Testimony before the Children and Family Services Committee
Hearing of House Bill 2156
Regarding dependency and termination of parental rights
March 1, 2005, 6:00pm
John O’Brien Building, Hearing Room D
Madam Chairperson, I am Gary M., Sirita Sotelo’s foster daddy from Feb-Nov 2003, and I am here to speak in favor of HB 2156, which is named in her honor. I wish to thank you and the other members for this opportunity to speak.
We lost something special a month ago. I lost a daughter. So did you. The people of Washington State lost a little girl they are just now getting to know. She had a life. She had dreams. She had a future. If I have any comfort in this, it is that in death she has touched so many people so deeply, she has, in a way, become everyone’s daughter. She was the daughter of my heart. She was a daughter of Washington State. If children are our future, then the death of any child destroys a little bit of ourselves.
No child winds up in foster care because they have perfect parents. There is something dysfunctional going on. Returning a child back to that place where something bad happened usually means putting a child at risk.
I want the committee to understand the “tough love” nature of these proposals. Sirita died because too many things simply took too long. It took her mother too long to get off of drugs. It took the state too long to decide when to terminate parental rights. It took the father too long to decide he wanted to be involved in his daughter’s life.
The mother should have known from day one that her second chance to get her daughter was likely her only chance. She might have been more aggressive seeking rehabilitation, and she might have been successful.
Had this bill been in place, the likely outcome was still placement with the father, but he should have been forced to make this decision when she was one year old, not nearly four. That would have made all the difference.
That is why it is my belief that if enacted, this law will actually increase successful family reunifications.
I agree that everyone should get a second chance, and that reasonable efforts should be made to reunify the family. But at what point is it no longer reasonable? Is it reasonable that she should be removed from her mother six times over a four year period?
3 ½ years in foster care is not unique. It isn’t even exceptional. There are thousands of kids caught in legal limbo for years and years. There comes a point when we must say, “enough.”
A child is a responsibility, not a possession. If a parent abdicates that responsibility, through abuse or neglect, they should have one year to get their act together and start acting like a parent, or have their rights terminated.
It is too late for my little girl, but there many more just like her still caught in the system. If my daughter’s death is what it takes to get this law changed – the price was too high.