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Letters 09-29-2014

Benishek Doesn’t Understand

Congressman Benishek claims to understand the needs of families, yet he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cause about 10 million people to lose their health insurance. He must think as long as families can hold fundraisers they don’t need insurance...

(Un)Truth In Advertising

Constant political candidate ads on TV are getting to be too much to bear 45 days before the election...

Rare Tuttle Rebuttal

Finally, I disagree with Stephen Tuttle. His “Cherry Bomb” column in the 8/4/14 issue totally dismayed me. I always love his wit and the slamming of the 1 percent. His use of fact and hyperbole highlights the truth; until “Cherry Bomb.” Oh man, Stephen...

Say No To Fluoride

Do you or your child’s teeth have white, yellow, orange, brown, stains, spots, streaks, cloudy splotches or pitting? If so, you may be among millions of Americans who now have a condition called dental fluorosis...

Questions Of Freedom

The administration’s “Affordable Health Care Act” has ordered religious orders to provide contraception and chemical abortions against the church’s God given beliefs and teachings … an interesting order, considering the First Amendment’s clear prohibitions...

Stop The Insults & Talk

I found it interesting that Ms. Minervini used the Northern Express to push the Safe Harbor agenda for a 90-bed homeless shelter in Traverse City with a tactic that is also being utilized by members of the city commission. Those of us who oppose the project are being labeled as uncompassionate citizens...

Roads and Republicans

Each time you hit a road crater while driving, thank the “nerd” and the Tea Party controlled Republican legislature.

Home · Articles · News · Features · Don‘t take my baby!
. . . .

Don‘t take my baby!

Anne Stanton - January 25th, 2010
The Baby Question:When the ‘birth’ parent isn’t considered the ‘best’ parent
By Anne Stanton
Back in 2007, with no husband and no place to live, Shirley Vinson knew
she couldn’t provide a stable home to her 14-month-old daughter and
newborn son. But now she’s in a better place and wants to keep her third
baby, Timothy, born in September.
The formerly homeless 22-year-old woman had originally planned last spring
to give up her baby for adoption. But after finding an affordable,
subsidized apartment in Kingsley, she changed her mind.
But it wasn’t that simple. Because Vinson had voluntarily given up rights
to her previous two children, the Grand Traverse County prosecutor,
working with the Michigan Department of Human Services, filed court papers
to make Timothy a ward of the state to be placed in foster care.
Under state law, the DHS has the responsibility to investigate a family
when there’s been a voluntary or involuntary removal related to abuse or
neglect; the baby often becomes a ward of the state immediately after
birth.
Yet Vinson didn’t know that. Indeed, when she was pregnant last summer, a
DHS worker came out to visit her, and Vinson followed up with a call to
the DHS director. Vinson told her she was taking parenting classes,
getting counseling, working toward a GED, and was living in a safe and
affordable apartment. She said, she was told she could “plan to take her
baby home” if she kept on track.
So Vinson bought a second-hand crib, diapers, and baby clothes. She also
decided to get a tubal ligation immediately after the baby’s birth, since
she wanted Timothy to be her last child.

BAD NEWS
But on September 23, one day after Vinson’s baby was delivered by
C-section, a DHS worker entered her hospital room and told her that if she
did not immediately sign papers for adoption, the DHS would move to make
the baby a state ward. Vinson’s life of bad choices was this long, she
said, and opened her arms wide, and she’d only gotten it right for this
long, and narrowed her fingers to a few inches. Vinson has been in court
ever since trying to get her baby back with the help of Lewis, a friend
and advocate (but not a boyfriend.)
In February, Family Court Judge David Stowe will hold a termination of
parental rights hearing; he will have to decide two things. First,
whether there’s an anticipatory risk of harm in Vinson’s home and,
secondly, if termination is in the “best interest” of Timothy. The DHS and
Stowe couldn’t make comments to the media due to confidentiality.
The Northern Express is not advocating for Vinson in this article, but is
using her situation to illustrate the difficult decisions inherent in a
parental termination case.
Vinson believes with support she could provide her son with a good home.
But the days when the state had a robust program to work closely with
families are over. Michigan, once considered the leader in reducing foster
care numbers by working with troubled families, now has thousands of state
wards, and has recently cut a successful Northern Michigan program that
helped kids stay with families and out of foster care.
Yet everyone from the top DHS director down believes—and extensive studies
show—that working with troubled families to keep older kids out of foster
care generally has the best outcome for everyone and costs less, too. But
they also agree that if a child must be removed from a home, the earlier
the better.

‘BEST INTEREST’
In this case, as in all termination cases, Judge Stowe must consider
the element of “best interest.” Judge Stowe said a family’s wealth does
not play into his decisions.
Yet “best interest” is intrinsically freighted with the issue of material
wealth and what usually comes with it: educated parents, stability, and a
clear path out of poverty. Children placed into adoptive homes as infants
also avoid the risk of entering a merry-go-round of foster homes and the
emotional baggage that goes with it.
So isn’t it always in the “best interest” to provide a newborn infant with
such a home and avoid that?
Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
(NCCPR) said he often hears that argument, but certain studies say
otherwise (available at www.nccpr.org).
“There is no guarantee with an infant that an adoptive home will be found
right away, and that child will be spared the agony of foster care. But
let’s suppose, hypothetically, that were true. Suppose material advantage
outweighs everything. Why then wait for an abuse or neglect report? Do we
just turn our maternity wards into a giant game of supermarket sweep and
let the rich people come on in?” he said.
“We owe our children a just society... Unfortunately, too many places
have turned America’s child welfare system into the ultimate middle class
entitlement. Step right up and take a poor person’s child for your very
own.”
When a parent is faced with the threat of removal, their best move is to
demand a parent/agency agreement in which they agree to meet certain
conditions set out by the DHS in order to retain parental rights (Vinson
didn’t receive one). And they should be prepared to legally challenge the
prosecutor for proof of “anticipatory risk” when jurisdiction papers are
filed to transfer the child to the state. Having given up your child
previously does not constitute sufficient grounds to make the child a
state ward, said University of Michigan Assistant Professor Vivek S.
Sankaran.

SHIRLEY’S STORY
Lewis, a laid-off construction worker from Traverse City, took Vinson
under his wing after meeting her in Florida last spring. Two months
pregnant, she was staying with friends in a motel room. He suggested that
she come up to Traverse City and put her child up for adoption with
Catholic Human Services, with whom he’d had a good experience with an open
adoption.
After arriving in Traverse City in April, Vinson visited the agency and
handed over her complete file, wanting to be honest. (In retrospect, she
said, it’s been used against her).
Meanwhile, Lewis helped Vinson try to find a place to live—first the
Women’s Resource Center, where Vinson found many women were rough and
rude, having abused drugs and alcohol. She got into a fight with one, was
asked to leave, and went to the Goodwill Inn, where all went well. In
June, she found a subsidized apartment in Kingsley, which allowed her—for
the first time—to support herself with her disability check.
Over the months, Vinson confided in Lewis, telling him of the years of
abuse she endured at the hands of her father, who raised her in Florida.
Her drug-addicted mother, clean since 2000, was in and out of her life.
Lewis was horrified when he saw the scars on her deformed arms and hands
(the result of a birth defect) from the times her parents scorched her
with a curling iron and cigarettes in order to get pain medication for
themselves. Her father sexually abused her and also rented her out for sex
with other men.

FULL OF RAGE
At the age of 15, Vinson went into foster care and was -- at that point --
so full of rage, no one could handle her. She ran away from
institutionalized care at the age of 17, and hooked up with Micah, a
security guard. Things went well, until a year later when she got pregnant
with her baby, Crystal. Micah was disappointed she was going to have a
girl and the abuse began. When Crystal was three months old, Micah hit her
in the eye, despite Vinson’s attempts to shield her. Vinson pushed her
daughter to the hospital in a stroller and filed a police report. From
then on, Micah wouldn’t leave her alone for a moment. Six months later,
she escaped.
Her seven-month odyssey included a journey to her grandparents, an uncle
and friends; but there were often problems and she’d leave. “The whole
time, Mica (her daughter’s father) was trying to find me. He said he was
going to kill me, burn my apartment down; he’s been a terrorist my whole
life.”
She ended up in Utah, where she became pregnant again and had terrible
fights with her boyfriend. Just before her son was born, Micah contacted
CPS and said Vinson had kidnapped Crystal. At that point, Vinson
voluntarily gave up Crystal and, four months later, her newborn son. She
wanted what was best for them and was fearful that Micah would get
Crystal. She returned to Oklahoma City to stay with family. In January of
2009, she was raped and immediately reported the assault to the Oklahoma
City police. She moved to Florida a short time later, and that’s when she
met Lewis.

SECOND CHANCE?
After Vinson decided to keep her baby in June, the CHS worker made a call
to Child Protective Services (CPS) as required by law and presumably
handed over Vinson’s complete file.
Lewis took up her cause to keep Timothy, believing that Vinson deserved a
second chance. She needs help, no question. She must first learn how to
control her temper. For example, she became angry and abusive with her
doctor, frustrated that he was unresponsive to her problems. So much so,
her doctor “fired” her. But as it turns out, her amniotic fluid really was
leaking, necessitating an emergency C-section. Timothy was born in
distress with fluid in his lungs and temporary heart problems.
After Timothy was born, Vinson agreed to an open adoption to buy time with
her baby who was hospitalized in Grand Rapids. After she reversed the
decision, he was released from intensive care to a Roscommon couple she
had chosen last spring as the adoptive parents. They are now serving as
his foster parents. “If I have to give him up, I want them to raise him.
They are wonderful people,” Vinson said.
Lewis believes DHS should instead provide support to mothers like Vinson,
who now lives alone in a quiet apartment. It wasn’t her fault, he said,
that she was born in a home of drug addicts; she herself doesn’t drink or
take drugs. Secondly, the state is spending money for foster care and
adoption—why not spend the same amount of money to support the birth mom?
Finally, and most significantly, Shirley, who’s getting counseling, was
never given a chance to prove herself.

‘SHE NEEDS HELP’
“Are they saying people can’t change no matter what? I don’t believe it.
You can’t make me believe it. Shirley needs a lot of help; she does. CPS
in Oklahoma and Florida dropped the ball in not removing her from the
frickin’idiots who were her parents. But she’s getting walked on, and she
deserves a chance.”
Vinson said it feels like CPS is blaming her for being abused as a child.
“And it seems like they’re downing me because I’m not meeting their
standards. I can’t be a rich person and automatically have everything
they have. I’m not capable of snapping my fingers and having everything.
It takes time for people to get things. But people change.”
During the hearing, Vinson will try to disprove allegations from the first
removal with factual evidence, videotapes and photos. She had also wanted
to present videotaped visits at Child and Family Services with Timothy,
but was refused video copies—another frustration, along with DHS workers
whom she perceives as rude and insensitive.

NO PARENTING MODEL
In the final equation, the children’s best interest must be a priority,
said Mary Marois, the former DHS director of Grand Traverse and Leelanau
counties.
When told of the case, Marois said there is more to parenting than having
a safe apartment. Vinson has no spouse. Limited wages. No driver’s
license. A lower IQ. She has no family to support her and teach her how to
parent. She subjected her toddler to scenes of violence and bouts of
homelessness.
And learning how to be a good parent isn’t simple. It requires that a
child watch for 18 years how a parent writes bills, handles conflicts,
cooks dinners, schedules activities, and soothes tempers. There are
hurdles to raising a child, and, unfortunately, kids who have terrible
parents lack good role models.
“It’s the truth, but not everybody’s the same,” Vinson said. “I grew up
with drug addicts, but I’m going to be better, no matter how much I’ve
been through. I’ll give them a better start than I had. If I could get
Timothy back, the state can be in my life. Come by here every day and see
it’s okay.”
Marois said that area DHS workers have been intensively trained not to
mistake poverty for neglect, as sometimes occurs in other counties.
“The attitude of Grand Traverse/Leelanau is if the problem is money, then
there’s no problem. If you’re thinking of removing kids because they don’t
have shelter, then we find a place for the family to live. If it’s proper
clothes, then let’s get them clothes. So you would never remove kids
because of a dirty house, unless it’s a dangerous house with garbage and
feces all over it. That would never happen in this community.” said
Marois.




 
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