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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., congratulates J Lahue, a freshman at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester, on winning second place in the senator's State of the Union essay contest.

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Proud of our young Vermonters

Every year, for more than a decade now, I have held an annual essay contest for Vermont high school students on the “State of the Union.”

The purpose is to try to get young people across our state thinking about the many issues we face as a nation, what the solutions might be, and what they would say if they were President of the United States giving the State of the Union address to the Congress and the country.

This year, nearly 400 students from 31 Vermont high schools submitted essays on many, many important issues. After the winners were chosen by an independent group of Vermont teachers, I had the opportunity to sit down with the 15 leading finalists for a round table discussion at the State House. I don’t know about them, but I had a lot of fun.

At the end of the discussion I asked the students what they had learned.

One student responded: “Government is a complicated thing.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I want to thank every student who participated in the essay contest. We should all be very proud of their efforts.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders

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Editor’s note: Second place went to J Lahue (pictured with Sen. Sanders), a freshman at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester.

Failures in child protection system need action

Vermont’s child protection system is in real trouble, as demonstrated in a recent study by the Vermont Parent Representation Center.

The problems have only gotten worse in the last five years. A bizarre system in which the Department for Children and Families (DCF) uses one standard of evidence and the Courts another, where evidence is required in court, but DCF can substantiate based on “information” alone. Substantiation by DCF precludes a person from working in most professions that have contact with children. In court, there is a judge and attorneys, but in the DCF process, there is only an investigator and their supervisor who make the decision.

One single mother, for example, lost her nursing job, her nursing certificate, her housing and her children. Criminal charges were brought because of the substantiation, then all charges were dropped when it was shown that there was no evidence supporting the state’s actions, but only after she became destitute and homeless.

Overturned substantiations of abuse and neglect by DCF, as depicted in a new study, reveal such failures as lack of evidence, failure of the investigator to follow investigative protocol, failure to interview witnesses, withholding exculpatory evidence, findings that evidence cited by DCF was not true, failure to notify the parent that they were substantiated for abuse and numerous other issues. See Broken Systems, Broken Promises at www.vtprc.org.

Of course, there are good people in the system, protecting children and assisting parents. But these failures are clearly systemic, harming too many families. The individual stories are outrageous, and Vermonters should be outraged by them. It’s time for our elected representatives to act. Surely we can do better than this by passing House Bill 169.

William Young

Former Vermont DCF Commissioner


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