- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

Foster parents, spanking and fragile children

The Virginia State Board of Social Services' decision to allow foster parents to spank their foster children is shocking ("Foster parents soon may spank," Metropolitan, July 3).

Whose best interest is being served by this decision? Children placed in foster homes are victims of unhealthy family environments because of abuse or neglect. If these children have been removed from their parents, it is because there are substantiated cases by Child Protective Services and juvenile court, and therefore something dreadfully wrong has been done to these children.

Research consistently demonstrates that child abuse causes profound physical and psychological injury, which can lead to long-term emotional maladjustment for the child.

Spanking an abused child, for whatever reason, including disciplinary action, could trigger a flashback and deepen the emotional wounds of these fragile children. Even children who have been sexually abused can react inappropriately to being touched in a nonthreatening way.

What about foster teen-agers? Will foster parents be allowed to spank them too? Who will draw the line on how old is too old to be spanked?

Spanking your children is a whole separate debate. But few parents, even those who spank their offspring, would spank children they are baby-sitting or having over for play dates with their kids. Why would foster parents act differently toward their foster children?

Foster parents are told these children will not be in their custody indefinitely. Reunification of these children with their family is the goal that social workers are mandated to achieve.

Social services officials already are overburdened by excessive caseloads. When will they find the extra time to investigate between abuse and discipline when foster children are spanked?

Children are placed in foster homes because they need to be protected. Nobody should be allowed to lay another finger on these defenseless victims.

JOANNE PERDU

Herndon

A straight-shooting article about gun safety

The Washington Times special report "Gun safety starts early" (July 2) presented a balanced analysis of the benefits of teaching firearms safety. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, fatal firearms accidents are at its lowest level since 1903; this despite the fact that there are now considerably more people and more guns.

Recreational shooting events have a safety record unequaled by football, basketball, baseball, swimming or bicycling. Accidents are so rare that statistics are not even kept.

It might be surprising to learn that shooting is the third most popular Olympic sport in terms of numbers of participating countries and competitors, exceeded only by track and field and boxing.

Competitive shooting also is one of the few sports where men and women can compete as equals. People with physical handicaps also can take part, often right alongside other shooters in regular tournaments.

The article provided a rational look at an issue that usually inspires hysteria.

STEVEN J. CANALE

President

Virginia Shooting Sport Association

Herndon

Colleges' 10-year campus plans need some tough grading

It is university campus plan time again. The D.C. government and the 15 residential communities already impacted by major universities are approaching an important crossroads, as the institutions present 10-year campus plans to the D.C. Board of Adjustment for approval, disapproval or emendation.

Two universities, Georgetown and George Washington, have submitted their ambitious projections. American and Catholic universities will present plans for expansion later this year and early next year. Neighboring communities are interfacing, reasoning and grappling as best they can on limited resources and volunteer help with powerful, expansionist institutions.

As usual, the universities' negotiations and presentations are all in a consortium and well represented by an expert law firm. This time around, however, the mayor, the director of the Office of Planning and the impacted communities are decrying existing conditions that stem from past university expansions.

In the neighborhoods abutting colleges, no other problem is as important as the lack of on-campus university housing for students. This dearth compels students with nowhere else to go to flood into nearby, usually small rented row houses in communities zoned for single families.

The current magnitude of the problem is staggering: George Washington University has more than 11,000 off-campus students. Georgetown has 2,414. American University is estimated at more than 4,000. Catholic University is joining the trend, with a recent increase in its freshman enrollment without an increase in housing on campus.

The impact on communities from students living off-campus are:

n Unreasonable noise.

n Parking problems.

n Undue amounts of garbage and trash.

n Reduced property values as the number of student renters increases. (The present heated real estate market would be under different circumstances.)

n Taxpayer flight from the city.

n Resident voting impact is decreased.

University-community relations efforts have eased the general situation in some areas to a limited degree, but have not resolved the root problem. On-campus housing is the solution.

Some university officials have recently argued that, even if colleges provide housing for all their students and relieve the communities, the students would not live on campus. This is disingenuous.

A university can make on-campus residence a condition of admission, the choice of such admission to be freely chosen or declined. This requirement already is being applied to freshmen and sophomore students at some colleges, to their credit.

Both the mayor and the Office of Planning director have declared that universities should not be unreasonably restricted from expanding. Rather, they assert, future expansion should be done in nonimpacted, needful areas of the city. Need for "competitiveness" is the current, highly dubious justification for aggressive expansion of campuses and additional community impact. Georgetown University, however, already has successfully located its law school downtown. George Washington University has a satellite campus in the Reston area, which it is reportedly able to develop for ancillary commercial uses, too. This may be the solution, but neither the available draft campus plans nor the submitted Office of Planning recommendations reflect this.

On July 27, there will be a "roundtable" discussion sponsored by the Office of Planning-Zoning Commission with community leaders and others to discuss the pressing need for an overhaul of the District's vague and seemingly unenforceable zoning regulations, especially those that pertain to campus plan definitions and universities.

This being the case, the timing of the D.C. Board of Adjustment consideration of present 10-year campus plan proposals is crucial. It makes no sense to let two, three or four major decade-long plans slip through under defective old regulations if overhauling these is a priority.

Meanwhile, the 15 already-impacted neighborhoods still scramble, with their scant funds and part-time citizen help, to deal with professionally represented and ambitious universities.

Just when tax incentives and other factors have begun a welcome turnaround in many of our communities that abut universities, we cannot allow these private institutions to set back that progress with additional enrollments, plant expansion and other encroachment.

GUY GWYNNE

President

D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations

Washington

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