The Bush administration appears to address social problems much as its predecessor did -- by waiting until they reach crisis proportions and then employing Draconian "solutions." A telling indicator of this costly, short-sighted approach is the letter "Children First" {Jan. 26} from Mary Sheila Gall, assistant secretary of human development services at the Department of Health and Human Services, in which she brands family preservation efforts for drug-abusing parents as futile. Readers are led to believe that separating children from parents is the only response to parental substance abuse.

Child welfare law is clear and correct: children must be removed from dangerous environments. But the removal of a child from natural parents is painful for the family, and it results in tremendous costs to our child-welfare, court and public-assistance systems.

We can prevent much of this waste by being responsive to cries for help and avoiding the escalation of crises that leaves removal of children as the only alternative. There is a critical shortage of drug treatment for substance-abusing women, especially when they are pregnant. National experts and community practitioners have repeatedly testified that many women of child-bearing age are turned away from drug treatment facilities for lack of space or cannot participate because there is no child care.

To help our troubled families and their children, we need adequate drug treatment opportunities for women, coverage of a range of treatment services under Medicaid and more trained service providers. GEORGE MILLER U.S. Representative (D-Calif) Chairman, Select Committee On Children, Youth and Families Washington