Opinion

Roach fires back with a purpose | Klaas

Sure, Pam Roach has ruffled a few feathers.

She can be gruff and abrasive. She can be gentle and kind.

Make no mistake, she shoots from the hip.

It's her cut-to-the-chase nature. After all, she is a state Republican senator in search of answers while serving her constituency, which includes rural Auburn.

Lately, the senator's patience and resolve have been put to the test. Her latest crusade has turned emotional and confrontational – and it deserves all the attention she can muster.

Roach is exposing the inadequacies and troubles with the Department of Social and Health Services/Child Protective Services. In essence, she wants more accountability from an agency critics often attack for its careless, ineffective performance.

CPS violations and corrective legislation are on the table, and Roach is having her say.

“CPS has not been following the guidelines, lacks internal accountability, and is not self-corrective. Consequently, children are dying, and families are needlessly torn apart. We have reached a crisis level,” said Roach, who last week joined Washington Families United in hosting a “Families First” rally at Olympia.

About 150 people converged on the Capitol to demand greater rights for families embroiled in cases with DSHS, which is responsible for protecting children from abuse. Roach was there, front and center at the rally, pleading for change.

Roach promoted the rally, spurred by cases in which the state failed to stop abuse, including one in which a 14-year-old Carnation girl was starved.

Other cases in the area have attracted considerable public outcry.

"On one hand, they don't protect kids. On the other, they take kids away from parents," Roach said.

Roach is fighting back by proposing bills that would change the child welfare system. Among her ideas are dividing DSHS, one of the largest state agencies, into several smaller departments, improving grandparents' legal standing, and requiring court-appointed volunteers to represent children to report their financial and family status.

“Too many times press accounts of allowed atrocities are glossed over by DSHS, and corrective measures are not addressed,” Roach said. “It is hoped that drawing attention to the failings of CPS will change administrative policy, create accountability, require the department to follow state law and help children.”

Roach, a former substitute teacher and graveyard shift postal worker, said she understands the importance of family. A mother of five and a grandmother of 10, she has been outspoken against abortion and has been recognized for her support of many social programs.

Roach also has been by the side of an Enumclaw family locked in a long, bitter custody battle. For months, the Stuths lost custody of their grandchild. Only recently, did they get her back. The state welfare system failed in this case originally, as Roach contends, preventing caring blood relatives from gaining custody of a child from an unfit mother. It was a terrible fight, but one in which Roach was not afraid to intervene.

In wake of the controversy, DSHS officials understand how important staying with relatives can be for children and have been moving more kids to those homes.

Children placed with relatives have fewer behavioral problems and switch homes less frequently than children placed with foster parents, research indicates.

Still, there are too many cases that have gone awry. And still, there is much more that needs to be done to improve the system.

As far as Roach is concerned, this battle is far from over. No doubt, the fiery senator will be heard from again.

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