“Geri” is also a natal grandmother who hoped to get custody of her grandchildren. She self-identified as a married Caucasian, in her late 40s or early 50s, working class, living off a joint income of under $50,000 annually, in a prairie state.

Like most of the family participants, she feels her legal and personal rights were trampled in the machinery of the system. She denied that the professionals (legal and case workers) were never really interested in helping her family or the children. “They implied they were. But unless you investigated all avenues for a child, how can you be working in their best interest? It was all about adoption and the foster family. [They should have] looked for family members harder before just throwing them into foster care.”

She is concerned about how her grandson was treated in-care. “I prayed [they treated him well]. But there have been things that my grandson has said that make me wonder. I don’t have any proof. But I do have my concerns. The first foster family was good. The second ones I feel were deceitful and were in it for one reason and that was to adopt my grandson. Even though when I first met them they said they were doing foster care to reunite families. I will NEVER trust a DCFS worker. I will warn people the rest of my life to NEVER trust any of them. They make you believe they are there to help you and then they do the opposite. Before you realize that’s what they are doing it’s too late. [The court workers] all listen to what they want to hear. They all sit in the BIG corner of the courtroom and read off each other. It is that “good ol’ boy” syndrome. And unless you have a lot of money to fight them, they will steal your children, and in my case my grandson.”

“I think there are a huge amount of families that this happens to daily. These kinds of things need to be STOPPED. I am sure there so many stories of families that this has happened to and they have just had to walk away. Most, if not all, do not have the kind of resources (i.e. money) needed to fight this kind of thing, including me. I will be paying for this the rest of my life. I am already $40,000+ in legal fees and can make only very small payments. And all of them know it. We need people with resources to step up and HELP with these cases so they can be fought and won. The more cases that are won in these matters will make a difference to the families that come after us. And then change can happen!”

“Unless they can prove a pattern that kin is doing the same things the parents are doing, the children should be placed with family. Period. No “if,” “and,” or “buts” about it! The don’t focus on putting a family back together. They just go through the motions long enough to say ‘we tried’ and then the focus turns to adoption and they never look back!”

She thinks the job of the foster care system is “to take care of children until they can be reunited with their family. Whoever that might be (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc). But nowadays, it’s just the middle man to adoption.”

Then Geri launched into a very coherent narrative of her own describing the events in their entirety. I wish more respondents had done this—most parse up the story in sections. I did change some names and remove some details in accordance with my research requirements, but otherwise her story is intact. I cannot help her promote her case on the website for research and legal reasons that I am bound to, unfortunately. It follows:

______

This is my story from the beginning….

This letter is revised (updated) due to the ongoing case I have. I hope this can help with our cause. Also I had a gag order put on me as of Dec 2013, so I can no longer use my grandson’s name or post pictures of him. So in my story if you read “My Grandson”, “HIM” or “Little Boy C” please know that is where “My Grandson’s” name was. […] I am writing you today to ask for your help and support in keeping a family together. I am the Grandmother of a now 6 year old little boy named “Little Boy C.”

He was taken by the State in June 2010 because my daughter went down a path of drugs and bad choices. At the time (before they took him), I was trying to figure out how I could take custody of her 2 boys. Not having much money, I couldn’t afford an Attorney to do this. So I was learning on my own. But in a matter of weeks my daughter got in trouble with the law and the State stepped in. I told them from the beginning that I wanted the boys. I had been the one raising them from birth, financially, emotionally and physically because my daughter was only 15 when she had my 1st grandson and 17 when she had the 2nd one. I know that doesn’t sound good, but I was trying everything I could to help my daughter from the time I started having troubles with her at around age 11. But all I could do now was move forward and support her with taking care of these little ones. When the 1st case worker (“K”) came to my home I told her that I wanted the boys to stay with me.

I was told by her that the best thing I could do was to be a support to my daughter (she had nowhere else to go) to help her do what she needed to do to get her boys back. I was also told at that time that a brother and sister in-law of the youngest son would take them (all my family lived out of State at the time and they wouldn’t send them out of State). So I trusted them that they knew what was best for everyone. The boys stayed with me until the next week when my daughter had court. But when we got there the caseworker (“K”) informed me that the brother and sister in-law backed out and that the boys would be going into foster care that day. I was in shock, no one had called me to see if there was another option. So not truly knowing what drug addiction was all about, I just told my daughter, ‘do what they tell you that you need to do and get the boys back.’ Then the long journey started. There was many, many, set backs. On at least 2 occasions, I told the new case worker (“P”) that my daughter isn’t ready to get better and I just want the boys. She encouraged me again, to be the support for my daughter because she had nowhere else to go. So I listened and kept trying. Finally at the end of January 2011, I said enough is enough and kicked her out of my home. My focus was now on my Grandsons.

A week or so later in Feb 2011 there was a hearing and the Judge (“B”) started talking about adoption for “Little Boy C” (his father [or the other grandson’s father – it is unclear] was doing what he needed to do to get him back). But the Judge ordered that a Therapist do some research on if it would be in “Little Boy C’s” best interest to be separated from his brother and be adopted. So that’s when I started looking into what I could do to have my Grandson and keep him in our family (mind you, I have younger children of my own who were like siblings to “Little Boy C”). The Therapist (Ms. “J”) met with everyone involved, including me and my children. I also told her that I wanted the boys. By the time we went back to court at the end of April 2011, the foster family had backed out of being foster parents and a new foster family had them for only 3 weeks. I had been having twice a month visit with the boys, unsupervised for 3 hours. So there was still a bond with me and my children. When we went into court in Apr 2011 and Ms. J started her report she said, it would not be in my Grandson’s best interest to be adopted to strangers and the kinship window should be reopened and that he should be placed with family. I thought at that point they would consider me—being that is how the Law is written. But instead she stopped Ms. J right there and said it is too late, he is being adopted! Again, in shock, I raised my hand and ask the Judge if I could speak. She said to me “If you think you’re going to change my mind you’re not…but go ahead.” I pleaded with her and told her how much we loved him and how much we wanted him and that my children feel as if they lost a sibling. And that we need him as much as he needs us. All she said was Thank You and then asked the Foster family who he had been with only 3 weeks if they wanted to adopt him. They said ABSOLUTELY. At that point, talking to many people they said I needed to go get my own Attorney and fight for him.

I immediately found one and borrowed money and had many people donate money to help pay for this. I needed to pay $5000 retainer to get started. And now to this point we have been to court 6 times and the Court will never hear my case. They (*Caseworker, GAL, Asst. AG, and the Judge) always have some kind of excuse and sometimes seem like they don’t know if they are coming or going (and I think to myself “these are the people deciding what is best for my grandson?”). My Daughter’s rights were Terminated in Nov 2011 where she asked the Judge that she consider me to adopt my Grandson. I had a final Hearing in Dec. 2011. We were informed that the Foster parent ask to have their Adoption case (we didn’t even know they had filed for adoption) consolidated with mine. The Judge granted it and we had the hearing without being able to prepare (originally this date was supposed to be a Pretrial for my Evidentiary Hearing).

Through this whole ordeal I was never given an Evidentiary Hearing and was denied my Due Process. A day later, the Judge made her decision and was in favor of the Foster family adopting. A day after that, the Judge had their adoption hearing and finalized the adoption. I wasn’t notified of the Judge’s decision until 4 days after my grandson was adopted. I have now filed an Appeal for which the Appeal Judges granted a Full Briefing. And I have now filed my last response in that step. I now am waiting for them to make a decision. Then we were notified that they sent it straight through to the Supreme Court of my state. We filed another briefing and have my Oral Argument in early Oct 2012. I am now, to this day, waiting for a ruling while my Grandson is growing up. I have not seen him since June 2011. In May 2013, the Supreme Court of my state Ruled on my Case. They Reversed and Remanded it back to the Juvenile Court to be Heard. WE WON THE APPEAL!!!

Now we prepare to go back to Court. I am immediately filing to request a new Judge and request for visitation. In late May, I received notice that the Judge Recused herself from the Case. We will now see which new Judge we get. Still waiting to hear about visitation. It is now July 2013 I found out that the new Judge is Judge “R” in another city. And we got notice that I have a Pretrial in mid-July. We also have decided that this new Judge is a Conflict of Interest. Because at the time I was going through the Appeals process he was the Head of the GAL’s. We have requested that He recuse himself. At the Pretrial he did so. But before that, he denied me visitation with my grandson. He states (and he based it on the original Case) that it is not in “Little Boy C’s” best interest. Well HELLO the Supreme Court of my state already said that that Judge ERRED. So now we wait to hear who the new Judge will be. I received notice that the new Judge is Judge “S” (he retired last year and is coming back to handling this case). We met with him in early Oct 2013 to bring him up to speed on the Case and answer any question he has. He set my Pretrial for Dec 2013 and my Trial for late Jan 2014.

I had my Pretrial today Dec 2013. My Trial has now been pushed back to late Feb 2014 and a Mediation in late Jan 2014. I will now be meeting with a Court Ordered Evaluator in preparation for Trial. The Foster Family also complained that I have a FB Page that talks about my Grandson and has pictures of him. They are afraid he will Google his name and find out about this Case. So the Judge placed a gag order on me to not state “HIS” name and to remove pictures of “HIM”… They canceled the mediation and my trial in February 2014 because the foster family took too long to pay their half of the evaluation (mind you, I paid my half the day after the the evaluator called). I have now done my evaluation as of Feb 2014. We are now waiting for the evaluator to complete her report. The report was completed in early March. The kurt set the date for early April for mediation and my trials was set for early May. I had a hearing and mediation in the beginning of April and it went well.  The mediations portion went nowhere. But we sorta knew that would happen. The foster parents did not want to come to an agreement at all. But the hearing with the judge to discuss all the motions that had been filed went well. The other parties (foster parents, DCFS, and GAL) have not wanted to give us any records or files for me to prepare my case for trial. But the judge ordered that they turn everything over by the middle of APril. Needless to say, they were not happy at all (they were doing exactly what they did in the very  beginning of this case and the first judge agreed with them). Not today. But now that means my trial has been pushed back to mid-July. The three days of trial are over. All in all I think it went well. Some things that were said from the other side were hard to listen to when I know different. I can’t say much about the trial because my posts are being viewed and twisted into something different.

I have tried so many things to make my story public but nothing has worked. These kind of things need to BE STOPPED. I am sure there are so many stories of families that this has happened to and they have just had to walk away. Most, if not all, do not have the kind of resources (i.e. money) needed to fight this kind of thing including me, I will be paying for this the rest of my life. I am already $40,000 + in Legal fees and can make only very small payments. And “All of them know it”. We need people with resources to step up and HELP with these case so they can be fought and won. The more cases that are won in these matters will make a difference to the families that come after us. And then change can happen!!! There is sooo much more to this case. […] I am asking for your help in keeping a family together.

Insights:

Like some other kin have done, particularly grandparents, I have to question the righteousness of a court that decides that monetary stability supersedes a child’s right to be placed with family, and that family’s right to their kin. I cannot think how else Geri would have been an unfit choice compared to a foster family desiring adoption. She has less money. Period. Maybe her values are more working class than middle class. Maybe the foster family can offer her grandson more advantages in life, even a college education and a car when he graduates high school. Maybe not. Even if so, should these things matter more than keeping families whole? In cases where the parental rights are terminated (and I mean the bad ones, where parents are abusers not just impoverished), sometimes a judge will not place a child with kin because the extended family allows too much parental access to the child. That can be a complicating factor, but it isn’t one in Geri’s case. Geri painfully recognized her daughter was not good for her children, and helped keep her grandkids safe.

I think this issue needs to be seriously reconsidered in an overhaul of the foster care system. We spend too few resources connecting children with kin (still, even with kin placements) when parental rights are terminated. The proof is families posting their stories on this website. Other than not being middle class, many of these families have nothing against them that would prevent them from raising their kin. There is a professional bias against people who are not middle class, or have a college education. I’m not sure that bias has a place in our system—particularly when so many adoptions fail and kids stay in the system and end up just as badly off as they may have if they’d never been removed or were placed with other kin. What is gained?

And there is another point I would like to bring up. Youth in care rarely get heard in court either. Most states mandate that kids have to be notified when their cases are being heard and there is usually an obligation to take them to court if the child desires it (and sometimes even if they don’t). But it doesn’t happen often. Less often the judge solicits information from the child. The assumption seems to be that the kids can’t know what is best for them and that may say they want to go with family just because they miss them, and the kids can’t understand that the adoptive family can offer more. I am equally unconvinced that we give kids a fair say. They didn’t have college expectations before, maybe that isn’t something they value. What they do value is being with people who can relate to them because they are relatives, people who share their values and culture.

Geri’s story is great because she had journaled her court experiences and gives us insight into them through her diary-like entries.