Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

Journal: Utilize all avenues to protect children
Wednesday, August 16, 2000

THE SOON-TO-BE appointed state child advocate needs to review the case of Martravious Smith and ponder the lesson of a child who didn't stand a chance.

Martravious was born into a family with an extensive history with Georgia's child welfare system, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state Division of Family and Children Services. But that system doesn't always move aggressively enough to remove children who are in potential danger.

Martravious' grandmother had her first child at 13 and by age 30 had birthed 12 more children, one of whom she abandoned at a hospital after giving birth at home; another died when an older sibling rolled over on him. Still another child was left paralyzed, blind in one eye and deaf in one ear after being shaken like a rag doll. Although the state removed some of this woman's children at some point, others remained; worse, some who had been removed were later returned to her.

Naturally, one of her children became a mother --- the mother of Martravious. His death was ruled "accidental" after he took a bottle prepared by his mother that contained an herbal remedy that was clearly marked "Keep Out Of Reach of Children."

We have commended the state for passing recent child protection legislation that forces the system to operate more openly instead of under a cloak of secrecy; and that provides social workers with better training and equips them with tools to keep track of children in trouble. And thanks to Gov. Roy Barnes and the Legislature, we can look forward soon to the appointment of the state's first child advocate.

We hope the child advocate will encourage state leaders to find the political will to move more quickly and with more determination to remove children from horrible situations such as the one that doomed Martravious. Taking children from such homes will almost certainly require shoring up the state's foster care system. It may also mean looking seriously at orphanages. But such solutions can only follow a determination that no child should be left in what common sense says is a death trap.

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