DA responds to Latino community's claims

February 29, 2008 7:00:03 PM PST
The Latino community in Santa Clara County is mobilizing after a series of reports by our media partner the San Mercury News. They are outraged that Latino families, more than any other group, are being torn apart by the child welfare system.

Latino leaders in Santa Clara County say too many Latino children are being taken away from their parents.

"We need to create change in the culture that is very biased and in some cases even very racist," says Victor Garza, La Raza roundtable chair.

The complex and confidential system of dependency court can change lives forever. The process starts when a social worker suspects child abuse or neglect.

In Santa Clara County, Latino children make up 34 percent of the population, but 60 percent of the children in foster care.

"We can't have that many bad parents moving into Santa Clara County that are Latinos. Sixty percent is excessive. It's scandalous," says Noemi Baiza, a former social worker.

The county has a unique system where prosecutors represent the child's interests.

"The reality is we're trying to make sure that those children who are subjected to being harmed in situations are put in a position where they are protected," says Rolanda Pierre-Dixon, from the dependency court.

Critics of the county's child welfare system say parents are not given adequate representation and there are not enough services to help keep families together when issues can be resolved.

Katherine Lucero is the supervising judge in Santa Clara County's dependency court. She spoke to ABC7 earlier this month when we highlighted a Mercury News series calling attention to the failed system.

"Our drug and alcohol outpatient waiting lists are long. We don't have enough residential care. We have very little care that keeps the mother and children together," says Lucero.

District Attorney Dolores Carr was at Friday's news conference and says her office is ready to work with Latino leaders and other agencies to delve deeper into the skewed numbers.

"I think the concern is valid. I think we always need to understand that we are accountable to the community and that we need to make sure we are not approaching this with any kind of bias against any particular ethnic minority community," says Carr.

Latino leaders say they are planning a community-wide meeting in April to address the issue.