'Three Strikes' for Abusive Parents Proposed

Gary M. said he was trying to give Sirita Sotelo, a foster child in his care for more than a year, a second chance at having a loving family, but the little girl kept being returned to members of her troubled biological family.

In January, several months after Sirita left Gary's home and moved in with her biological father, she wound up dead. She was just a few weeks shy of her fifth birthday.

Sirita was a victim of what police called "homicidal trauma." No one has been charged in her death.

"We lost something special a month ago. I lost a daughter and so did you," said Gary, who asked that his last name not be used out of respect for the other foster children currently in his care.

He was the first witness to offer testimony Tuesday night in support of a bill being considered by the Washington state legislature. "Sirita's Law" would limit the time a child can spend in foster care and limit the time biological parents have to get their act together.

As proposed, the bill would terminate parental rights when the child has been removed three times for abuse or neglect, when the problems that led to the child's removal have not been corrected or solved within a 15-month period, and when the biological parents have had no contact with the child for one year. After that time an approved foster family would be given permanent custody.

In an interview with ABCNews.com, Gary said that what he hopes the bill will do is get children in settled situations more quickly, whether it is with an adoptive family or their biological family. He recalled how Sirita reacted when she was told she was going to live with her biological father.

"She was excited that she was going to go some place where she could stay 'forever and ever' -- those were her words," he said. "She just wanted a place to call home."

The bill's supporters say that's what it would do -- make life easier for children of troubled parents by getting them more quickly into a permanent home where they can feel secure.

"When there's not stability, when there's a pattern of abuse, when there's habitual abuse -- what are we doing? We're just creating problems for the future," state Rep. Bill Hinkle, a Republican from Cle Elum who is a co-sponsor of the bill, told ABCNews.com.

Opponents of the bill, including a representative of the American Family Rights Association of Washington, said new legislation is not needed. If existing laws were more strictly enforced, they said, children would not spend so much time being shuttled back and forth between their biological families and foster care.

There have been problems with the state's Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees the child welfare system. A federal review released in February 2004 found the state failed 21 of 23 standards in providing for the safety and well-being of children in foster care.

The DSHS responded in May with a plan to address the problems, proposing to cut child welfare investigators' caseloads and increase the department's budget by up to $50 million.

'Too Many Caught in System'

Among the speakers who testified in support of the bill at the hearing before the House Children and Family Services Committee in Olympia, Wash., were foster parents who said they have seen children who had been in their care fall victim to fatal abuse and people who spent their youth bouncing back and forth between biological parents and foster homes.

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