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What's best for kids

March 11, 2009

Re "How computers call the shots for children in peril," March 8

By portraying Structured Decision Making, or SDM, as a Big Brother-ish computer that dehumanizes social work, The Times' article fails to place this tool in the context of enlightened child-welfare practice.

Far from replacing human judgment, SDM enhances it -- because social workers no longer rely on instinct or bias when deciding whether to put kids in foster care. Across the county, everyone uses the same methods and plays by the same rules.

Beyond guiding crucial decisions about whether to detain children, SDM also prompts workers to find community-based mental health and family-supportive services to treat drug abuse, domestic violence and other serious issues that often lead to child abuse.

SDM ensures consistency and transparency. That's good news for L.A.'s kids and families.

Martine Singer

Los Angeles

The writer is executive director of Hollygrove, a nonprofit organization focused on child welfare.

Although I appreciate the care The Times took in detailing the hard work of dedicated Los Angeles County social workers, it strikes me that the public never hears about the full spectrum of social work.

The reality is that very few of the children we interview are actually detained. The majority are placed with relatives. Family reunification is always Plan A.

Los Angeles County social workers work hard to keep children out of the system and safe -- and we have implemented programs to give children as many options as possible to avoid disruptions and remain with family. We do this all with smaller and smaller budgets, and the fear that more services will be cut as the economy worsens.

The image of social workers detaining kids is somewhat narrow. We perform many positive functions -- many times, against all odds.

David Green

La Crescenta

The writer is an adoptions social worker for L.A. County.

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