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    A Times Editorial

    Haste can bring tragedy

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2000

    It's one of the cruelest ironies in child welfare: a young child, taken from his abusive parents to a presumably safer and more loving home, only to be killed by the foster parents who took him in. It's not supposed to happen. But it does all too often -- and has once again.

    Connecticut authorities admit they acted too rashly in placing 3-year-old Alex Boucher with New Port Richey's James and Jennifer Curtis. Caseworkers there knew that Alex desperately needed a home and that the Curtises, who baby-sat Alex when they lived in Maine, appeared to have his best interests at heart. What they didn't know -- because in all the rush they failed to check -- was that James Curtis was under investigation for brandishing a gun and had other factors in his background that might have prompted a second look. Now Alex is dead, and Curtis is in jail, charged with wrapping the boy so tightly that he suffocated. The case is a painful reminder of what can happen when authorities rush, albeit with the best of intent, to place a child without doing a full background check on the parents in whose care he is being entrusted.

    That's a lesson child-welfare authorities in Hillsborough, in particular, need to keep in mind as they scramble to respond to the stress and overcrowding that has plagued their foster-care system for months. That overcrowding is not letting up, according to a county Children's Board study out last week. Between September 1999 and January 2000, the number of young children coming into foster care jumped 80 percent, the vast majority from abusive or neglectful homes that presented an immediate danger. The Department of Children and Families has taken several steps to ease the crunch, including streamlining its method of approving new foster parents.

    The Boucher case shows the danger of taking such a fast-track approach to extremes.

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