Sunday, May 07, 2006

From One Extreme to the Other

Quick to reunify or quick to sever custody? Is there no middle ground between these two extremes?

While some states and social services agencies drag their heels in terms of finding children a stable permanent home, it appears that Kentucky has gone in the opposite direction.

Financial incentives appear to be prompting hasty and unwise decisions that are not necessarily in the best interests of the child.

From 384 in 1999 to 902 in 2005, the number of children moved from state foster care to adoption in Kentucky has steadily increased.

This increase has resulted in $1 million in bonus money which Kentucky received in 2004. The state receives a bonus of $4,000 for each adopted child, and more if the child has special needs.

A whistleblower lawsuit claims that the Cabinet stands to lose millions of dollars if it fails to meet federal time frames. Veteran state social workers have reported being pressured to terminate parental rights.

The bottom line in the parent rights debate:
1.) It's important to prevent children from languishing in foster care.

As my recent blogs will attest, ongoing abuse and repeated abandonment by a parent of their biological children should lead to termination of parental rights -- not reunification.

2.) It is also important to avoid "quick trigger" adoptions if there is not enough evidence to justify the removal.

Kentucky political agenda
- 225 complaints were filed on an anonymous hotline, which was set up by child-protection workers who were concerned about the situation, but fearful of violating confidentiality laws by making their concerns public.

-Social workers in Hardin County reported that supervisors picked adoptive families based on how those families could benefit the Cabinet or because supervisors thought the families were owed a favor.

-Social workers from other parts of the state said supervisors forced them to terminate custody prematurely in order to raise the number of adoptions of foster children.

"Over-correcting the problem"
-In 1999, federal authorities found Kentucky out of compliance with the Adoption and Safe Families Act. Children were languishing in foster care.

-By 2003, the problem still had not been sufficiently corrected and Kentucky faced $1.7 million in fines if the situation didn't improve.

Unsafe adoptive homes
Here's a quote that really disturbs me: The attorney for former state social worker Pat Moore says Moore was fired because she criticized her supervisors for insisting that two foster children be placed with an adoptive family in Verona in Boone County even thought the family, among other problems, allowed a man described in court documents as a pedophile convicted of sex crimes to be around the children.

In her whistleblower suit, Moore said the Cabinet was forcing the adoption to keep its numbers high. Court records show that Cabinet supervisors pushed for the adoption even though those same supervisors acknowledged that the prospective adoptive home should not have been approved and a private foster care agency deemed the home unfit.

According to a memo from Cabinet officials that is included in the lawsuit file, there had been a half-dozen complaints about the prospective adoptive parents, which the Cabinet never substantiated.

In a September 2004 court petition to remove the children from the home, Thomas W. Beiting, a court-appointed guardian, told a judge that both parents had criminal records. Beiting also noted that a son living in the home had been convicted of multiple felonies, including drug convictions, and that the foster mother's brother, a convicted child abuser, had been in the home around the foster children.


"It is obvious that this home probably should have never been approved," said a July 2004 report that summarized a meeting between three regional supervisors and was included in the court file.

But the supervisors went on to push for the adoption. "It is our recommendation that we proceed quickly with the adoption, while building in the greatest safety net as possible," the report said (Foster adoption push).

Where's the logic? To take a child from an unsafe home and place that child with a secure adoptive family - that I can respect and understand.

But to try to use children to repay favors? To place them in adoptive homes that are unsafe? That child doesn't need a safety net. He or she needs a safer initial placement.

Equally disturbing is this quote from a second article: Domestic violence shelter directors say the state is increasingly taking children away from women who have done nothing more than move to a shelter to escape a violent home...Some Cabinet workers have been telling women that shelters aren't an appropriate atmosphere for children (Mothers in domestic violence shelters).

Here's the scenario: Mother is in an abusive situation. She leaves, taking the child with her. That's motherly love. Is she protecting the child? Yes. Caring for the child? Yes. Making sure that the child is sheltered, fed and nurtured? Apparently so. She certainly didn't abandon the child by leaving him or her behind.

So, I would ask the Cabinet to give me a good, strong reason why such a mother might lose parental custody. Is the mother neglectful? Addicted to drugs? Abusive? Or has she just fallen on a period of hard luck, and all she needs is some support in order to pull her life back together?

These are very important distinctions to make before coming to custodial decisions.

Sources: Foster child adoption push investigated: State unjstly terminates parental rights for federal money. By Valarie Honeycutt Spears, Herald-Leader staff writer.

Mothers in domestic violence shelters face losing their children. By Valarie Honeycutt Spears, Herald-Leader staff writer.

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Comments:
I've been lurking daily - no need really to comment except to tell you what a masterful job you're doing and how much I've learned.

Ann
 
You're quite right, and your suggestions make a lot of sense. I hope you can reach enough people to hear your arguments and push through reasonable changes!
 
Thanks so much, Ann, I appreciate your encouragement.

Irina, thanks for stopping by. After reading your blog, I'm thinking that you are going to make positive changes in this world as well!

Lisa
 
wow, that's pretty weird that kids would be taken away because their mothers went to a battered women's shelter. I have to say I have never heard of that in New York. Rather, the controversy here a few years ago was that kids were taken away when their mothers DIDN'T go to a battered women's shelter--when they stayed and their kids were exposed to the abuse. There was a successful lawsuit against New York City about this, which I didn't really agree with since I believe witnessing domestic violence is extremely traumatic for children. Anyway, in most cases of domestic abuse now the children might be placed temporarily until the abuser is removed, but the mother does not usually lose custody.
 
I shall do all in my power to ENSURE that we ALWAYS protect the BEST interest of the children. You have my word on it.
 
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