Snags in the System: When Adoption Support Fails

It’s about a dire a situation as any family could face:  mom hospitalized with leukemia, four kids (foster-adopted sets of siblings) worried they are going to lose another mother, dad struggling to make ends meet. The oldest child — in and out of group homes for extreme emotional problems for the past eleven years — begins manifesting such violent behaviors that his little brothers are afraid to sleep at night. Afraid their oldest brother is going to kill them while they sleep. He has promised he will.

Fortunately, he has been no better at keeping his promises, so far, than the state has. Michigan DFS has made repeated promises to move this boy to a therapeutic foster home — for weeks and week, they’ve been promised this, as long as mom has been in the hospital. Each time a home is lined up, it falls through. Social worker says, “Soon. Don’t you have any friends or relatives who can take him?” (All their friends and relatives have younger children who would not be safe around him.) 

Legal counsel says, “Call the police and have him taken away, or abandon them and we’ll fight to keep you off the neglectful parent/abuser list.” This, too, does not seem like the solution.

The Michigan adoption support rep’s solution? The Adoption Subsidy Unit Supervisor  told Mark, “If you can’t find someone to take Cody, why don’t you farm out the other three boys to friends, and keep the oldest boy at your house?” (As opposed to giving the boy a referral for a therapeutic group home, which was HIS JOB!) Yes, that’s right, Pedro — force this overwhelmed, law-abiding, veteran foster father to find another home for three scared, well-behaved children, and leave the father who is already stretched tending to his family to cope with a violent head case, just so the state can save a few bucks!

Boot camps cost money — money this family would have been only too happy to spend, if they had it, just to keep the youngest boys safe. He’s not old enough, at 15, to be emancipated. Calling the police gets the boy a ride in an ambulance, to a mental hospital where he is discharged in a matter of hours and returned to the home. So the craziness continues.

At fifteen, the boy is a menace to his own family. Big enough to inflict real bodily harm — as he has demonstrated repeatedly. He steals. He admits to sexually assaulting two girls (he was smart enough to pick two who had credibility issues, so the accusations wouldn’t stick), and brags about his exploits to his little brothers. Therapists and counselors say he needs an “external conscience” because the one that should have developed as he was growing up, never did.

At fifteen, the boy is irreparably broken. And he is not alone. All over the state, there are teenagers just like him — who have been so mistreated and damaged at such a young age, they never recover. No matter how much love, how much compassion they are shown in later years … It is too late.

What is worse, the support available to these families is non-existent. Social workers all acknowledge, “This family needs help. Someone needs to take the boy.” But where do you put him? Who can help him, after the family has spent thousands of dollars of their own money for various in- and out-patient therapists, group homes, and psychologists.

It’s ironic that the families of the children who have been damaged the most, have the fewest alternatives available to them. We are raising the next criminal class … living time bombs, just waiting to self-destruct.  Nor are the Hooks an isolated case.  Social workers estimate that at least a thousand children across the state of Michigan are in similar need of specal mental health services — which are being denied to them. And so families are faced with a difficult choice: Live with the violence, or break the law and abandon the child so he does not endanger the other children. There simply aren’t enough trained foster homes to take them all.

If you’re reading this, please say a prayer for Cody and his family. They need it more than you know.

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