One child

Almost 44,000 emergency calls rang through to Sacramento County last year from people concerned about the safety and well-being of specific local children. About 3,000 of these cases were deemed worthy of immediate investigation by county social workers. As a result, the county says about 500 kids wound up being removed from the care of one or both parents and placed in protective custody.

Unwanted or unsupervised.

Misbegotten or misunderstood.

It’s easy to explain away the problem of abused or neglected children by pointing to its roots in poverty, lack of education, drug or alcohol use, a history of incarceration … perhaps all of the above. But that doesn’t make it any easier to accept this as the fate of large numbers of children in our region.

Some say the government bureaucracy assigned to handle this problem, Child Protective Services, is swamped and overloaded—that it needs more resources to deal with the enormity of its task. Others say CPS has become too large already, more focused on its own bureaucratic survival than its mission to help children too young to help themselves. Regardless, it seems often true that instead of putting a spotlight on a social problem, government creates a bureaucracy simply to hide it.

But what if you look at just one family.

What if you look at just one child.

In this week’s cover story, SN&R staff writer Chrisanne Beckner does just that. In “The Goodbye Girl” she follows a so-called “runner” for CPS as she attempts to unfold the mystery of one family. Beckner follows social worker Misty Sanchez as she tracks clues, weighs possible outcomes and, ultimately, determines the fate of a 10-year-old girl.

One child.

One future.

Funny how one’s perspective broadens when huge numbers are narrowed down to just one.