“Betty” shares her story from an unusual perspective compared to many of the parents whose children are placed in foster care. Although her family tried to make ends meet on a very low budget (less than $30k/year), which she characterized as working class, Betty is highly educated. She represents a growing population of parents with advanced degrees who struggle economically. All seven of her children were placed in either kinship of foster family placements. Her parental rights were never terminated.
Betty wrote that one of the things that frustrated her was that she could have completed everything the court demanded of her while she maintained custody of her children—that taking them away from her was not necessary. She does not believe it was in the best interest of her children. “It was in the best interest for the state—that’s why they deemed them dependent—to allow for the grant and title IV funding. The social workers were against me from the beginning. I worked hard to keep my emotions in check at all times. They treated me like garbage. The public defender first assigned to me worked with them to get as many extensions as possible to keep them in care. I could have been provided literature that would have educated me on my rights, the laws, and the procedures once [I had] a children services case. Also the social work handbook, so I could know their limitations, and outline my expectations to them—because they are supposed to be there to help the children.”
The treatment to her children was conflicted. On one hand, she does not believe it was in the best interest of her children. “No, my children have been traumatized, put on medicine, exposed to harsh realities… I am in the middle of filing a lawsuit at this moment because of the damage to them and myself.” On the other hand, “They showered the kids with gifts, while giving me minimal visitation possible to sever the bond in the hopes that when they asked them at trial where they wanted to live they would say their foster homes. They drugged [my children] and then took them away from everyone they knew in the world. They took away their security.”
As to the foster parents, she believes some “have a heart for children” and others “need their incomes supplemented so they foster parent.” Similarly, “Social workers study children and go to work with children because, initially, they have a heart for children. They then go to work for agencies that use children as currency.” Her beliefs about the courts were perhaps most skeptical. “There are the network of people who are paid off the misery of children and families. There are good people and evil people. The problem is it is hard to know which is which.”
She thinks many families experience foster care as she did. “Yes. I created a support group for families and they all agreed they felt their cases were stagnant. Times passed without progress. They all felt they were being taken for a long ride that they ended up fighting for their children with the courts even after having complied with the agencies’ requests.”
When asked what worked well, Betty said, “The foster parent to agency relationship. This is what matters to them.” What asked what doesn’t work, she replied, “The case worker to family relationship. Reunification.” The goal of the foster care system “should be to aid children in leading effective lives with their natural family whenever possible, maintaining safety and security for their future. However, at present, it is to pay foster parents to take care of children while stretching the timeline as far as possible in order to get incentives and bonuses.”
“After four years of fighting the system, I won. I was lucky. There were many who gave up because of the emotional and psychological strategies the agency plays with families: putting one parent against another; limiting the visitation of children to natural and biological families; holding secret court dates; keeping you from your kids, doctors, and school appointments. I told myself, Okay, I got myself in this mess and I’ll get myself out. I got into a verbal altercation with my kids’ father and left them in the back of a police car. Because we were not married and he was the sole provider, they took us for a long ride. I have seen everything from caseworkers lying under oath—with no remorse or emotion—to public defenders doing the minimal to defend these families, and judges with biases who lean towards the agency for every bit of truth. After leaving a biased judge, another judge on my case pointed out all the faults the agency made and have me my kids back. Even after this, the agency still fought. They are trained to keep the kids in custody as long as possible. Think about this: $500 a month for four years is what the foster parents were paid. This is not to mention the funding that comes from the state to the agency in grant funding. They really don’t like to lose and the power they are given has gone straight to their heads. I went up the chain of command from my caseworker to her supervisor to her supervisor to the head of the agency—who never in four years returned one phone call. I have always remained respectful because when you fight them they can make it harder for you and your kids. I don’t know what life lesson I’m supposed to learn from this, but I am suing the state for my children and my pain and suffering. Also, I created a non-profit organization that, in the future, will assist with housing families of domestic violence and homelessness so the agency is not the only one out there to contact when families are having hard time. Lemons to lemonade…”
It is important that Betty identified the same problems and themes as other parents. First, she notes she was unaware of her rights and no one identified them for her. Second, she did what the court demanded and still had to fight to get custody back—it was not de facto. Third, there were things the state could have done first that would have prevented her children from entering foster care and kept them at home while this was done. Fourth, she worries over the motives of the state and foster parents when it comes to payments. Fifth, her children were placed on medications without her approval. Sixth, she felt her children were manipulated (against her). Seventh, she identifies with other biological families and believes they have similar struggles against the state. Finally, she feels the social workers and court workers collude in a way that results in bias against families.
These themes are present from natural parents and grandparents regardless the income, class, or education level of the family.