Friday, December 22, 2006

Allowed to adopt foster children, but not to care for her own nephew?

Devoted to Dae'Kuavion -
Julia Johnson recently adopted two foster sons, but she can't get a nephew out of foster care
Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Lexington Herald-Leader, Sept. 27, 2006, pg. A1.

Earlier this month, Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services allowed Johnson, 41, to adopt her two foster sons.

So Johnson is stunned that the Cabinet won't let her or any of the rest of the family get their 2-year-old nephew, Dae'Kuavion Perry, out of foster care.

Johnson can't understand why the state won't let her keep the boy temporarily while her brother Tim Mabson works toward securing permanent custody.

The state is recommending that Dae'Kuavion be adopted by a non-family member, a prospective adoptive mother who is a therapist at an agency that often does business with the Cabinet. A state adoption from foster care would mean the family might never see the child again, or at best will have limited contact.

"As a foster mother, I had loads of support," said Johnson. "My workers were awesome and on point. But as a biological family member, I have been given nothing."

Officials have either ignored or stalled the family's efforts, Johnson said.

Kentucky's leading child advocates included in a January report allegations that some Cabinet social workers gave custody to adoptive parents because of favors owed or professional ties and because of pressure from the federal government to increase the number of state adoptions. The state office of Inspector General is investigating those allegations, and the Cabinet has formed a task force that will recommend new laws.

David Richart, co-author of the January report and executive director of the National Institute on Children Youth & Families Inc., said Johnson's case is a "clear example of the Cabinet violating its own policies and federal law" that requires children to be placed with family members if at all possible in a program called kinship care.

The case is also indicative of some cases across the state, Richart says, in which Cabinet officials "make a judgment early on," and refuse to deviate from it.

Establishing paternity
Dae'Kuavion Perry was born in March 2004. His biological mother, Angela Perry, never married his biological father, Tim Mabson, and they did not live together. Though she let Mabson visit with the boy, Mabson said Perry resisted requests to take DNA tests that would legally establish that he was Dae'Kuavion's father.

When the baby was 6 months old, he developed respiratory problems and his mother took him to the hospital. Hospital officials called state social services because the child had unexplained drugs in his system. Perry acknowledged that she had been neglectful by giving the baby, who suffers from asthma and food allergies, expired prescription medication, according to Cabinet documents provided by the family.

Though it's not clear from the documents whether the medication harmed the baby, the Cabinet placed him in foster care. At that point, Johnson said, when she and her brother contacted the Cabinet about taking custody of the baby, social workers would not give them any information because Mabson had not established paternity and was not yet considered the baby's legal father.

The Cabinet documents in the family's possession show that social workers had decided to reunify the baby with Angela Perry. But she died from sickle cell anemia on Dec. 31, 2005.

Within a few weeks, Mabson went to Fayette Family Court to try to get custody of Dae'Kuavion. He was told he and the baby would have to take DNA tests to establish paternity. Social workers also told him -- and Cabinet documents confirm -- that they were leaning toward the baby's foster mother adopting Dae'Kuavion because they felt she was capable of handling his asthma, food allergies and failure to gain weight.

The foster mother, also an African-American, is a therapist at one of the Comprehensive Care offices in Central Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Mabson said the Cabinet delayed his ability to get custody by not completing the DNA tests on the baby that showed he was the father until spring of 2006.

Cabinet officials wrote a report saying that Mabson appeared disinterested in the child, in part, because he had not taken off work to meet the foster mother at Dae'Kuavion's doctors' appointments and speech therapy sessions. Social workers said they weren't sure Mabson could cope with the child's medical issues. When the report was filed with Family Court Judge Jo Ann Wise, the goal for Dae'Kuavion was changed from reunification with his parent to adoption.

Mabson said his son has inherited eczema, asthma and other allergies from him, so he knows how to cope with the problems. Mabson said he is now taking off work to attend his son's medical appointments and speech therapy sessions.

"I want my son; I know I can care for him," said Mabson, 28, who in August married a young woman named Katrina Miller, who also says she desperately wants to be a mother to Dae'Kuavion.

Tim and Katrina Mabson have taken parenting classes and are visiting each week with Dae'Kuavion. The Cabinet is requiring Tim Mabson to attend counseling because he was charged with possession of marijuana and a minor assault that Mabson said included domestic violence accusations more than four years ago.

The Cabinet has also required that he take drug screens three times each week and all have been clean, according to records provided by Mabson's attorney. Court records show Mabson has had no similar problems since 2002.

"I'm not the same person as I was five years ago," Mabson said. He said he now attends church regularly and plays drums in a church band.

Family support
Johnson says that even if the Cabinet was hesitant to immediately recommend that Mabson have custody, there should be no reason to exclude the family members who have stepped up, including herself.

"It just doesn't make sense," said Johnson. "As a foster adoptive parent, I have the right to raise children that are not biologically connected to me -- but I am incapable of raising my own family?"

One evening last week, about 30 family members gathered at the Lexington home of Mabson's grandmother Mary Rawlings to show a reporter that they could provide a support system for Dae'Kuavion, his father and new stepmother. They said they were working class, church-going people with a penchant for education and a deep love for children. One by one, family members told how many foster children they had kept over the years or talked about their current efforts to get Dae'Kuavion out of foster care.

"I've kept children for 55 years. When children needed help, we helped them," said Rawlings, widow of longtime Lexington minister S.T. Rawlings.

Katrina Mabson's mother Michelle Miller came to say that even though she is not biologically related to Dae'Kuavion, that she and her large family would also provide Katrina and Tim Mabson with every form of financial and physical support to help them be good parents.

"Never have I seen such an outpouring of relatives who want to help get this child," said William C. Karutz of Lexington, the attorney that Mabson has hired.

The Cabinet is prohibited by law from revealing details about many of its cases. But on Friday, Cabinet spokeswoman Vikki Franklin gave this written statement about the case of Dae'Kuavion Perry.

"When a child has been in foster care for an extended period of time because the Cabinet has been unable to return the child to the parent or place the child with a relative, the Cabinet's focus is on which placement is in the best interest of the child. In determining the best interest, one of the factors considered is the child's emotional attachment to the caregiver."

One of Dae'Kuavion's aunts, Mary Brown, gave Karutz a log of all the times she had contacted the Cabinet to ask how she could obtain temporary custody. Brown had been a foster parent when she lived in Pennsylvania. But the Cabinet evaluated Brown and Johnson's homes in Lexington and turned them both down earlier this month.

Mabson, Johnson and Karutz, the attorney, fear that there may be a conflict of interest between the Cabinet and the prospective adoptive parent because she is a therapist at a Comprehensive Care treatment center. Social workers frequently refer clients to Comprehensive Care for assessments.

Franklin said the allegation regarding favoritism is "completely unfounded."

The next hurdle the family faces is a termination of parental rights hearing, though no date has been set. Karutz says the Cabinet hasn't given his client enough time to prove that he's a good parent and hasn't given him credit for the efforts he has made.

Karutz said the situation is indicative of other cases he sometimes sees in Fayette Family Court: "Kids are torn away."


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