A deadly pretense

Posted: Jan 23, 2003 12:00 AM

Angelo Marinda was a cute little baby but he never lived to see his first birthday because he was another victim of a widespread pretense of knowledge that has produced many tragedies.

Twelve days after he was born last April, little Angelo was in a hospital being treated for broken ankles and ribs. Although no one admitted abusing him, ankles and ribs don't break themselves, so he was removed from the home where his unmarried parents lived with relatives.

Then came the pretense of knowledge. There is something called "family reunification services" which are supposed to change abusive parents, so that their children can be safely returned to their home. But does anyone really know how to change someone who is capable of breaking the bones of a helpless newborn baby?

Although the severity of little Angelo's injuries would have provided a basis for simply putting him up for adoption, a social worker told the court that the San Mateo County Children and Family Services agency "will be recommending reunification services, as the parents are receptive to receiving services."

Hope springs eternal -- especially when it is at someone's else's risk.

The fact that the little boy's sister had also been removed from the home and was "developmentally delayed" after suspected neglect might have tempered this optimism -- but it didn't. The fact that Angelo came back bruised from a November visit with his parents might have been a clue. The fact that the baby "had a look of fear in his eyes" on a December 7th visit might have been a clue.

Nevertheless, the little tyke was turned over to his parents yet again for an unsupervised two-day visit at Christmas time. He died on Christmas -- literally shaken to death, according to police.

Facts like these can remain buried in bureaucratic files and the same irresponsible mistakes made again and again, with tragic consequences that remain unknown to anyone outside the narrow circle of those privy to the sealed information. This time, however, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marta Diaz ordered the information made public. Thank heaven!

Now the voters have no excuse for letting this deadly pretense of being able to rehabilitate child abusers continue. Tragically, it is just one of innumerable pretenses to knowledge that no one has -- and not just in San Mateo County.

All across the country, there are "services" being made available at taxpayers' expense in the name of "anger management," "rehabilitation" of criminals, and other miracles on demand. How many little Angelos are we prepared to sacrifice on the altar to these pretenses?

It is no great secret to those who follow these things that the "services" of social workers and shrinks have no track record that would inspire such confidence. But these services are a great way for officials to cop out by going through the motions of "doing something" about tragic situations.

Having prescribed these magic services, courts and social agencies can always claim good intentions when the coroners' reports come out. But it has been known for centuries that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

It would of course be wonderful to have some way to get criminals, drug addicts, abusive parents and others to change their ways and become better people. It would be great to be able to prevent crimes or drug addiction before they start. But setting up programs with such goals in their titles is dangerous make-believe and self-indulgence, when there is no evidence that these things can be relied on to do what they say they do.

The law, especially, should not be based on pretenses to knowledge. If little Angelo Marinda had simply been removed from his home permanently and put up for adoption, he would probably be alive today. That should carry a lot more weight than fashionable phrases about "family reunification."

Intellectuals and academics are part of this problem too. Years ago, I encountered the Stanford professor who was pushing this "family reunification" fad and told him, more or less politely, what a crock I thought it was. But I doubt if he has lost a moment's sleep over little Angelo.