  But I can't help it.  They keep playing in my mind like a broken record.  My God.  How could you?  How could anyone?

There's only one word for what you did.  Evil.

Before today, I was praying for your soul.  I thought perhaps I could perform an amazing act of Christian strength and actually forgive you.  But I can't.  God help me, I can't.  I want nothing more than to see you go into a deep dark hole and never come out.  I want to pray, but my mind only wants to see you punished.  This is the ultimate horror of what you've done.  You've given me a little taste of your evil.

 

March 15, 2005

This info is from the Washington State Department of Corrections website, http://www.doc.wa.gov:

"Manslaughter in the first degree committed before July 1, 1997 is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000. Manslaughter in the first degree committed on or after July 27, 1997 is punishable by life imprisonment and a $50,000 fine. The standard range for offenders subject to the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) has varied over time. For offenders with no other criminal convictions who committed first-degree manslaughter between July 1, 1984 and July 26,1997, the standard range is 31 to 41 months. For offenders with no other criminal convictions who committed first-degree manslaughter on or after July 27, 1997, the standard range is 78 to 102 months."

So the typical sentence for a case such as this one will range from 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 years.  Since there was no arrest made yesterday when charges were filed, it is possible there was a plea bargain arrangement.  If so, the details have not been released and sentencing has not yet taken place.  Any comment on the sentence at this point is premature.

I do not believe this was premeditated.  Anyone who thought for a moment wouldn't have done it.  Killing someone in a rage of anger is called a "crime of passion,"  typically charged as manslaughter.  This one was charged as first degree.

I want to thank the Snohomish County Sheriff for following this case so doggedly.  It is sometimes frustrating for those of us who do not see all the work going on behind the scenes.  It's important to understand these cases must be tried in court, and that good police work includes good lawyer work to put together an airtight case.  That takes time.  If there was a plea bargain, that would only prove the case was so airtight the defense saw no alternative to pleading guilty.

This is painful for all of us.  Murder trials can take a very long time.  If there is no plea agreement, we must all brace ourselves for a very long process which tears our hearts apart daily in the courtroom, listening to horrible details over and over.  It will be like we are all in jail for a year.  If there is a plea agreement, understand it for what it is - a gift.  The anguish you and I felt yesterday when we first heard the words "severed liver and fractured skull" is just a small hint of what we would get every day at a long trial.  Believe me, you wouldn't like it.  A plea bargain spares us that pain.  It allows the family to hear the accused admit guilt on day one.  It gives closure.  It won't bring Sirita back.  It won't heal that rip in our hearts.  But it allows us to move on, and to see the guilty punished.

 

March 14, 2005

BREAKING NEWS:

Heather Ewell, Sirita's stepmother, has been charged with manslaughter.  She has not yet been arrested.  She will be arraigned next Wednesday.

I am incredibly, incredibly sad.  Angry, yes, but mostly sad.  If she is the person responsible - and I know nothing other than what's reported - then she has hurt and destroyed many lives in this one act, including her own.

Today is not a happy day for me.  This just brings it all back.  Deborah Horne from KIRO TV showed me the court documents that said Sirita died from injuries including a severed liver and fractured skull.  Oh my God.  How hard do you have to hit someone to do that?  My poor baby.  The coroner said that based on her injuries, she would have died within seconds or at most, minutes.  Thank God for small graces - at least she didn't suffer long.

This was a placement that went horribly wrong.  Sirita died because too many things simply took too long. It took her mother too long to get off of drugs. It took the state too long to decide when to terminate parental rights. It took the father too long to decide he wanted to be involved in his daughter’s life.

In any reasonable scenario, the most likely outcome was still placement with the father, but he should have been forced to make this decision when she was one year old, not nearly four. That would have made all the difference:

Please help me stop the madness.  There needs to be time limits for parents to get their acts together.  Click on the link and call your senator.  Tell her/him that you support Sirita's Law, and ask that it be given a hearing.

 

March 13, 2005

About 5 o'clock this evening I got a call from Rick Richardson, from KTTH AM770, asking if I would appear as a guest at 9pm.  He was filling in as guest host for Rabbi Daniel Lapin.  Of course I agreed.  It was a great interview - thanks Rick.  I also enjoyed the conversation in the parking lot after the show, about your book, Origins of Our Faith and the Hebrew roots of Christianity.

 

March 12, 2005

Thank you to those that have sent a gift to the Sirita Memorial Fund at Children's Home Society.  The money will be used to help at-risk children, especially foster and abused children.  Every time a gift is made, CHS sends me a card with the names of the donors.  I am also ready to support any fund raising event; send me an e-mail if you have something planned.  To me, there is no more fitting tribute to her life than to help other children in similar situations.  The advocacy side of that tends to get all the press, and if you read this site it's pretty obvious I do believe we should engage our legislators to fix these problems.  But there is a lot of pain out there.  Some of it can only be helped when we reach from our wallets as well as our hearts.

 

March 11, 2005 AM

Here is the archived webcast from TVW.  The entire audio clip is 4 hours, but to hear only the debate on Sirita's Law, as soon as the player launches, click about halfway on the seek button.  The debate on HB2156 begins at 2:09 and runs until 2:26.

House Floor Debate
March 10, 2005
The Washington State House of Representatives convenes for floor debate on pending legislation in Olympia.

 
Windows Media listen Real Media listen
 

The entire session will be rebroadcast on cable Friday morning at 5:30am, so if you tune in approximately 7:30am you should be able to catch the debate on HB2156.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Sign up on my mailing list for continued updates.  And thank you for standing with me.

 

March 10, 2005 PM

We just passed unanimous off the floor of the House!  Thank you everyone.

I love you, Boo-Boo.  This is for you.

 

March 10, 2005

The vote will be held in the House today or tomorrow.  The support is overwhelming.  Here is the current vote count.

Name Room Phone   Vote
     
District  1      
Rep. Al O'Brien (D-1) JLOB 428 (360) 786-7928  
Rep. Mark Ericks (D-2) JLOB 332 (360) 786-7900  
     
District  2      
Rep. Jim McCune (R-1) JLOB 321 (360) 786-7824 Pro
Rep. Tom Campbell (R-2) JLOB 333 (360) 786-7912 Pro
     
District  3      
Rep. Alex Wood (D-1) LEG 437B (360) 786-7888  
Rep. Timm Ormsby (D-2) MOD1 110 (360) 786-7946  
     
District  4      
Rep. Larry Crouse (R-1) LEG 425B (360) 786-7820 Leaning Pro
Rep. Lynn Schindler (R-2) LEG 425A (360) 786-7984 Pro
     
District  5      
Rep. Jay Rodne (R-1) JLOB 437 (360) 786-7852 Pro
Rep. Glenn Anderson (R-2) JLOB 417 (360) 786-7876 Pro
     
District  6      
Rep. John Serben (R-1) JLOB 317 (360) 786-7922  
Rep. John Ahern (R-2) JLOB 440 (360) 786-7962 Pro
     
District  7      
Rep. Bob Sump (R-1) JLOB 406 (360) 786-7908  
Rep. Joel Kretz (R-2) JLOB 439 (360) 786-7988  
     
District  8      
Rep. Shirley Hankins (R-1) MOD1 103 (360) 786-7882  
Rep. Larry Haler (R-2) JLOB 403 (360) 786-7986 Pro
     
District  9      
Rep. Don Cox (R-1) JLOB 435 (360) 786-7942 Pro
Rep. David Buri (R-2) JLOB 318 (360) 786-7844 Pro
     
District  10      
Rep. Chris Strow (R-1) JLOB 323 (360) 786-7884  
Rep. Barbara Bailey (R-2) JLOB 405 (360) 786-7914 Voted Pro in Approp
     
District  11      
Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-1) JLOB 326 (360) 786-7956 Voted Pro in Rules
Rep. Bob Hasegawa (D-2) JLOB 425 (360) 786-7862  
     
District  12      
Rep. Cary Condotta (R-1) JLOB 414 (360) 786-7954  
Rep. Mike Armstrong (R-2) LEG 335A (360) 786-7832 Pro
     
District  13      
Rep. Janéa Holmquist (R-1) JLOB 436 (360) 786-7932  
Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-2) MOD1 102 (360) 786-7808 Pro
     
District  14      
Rep. Mary Skinner (R-1) JLOB 434 (360) 786-7810  
Rep. Jim Clements (R-2) JLOB 410 (360) 786-7856 Voted Pro in Approp
     
District  15      
Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-1) LEG 335C (360) 786-7960 Voted Pro in Rules
Rep. Daniel Newhouse (R-2) JLOB 324 (360) 786-7874  
     
District  16      
Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-1) JLOB 319 (360) 786-7836 Pro
Rep. Bill Grant (D-2) LEG 434B (360) 786-7828 Voted Pro in Approp
     
District  17      
Rep. Jim Dunn (R-1) JLOB 322 (360) 786-7994 Pro
Rep. Deb Wallace (D-2) JLOB 340 (360) 786-7976  
     
District  18      
Rep. Richard Curtis (R-1) JLOB 320 (360) 786-7850  
Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-2) JLOB 415 (360) 786-7812  
     
District  19      
Rep. Dean Takko (D-1) JLOB 421 (360) 786-7806 Pro
Rep. Brian Blake (D-2) JLOB 339 (360) 786-7870 Pro
     
District  20      
Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-1) LEG 427B (360) 786-7896  
Rep. Gary Alexander (R-2) JLOB 407 (360) 786-7990 Voted Pro in Approp
     
District  21      
Rep. Mary Helen Roberts (D-1) JLOB 341 (360) 786-7950 Pro
Rep. Brian Sullivan (D-2) MOD1 106 (360) 786-7972  
     
District  22      
Rep. Brendan Williams (D-1) JLOB 420 (360) 786-7940 Pro
Rep. Sam Hunt (D-2) LEG 438B (360) 786-7992 Pro
     
District  23      
Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-1) JLOB 424 (360) 786-7934  
Rep. Beverly Woods (R-2) JLOB 401 (360) 786-7842  
     
District  24      
Rep. Jim Buck (R-1) MOD1 112 (360) 786-7916 Pro
Rep. Lynn Kessler (D-2) LEG 339A (360) 786-7904 Pro
     
District  25      
Rep. Joyce McDonald (R-1) MOD1 113 (360) 786-7948 Pro
Rep. Dawn Morrell (D-2) JLOB 342 (360) 786-7968 Voted Pro in Rules
     
District  26      
Rep. Patricia Lantz (D-1) LEG 438A (360) 786-7964  
Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-2) JLOB 430 (360) 786-7802  
     
District  27      
Rep. Dennis Flannigan (D-1) JLOB 335 (360) 786-7930 Voted Pro in Rules
Rep. Jeannie Darneille (D-2) JLOB 429 (360) 786-7974 Pro
     
District  28      
Rep. Gigi Talcott (R-1) LEG 426 (360) 786-7890 Voted Pro in Approp
Rep. Tami Green (D-2) JLOB 327 (360) 786-7958  
     
District  29      
Rep. Steve Conway (D-1) JLOB 307 (360) 786-7906 Voted Pro in Approp
Rep. Steve Kirby (D-2) JLOB 432 (360) 786-7996  
     
District  30      
Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-1) LEG 437A (360) 786-7898 Voted Pro in Approp
Rep. Skip Priest (R-2) JLOB 419 (360) 786-7830 Voted Pro in Approp
     
District  31      
Rep. Dan Roach (R-1) JLOB 413 (360) 786-7846  
Rep. Jan Shabro (R-2) LEG 426A (360) 786-7866 Voted Pro in Rules
     
District  32      
Rep. Maralyn Chase (D-1) JLOB 433 (360) 786-7880 Pro
Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-2) JLOB 304 (360) 786-7910 Pro
     
District  33      
Rep. Shay Schual-Berke (D-1) JLOB 331 (360) 786-7834 Pro
Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-2) JLOB 336 (360) 786-7868  
     
District  34      
Rep. Eileen Cody (D-1) JLOB 337 (360) 786-7978 Voted Pro in Approp
Rep. Joe McDermott (D-2) LEG 436A (360) 786-7952 Pro
     
District  35      
Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-1) JLOB 431 (360) 786-7966 Pro
Rep. William "Ike" Eickmeyer (D-2) JLOB 328 (360) 786-7902  
     
District  36      
Rep. Helen Sommers (D-1) JLOB 204 (360) 786-7814  
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-2) JLOB 302 (360) 786-7860 Pro
     
District  37      
Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-1) LEG 436B (360) 786-7944  
Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-2) MOD1 105 (360) 786-7838 Pro
     
District  38      
Rep. John McCoy (D-1) JLOB 338 (360) 786-7864 Pro
Rep. Mike Sells (D-2) JLOB 423 (360) 786-7840 Pro
     
District  39      
Rep. Dan Kristiansen (R-1) JLOB 404 (360) 786-7967  
Rep. Kirk Pearson (R-2) JLOB 416 (360) 786-7816 Pro
     
District  40      
Rep. Dave Quall (D-1) JLOB 301 (360) 786-7800  
Rep. Jeff Morris (D-2) LEG 434 (360) 786-7970  
     
District  41      
Rep. Fred Jarrett (R-1) JLOB 412 (360) 786-7894  
Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-2) JLOB 315 (360) 786-7926 Voted Pro in Rules
     
District  42      
Rep. Doug Ericksen (R-1) LEG 427A (360) 786-7980 Voted Pro in Rules
Rep. Kelli Linville (D-2) LEG 429 (360) 786-7854 Voted Pro in Approp
     
District  43      
Rep. Ed Murray (D-1) JLOB 203 (360) 786-7826  
Rep. Frank Chopp (D-2) LEG 339C (360) 786-7920 Voted Pro in Rules
     
District  44      
Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-1) JLOB 334 (360) 786-7804 Pro
Rep. John Lovick (D-2) LEG 430 (360) 786-7892 Pro
     
District  45      
Rep. Toby Nixon (R-1) JLOB 316 (360) 786-7878 Pro
Rep. Larry Springer (D-2) JLOB 325 (360) 786-7822 Pro
     
District  46      
Rep. Jim McIntire (D-1) JLOB 314 (360) 786-7886 Voted Pro in Approp
Rep. Phyllis Kenney (D-2) JLOB 330 (360) 786-7818 Pro
     
District  47      
Rep. Geoff Simpson (D-1) JLOB 426 (360) 786-7918  
Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-2) MOD1 109 (360) 786-7858  
     
District  48      
Rep. Ross Hunter (D-1) JLOB 305 (360) 786-7936 Pro
Rep. Rodney Tom (R-2) JLOB 418 (360) 786-7848 Voted Pro in Rules
     
District  49      
Rep. Bill Fromhold (D-1) JLOB 239 (360) 786-7924 Voted Pro in Approp
Rep. Jim Moeller (D-2) JLOB 422 (360) 786-7872  
     
  PRO: 38
  PRO or LEANING PRO: 60
     
  CON: 0
  Unknown: 38

March 10, 2005 AM

UPDATE: We are on the House schedule today.

That doesn't mean that 2156 will be voted today; it is near the bottom of the schedule and there are some bills that have been on the schedule for days.  But it does mean that we will be voted on within the next few days.  If you haven't called your representative yet, you are running out of time.  Every vote counts, and every phone call counts.

You can watch the House floor activity live on TVW.  It is broadcast live on cable starting at 1pm, but webcast live on http://www.TVW.org starting at 10am:

10:00:00 AM   House Floor Debate
The Washington State House of Representatives convenes for floor debate on pending legislation in Olympia.

 
Windows Media  Windows Media Real Media  Real Audio  

 

March 9, 2005

We are winning this fight.  We can't let up now.  The deadline for all bills to pass in the house of origination is next Wednesday, March 16.  That means we must pass a vote by the entire House before then, or the bill is dead.  The Rules Committee has cleared us for a vote, so it is going to happen.  Here's how the numbers add up:

Bill Sponsors, plus Children and Family Services Committee members (which voted unanimously), plus those other Members of the House that have confirmed to me (or to one of you that e-mailed me) that they will vote yes on the House floor: 31

 
Rep. Jay Rodne (R-1)
Rep. Larry Haler (R-2)
Rep. Don Cox (R-1)
Rep. David Buri (R-2)
Rep. Mike Armstrong (R-2)
Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-2)
Rep. Maureen Walsh (R-1)
Rep. Jim Dunn (R-1)
Rep. Dean Takko (D-1)
Rep. Brian Blake (D-2)
Rep. Mary Helen Roberts (D-1)
Rep. Brendan Williams (D-1)
Rep. Sam Hunt (D-2)
Rep. Jim Buck (R-1)
Rep. Joyce McDonald (R-1)
Rep. Jeannie Darneille (D-2)
 
Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-2)
Rep. Shay Schual-Berke (D-1)
Rep. Joe McDermott (D-2)
Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-1)
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-2)
Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-2)
Rep. John McCoy (D-1)
Rep. Mike Sells (D-2)
Rep. Kirk Pearson (R-2)
Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-1)
Rep. John Lovick (D-2)
Rep. Toby Nixon (R-1)
Rep. Larry Springer (D-2)
Rep. Phyllis Kenney (D-2)
Rep. Ross Hunter (D-1)

All the above, plus members that voted in favor in Appropriations or Rules (also both unanimous): 54

Bill Fromhold (D)
Gary Alexander (R)
Glenn Anderson (R)
Barbara Bailey (R)
Jim Clements (R)
Eileen Cody (D)
Steve Conway (D)
Bill Grant (D)
Lynn Kessler (D)
Kelli Linville (D)
Jim McIntire (D)
Mark Miloscia (D)
Skip Priest (R)
Gigi Talcott (R)
Frank Chopp (D)
Bruce Chandler (R)
Judy Clibborn (D)
Doug Ericksen (R)
Dennis Flannigan (D)
Zack Hudgins (D)
Dawn Morrell (D)
Jan Shabro (R)
Rodney Tom (R)

Known to be opposed: ZERO
Unknown: 44

If your representative is not listed, give her or him a call!

Considering the strong public and bipartisan support, I expect a good number of those listed as "unknown" will vote Pro.  We are not only going to get the 50 votes we need to pass, we are going to get an overwhelming majority.  It might even be unanimous.  In the words of Rep. Toby Nixon:

(Speaking about the sponsors of the bill) "Ruth Kagi is chair of the Children and Family Services Committee, and Bill Hinkle is the ranking Republican. Mary Lou Dickerson is the chair of the Juvenile Justice and Family Law Committee; Joyce McDonald is the ranking Republican. You cannot find a more powerful bipartisan set of co-sponsors for a bill related to child welfare. I think this speaks very highly for the importance of this issue and the desire of the legislature to not see a repeat of what happened to Sirita."

My sense is that nobody wants to go on record as being against this.  And you people are doing it.  The combined weight of all of you sending e-mails and making phone calls is having an impact.  I am profoundly grateful.

 

March 7, 2005 PM

I just happened to stumble across a few more pictures tonight of Sirita; I put them in the Photo Gallery.  Two of them I took using a Pocket PC cam, and three are from a birthday party my friends, Paul and Rosangela, threw for their son.  Rosangela is the perfect hostess; she relit the candles on the birthday cake so each child got a turn blowing them out, not only the birthday boy.  You can see Sirita's delight as everyone claps for her after she blew them out.  Some people were surprised when I introduced her as my foster daughter.  "She's your foster daughter?"  Yes.  "Well, she seems to really like you."  Uh, thanks, we really like her, too!  Paul took those pictures with his digital camera.  It's nice because these are some of the few shots of Sirita with my wife, Magdalena.  Magda isn't in most of the pictures because she is usually the one holding the camera!

 

March 7, 2005

This morning I sent an e-mail to Rep. John Lovick.  He and Rep. Hans Dunshee represent the district that includes Lake Stevens, and they are both supporters of this bill.  Rep. Dunshee helped us as a member of the Appropriations Committee, and I hoped Rep. Lovick could give us the same help as a member of the Rules Committee.  I followed up the e-mail with a phone call.  Rep. Lovick's assistant told me she had seen the e-mail, put a star on it, and put it on the top of his Inbox. Wow!  Then a couple hours later, Rep. Hinkle's assistant called me to say the Rules Committee had already voted on it this morning and passed the bill to the second reading, which means we will be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.  Double WOW!

This is it!  Now more than ever I need everyone to contact their representative!  We need a count of who supports this.  We need to flood them with e-mails and phone calls.  Click on the link, make the call.  The kids need you.

 

March 6, 2005

This weekend's frenzied action taught me something - I need a mailing list.  There are going to be fast breaking situations where I need immediate help from every supporter.  Hence the new Mailing List page.  If I contacted you this weekend to help me get scheduled with the Appropriations Committee, then you are already on the mailing list.  Everyone else, please sign up!

I have been a little surprised to talk to supporters who say they support this 100% - but then admit they haven't contacted their legislators.  My goodness, what are you waiting for?  If this weekend demonstrated anything, it demonstrates this - we are running on a clock.  Every vote counts now.  What if your legislator happens to be the key head of committee that will decide if this bill gets heard, but you never called or e-mailed, so she/he doesn't think it's important to you?  Please call now.  It is so fast, so easy, and so important.  You can literally make the difference between life or death.  The key person in getting this passed - is probably you.

Next stop is the Rules Committee.  I don't anticipate problems there (knock on wood), but let's not take chances.  The Chair of the Rules Committee is Rep. Frank Chopp (D).  The other members are:

Bruce Chandler - Ranking Minority Member (R)
Mike Armstrong - Asst Ranking Minority Member (R)
Glenn Anderson (R)
Brian Blake (D)
Judy Clibborn (D)
Doug Ericksen (R)
Dennis Flannigan (D)
Bill Grant (D)
Zack Hudgins (D)
Sam Hunt (D)
Lynn Kessler (D)
John Lovick (D)
Joyce McDonald (R)
Dawn Morrell (D)
Jan Shabro (R)
Rodney Tom (R)

If your rep. is on Rules, drop him/her an e-mail.  If not, then just contact the Chair and ask him to schedule this for a vote.

After that, we need to get scheduled to be heard and voted on by the entire House.  Contact your legislators, and then drop me a line to say if they support it or not.  We need to start counting those who are in favor, to make sure we have enough votes before scheduling it to be heard on the House floor.

 

March 6, 2005 - 12:20AM

We just passed Appropriations with a unanimous voice vote!  Thank you Rep. Hinkle, Kagi, and everyone else that pushed to get this on the agenda tonight.

 

March 5, 2005

You people did it!  We are on the revised list to be heard TODAY: SEE LIST.
 
I am certain it was all the phone calls and e-mails from you.  THANK YOU!  You can watch the event LIVE now on TVW (check their website for your cable channel; it's 21 or 23 in many areas) and webcast on http://www.TVW.org.  The hearing is going on right now and will probably go until midnight, and I am last on the list.  When I return I will post a link to the archive.

And THANK YOU Rep. Sommers, for squeezing us into the schedule for today.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to dash to Olympia.  It turns out I have a hearing to attend.  :)

 
- Gary

 

March 4, 2005

URGENT: HB2156 is not on the list of bills to be considered by the Appropriations Committee tomorrow: SEE LIST.  The chair of the committee, Representative Helen Sommers has not yet scheduled it for a hearing.

The deadline for bills to be passed by the Appropriations Committee is this Monday, March 7.  There is an Appropriations Committee meeting on Monday.  If we do not get scheduled for a hearing tomorrow or Monday, the bill is dead for this session and we will have to try again next year.  Being passed by the Appropriations or Rules Committee is a necessary step for all bills before they can be voted on by the full House.

Rep. Helen Sommers is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee.  Her phone number is (360) 786-7814.  Her e-mail is Sommers.Helen@leg.wa.gov. Please call or e-mail her and ask her to please schedule HB2156, Sirita's Law, for a hearing, especially if you are her constituent in District 36 (parts of Seattle).

I need you now!  One key person deciding to not schedule a hearing before the deadline can kill a bill.  We need public pressure to get this heard.

 

March 3, 2005

To the person who signed "a child of the system" in the guest book - I do want to hear your story.  Please e-mail me.

Sirita's story appeared on ABCNews.com today.  The link is on the News Stories page.

This website is now on a new server, which has been much more stable.  So I hope we will not have any more technical difficulties.

 

March 2, 2005

We passed committee!!  The House Children and Family Services Committee voted today in favor of the Sirita Law, which moves it to the Appropriations Committee and then to the House floor for a vote.  This is a big milestone.  Thank you to everyone supporting this.

But we can't let up now.  It's time to start counting votes.  If you haven't talked to your legislators yet, please do it now.  We need you.  The link is on this website, the call is toll-free, it really couldn't be easier.  Send me an e-mail with your legislator's response.  We need to track this before bringing it to a House vote.

I gave a telephone interview to ABC News today, so look for coverage on ABC soon.

 

March 1, 2005

Tonight was the committee hearing for HB 2156.  If you missed the live webcast, you can still listen to the archived webcast by clicking on the link here:

Archived Broadcast of the House Children & Family Services Committee

March 1, 2005, 6:00PM: HB2156 Sirita's Law


Windows Media  Windows Media Real Media  Real Audio

I also put this link on the News Stories page.  Here is the text of the testimony I gave.

This morning I had a telephone conference with Senator Val Stevens, co-sponsor of the Sirita bill in the Senate.  I thanked her for sponsoring the bill.  We discussed the fact that the Senate version of the bill was not scheduled for a hearing, and that since March 2 is the deadline, the Senate version cannot move forward.  So we must press ahead with the House version, which the House can then send to the Senate.

I also spoke briefly on the phone with Rep. Bill Hinkle, to discuss the hearing tonight.

Crystal C., a young woman from Lake Stevens, had seen the news stories and the web site, and sent me an e-mail last week about her experience growing up as a foster child, in and out of foster care.  It was such an incredible story I put it in the guest book, and then called her up and asked if she would come to Olympia with me to testify.  So we drove in caravan together.

We arrived early so we would have time to meet with members before the hearing.  We met with my legislators, Senator. Bill Finkbeiner and Representatives Larry Spinger and Toby Nixon, and with Crystal's representative Rep. Hans Dunshee.  Rep. Dunshee is a member of the Appropriations committee where this bill must go next if it gets out of committee, so he is going to help us once it gets there.  After this I needed time to go over my remarks before the hearing, so Crystal went on her own to see her remaining representative, Rep. John Lovick.  Rep. Lovick came to the hearing, as did Rep. Springer, and we met for a brief moment there.

While waiting in the hall for the hearing to begin, I met the foster parents of Rafael Gomez, the two year old beaten to death after being returned home for a third time.  We hugged and cried.  I told them I was so glad they came.  Their testimony is so important.  I told them I heard the story of Rafael while Sirita was still in transition, and a cold chill gripped my heart, and I just thought, oh please God, no.  They told me how when they heard Sirita's story it sounded so similar to Rafael's.

We clearly had the "home court" advantage.  From what I could tell, the committee members all seemed in favor of the bill, and most of those who testified were in favor.  I testified first, followed by the parents of Rafael Gomez.  Crystal's testimony was also crucial, coming as it does from a former foster child.  Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church and head of their adoption agency, also spoke.  Komo 4 TV News and the Everett Herald covered the event.

 

Feb. 28, 2005

The Sirita Bill is scheduled to be heard in the House committee tomorrow.  The Senate version has not yet been scheduled, and we are running out of time for it to be heard.  All bills must be out of committee by Wednesday, March 2.  The chair of the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee is Senator James Hargrove.  He is responsible to schedule bills for a hearing.  Please contact the senator and ask him to please give this bill a hearing, especially if you are one of his constituents.  He represents Clallam, Jefferson, and part of Grays Harbor Counties.

Keep checking the listings, but at the moment tomorrow's  House committee hearing is not scheduled to be televised.  However, it the audio portion will be webcast live.  I have put a link to the TVW webcast on the News Stories page.

I also uploaded the Feb. 16 interview with Thor Tolo on Live from Seattle, on KGNW.  The link is on the News Stories page.  The audio file is courtesy KGNW, all rights reserved.

Pray for me tomorrow, that I have the wisdom to say what needs to be said before the committee.  On any given day, there are 11,000 children in foster care in Washington State.  Their future depends on what is decided.

 

Feb. 27, 2005

There have been technical difficulties with the server hosting this website.  I apologize if you have had difficulties loading it.  We are attempting to identify and resolve the issue as quickly as possible, but in the meantime if you get a "server not found - DNS error" message, press F5 to refresh the page.  If you still cannot reach it, try again in 5 minutes.  The problem seems to resolve itself quickly, and again I am sorry for the inconvenience.  Thank you for your continued patience and support.

--

We had a queen size bed in the guest room.  Sirita loved to climb on top of it and jump up and down.  I told her this rhyme:

Three little monkeys jumping on the bed,

One fell off and bumped his head,

Sirita stopped smiling and looked very concerned.  The monkey bumped his head?

Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,

I wagged my finger at her to emphasize the last line:

No more monkeys jumping on the bed!

Sirita laughed.  She understood the point immediately.  An hour later, I heard her recite it word perfect to Magda.  "Wow," I said, "she learned that fast."  "She must have heard it before," Magda thought, but I said I didn't think so.  She was surprised by the ending.  We later had many examples of her learning a song after hearing it only once.

You will also see from the photos that I was not very successful at convincing her to not jump on the bed.

 

Feb. 26, 2005

Like all kids, Sirita liked cartoons. She watched PBS in the mornings: Sagwa, Arthur, Sesame Street. and Clifford the Big Red Dog.  She loved Veggie Tales videos.  We played the Jonah movie sound track in the car over and over.  She didn't usually watch live action movies, but she was enraptured by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  That's still one of my all time favorite movies, too.

She loved anything Barbie.  A friend from church, Doina, gave her some Barbie dolls.  Magda got her a Barbie trike.  There's a photo of her on it at Silver Lake, wearing a Barbie t-shirt, too.  She was also a big fan of Dora the Explorer.  She had a Dora backpack, sunglasses, map game, and Dora dolls.  The Dora doll teaches phrases in Spanish you are supposed to repeat, and then after a lesson sings a song.  Sirita would skip the lesson and just keep pressing the button until she got to the song.  So you'd hear something like, "Ble-, Do-, Op-, Ei-" followed by, "We did it, we did it, we did it, yea!"

 

Feb. 25, 2005

We took Sirita, my wife's brother and sister, and my niece and nephew up to Hurricane Ridge in Port Angeles.  The view is breathtaking, of course.  We saw several deer, which she enjoyed, and hiked up the trails.  I thought it would be fun to have the kids pose for a photo as the three wise monkeys - hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, while sitting on a park bench.  Sirita kept changing to imitate what the other kids were doing instead of doing what I asked.  I finally gave up getting them in the right order, and just settled for a shot when, for a brief moment, they were each doing something different.  You'll notice in the picture Sirita isn't sitting down, either.  But it was still fun!  We went into the visitor center.  Sirita liked the mini-theater, not because of the film, but because she liked hiding in the curtains and running down the aisles.  :)

 

Feb 24, 2005

Be sure to check the news links periodically; I try to keep those updated with all the latest news stories.  There was a new article in the Everett Herald just today.

I will testify before the House committee on the Sirita Law.  It may be televised on TV Washington (TVW), which my local cable company carries on channel 23.  They don't set their schedule until the day before, so check their website.  Even if it isn't telecast, it may be webcast from their website, http://www.TVW.org.

--

Magda's brother and sister came to visit us from Romania that summer.  Sirita was already in bed when I went to pick them up at the airport.  The next morning, Sirita saw Gabi (pronounced Gabby) asleep in the guest bed.  Now Gabi looks a lot like her sister; Sirita thought it was Magda, crawled in bed and kissed her.  So Gabi's introduction to Sirita was the little girl that woke her up with kisses.

 

Feb 23, 2005

Last night when I felt like a snack, I decided to make myself some cinnamon toast.  I hadn't made it in a while; I had to stop and think when the last time was.  Then it hit me.  The last time was when I made it for Sirita.

It's odd the things that make you cry.  Sometimes I'll be rattling off the facts of the case like I'm reading them from a book, and then one little thing will just hit me and I will lose it.  Of course, at home I have to be upbeat and positive for the other children.  Only twice has my little girl seen me cry.

"Daddy, what happen? Why crying? What happen?"  "It's okay, sweetie," I said.  "I was a little sad, but I saw you, and now I'm happy, because you make me happy."  Another time I said, "I was sad because I was thinking about a little girl who was sad, but now she is with Jesus so she is happy."  Then she wanted to see the little girl, so I showed her the picture of Sirita from the home page. "That's me!" (There is a little resemblance.) No, sweetie, that's Sirita.  "That's me!" she repeated.  No, honey, that's not you, that's the little girl, Sirita.  After a moment, she said, "I love her.  She's comin' to my birthday party."

All the kids got cinnamon toast this morning.

 

Feb 22, 2005

This e-mail arrived tonight:

----- Original Message -----
From: Bill Hinkle
Sent: Tuesday, February 22, 2005 10:08 PM
Subject: Hearing

Gary,

I have sponsored HB 2156 which we have named Sirita’s Law, in honor of Sirita Sotelo.  I would greatly appreciate it if you could come and testify before our committee in Olympia next Wednesday night.  Please contact my office and Legislative Assistant, Ron Boren to get information about this hearing.  I would love to talk with you at your convenience, before that time to discuss this effort with you.  Please contact me at the number below,

Sincerely,

Representative Bill Hinkle

Washington State House of Representatives

District 13, Position 2

--

We took Sirita to the Edmonds beach many times.  I have this shtick that kids find funny - I saunter out towards the water as a wave recedes, kicking my feet out like I don't have a care in the world, continuing as a new wave builds up, and then at the last moment acting shocked and surprised and running away as the wave chases me up the beach.  Then, oh, okay, it's gone now, no problem any more, and I would saunter back down to do it again.  And again and again.  Sirita thought it was hilarious.  Before long, she was imitating me, sauntering down with me to meet the waves and then running back like mad while the water licked our heels.  She even started doing the bit all by herself, without any prompting from me.

In the photo section, you can see some pictures of us walking the Dungeness Spit on the Olympic Peninsula.  There were some nice waves there, too, and before long Sirita started doing the bit.  Now it's one thing to do the bit on a hot day at the beach, wearing a swim suit, and quite another on a chilly afternoon, fully dressed.  That distinction was lost on Sirita; she was having fun!  So I went along with it.  You can see a picture of us running from a wave.  Kids typically don't get tired of things as quickly as adults; she kept playing until finally she misjudged the distance and was right smack in the path of a big wave.  I ran and grabbed her, lifting her up.  She stayed perfectly dry.  I drove home with soggy shoes and socks. :)

 

Feb 21, 2005

It's now been one month since my daughter was beaten to death.

I had lunch with a good friend, Mary.  Mostly she just listened to me cry a lot.  I knew I didn't want to spend much time alone today.  Thanks, Mary.

It was fitting that today the Sirita Bill was introduced in both the House and Senate.  Please call your legislators and ask them to support these bills.  In fact, send me an e-mail when you do.  I want to track who supports this.

Today I was on The Dave Ross Show on KIRO Newsradio 710AM with guest host, Frank Shiers.  We had the whole hour to discuss this case and the legislation.  Thanks, Frank and Tina.  Thanks to everyone that is helping to raise awareness of this issue.  We are winning this battle.

 

Feb 20, 2005

Comparison of the House and Senate Versions

And How They Correspond to the Intent of the Original Proposals

 

HB 2156 / SB 6007

First of all, I must say both bills are a huge leap in the right direction.  Let me express gratitude to all the sponsors, and to the representatives of my district in particular.  There is obviously some work ahead rectifying the two drafts.  The two combined contain nearly everything I proposed.

ONE YEAR TO GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER

The Senate version finds that the existing Federal guideline that requires each child to have permanency within one year has not been followed. It instructs DSHS to do more to meet this goal.  It essentially relies on the existing laws to give DSHS any authority needed to terminate parental rights, and assigns penalties for non-compliance (see below).

The House Bill spells out that parental rights can be terminated after 15 months if the delinquencies that led to the child's removal have not been corrected, and spells out that parental rights can be terminated if a parent has no contact for one year.  In the former case, the House version uses 15 months instead of 12 months I proposed because that is the current Federal guideline.  My position, of course, is that I will not quibble over 3 months.

I prefer the House version because it actually spells out that these are grounds for termination, since the existing laws were not sufficient prevent hundreds of children from sitting in legal limbo for years and years.  However, I like adding the rhetoric from the Senate version that finds that the Federal guidelines have been essentially ignored.

PREFERRED: House version, with rhetoric added from the Senate version

THREE STRIKES LAW

Both versions limit the number of times a child can be removed.  The House version follows my proposal that if a child has been removed three times for abuse or neglect, parental rights should be terminated.  This means, in effect, that the child has been returned twice.  The Senate version specifies that rights should be terminated if a child had previously been returned three times - this would mean, in effect, that the child had been removed four times.  That would be a four strike law, not three.

Note that the Legislature has moved with amazing speed getting these drafts on the table.  I spoke with the drafting parties, and I believe this was simply an oversight that will be corrected in committee.  I support three strikes, not four.  This is important, because if there had been a three strike law in force, two year old Rafael Gomez would still be alive: http://www.king5.com/localnews/stories/NW_101603WABchild_dshsPL.aeddd03.html.  With a four strikes law, he would still be dead.  I recognize, however, that even a four strike law is a vast improvement over the current law, which contains no limitations at all.

PREFERRED: House version

VISITATION BY FOSTER PARENTS DURING SIX MONTH SUPERVISORY PERIOD

This is groundbreaking.  I don't think any other state has this.  It comes with some caveats:

Points three and four are essentially the same thing.  The House version allows foster parent involvement if approved by a judge, whereas the Senate version allows the same unless disapproved by a judge.  I agree that there does need to be flexibility.  The foster parents must understand that their role is to assist the integration into the new family.

PREFERRED: Senate version, because of the emphasis on a transition team and on classes for those involved in the transition.

PARENTING CLASSES FOR ALL ADULT CAREGIVERS IN THE HOME

Senate version has this.  It raises the bar for everyone.  It recognizes that displacements are traumatic, and children that have experienced them have special needs integrating into the new family, even if this is a reintegration back from where they came.  This is absolutely vital.  There are almost always behavioral and emotional issues that need to be handled.  This might have been the difference between life and death for my child.

PREFERRED: Senate version

AUTOMATIC INVESTIGATION AFTER FOUR CPS REPORTS

Neither bill contains this.  It was probably the most controversial of the proposals I made.  Some were afraid that this proposal would allow children to be removed based on unproven anonymous accusations, although I was clear that reports must be substantiated to the same level as required in court.

I concede that if all the other proposals are enacted, then the time limits alone should act as the necessary safeguard.  I was never certain that four was a better number, than say, five or six.  However, there are cases where there were dozens of independent and substantiated reports of abuse and/or neglect before a child was taken into custody.  I feel strongly that at some point, the caseworker must be directed to get a clue.  It is unfortunate that in some cases, an overzealous caseworker might take a child into custody on the basis of a single report, no matter how weak, and another might not take a child into custody even after dozens of reports, no matter how strong.  More attention must be given to this.

PENALTIES TO THE DEPARTMENT FOR NON-COMPLIANCE

The Senate version includes penalties up to one thousand dollars for an aggrieved person if the Department fails to meet its obligations under the law.  This is new, and was not one of my proposals.  If this provides the necessary incentive for the Department to follow the law, then I support it, although the last thing I would want right now would be to make money from something this awful.  I suppose, in that position, I would simply donate the money to the Sirita Memorial Fund to help other at-risk children.

PREFERRED: Senate version

 

I feel that combined, the bills do cover the required bases.  I encourage everyone to contact their legislators in support of them.  The strong bipartisan support they already have in both chambers is heartening.  It is also a comfort that they both will be introduced tomorrow, which marks exactly one month since her murder.

 

Feb. 19, 2005

BIG NEWS: This e-mail was sent to me and to the press today, by Representative Nixon:

----- Original Message -----
From: Toby Nixon
Sent: Saturday, February 19, 2005 4:53 PM
Subject: Re: Draft Legislation based on Sirita Law proposals

 
A similar bill has also been introduced in the House -- HB 2156, "Relating to dependency and termination of parental rights" (http://www.leg.wa.gov/pub/billinfo/2005-06/Htm/Bills/House%20Bills/2156.htm). Initial sponsors include Reps. Hinkle, Kagi, Nixon, Pettigrew, McDonald, Dickerson, and Pearson; other sponsors, including Rep. Springer, will be able to join as co-sponsors on Monday through the "pink slip" process. I should note that I asked Rep. Hinkle to get Rep. Springer as a co-sponsor, but he must have had a hard time finding him on Thursday afternoon; the bill needed to be dropped on Friday morning so that it could be on the introduction sheet on Monday and be scheduled for a hearing before cutoff.
 
Ruth Kagi is chair of the Children and Family Services Committee, and Bill Hinkle is the ranking Republican. Mary Lou Dickerson is the chair of the Juvenile Justice and Family Law Committee; Joyce McDonald is the ranking Republican. You cannot find a more powerful bipartisan set of co-sponsors for a bill related to child welfare. I think this speaks very highly for the importance of this issue and the desire of the legislature to not see a repeat of what happened to Sirita.
 
Best regards,
 
Toby Nixon
State Representative, 45th District

 

Feb. 18, 2005

BIG NEWS: Senator Bill Finkbeiner will present SB 6007, the Sirita Bill, on the Senate Floor on Monday, February 21, 2005.  The bill is based largely on the proposals I make on this website.  Shortly after, Representative Larry Springer will author similar legislation to present in the House.  To read a copy of the draft click here for HTML format, Word format, PDF format, WP format.

I will have further comment after I have time to study the draft a little closer, but at first glance it looks good.  This is a huge step forward.  A big THANK YOU to all my representatives and to everyone that worked on this proposal, and to those who made suggestions for its refinement.  And another big THANK YOU to everyone that called their legislators - and I know that has been quite a few people.

This is not the time to let up.  We need continued public pressure.  Call your representatives; make sure they will support this bill when it comes to a vote.  If they already support it, call them and say "Thank you!"

The Legislature is in session, the public outcry is strong, and now is the time to act.

Since all this began, today was not the first day I cried.  But it was the first day I cried tears of joy.

 

Feb. 17, 2005

One thing all kids seem to have in common - they don't want to go to bed. Summer time was especially confusing to Sirita. She would point to the daylight still coming in the window at 8 o'clock and say, "It's not bedtime." We would say, brush your teeth and put on your pajamas, and you can stay up a little more. When it came time, I would say, "Hey, you want to touch the ceiling?" Of course she did, so I would pick her up and she would touch the ceiling. After that it was the light, then the ceiling in the hallway, then the top of the door frame going into her bedroom. Then what do you know, there's the bed.

This still usually brought howls of protest at the end, so I found another creative way to get to bed that she really liked. I called it the "monkey dance." Sirita, Magda, and I joined hands in a circle, going around counter-clockwise, jumping up and down, chanting, "hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo hoo-hoo-HOO! hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo hoo-hoo-HOO!" Then Magda and I would break hands, turning it into a single file line, and we'd hop from leg to leg down the hallway going, "oo-ah-hoo ah oo-ah-hoo ah oo-ah-hoo ah HOO! oo-ah-hoo ah oo-ah-hoo ah oo-ah-hoo ah HOO!" By that time, we were in the bedroom.  We joined hands again and repeated the circle part. Then Magda and I would drop hands again, and I would do my best chimpanzee screech as we picked up the little monkey and dropped her into bed.

Whereupon Sirita would announce, "I've gotta go potty."

This would be followed by, "I need a drink," "I need my (fill in the blank, dolly, bunny, etc.)," "I want to see Mars," "I need a hug," and then lots of songs. But at lease we had started the process.

Sometimes instead of the monkey dance, we would do "the soldiers."  That's where Magda and I would carry her by the hands and feet, swinging her back and forth, as we marched down the hall doing the chant of the Winkies from the Wizard of Oz: "Oh-wee-oh, whoah-oh, oh-wee-oh, whoah-oh."

 

Feb. 16, 2005

Today I was a guest on the afternoon radio show, Live from Seattle with Thor Tolo, KGNW AM820.  Thank you, Thor, you were a great host.  I hope it helps to raise awareness, and maybe your listeners can help us pass this law.

--

Once Sirita and Magda were having, shall we say, a theological discussion.  Magda was surprised to hear Sirita say, "Jesus loves me first." "Jesus loves you, Sirita.  He loves everyone."  "Jesus loves me first," she insisted.  "He loves everyone the same, darling, not just you."  "But He loves me first!"

Magda was mystified until I came home and explained.  I had just taught her a new song, "Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me."

 

Feb. 15, 2005

Some have been confused about the purpose of these proposals, and have been concerned that they would be used to remove children willy-nilly from good homes based on anonymous accusations.  Nothing is further from the truth.

If someone makes a charge against you that cannot be substantiated, that is not a strike and the Sirita Law would not apply.  All you would have in that case is an unproven accusation.

The Sirita Law is aimed primarily at drug users who cannot or will not rehabilitate, and whose children are in foster care for five, six, even ten years or more. There is a point where we need to say enough.

Charges are only substantiated if they could hold up in court. Real examples from our local headlines explain what I mean. When police find children playing in their own feces or babies starved to death while the "parents" are high, then the charges are substantiated. I only wish I was making those examples up. But if a neighbor makes an anonymous complaint, that's not substantiated. Big difference.

In the case of even extreme proven abuse, the current system is to take the child into custody, give the parent parenting classes, drug test, psych evaluation, and possibly anger management, and then attempt family reunification. If in the process of getting their child back, the parent has a relapse and again neglects or abuses the child, then the process starts all over again: more classes and another attempt at reunification. In the case of my foster daughter, she was removed from her mother multiple times over a 3 1/2 year period. This was simply too much.

Under these proposals, the parent would still be given a chance to reform.  Reasonable attempts to reunite the family would still be the first priority.  If that fails, current policy is to attempt to place the child with someone in the extended family, and the Sirita Law would not change that.

People work better under deadlines.  This is tough love.  If Sirita's mother had been told that her first chance was likely her only chance, she may have sought rehabilitation more aggressively.  Starting sooner may have increased her chances of success.  If she had succeeded, she would have custody, and Sirita would still be alive.  Bottom line: kids need moms and dads to act like moms and dads.  If someone cannot get clean, we still care and want that person to get the help they need, but they don't have the right to destroy a life, no matter who they are.

It has been stated that relapse is a part of rehabilitation.  This is nonsense.  A relapse binge puts a child at risk.  If someone feels that they have the "right" to relapse as part of their "treatment," then clearly custody for them is not in the best interest of the child. Realistically, we know that long term hard core drug users have a high rate of relapse.  In these cases I do hope they get back into rehab and try again, and I hope they succeed.  But in the meantime, bouncing a child in and out of protective custody for years at a time, or worse, subjecting a child to neglect while the parent is stoned for days is simply unacceptable.

 

Feb. 14, 2005

Valentine's Day.  Is every holiday going to make me tear up from now on?  I hope not.  Maybe this is normal for now.  Sirita, I love you honey.  Everything I do now is for you.

--

We took Sirita to Old Country Buffet a few times.  It's a great place to take kids, because if they don't eat one thing, you can just swap something else.  It's really good when you have a new foster child, because you can quickly find out their likes and dislikes.

Sirita loved fresh fruit and raw vegetables.  She liked broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, and carrots.  She wasn't such a big meat eater, but we got her to eat a chicken drumstick.  She always had an ice cream cone at the end, with sprinkles on it.

On the way back home one night, a police cruiser shot past us with his lights flashing, no siren, but very high speed.  "Where's he going?" we wondered.  "He's going home," Sirita replied, confidently.  Intrigued, we followed up, "What's he going to do there?" "Eat dinner," she said.  "Then what?" "Take a bath and go to bed."

Magda and I laughed so hard.  She said it with such confidence.  She had described her own typical evening.  I could just imagine that officer in the bathtub with a scrub brush.  No wonder he had the lights flashing.

 

Feb. 13, 2005 PM

There are some incredible stories written in the guest book.  If you have been involved in foster care in some way, the most important thing you can do is to contact your legislators and tell them your story.  If you have the time to go to Olympia, and you can get an appointment, I suggest you meet face to face, bring your photos, and tell about your kids.  If you can't do that, then at least call them on the phone.  There is so much pain out there.  It's important they know that Sirita's case is not unique.

--

Driving home from the cemetery yesterday, I fumbled through my CD collection to find the "Driving 'Em Crazy" CD I got free from a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes.  I am not a huge country western fan, but I like a few songs.  I found the song Sirita liked, "Don't Let Me Down" by Kortney Kayle.  In the first few lines, the song mentions Cinderella.  Now Sirita loved Cinderella.  The first time she heard it, she sat up and said, "Cinderella?"  After that, it was known as the Cinderella song (although it really isn't about Cinderella) and she asked for it.  Sometimes when we were outside in the yard, I would turn on the car radio, crank the volume, roll down the windows, and we would rock out, singing, "Don't let me down!  Ba-a-aby don't let me down, don't, don't, don't!"  My wife would shake her head.  "What are you teaching her?"  Hey, we were just having fun.

In that same collection, there is another song, "Love's The Only House" by Martina McBride.  I've always liked it, and it strikes me as a particularly appropriate song for foster care.  The chorus goes:

Love's the only house big enough for all the pain in the world,

Love's the only house, big enough for all the pain,

And then at the end, she says,

I've got you covered, honey,

'Cause all that pain's gotta go somewhere,

So come on down to my house.

 

Feb. 13, 2005

Thank you for all the messages in the guest book and the e-mails.  To everyone that has asked what they can do, here are some concrete suggestions:

 

Feb 12, 2005

Today is Sirita's birthday.  She would have been 5.  We put flowers on her grave at 11am today, in Holyrood Cemetery, Shoreline.  My friends Florin and Isabela from church were there, with their 5 year old daughter, who was best friends with Sirita.  I invited the media, because it's so important that we fix this problem for all the kids.  There was a nice white basket of flowers sent by Sirita's Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Adrian, on her mother's behalf.  The card read, "Happy 5th Birthday My Angel, Love from Mommy."  I brought an arrangement of carnations and spring flowers.  I set them down, fumbled for words, and then just started to cry.  I could hear the camera shutters clicking.  Finally, I told her who had sent the flowers and that we missed her.

After the press left, another friend from work, Kim, and her husband came with a Lucite block inscribed "Birthday Princess" attached to 5 helium filled balloons.  "You're too late," I quipped, "you missed seeing me cry."  We hugged, Kim set the block down, and then released the balloons so they could float to Sirita in heaven.  I felt my knees get weak.  As it turns out, they weren't too late, after all.

Not the kind of birthday I would wish for her.  But I know she is in heaven, and I know she is happy.  I hope she likes the balloons.

 

Feb 11, 2005

Another Sirita story: Once when I did something that made her laugh, Sirita said, "You're funny!"  Magdalena said, "I know. That's why I married him."

A couple days later, when Sirita was with Magda in the car, Sirita said, "My mommy's so funny, that's why I married her. And I'm going to marry you, too!"

 

Feb 10, 2005 PM

This card from Sen. Finkbeiner was waiting for me at home today:

                                                                February 8, 2005

Dear Gary,

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me and share your story about the terrible loss of Sirita, your foster daughter.

I can't adequately express how sorry I am.  I hope you can find comfort in that we will be able to find some good in this situation by improving laws that will protect foster children.

Staff is already working on legislative solutions, and I will be in touch with you when we have a bill drafted.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if there is anything else I can do.

Sincerely,

Bill Finkbeiner

 

Feb 10, 2005

Rep. Larry Springer called me this afternoon.  He was very supportive.  He had obviously read the website; he was familiar with all my points. He said he knew that Sen. Finkbeiner was working on legislation in the Senate, and that he would look into it so he could craft something similar to introduce in the House.  He wants the two bills to be similar so they don't have to waste a lot of time in reconciliation committee.

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From time to time either Magda or I will remember a funny story about Sirita, and we remind each other about them.  It's comforting somehow.  I thought I'd share some in the blog.

I bought a huge mega bag of popping corn kernels at Costco once.  More economic, I figured.  I cut a corner of the bag and tried to pour some into a smaller empty jar.  But I had forgotten some basic rules regarding the conservation of momentum - when you have a large mass pushing on kernels with a small mass through a small opening, what you get is speed!  In a moment I had this stream of popping corn spraying all over the kitchen.  "Oh no!  What have I done!" I shouted.

"That's okay, Gary," Sirita answered.  "It was an accident."

Some days later, I discovered Sirita had found some Elmer's glue, and was using it to glue together all the pages of a cardboard book she had.  She had also created a little puddle in the carpet.  (It's still there.  We call it Lake Elmer's.)  "What did you do!"  Then something clicked in my head.  "It's okay, sweetie.  It was an accident."


Feb. 9, 2005 PM

Rep. Ruth Kagi, the chair of the House Children and Family Services committee, called me this evening.  She was very sympathetic, and listen to my story.  I invited her to look at the website and told her my proposals.  She told me that they are working on legislation now that would provide drug rehabilitation programs for parents whose children are taken away because of the parents' drug use.  If they refuse treatment, under the legislation, they could lose parental rights.  She feels this would solve the majority of cases, because 70% of all cases have to do with drugs.

I support this legislation.  I think it is an important step in the right direction, because:

However, it's not enough because:

Sirita's mother, Patricia, is a perfect example.  She was clean for two years and still couldn't manage to get Sirita back.  I can't give details, but you can figure out for yourself that if she was clean for two years and fully complied with DSHS in terms of parenting classes and visitations (she herself has reported all this publicly), then the reasons her daughter was taken away again must have been something other than drugs.

Yes, I think everyone should be given a chance.  Patricia loved her daugher.  Sirita loved her mother.  I know this, I saw that.  It would have been wonderful if she could have provided the stability Sirita needed.  But there must be a cut off where we say enough is enough.  If they can't straighten out their lives, I still care about them, I still want them to get the help they need, but they don't have the right to screw up a child's life.

I also spoke briefly on the phone today with my other representative, Rep. Larry Springer.  I called his office, and was actually surprised that he answered the phone himself, not a staffer.  He had other people waiting to see him at the moment, so I just told him why I called, and he promised we could have a longer chat tomorrow.

 

Feb. 9, 2005

Starting the web log today.

Last Monday I spoke on the phone with my representative, Rep. Toby Nixon.  He was very supportive.  He promised to speak with his seat mate and the chair of the House Children and Family Services committee.  The first thing he wants to investigate is whether or not the law was followed.  If the law was followed, then the next thing to look at is what needs to be changed.

Last Thursday I went to Olympia to meet with my senator, Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, who is also the Minority Leader.  He pulled into the meeting Jonnel Anderson from the Republican Caucus and a representative from Sen. Val Stevens, Ranking Minority Member of the Human Services & Corrections committee.  They listened to what I had to say and looked at my pictures of Sirita.  I learned that one year permanency is already a federal guideline, but that Washington State resets the clock every time they attempt to return the child.  Apparently this is true even if the transition to reunification completely fails, as it did in Sirita's case.  So Sirita spent four years - 80% of her life - running down a one year clock.  This is so wrong.  The senator promised to pass my proposals on to the ideas committee, and look into what can be done.

Saturday is Sirita's birthday.  She would have been 5.  We plan to go to the grave with flowers.  So sad.  So unfair.

People ask me, "how are you?"  I have no idea how to answer that.  It seems like a simple question.  I just don't have an answer.  I am coping.  My employer has been terrific, giving me time for my grief.  After the first night I spoke with the press I started sleeping better, because I felt like I was finally doing something positive.  But oh, I wish I could have saved her.  Isn't that what dads are supposed to do?

All I can do now is try to save all the other kids in the same situation, honor her memory, treasure the moments we had, and trust that she is with Jesus and we will see each other again one day.  I know she is happy in heaven.  I know she knows we love her.  That is a comfort.  But there will always be a little sad spot in my heart.

I think I need my pain.  It drives me to make sure no other child is hurt like this again.