Authorities Investigate After Foster Care Toddler Suffers Skull Fracture

Authorities are investigating after a young South Florida boy in foster care was hospitalized Wednesday with a severe head injury.
Charlie Costa, just 11 months old, was rused to Coral Springs Medical Center with a skull fracture. He was later transferred to Broward General Hospital, where doctors called the Department of Children and Families.
"We have been made aware of the incident and began looking into it immediately this afternoon," DCF spokesman Mark Riordan said late Wednesday. "We understand that the child's condition has improved and we anticipate that he'll be released this evening."
Jim Lewis, the attorney for Costa's biological parents, said the foster parents claim the boy was hurt at a daycare center.
Lewis said that there may be a child abuse investigation.
"We know from talking to the emergency room doctor that this was not an accident, this had to be from a very hard, blunt force trauma," Lewis said. "We're just gonna have to be patient and see what the authorities say."
Lewis said the boy was removed from his mother's care about six months ago, after he was hospitalized with a burned hand after Costa's mother says the boy reached into a bowl of hot soup. But the mom, who alllegedly has a history of drug use, was slurring her words when she brought him in, and Charlie was placed in a foster home.
"It was a mistake," the boy's grandfather, Nicki Costa, said about the burning. "He got burned by a mistake."
Lewis said he hopes the boy will be given back to his biological family. He said a custody hearing has been scheduled for Thursday afternoon.   
"This child should be returned to his mother, his mother had done everything that DCF has asked of her, in terms of drug tests and parenting classes," Lewis said. "She's been ready to take her child back for some time, and DCF has refused, but hopefully tomorrow in light of this, this child's gonna be returned to his mother where he should be."

Foster care provider charged with sexual assaults

BY ALEX PIAZZA apiazza@record-eagle.com The Record Eagle Thu Mar 03, 2011, 03:36 PM EST
BELLAIRE — An Antrim County foster care provider is accused of sexually assaulting a girl several times over a five-year span.

Judge Michael J. Haley arraigned Jere Clark, 69, this morning in Bellaire's 86th District Court on six counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and a count of first-degree CSC.

Sexual assaults began in 2004, when the girl was 12, and lasted until 2009, authorities said. Antrim County sheriff's deputies arrested Clark this morning and he remains behind bars.

3-Year-Old Girl In Foster Care Killed

 HAMMOND, La. -- Tangipahoa Parish detectives are investigating the death of a 3-year-old girl who died while in the care of her foster parents, according to family members.
Faith Saucier died about a week ago, and was buried Friday. Authorities now say her death is a homicide.
"She didn't deserve none of this. The sweetest little thing. She didn't deserve none of this," said Ashley Saucier, Faith's biological mother.
Ashley Saucier battled drug problems for years, so she put her daughter into the state's foster care system. Last Friday, she laid her to rest in the remote family grave in Varnado.
"I want whoever hurt my baby, and killed my baby, to be in jail," she said.
Saucier's attorney, William Arata, showed WDSU the Tangipahoa Parish coroner's report he obtained on Faith, showing the manner of death was homicide.
"Blunt force trauma, sub-scalpular hemorraging about the head along with two perforations of the small intestines," said Arata, reading from the report.
The report also included pictures of apparent bruises on Faith's arms and neck.
"Soon thereafter, I was informed there was a gag order. Nobody's presented me with a copy of this alleged gag order," Arata said.
And that's apparently why few people are talking about Faith's death. The sheriff's office said the gag order was issued by 21st Judicial District Juvenile Judge Blair Edwards.
The sheriff's office will only confirm it has launched in investigation into the child's death.
"Whoever is responsible for this homicide has still not been arrested, and the mother is just looking for closure at this point in time," Arata said. "I can't believe anyone in the city of Hammond would like to know that there is a potential child murderer in their midst."
Arata said only eight people attended Faith's funeral Friday, and many questions remain unanswered.
"She (Saucier) is not going to rest tonight, or tomorrow night, or the day after that, until she knows who killed her child. I agree with her," Arata said.
The office of Children and Family Services in Tangipahoa Parish referred WDSU to the state office in Baton Rouge, but those calls were not returned.
Asked about the gag order Wednesday afternoon, Judge Edwards said, "There is truly no need for a gag order in any juvenile case. All juvenile matters are confidential by law to protect and ensure the safety of all children."

Foster care provider charged with sexual assaults

March 3, 2011
BY ALEX PIAZZA apiazza@record-eagle.com The Record Eagle Thu Mar 03, 2011, 03:36 PM EST
BELLAIRE — An Antrim County foster care provider is accused of sexually assaulting a girl several times over a five-year span.

Judge Michael J. Haley arraigned Jere Clark, 69, this morning in Bellaire's 86th District Court on six counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and a count of first-degree CSC.

Sexual assaults began in 2004, when the girl was 12, and lasted until 2009, authorities said. Antrim County sheriff's deputies arrested Clark this morning and he remains behind bars.

Wexler: Reforms aided child safety


In an April 10 editorial, the News-Leader speculated that critics "may" say that changes in law and policy following the death of Dominic James placed more emphasis on parental rights than child safety. Such critics "may" say that this "may" have contributed to the death of Kaiden Light.
Should anyone actually say such a thing, that person will be mistaken.
Here are the facts:
FACT: It is impossible to truly measure overall child safety based on the number of deaths of children "known to the system" for a reason for which we all should be grateful: Though each is the worst form of tragedy, the number is so low that it can rise or fall due to random chance. But, just for the record, the number of such deaths in Missouri has declined since the reforms of 2003 and 2004.
FACT: A much more reliable measure of child safety is the percentage of abused children who are re-abused within six months - the measure used by the federal government to evaluate child welfare systems. In the six years from 2003 through 2009, the average for this measure has improved more than 20 percent compared to the three years before -- which is as far back as these data go.
This means the reduction in the number of children taken from their homes in Missouri in recent years improved child safety. That's not really surprising. With workers wasting less time on false allegations, trivial cases and children needlessly taken from everyone they know and love, they have more time to find children in real danger.
FACT: The reductions in the number of children taken from their homes in Missouri did no more than bring the state closer to best practice across the country. Missouri went from taking away children at a rate well above the national average, to taking children at just about the national average rate. Greene County remains above those averages, even when poverty is factored in.
FACT: States that are widely recognized as, relatively speaking, models for keeping children safe, take proportionately fewer children than Missouri.
Worst of all is any suggestion that we should allow caseworkers to tear apart families based on a "gut feeling." In child welfare, gut feelings tend to be biased. One study found that when caseworkers were given otherwise-identical hypothetical cases they were more likely to say the child was "at risk" if the child was described as black. Combine that with middle-class caseworkers passing judgment on impoverished families and you have a formula for the mass confiscation of children when poverty itself is confused with neglect.
A police officer cannot break down your door, burst into your home arrest you and haul you off to jail just because of a "gut feeling" that you're the child murderer he's looking for. Children are entitled to the same protection against being torn from everyone they know and love.
That's why we are a nation of laws, not digestive tracts.
Richard Wexler is executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, www.nccpr.org.

Report finds DHS mismanagement puts children at risk of harm


Children's Rights, a child advocacy group out of New York, sued DHS saying the state's foster care system is broken.
Since filling the suit, Children's Rights has hired a number of experts to examine DHS's practices and policies.
On Monday, Children's Rights released two reports from experts that it had hired.
Viola Miller, a former Tennessee children's services commissioner, examined the agency's management structure. She looked at thousands of pages of DHS documentation and found failures in the agency's leadership to oversee programs and staffing.
Miller also found that that families weren't reunified with their birth parents in a timely manner and problems with ensuring parents had a regular opportunity to visit with their children in foster care.
The other report was written by a computer expert. It shows failures in the OK DHS's reporting system and found some reports were wrong or outdated.
However, DHS officials question the validity of these reports. They say the reports haven't been validated by another authority. They also say that since these studies are paid for, they're concerned the findings could be slanted in Children's Right's favor.
As far as the computer experts reports, DHS says the claims were completely inaccurate and wrong. DHS says it has its most sophisticated computer system yet.
DHS goes onto say that Children's Rights is know to file lawsuits across the country.

Davenport Couple Sentenced For Stealing From Their foster children

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
A Davenport husband and wife were each sentenced Monday to three years in prison for stealing more than $400,000 in life insurance money from a former foster child.

17-month-old Brooklyn child beaten by foster mother's boyfriend likely to die

The 17-month-old Brooklyn child allegedly beaten by his foster mother’s boyfriend was likely assaulted with a metal rod or bat and is likely to die, it was revealed in court today.
Kysheen Oliver, 19, was arraigned on assault and endangerment charges in Brooklyn Criminal Court today as the prosecution revealed the horrific injuries he allegedly inflicted on little Kymell Oram while he was babysitting last Thursday.
Kymell suffered multiple broken ribs, bruising to his buttocks, torso and eyes, a lacerated liver, a bruised spleen and a torn anus in an attack likely to have included the use of a metal rod or bat, Assistant District Attorney Wilfredo Cotto told Criminal Court Judge Joanne Quinones.
There were gasps in the courtroom and a stunned onlooker exclaimed, "Damn!" as the orgy of violence was recounted.
Oliver’s girlfriend, 32-year-old Teyunna Cummings, returned home from dropping her daughter and another foster child and found Kymell laying face down in a pool of vomit.
Kymell was having difficulty breathing and Cummings gave him asthma medicine and told Oliver to call 911, Cotto said.
Oliver said they should wait 20 minutes for the medicine to take effect, but Cummings told him the child didn’t have 20 minutes, Cotto said.
After being whisked away in an ambulance, Kymell had to be twice resuscitated and is likely to die, the prosecutor said.
Quinones ordered Oliver held without bail.

Santa Clara County fires doctor who worked with foster children after allegations of sexual molestation

The longtime chief pediatrician for abused and neglected children in Santa Clara County has been removed from his post, following repeated allegations that he sexually molested children in his care.
Dr. Patrick Clyne has not been arrested, but San Jose police investigated him twice, in 2001 and again last year, and came to believe there was support for some of the accusations, according to sources close to the inquiries.
Clyne, a well-regarded physician who has worked with foster care patients here since 1996, denies any wrongdoing.
"I haven't done anything to deserve this," said Clyne, 49, who has been a foster parent for four boys in addition to caring for thousands in his job at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. "I've worked in San Jose for the past 16 years and I've never had an interaction with a kid that was inappropriate or unprofessional in those 16 years -- or at any time in my life."
Clyne's March 10 dismissal has generated outcry in the close-knit foster care community, where many think he is being unfairly punished without the opportunity to defend himself. Clyne inspires devotion in part because of his personal circumstances. He is a paraplegic who conquered his disability to become a doctor of uncommon dedication to an extraordinarily challenging group of patients.
But Clyne's story raises other questions as well, including whether hospital officials took appropriate precautions before returning Clyne to work
an issue which has prompted some soul-searching among county leaders since the second set of complaints emerged.
Given the sensitivity of Clyne's situation, no one with direct knowledge of the investigations or his termination is willing to talk publicly. But according to sources close to the police investigations, questions first arose about Clyne in 2001, five years after he was hired. One of Clyne's own foster children accused him of abuse, and a subsequent inquiry discovered other alleged victims.
The 2001 case was brought to a grand jury by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office, according to Clyne and law enforcement sources, but did not result in an indictment. Officials would not say why the allegations did not lead to charges, and the grand jury's proceedings are confidential.
But sources familiar with the inquiry confirmed that a second set of complaints surfaced in 2009, prompting an investigation that involved allegations from multiple patients of Clyne's, of both genders. Altogether, sources said, five to 10 potential victims surfaced during the two inquiries.
Both sets of allegations resulted in temporary suspensions of Clyne's duties -- at the county hospital and at his office in the Children's Intake and Receiving Center, the first stop for children removed from their homes by social workers who suspect abuse or neglect. Clyne confirmed that both times he was placed on paid administrative leave after being informed that the police department's sexual assault unit was investigating him: in 2001 for three months, and again from November 2009 to December 2010, until the second investigation was closed.
Clyne said he knows specifics only of the original 2001 allegation against him, which he blamed on a foster child in his care who sought revenge after Clyne turned him in to juvenile authorities for drinking and drug use. Clyne said he was never interviewed by police, and following each investigation was cleared by county officials to return to work.
But Clyne's employment status shifted last month. That was when the district attorney took the rare action of placing the doctor on what is known internally as a "Brady List." The list is named for a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to divulge to defense attorneys any "impeachable" information about court witnesses.
The district attorney's office uses a standard of "substantial evidence" of wrongdoing to place a person on the list -- which mostly includes police officers who have faced misconduct allegations and may be called to testify in court. That is a lower standard than is required to bring criminal charges. An internal committee decides eligibility.
Clyne has occasionally testified in child abuse cases. The district attorney is now reviewing cases where Clyne appeared as a witness, and it is possible defense attorneys could use the allegations about Clyne to challenge convictions.
After being informed of Clyne's placement on the Brady List, the county executive's office decided to terminate him from his $177,000-a-year job, Clyne confirmed. Because he was an "at-will employee" with no formal contract, he could be let go with no explanation.
Since then, dozens of foster parents have risen up to defend Clyne, writing letters to county officials and even rallying at a public meeting in his defense. They share anecdotes about his extraordinary level of service -- home visits, and 24/7 access through cellphone or email. Clyne has spoken with many of them about the allegations, and they have expressed sympathy, saying the hazard is endemic when working with severely damaged kids.
"They throw out allegations like a tin can, it's how they express their anger and hurt," said Dawn Haddaway, president of the Santa Clara County Kinship, Adoptive & Foster Parent Association. Haddaway's foster children have been Clyne's patients, and as a longtime caregiver specializing in behaviorally challenged young boys, she says she has been the subject of three allegations of physical abuse, all deemed unfounded. "That's par for the course when you work with hard kids," she said.
But while Clyne's allies question the veracity of the allegations against him, other questions have emerged regarding the county hospital's handling of Clyne following the allegations.
After the initial investigation in 2001 and again in 2010, Clyne was returned to his job. No restrictions were placed on his ability to interact with his patients until days before he was let go, even though some experts recommend that doctors who have received complaints of improper behavior be provided with chaperones during sensitive exams for the protection of both doctor and patient. What's more, in 2002, the county social services agency greenlighted his adoption of a foster youth, now 26 and still living with Clyne, who is unmarried.
And even after he was terminated, Clyne did not lose -- and to this day retains -- admitting and treating privileges at the county hospital, following a 2010 review and decision by 20 hospital department heads, Clyne said. Nor has he been reported to the Medical Board of California.
Dr. Catherine Albin, Clyne's former supervisor who is now chief of inpatient pediatrics at Kaiser-Santa Clara, said she felt "entirely comfortable" with the 2001 decision to lift Clyne's suspension. She said she understood the problems Clyne was having at the time with the foster child who accused him, and she insisted that the teenager later recanted the accusation against Clyne.
However, Albin acknowledged that her only source on the alleged recanting was Clyne; she did not discuss the matter with law enforcement. Clyne said he was told his accuser had recanted by another foster child who is now dead.
The sources close to the investigation deny the accusation was recanted.
In a recent interview at his Almaden Valley home, Clyne described feeling tarred. Beside him was a copy of "The Gift of Peace" by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, a memoir detailing, in part, the cardinal's struggle with a false allegation of sexual misconduct.
"I've gone this far with no forum where I can say: 'You tell me what you think I did, and I can tell you I didn't do it,'"‰" Clyne said. "Whatever the allegation is, it isn't true."
By many accounts, Clyne is an extraordinary physician. He voluntarily built his patient base to include mostly foster children whose needs can be daunting and complex -- from traumatic brain injury to prenatal drug and alcohol exposure.
In his second year of medical residency, Clyne, during a rock-climbing trip on the Appalachian Trail, fell 20 feet to the edge of a cliff after a portion of a trail gave way, severing his spinal cord. After eight months of rehabilitation, paralyzed from the waist down, he completed his residency in a wheelchair.
Clyne completed a fellowship at Stanford University before accepting the job at Valley Medical Center, where he estimates as many as three-quarters of his patients were in foster care. He has served on the local child abuse council, and in 2007, he was honored by the San Jose-based Legal Advocates for Children and Youth for his dedication to the needs of foster children and caregivers.
Hospital officials would not discuss Clyne's professional collapse. But in an email to county colleagues, pediatric department chairman Dr. Stephen Harris said Clyne will be difficult to replace. Harris said Clyne extended his services "voluntarily, as a calling, and it was this extraordinary accessibility that so endeared him to the foster care community."
However, hospital officials also acknowledge that children's welfare must take precedence over physicians' rights.
"I feel for the county, I feel for him, I feel for the whole system," Albin said. "There may be no truth with a capital T. That's the sadness of it -- there is no winner here. This isn't a case of justice."

High abuse rates reported in study of Oklahoma foster care system


BY RANDY ELLIS
TULSA — A new study of 374 Oklahoma foster care cases found nearly one in eight children suffered confirmed instances of abuse or neglect while in state DHS custody.
Reviewers also found that Oklahoma foster care children were routinely shuttled from one placement to another, with nearly 55 percent of the children studied experiencing four or more different placements during their most recent stays in state custody


Foster Care's Web Of Policies, Problems And Promise Keeps Kids In Waiting

Foster Care's Web Of Policies, Problems And Promise Keeps Kids In Waiting
In the first part of this two-part series highlighting the hardships that half a million foster children face each year, Enrique Montiel shared his story. As a foster care alumnus, he now works as a social worker within the system that took him, and his five siblings, from his parents when he was only 9.
Montiel advocates for teens who share the experiences he endured and the problems that persist in America's foster homes. His story provides hope for those who continue to deal with the rampant race issues, homophobia that results in the abuse of LGBT foster children and the denial of adoptive opportunities for LGBT potential parents, problems in education stemming from emotional stress and frequent relocation, and health hazards that result from neglect and abuse that plague the foster care system.
However, as looming budget deficits force states to scramble to reduce recessionary spending, many may cut the programs that provide services to foster children. A report from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that in 46 states and the District of Columbia, social services have been sacrificed in the latest round of cuts.

Recession-related problems
In Texas,
Bloomberg reported, the budget cuts are created a dire situation in February for the state's Department of Family and Protective Services. Hundreds of foster children faced the prospect of moving into agency offices instead of homes.

Budget cuts in Illinois late last year incited the ACLU to
voice a defense for those who depend on the services.
"The Governor and the legislature need to understand that this state's budget cannot be balanced on the backs of its most vulnerable residents -- children in foster care," said Benjamin Wolf, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois announcing the filing of the complaint."
Kathy Ledesma, the National Program Director of AdoptUSkids, insists there is a silver lining to the economic downturn in regard to foster care children. "We believe the economy has had a positive effect on the recruitment of children in foster care."
She explains that because private and overseas adoptions are so expensive, potential adoptive parents are seeking foster children, which she states costs nothing because states provide funding for foster parents. Bloomberg reports, however, that in States such as Texas, where services and budgets are getting cut, financial resources for foster parents may decline.
"Families adopting children may not receive financial assistance from the state anymore under the proposed Senate bill. (Department Commissioner) Heiligenstein said those subsidies have historically encouraged families to adopt."

Federal Solutions
President Obama has spoken out about the importance of continuing to provide support, and has included provisions in his budget to assist states with child welfare reform that includes foster care and adoptive services.

Obama has also deemed November as national adoption month to increase awareness about the importance of foster and adoptive parents to children around the country.
In a letter on whitehouse.gov he reminds Americans that they can make a difference.
"All children deserve a safe, loving family to protect and care for them...These young people have specific needs and require unique support. Federal, State, and local governments, communities, and individuals all have a role to play in ensuring that foster children have the resources and encouragement they need to realize their hopes and dreams."
Congress has also stepped up to find solutions in recent years. In 2008 President Bush signed "The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act" which increases federal support, promotes adoption and relative guardianship, which results in permanent families, and focuses on improving education and health care for foster children. Under the program foster children do not "age out," at 18 and services have been extended until they reach the age of 21.
According to The National Conference of State Legislatures, many states have enacted the bill.
"In the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions combined, 33 states and the District of Columbia enacted 63 different bills related to the provisions of the Fostering Connections Act. In the 2011 legislative session, state activity around the act continues."
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also issued a "Call to Action" in 2010 to target issues with foster care in America.
"(Congress) established the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth to break down the arbitrary silos of public programs and closely examine the experiences of a young person aging out of foster care so that the Congress and stakeholder could better understand how to address the problem of increasing numbers of young people aging out of care without a permanent family to call home."
Past attempts at enacting legislation to eradicate issues in the foster care system have not been as successful as they were intended, however.

Race Issues
Despite the
Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 (MEPA), race discrepancies remain. This federal legislation mandates that children cannot be delayed or denied foster or adoptive placement based on race and also calls for increased efforts to recruit foster and adoptive parents who share racial and ethnic backgrounds of foster children and was intended to decrease rampant race issues in the foster care system. Yet, African Americans are disproportionately represented in the foster care system and are are still less likely to be adopted.
A report by the Adoption Institute confirms that they account for 32 percent of foster children in the U.S., though they only make up 15 percent of the country's child population.
"The Child Welfare System is not as culturally sensitive or culturally responsive as it should be," Ledesma explains. "Over representation of African American children has improved, but it is still a problem."

LGBT Issues
Issues over sexual identity also continue to create hardships for both foster children and parents despite attempts to produce solutions. In an article featured last year,
Mother Jones reported that only 21 foster families, out of 246 that were surveyed, would accept a gay teenager.
The article also cited the American Bar Association's 2008 guidebook, which reports widespread verbal abuse of LGBT foster children.
"virtually all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning kids in group homes had reported verbal harassment; 70 percent had been subjected to violence."
Unfortunately, many potential LGBT parents face obstacles when they seek to become foster or adoptive parents. A report by AdoptUSkids details the difficulties LGBT parents face, which highlights the discriminatory practices still occurring in most states. This bars adoptions within a group where adoptions are usually a first choice and could make a positive impact on the lives of foster children around the country.
Beyond case-by-case discrimination, which usually involves unexplained dismissals, long waits for placements, and non-supportive caseworkers, some states still have legislation barring same-sex or unmarried couples from adopting. These laws exist in Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah, and contribute to a shortage of adoptive and foster parents that could be alleviated.
Ledesma emphasizes that AdoptUSKids is working with potential parents in the LGBT community and has begun several initiatives to provide resources, education, and support groups. The organization is also addressing states that have either formal or informal barriers against same-sex couples or LGBT singles adopting, with the hope that this problem can be eradicated.
Solutions
Though these programs and government initiatives will likely have a positive impact, foster children continue to experience extreme hardships. There are many foster children in need of a home or are waiting to be reunited with their families. They continue to face education obstacles, neglect and abuse, and fearful futures.
The success stories featured on the AdoptUSkids website indicate that there is hope, but advocacy, increased awareness and support, and consolidated dedication to solve the problems are still needed to change the lives of foster care children in the U.S.

Ledesma advises that there are many things concerned citizens can do to help both foster children and foster parents. "You can mentor a friend, volunteer to become a temporary caregiver, or provide respite care to neighbors."
Enrique Montiel insists that though there are problems, the foster care system can be successful. He credits it with creating who he has become and enabling him to help others. He believes that foster children need to be reminded that they can be successful and emphasizes the importance of inspiration. "Your past does not dictate your future," he tells them. "Once (teens) see that" he explains, "something changes for them."
Visit AdoptUSkids to find out what you can do to make a difference.




Lawsuit: Foster child was sexually abused in care


SARASOTA, Fla. -- The mother of a former foster child who claims he was sexually abused twice by other children in foster homes is suing the state and others responsible for his care.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Friday that the lawsuit filed this month accused the Department of Children and Families and local care providers of allowing the abuse and failing to get mental health treatment for the then-10-year-old North Port boy until he twice attempted suicide.
The suit describes how the boy was moved to 11 different homes in 18 months. Now 13, he has been reunited with his mother since 2008.
Among the defendants is the Sarasota YMCA, the local contractor for foster care services. Its chief executive declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Thousands of foster child adoptions delayed by old state law

Thousands of foster child adoptions delayed by old state law
1935 statute puts all approvals in hands of 1 official
Catherine Jun / The Detroit News
The adoption of thousands of foster children in Michigan is delayed each year by a legal quirk that requires one official to sign off on new families.
The state's courts, along with the Michigan Department of Human Services, are pressing lawmakers to adopt bill packages to change that. Currently, the superintendent of the Michigan Children's Institute personally approves roughly 2,600 adoptions each year — adding up to two extra months to a process than can take years.

Even the man who holds the sole power supports the bill.

"It will permit us to exercise that option. Right now we can't," said William Johnson, who heads the Michigan Children's Institute. A 1935 state law established the superintendent as the one who must sign the consent form for adoptions from foster care.
Child advocates favor the change, but are quick to warn that the fix overlooks systemic problems on how adoptions are decided in Michigan — that is, behind closed doors.
"It's a good first step, but it doesn't improve the quality of the decision," said Vivek Sankaran, director of the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy.
In private adoptions, birth parents are the ones who give consent. In foster adoptions, the children are state wards, so the state must consent. In Michigan, that authority rests solely in the superintendent, the legal guardian to children whose parents have lost their parental rights in court.
In other states with similar arrangements, the superintendent adjudicates only the more complicated cases, such as when two families compete to adopt one child, said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly, who testified at a state Senate committee hearing on behalf of the proposed change last month. Uncontested cases are often expedited through other channels, she added.
"The vast majority of adoptions are uncontested, and those are the ones we want to speed up," Kelly said.
Typically, the state approves 2,600 to 2,700 adoptions a year. A multicounty effort to speed adoptions pushed the number above 3,000 in 2009. More than 3,200 children are in line for adoption in Michigan.
In too many instances, the superintendent's consent has held up a pending adoption that has already involved multiple court hearings and filings by the prospective parents, including a criminal background clearance, proof of income and verification of good health, said Judge James Alexander, who spent nine years in the family division at Oakland County Circuit Court until December.
"I've got everything done, and the caseworker comes in and says, 'We're just waiting for the superintendent to approve it,'" Alexander said. "It happens enough to make it a concern."
In January, Wayne County had 902 children who were legally free for adoption, nearly a third of the state's total, according to DHS' most recent records.
"It can be years, or it can be as little as five months," said Karshibia Davidson, a director at the Children's Center of Wayne County, which offers foster care and adoption services. And depending on children's ages, the uncertainty can shake their confidence in where they belong, she said.
'There's doubt and stress'
Three weeks after Danica was born in May 2008 in Detroit, caseworkers turned her over to Bruce and Christy Bishop, foster parents in Livonia. The infant never met her birth mother, who lost her parental rights for all five of her children after the state found evidence of sexual abuse and neglect.
The Livonia couple fell in love with Danica and pursued adoption. Approval finally came in August 2009. The agonizing delay was in part because another foster mother — the one who had custody of Danica's four siblings — was also competing for the girl.
"There's doubt and stress," Bruce Bishop, 55, said. "And there's fear that it's not going to materialize."
Sankaran, a University of Michigan law professor, says the proposed change in the law would speed up adoptions. But he prefers to see a shift in the final decision-making to judges who have followed the child since removal from the birth home.
In places like Washington, D.C., the courts have final say on adoptions, Sankaran said, and as a result, all hearings and evidence are out in the open. Adoptive families, then, can witness every step and better understand the outcome, he added.
"For me, that type of decision-making process is better, because there's a lot more transparency," he said.
'Highest legislative priority'
The role of superintendent dates to 1935, when a law created the Michigan Children's Institute. Back then, the institute was a brick-and-mortar facility in Ann Arbor that housed state wards without legal parents. About 1,000 children were housed there at the time. The facility has since closed.
"There's a lot more children in the system," Johnson said. His office is in Lansing within the Human Services Department. There, Johnson and a three-person staff review files sent from state courts. In some cases, they conduct additional investigations.
Bill packages are moving through the state House and Senate that, if adopted, would allow the DHS to authorize designees who could consent to adoptions as well as guardianship of a child.
"We have identified this as our highest legislative priority," DHS Director Maura D. Corrigan said. "I'm very hopeful."
Last month, the Senate Families, Seniors and Human Services Committee referred the bills to the Senate floor. Both chambers are expected to resume session today. "The goal here is to get them in permanent families," said Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, who chairs the committee and introduced the bills. "Our goal is to make them safe … and give them a chance to grow."