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Vermonters voice concerns about child protection - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermonters voice concerns about child protection

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CHESTER, Vt. -

Two deaths of toddlers this year who had been in state custody and then returned to their biological mothers sparked outrage among Vermonters.

State leaders have responded by giving people the chance to voice what they think needs to change about the way the state protects children.

The deaths of Dezirae Sheldon and Peighton Geraw prompted sadness and anger and many pointed fingers at the Department for Children and Families. Now the state wants to hear from those who have had first-hand experience with the system to see what can be done to prevent more children from suffering abuse.

"Something needs to change," said Kathy Paul, foster parent.

Paul has been a Vermont foster parent for 11 years and she says the state's system for protecting children from abuse and neglect needs improvement, a lot of it. Paul spoke out a public hearing in Chester Tuesday to voice her concerns to the Committee on Child Protection.

"She had a drug problem and she had had five other children that had been removed from her custody, yet she was allowed a chance with this baby," said Paul.

"I know it's a difficult and emotional topic," said Committee Co-chair Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.

It's particularly emotional for many in the state right now following the deaths of Dezirae Sheldon, who had been in state custody before returning to her biological mother and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, who died within an hour of a DCF visit in April. The cases have prompted new questions about Vermont's policies with Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, calling for an investigation into DCF. Those recent deaths were mentioned here, but state leaders insisted the focus of these meetings is the future.

"We're not investigating the deaths of Dezirae Sheldon or Peighton Geraw. This is a job for law enforcement and we cannot interfere with those investigations," said Sen. Sears.

Speakers advocated for more rights for grandparents.

"It's hard when your children get put into the system, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren. It tears us apart as much as it does the parents," said Carol Perry from Vernon.

Others called for major overhauls to the system, like Marie, who declined to give her last name, but said she is related to a child in the system.

"I was appalled at who they had let her stay with and I think that's my concern is better background checks on the people that we're handing these children over to," said Marie.

Rebecca Kenyon from Putney wants to see more care for kids after investigations are finished.

"Mandatory counseling for all affected children, not just during investigation but after. Bruises on the body heal faster than the ones left on the heart and soul," said Kenyon.

The dozens in attendance were in agreement that when children suffer abuse and are failed by the adults they depend on, it's not fair.

"I just don't think that that's fair," said Paul.

On Tuesday there was also a hearing in Manchester and one in Rutland. There are six more hearings set within the next week and you can get more information by clicking here. Lawmakers will collect this information as they continue their work to see if there are gaps in the system that need to be addressed to improve child protection.

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