- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2000

Noble: Institute for Children President Conna Craig, because it takes more than a village to save a child, it takes an individual who cares.

Twelve-year-old Catrina's story tells us everything that is wrong with foster care in America. She was in and out of foster care 10 times before she was two years old. A judge finally took her away from her mother for good after seeing the 48 recent cigarette burns on the young girl's head. Ten years after the judge rightfully stepped in, Catrina was still waiting for a permanent family.

Almost every politician wants to help children like Catrina, so why will more than 700,000 young Americans be trapped in foster care this year? In some states children bounce from one unstable situation to the next for more than five years. More than 50,000 of these children are legally free for adoption.

Conna Craig is changing that by forcing the foster care system to focus on the children, not the bureaucracy. Her efforts make her The Washington Times' noble of the week. In 1993 she co-founded the Institute for Children, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Boston. This year she is leading a second round of research on foster care placement and adoption rates in all 50 states. Many of the organization's recommendations can be found on the Internet at www.forchildren.org. Those recommendations include creating incentives for foster care agencies to place children in permanent families, tracking the success rate for placing children and letting private adoption agencies know which children are eligible for adoption.

Over the next few months Ms. Craig's organization will launch yet another endeavor Project Permanency which will recruit lawyers in every state who will volunteer their services to help with specific cases. The project will aid children who are lost in the foster care labyrinth and get them the legal help they need to find a permanent family.

Public policy is changing too. Just a few weeks ago Ms. Craig spoke at the Republican National Convention. She has been talking with Gov. George W. Bush and his policy team about what needs to change in foster care. Many of those changes have already been enacted in Texas, where the time children wait to be adopted has been cut in half over the last decade.

But Ms. Craig is not partisan and has publicly stated a willingness to work with Al Gore and the Democratic Party. She would like to help Mr. Gore develop his own foster care reform initiatives. So far Ms. Craig seems not to be on the Democrat's radar screen, but perhaps that will change.

Her goal is to get Al Gore to answer one question: "What are you going to do to make foster care work for America's children?" Mr. Bush has already answered that question with his Strong Families, Safe Children proposals and his Texas record. Mr. Gore, are you out there?

• Knave: INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, for honoring the "Elian raiders" as heroes.

For many Americans the picture of a masked federal agent pointing a machine gun at Elian Gonzalez says it all but not so for this administration. INS Commissioner Doris Meissner wants to have the last word; she wants to be on record making 114 federal agents who raided Lazaro Gonzalez's house heroes.

"You not only did the right thing, you did it extraordinarily well," she told the agents as she prepared to hand out congratulatory letters for the raid. Letters went to everyone involved in the pre-dawn, April 22 raid. Ms. Meissner gave special notice to the agents who "breached the door of the residence," according to The Wall Street Journal.

Under this administration, honor is subjective. It is whatever those handing out commendations say it is. However, real honor does not stem from a simple letter. It is earned in difficult situations, by making principled, and proper decisions despite the hardship. If that is what these agents did, why do they need a special letter as reward? A lot of people, including this editorial page, believe they have earned a badge of shame instead.

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