Friday, November 13, 2015

[Un]Just Removal of a Child in Foster Care

I live in a conservative state but even I was surprised when I learned of a judge's recent order for the removal of a foster child in my state from their current foster home based solely on the fact that the child's foster parents are lesbians:

NOTE:  Before I get bombarded with comments or e-mails from anyone wanting to argue for or against same-sex marriage, let me be clear that a debate on that matter isn't the purpose of this post. I know how I feel about the issue and I respect the right for others to have a different opinion.  My objective is to share what I know as a foster parent and to discuss what I feel are just and unjust reasons for the removal of a child from a foster home.

When I first read about this particular case and Judge Johansen's order I jumped to a few immediate conclusions, such as,"Surely there is more to the story that is not being reported!" and "Is it possible that the bio parents are in opposition to this placement which could have some bearing on the judge's decision?"

As more of the story has come out in the media I've learned that the sole basis for the judge's decision to remove the child from her current foster home is from him stating that "research shows that children fare better in heterosexual homes."  

Whether homosexual, heterosexual, black, white, or anything in between, here are my personal justifications for removing a child from their foster home.  My criteria are really pretty basic and fall into two categories:

Just Reasons for Removing a Child from a Foster Home:
1) Neglect or Abuse (Alleged or Substantiated)
2) Reunification with the Child's Biological Family

Unjust Reasons for Removing a Child from a Foster Home:
-Basically anything other than #1 and #2 listed above, which surely includes sexual orientation of the foster parents.

As a foster parent I can tell you that the licensing process is very extensive- as it should be.  Foster parents come in all shapes and sizes but they must meet certain qualifications before they can even begin the licensing process.  Foster parents may be straight or gay, married or single, but they cannot be in cohabiting relationship.   

The foster mothers in the middle of this legal battle are legally married which qualified them for foster care licensure in the first place.  After undergoing background checks, hours of training, home safety inspections, extensive interviews and paperwork, and providing references attesting to their character, Hoaglund and Peirce were approved by the Division of Child and Family Services to be a foster and adoptive family in the state of Utah.  

I can also tell you that checking up on foster families continues well after the initial licensing process and is particularly evident as caseworkers make required home visits on a regular basis to ensure that a foster child is safe and cared for in their foster home.  If DCFS or even the bio families of a child in foster care should ever have concerns for the well-being of the child, these concerns would surely be brought up and discussed at a Team and Family Meeting, mentioned to the legal representation of the parties involved, and reported to a judge at the child's next hearing.  That is the part of this story that had me puzzled- their appeared to be no valid cause for removal of this child by DCFS, the child's legal representation, or the child's birth mother and her legal representation.  In fact, the child's birth mother was in favor of having her child remain in the care of her foster mothers.

I learned very early on in my fostering experiences that judges hold a tremendous amount of power. I've been in courtrooms where DCFS and the child's Guardian ad Liteum both strongly argue for one action (terminating parental rights or discontinuing unsupervised visits, for example) and yet the judge is the one who has the final say and is free to go against any testimony or evidence presented, leaving caseworkers and foster parents- the ones who spend the most time with the foster child and who really get to know not only the child but the background to their case- scratching their heads and thinking about the final court order, "Are you freaking kidding me?"  "How is this decision in the child's best interest?".

Any foster parent will soon discover that although we want so badly to advocate for the needs of the children in our care and to be a voice for what is in the child's best interest, as foster parents we have very little say and virtually no legal rights when it comes to determining a child's placement.  That is because fostering isn't about us as the foster parents but it's about the child.

Fortunately, DCFS had the best interest of this child in mind and their experience (and the research) has shown that more moves for a child equates with more trauma for the child. Accordingly, the Division filed a motion with the judge to stay his court order.  Were he to decline, the agency said it would petition the court of appeals.  

As news of this case unfolded I tried to put myself in the shoes of this foster family- given days notice that the child they had been caring for would be removed and placed in another home solely because of their sexual orientation.  I kept thinking to myself, "If a judge ordered one of our foster children to be removed based solely on the sexual orientation of my husband and I, I would be outraged!  I would find it to be nothing less than blatant discrimination and we would most likely be pressing and praying for an appeal."

Not only that, but we know all too well how heartbreaking it can be to have to say goodbye to the foster children we've welcomed into our home- whether they've been with us for weeks, months, or nearly a year.  For that reason alone my heart went out to this foster family.  Peirce and Hoaglund have had their foster baby in their care for three months now.  If this baby is in a safe and loving home, why move her?

And now for the good news: About halfway through writing this post I received word by way of local Breaking News that Judge Johansen revised his order and the baby girl will be remaining with her foster family a result of DCFS's motion.

Furthermore, if I read correctly, parental rights of the birthmother were terminated at this hearing as well, which means that Peirce and Hoaglund could very well be able to adopt their foster baby next year.

I'm certain this is just the first of many cases to come of the rights of same-sex couples to foster or adopt now that same-sex marriage is legal in my country.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with same sex marriage I think we can all agree that loving, nurturing homes produce loving, nurturing children and there are many children in need of such homes on a temporary and permanent basis.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

This case is interesting in that it could(unchallenged) set a precedent for what types of foster families are deemed acceptable. Most states(if not ALl) need more foster families, not less. We hear a lot of negative press on what DCFS does, and does not do for kids in care. At least in this case they seem to be in support of the foster parents.