Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oh, Kentucky, when will you ever learn?

To the staff in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services,

You are just not getting it. Please let me spell this out to you in the simplest of terms.

Adoption = good.
Separating children from their biological families unnecessarily = bad.

This is not just about your quotas. Yes, we all know that Kentucky is under pressure to increase the number of children in adoption. We know that your goal is to increase the number of adoptions each year.

And, we also know that financial incentives are involved. After the number of statewide adoptions increased from 384 in 1999 to 902 in 2005, Kentucky received $1 million in bonus money.

And yet, putting as many babies as possible on the fast track to adoption isn't the point.

Step back for a moment and think about the purpose of adoption. Aren't we trying to avoid older children languishing for years in foster care? To keep foster teens from aging out of the system and facing the adult world completely on their own? I can't recall that getting babies and two-year-olds adopted has constituted a problem.

For a recent example, look at two-year-old Dae'Kuavion Perry. His mother died before his father could establish paternity. His father wants him. His aunt wants him.

You want to give Dae'Kuavion to strangers. Why? Because his father made a mistake four years ago and has been clean ever since? Court records and drug tests prove that father Tim Mabson has made every effort to turn his life around.

If you won't give Dae'Kuavion to his father, why not to his aunt? His aunt is a foster mother. She has adopted two foster children. How could she not be qualified to provide foster care to her own nephew?

Kentucky. Children's Voice. Washington: Sept. / Oct. 2006, Vol. 15, Issue 5, pg. 10.
Not family-friendly: State too quick to separate child from relatives. Lexington Herald-Leader, Editorial, Oct. 3, 2006.

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According to Ann M. Bassoni and Kelley Maguire in their feedback to the Lexington Herald-Leader, this foster care case should have remained out of the public eye.

Here's what they wrote:

"Sept. 27 Herald-Leader article by Valarie Honeycutt Spears, "Devoted to Dae'Kuavion; Julia Johnson recently adopted two foster sons, but she can't get a nephew out of foster care"

"Laws of confidentiality regarding children in the care of the Department for Community Based Services serve to protect the identity of the child and parent at a most vulnerable time.

"Unfortunately, the paternal relatives of Dae'Kuavion Perry appear to have put his well-being aside to have their needs advertised to the general public.

"What is most unfortunate is that confidentiality laws and ethics prevent department professionals and the boy's foster parent from refuting any misconceptions and accusations of unethical conduct by state workers leveled by those interviewed for the article.

"It is irresponsible and appalling that the placement of Dae'Kuavion's picture on the front page of the paper labels him a foster child and gives the public a one-sided account of his life.

"To establish some stability and permanency in the lives of children in state care, permanancy goals are reviewed when children remain in state care for 15 of 22 consecutive months.

"As human-service professionals, we believe in the ability of individuals to make positive change in their lives, but this should not come at the expense of a child's chance for stability with an adoptive family.

"There is a system in place that strives to follow the letter of the law, balancing the rights of a child and the rights of a parent, in determining placement of a child. Family placements are denied for a variety of reasons, and when this happens, the system turns to those who are willing to offer long- and short-term care to a complete stranger.

"To disrupt a long-term placement at this point in Dae'Kuavion's life so that relatives can care for him "temporarily" while his father makes changes does not make sense.

"To do so would seem to further the needs of relatives who were unavailable from the start of this child's journey and discounts the commitment of a foster parent who evidently made a place in her family for a child with severe health problems.

"It also seems to discount the bond between Dae'Kuavion and his foster mother, the only one he has known.

"As a society and as individuals we must consider the needs of children, especially at the early stages of life.

"This is not meant to negate what appears to be a family that cares about children and their spiritual and educational well being.

"Dae'Kuavion's relatives appear to have opened their lives to children who are not their own for perhaps the same reasons the foster mother has.

"Where were these relatives during those first months of the child's life, and why did they not step forward when he was removed from his ailing mother's care?

"It seems that these groups of caring individuals could come together outside the public eye to best meet the child's needs."

So that's what they wrote.

What do you think?

Ann M. Bassoni, a licensed clinical social worker, and Kelley Maguire work for a community mental health agency in Lexington.
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