5 Siblings Reunited Through Adoption

This story was published in my local newspaper (Fargo Forum) this past Friday.

 I believe the story speaks for itself and needs no additional comments from me -:)

 STORY:

Mitzels’ Miracles
Mike Nowatzki, The Forum
Published Friday, October 26, 2007

Dinner is only an hour away, but 10-year-old Brandon Mitzel is hungry.

Sitting at the kitchen counter, his math homework sprawled out in front of him, he tries to coax his mom into letting him test the Jell-O jigglers cooling in the fridge.

“What if they’re not good?” he asks.

Dana Mitzel isn’t falling for it. She continues to tie ropes of dough into pretzel-like buns as a side dish for tonight’s chili. Brandon settles for an apple to quell his burgeoning teenage appetite.

When dinnertime finally arrives, Brandon is asked to say grace.

He prays surrounded by his two brothers and two half sisters whose presence he owes to his adoptive parents.

When Jason and Dana Mitzel accepted Brandon as a foster child, they had no idea he had siblings.

Six years later, Dana says it’s weird to think that had she and Jason been able to conceive, these five children probably wouldn’t be under the same roof in West Fargo, and this close-knit family wouldn’t exist.

The North Dakota Department of Human Services will recognize the Mitzels with an award during its annual Adoption Celebration on Nov. 3 in Bismarck.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Julie Hoffman, the department’s administrator of adoption services. “Many children in foster care are not so fortunate to be reunited in adoption with all their siblings.”

Waiting for a family

Jason and Dana Mitzel felt no rush to have children after tying the knot on June 3, 1994.

One day in February 2000 while reading the newspaper, they came across an ad about foster parents.

“I thought we could give to a family while waiting for our family,” Dana says.

They became foster parents through the Professional Association of Treatment Homes (PATH), a nonprofit organization that facilitates foster care for children with special emotional, behavioral and emotional needs.

After having a couple of teenagers in their care, they were approached about Brandon, a 4-year-old from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in south-central North Dakota.

On their first visit to his foster home, they found a boy with a wildness that matched the dinosaurs on his pajamas.

“We fell in love with him,” Dana says.

Who is Ben?

Brandon had behavioral issues requiring a life of organization and structure that, as new parents with training from PATH, the Mitzels learned how to provide.

One day while listening to children’s music on the stereo, Brandon, who’d been in foster care since he was 6 months old, spoke up.

“He said it reminded him of someone he knew from the reservation,” Jason recalls. “His name was Ben, and he was a really nice guy and took care of him.”

The Mitzels tried to figure out who Ben was, with no luck. Around the same time, in the summer of 2003, they were planning to open a Rainbow Shop store in Fargo.

About three months before the move, they learned that two PATH workers from Bismarck and Fargo had linked the boys as brothers. Ben was living with a foster family in Barnesville, Minn., just 30 minutes from Fargo.

The Mitzels brought Brandon with them on their first visit to see Ben in April 2004.

Nevertheless, the brothers bonded right away, talking “a hundred miles an hour,” Brandon says.

Ben moved in with the Mitzels on Aug. 1, 2004. Dana refers to the months that followed as the “year of hell,” as they struggled to deal with Ben’s behavioral issues.

Now, “he’s not even the same kid anymore,” she says.

Ben’s adoption became final in December 2005. Meanwhile, the Mitzels were in their fourth year of trying to adopt Brandon, who was under the jurisdiction of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Three more join

The couple thought about reuniting the two boys with their oldest brother, Johnathan. But social workers told them it wasn’t a good idea because of their past history.

“We were told under no circumstances could Johnny and Ben be together. They were just like oil and water. They didn’t mix,” Dana says.

The family took a chance anyway in March 2006, visiting Johnny at his foster home in Bemidji, Minn.

“And all three brothers clicked like they were never separated,” Jason says.

Johnny joined the family permanently in June 2006 and was adopted in January. Brandon’s adoption became final in August.

The Mitzels have been assisted in the adoption process by Adults Adopting Special Kids, a collaborative program of Catholic Charities North Dakota, PATH and the Department of Human Services.

The boys’ mother asked the Mitzels in October 2006 if they would consider adopting their two half sisters, as well.

The girls, enrolled members of the Three Affiliated Tribes in western North Dakota, visited the Mitzels’ bi-level home in West Fargo’s Eagle Run development at Thanksgiving last year. They moved in Dec. 18.

Because the girls are still technically in foster care – their adoptions are expected to be finalized in November – the family requested that their names not be used.

The older of the two girls, a 7-year-old affectionately called “String Bean,” and her 6-year-old sister, nicknamed “Moe,” had lived with Johnny and Ben in the past, but never with Brandon.

All five siblings still have regular contact with their mother, and the two girls with their father, Jason says. They also try to bring the boys to Standing Rock at least twice a year to visit relatives.

“It’s an important part of their heritage, so we want to make sure they keep that,” he says.

‘A regular family’

The boys, ages 10, 11 and 12, all wear their jet-black hair cropped tight with spiky blond highlights in front. The girls could be twins if their hair was the same length. And they all wear glasses except Johnny, who has contacts.

Around the dinner table, the conversation swings from schoolwork (Ben says he’s doing well in math) to weekend plans (Mom’s taking the girls to a pumpkin patch) to Johnny hitting his sore rib again in football practice.

Between bites of chili and buttered buns, Brandon and Ben brag about how far their big brother can kick the ball.

Johnny downs a piece of red Jell-O and deadpans, “I’ve got a lot of jigglers.” He flails his limbs and the family laughs.

After dinner, the kids stick around to clear the table, do dishes and sweep the floor with their parents’ guidance.

Jason and Dana muse about how they once thought they would have two children, maybe three, but never five.

Now, they can’t imagine life with anything less.

“We feel like a regular family,” Dana says.
 

Florida Accepts $10 Million Settlement

The article below appeared in the Palm Beach Post in Florida. An adoptive couple sued the state due to damage done to the youth they adopted while they were in foster care. It has taken years for the settlement to be reached; which is a shame as services these youth have been greatly delayed.

Though they now have funds which will provide for the care of the boys it is probably too late in coming in order to help the boys eventually grow up to normal, productive citizens as the damage done to them seems to be too severe.

I wish this were an isolated case but I know they happen across the country.

I hope more and more foster/adoptive families and even former foster youth will sues their states for damage done to youth while in care of the state. Dollars seems to be the only thing that might get a state’s attention and may compel them to finally reform their foster care systems so more youth are not damaged as these boys and many like them do not continue to happen. I know it’s asking a lot but I must continue to be positive that I may yet see improvement in my lifetime.

The bold print has been added by me to emphasize certain statements.

By ANTIGONE BARTON and KATHLEEN CHAPMAN

Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Monday, October 22, 2007

For years after discovering that their three adopted sons had been raped, beaten and caged while in state custody, a Boynton Beach couple struggled to get the traumatized brothers the treatment they needed.

On Monday, more than five years after the couple sued the state for concealing the abuse and for the damage the boys suffered before coming to them, Florida officials agreed to pay the family the $10 million experts estimate will help them begin to get suitable care.

“The sad part is we’re talking about boys who are 15 and 16 years old, as opposed to 8 and 9,” their adoptive mother, Debbie, said Monday.

According to a memo the couple’s attorney said was written by a consultant for the state, recommending that the case be settled, the foster care system had been “catastrophically destructive” to the children, who were 2, 3 and 4 years old when the couple adopted them in 1998.

The Palm Beach Post is not using the couple’s last names to protect the identity of their sons.

During their earliest years, the boys had been shuttled from an abusive mother to a brutal foster family to the home of a pedophile. They were expelled from a series of schools and treatment programs while Debbie and Jorge rearranged their home and their lives to protect the boys from each other. In addition to assaulting each other, molesting classmates and attempting suicide, the boys attacked their adoptive parents.

The settlement reached Monday will allow the brothers to go to an out-of-state program for children who have suffered extreme abuse. It comes as the two oldest, who are nearly 15 and 16, are on the verge of being too old for the program.

“A wrong had been done, and we had to correct it,” said Bob Butterworth, secretary of the state Department of Children and Families. “The case had to be settled in order for the two oldest children to get the treatment they needed as soon as possible.”

Butterworth, appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to head the long-troubled agency in January, announced when he took office that he would not spend state money fighting lawsuits when facts indicated the agency had erred.

“It is refreshing that Gov. Crist and Secretary Butterworth took a look at the case and realized the gravity and the care they needed,” the boys’ adoptive father said.

“During the past administration, we were completely ignored despite what they knew, which is a lot,” Debbie said.

It was only after the adoption that the parents learned the boys’ previous foster father was a pedophile who had raped an 11-year-old girl. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2000. The couple learned that the middle child had clung to a state-paid therapist’s leg, sobbing as he begged not to be returned to a household where he and his brothers were molested nightly.

By the time they learned this, Debbie said, she and her husband were “running a group home without a staff” as the boys terrorized their household. Psychologists have concluded that the boys can no longer love or trust anyone, they said.

The couple had one adopted son when they prepared to adopt more from state foster care. Willing to take a child with disabilities or behavioral problems, they asked only that they not be given a child at risk for molesting other children, because they did not want to put their young son at risk.

“It changed his whole childhood,” Debbie said.

The youngest of the brothers, now 13, remains at home. The middle child is in a psychiatric hospital, and the oldest is in a group home after assaulting Debbie.

“They were just getting too big and too strong to stay here,” Debbie said, though she and her husband have refused to consider reversing the adoption.

The legislature still must approve $9.5 million of the settlement, but the boys’ treatment will begin immediately thanks to help from the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, Butterworth said. The family will receive $500,000 now – the maximum that can be settled without legislative approval.

“This settlement is fair, at best,” the couple’s attorney, Lance Block, said Monday. “Had this case been a private entity, it would have settled for many millions more. On the other hand, I have been trying cases against the state of Florida for 23 years, and I never thought I would see the day that the Department of Children and Families would try to get cases settled that should be settled.”

The outlook for the boys is worse now than if they had been able to get the care they needed years ago, the couple said. But they remain hopeful.

“We are depending on the state of Florida to follow through on what they have said they will do,” Jorge said.

The couple, who moved to the Gainesville area last year, remain staunch advocates for adoption.

“Children need homes,” Debbie said. “But parents need to know that the state of Florida is not going to hide things.”

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/local_news/epaper/2007/10/22/1022foster.html
A bittersweet victory…

November – Nat’l Adoption Awareness Month

Thousands of children in foster care await a permanent family; the longer they languish in the system the more damage done to them…they need adoption!

Imagine you’ve been in foster care most or all of your life. Among all the other disappointments you’ve had to deal with, you’ve had no parents, you have been moved time and time again and few adult mentors were available to teach you what you need to know in order to live successfully on your own – like how to manage money, where to find a job and why you must never, ever give up.

Michael wants to “make it” — but the odds were stacked against the 18-year-old man.

The reason: he spent his formative years as a ward of the state, bouncing among more than a half-dozen foster homes.

“When you grow up like I did, you can’t wait until you turn 18 and can get out of the system,” said Michael, who was in foster care since age seven. “I thought I would just pack my bags and walk out and have my own life.”

Each move a child experiences is another loss-of friends, school, and surroundings-and another rejection for the child. Without consistent moral guidance, without a positive self-image, and with no cause for hope, the child becomes a fertile soil for failure and hopelessness.

Nearly 75% of children experience more than one family foster home placement during their time in out of home care system

One out of every ten children in the current foster care system can expect foster care to be permanent care, given that they will spend more than seven years in the foster care system

Being raised by the state can be a ticket to a lifetime of struggle and failure for foster children, according to a new study by the Harvard Medical School and Casey Family Programs. Researchers found young adults are often released from foster care without important life skills — many are alone and adrift after foster care with little or no support from state caregivers.

The picture grows even bleaker as teens age and leave foster care – as all must, ready or not – at age eighteen.

Each year more than 20-25,000 youth reach their eighteenth birthday and age out of the foster care system, this means an end to ongoing support and guidance of caring adults -NFPA (National Foster Parent Association)

Nationwide, nearly a quarter go homeless within the first year and one-third live below the poverty level. Former foster children also receive public assistance at a rate more than five times higher than that of the general population, and fewer than 2 percent earn college degrees.

Michael was among the unprepared when he was emancipated shortly after turning 18. He did not have a high school diploma and very few low paying job prospects. With no family — he didn’t have anyone to turn to for help.

“You just feel so stupid and so alone,” he said.

Each year, thousands of foster youth, like Michael, are released from the state’s care after their 18th birthdays.

Michael struggled with the transition from state care, “where they tell you when to eat, when to pee and when to go to bed.”

Such problems are common among former foster children, according to the Harvard-Casey study. Although 80 percent of the former foster children surveyed said they felt loved by their substitute caregivers, the study found just 20 percent were “doing well” on their own. The majority face significant challenges:

*Instability caused by numerous moves
*Emotional or mental problems not addressed
*Lack of a proper education due to constant moves
*Lack of a support network to help them succeed
*Homelessness
*Joblessness
*Unwanted pregnancy
*Drug and/or alcohol addiction
*Crime and incarceration
*Death

My friends, this is the “Road to Hopelessness.”

Russell W. Massinga, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, said the findings should be a wake-up call.

“Children enter the child welfare system because of traumatic family circumstances and through no fault of their own,” he said. “We have a responsibility to provide them with good, permanent homes to help them repair the hurt and succeed in life.”

“When it comes time to take them out of the system, they don’t have the skills they need. Many of them end up right back in the system. It becomes a vicious cycle.”

The best they can hope for is that somebody they’ve had a relationship with — in the community or the child welfare system — will provide some assistance that will help them pull out of several years of despair.

“I think most people underestimate the struggle these kids face and their need for support, it’s almost like we are giving them an impossible task.”

Personal support is vital!

I know what Michael and others like him will face aging out of the system. I was in foster care from birth to 18.

I am a product of the foster care system. I was placed in it at birth and was moved fourteen times by age eleven. I had no behavioral problems or other special needs; however, I was never adopted and aged out of the system.

I was one of the fortunate ones. I may be an adult now, but I have fought every inch of the way to be where I am. I had to go without food, sleep on an unheated porch, be sexually assaulted and live through many other things that are not important now … I made it.

I had few advocates in latter years in the system that used to tell me; “They cared about me, I was worth something and that I must always remember that.” You have no idea how many times I had to keep repeating that to myself in mind and heart when I finally heard it until I believed it.

WHAT CHILDREN NEED:

According to most childcare experts, children need four things:

1) Connectedness; “children need to feel that someone is there for them and they are a part of someone’s life”

2) Continuity; a sense of continuous belonging with another person

3) Dignity; all children are worthy of respect caring, love, thought, and courtesy

4) Opportunity; children need an opportunity to grow and develop- need to be able to explore and express their capabilities-access to quality education, recreation, and leisure appropriate to their developmental levels

The best way to achieve all the above is a permanent, stable family rather than years of languishing within the system moving from one temporary home to another!

They need someone to adopt them and treat them as their own son or daughter long before they face aging out of the system and possible destruction of their lives!

November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Though the need for adoptions is year around, special emphasis is placed on the crisis need during this particular month.

From data I have been able to gather from across the country; the number waiting across the country is approximately 114,000 children.

Today there continues to be a constant flow of children aging out of the system who are not as fortunate as I was. Children are very fragile. They want to be loved so badly that they will do whatever they are told just to cope. Inside they are dying. They are not able to form who they really are. How could they?

As we commemorate another “National Adoption Awareness Month,” I ask you to consider becoming an adoptive parent or parents. The rewards will be numerous. You do not need to be rich to adopt, you do not need to be married. Character, love and stability are the most precious commodities you have to offer a child.

Help a child in need, give them a home, love, nurturing. Though some will be difficult due to special needs or problems that developed during their stay within the system…you can watch them grow and mature into productive, law-abiding citizens you will be proud to call your son or daughter.

They need you! Only you can offer them the tools needed young in life for them to be all they can possibly be.

A foster child is waiting for you!

I implore anyone who believes in children having the right of a caring, loving, and nurturing home and “real” parents to join me in this fight… Please consider adopting a child in need of a forever family!

All it takes is one person to make a difference in their lives, somebody they can turn to in the critical points.

If interested please contact your local Department of Human Services office or a private agency in your area.

Will you be that one person or couple?

Foster Care not the Best Way?

My local newspaper, The Fargo Forum, (North Dakota) allows space each Sunday for a guest OpEd piece. Below you will find an article entitled, “Foster Care Not the Best Way. The article appeared on Sunday, October 21, 2007.

After reading it I felt it needed a response though I agreed with her data. However I did not agree with her conclusions. The Forum decided to print my response as a Letter to the Editor in its Wednesday, October 24, 2007 edition.

Here is the original article followed by my reply:

Foster Care Not Best Way
By Sheri McMahon

Based on the statistics from the administration for children and families, North Dakota places more of its children (per capita) in foster care than almost any other state in the nation.

North Dakota also contributes less of its own money to child welfare costs than almost any other state in the nation, preferring to rely on federal handouts to care for its own children. Less local and state money translates to less money to help children stay with their families.

This does not necessarily result in a lot of “bang for the buck” when one looks at the long-term outcomes of foster children – physical and metal illness, unemployment, low graduation rates (estimated around 50 percent), homelessness, incarceration. It is well-established that foster placement itself contributes to these factors.

For example, major studies (from MIT, the University of Minnesota and the University of Chicago) have determined that except in extreme cases, children who remain in their homes have better outcomes than children with the same risk factors who are separated from their parents. But according to minutes of the Children’s Justice Initiative Task Force convened in 2006 by the North Dakota judiciary, resources to keep families together are mostly unavailable.

Prevention services can include assistance with school and activity fees, clothing expenses, toys, housing (particularly emergency and transitional housing other than shelters, which are difficult places for kids to live), child care or after school programs (particularly for parents working low-wage jobs at night or on weekends, or for those whose children have needs requiring specialized child care), transportation to appointments for mental or physical health care (transportation assistance for kids or parents on medical assistance has basically vanished in recent years), transportation for parents to work (bus transportation is limited or nil at night and on Sundays, but many low-wage workers are required to work on Sundays) assistance with individual concrete needs.

It is one thing to spend money on gas and vehicle wear and tear to transport an extra child in the house; having to take a sick child on a long city bus ride to a walk-in clinic on a winter day is another, not to mention having a sick child, no cash in the house for bus fare and no phone. It is one thing to go through more laundry detergent and hot water; it’s another thing to scrub socks and underwear in the bathtub.

Oftentimes the public simply cannot imagine the hurdles faced by families in poverty. Perhaps, if they could, they would be a little more willing to help them through these hurdles. Let’s work harder on preventing foster care in the first place.

McMahon, Fargo, is with Cass Clay Child Welfare Family

My Reply:

Foster Care Opinion Has it Wrong

This is in reply to Sheri McMahon’s opinion entitled “Foster Care not the Best Way” in the Sunday (10/21/07) Fargo Forum.

I agree with McMahon’s basic facts regarding the number of youth in care and the possible results of their being in care.

I, however, do not agree in what appears to be her conclusions. McMahon seems to think the only reason youth are in foster care is because the parents live in poverty; just need some basic in home services and all will be solved.

While in-home services may help some she needs to examine the basic truths as to why youth end up in foster care…poverty is not on the list!

According to the latest statistics provided by the federal government youth are in care for:
65% extreme neglect
18% physical abuse
10% sexual abuse
7% emotional maltreatment

In-home services will not resolve these problems and the youth need to be removed from their families as long as they are in danger. There are also numerous programs and charities available to address the problems McMahon brought up.

Parents, doing their best, despite their circumstances, rarely face their children being removed and placed in foster care. It is the parents who willingly or intentionally or knowingly do not provide for their children for reasons other than poverty…such as alcohol or drug abuse. There is absolutely no excuse for extreme neglect, physical or sexual abuse of their children!

Let’s not blame society for youth going into foster care…put the blame where it belongs: the parents. This is not yet another problem that can be solved by just throwing money at it!

There are numerous problems with our foster care system which definitely need to be addressed so youth do not have the issues McMahon refers to.

This is coming from one who lived in the foster care system for years and has gone on to have a fairly successful life.

Sincerely,
Lawrence P. Adams
Regional Manager North America,
World Initiative for Orphans, Fargo

my web site @  http://www.larrya.us

A Case of Failure

The story you will read below was not writte by me but appeared in the Rocky Mountain News on October 12, 2007.

Though I firmly believe each of us must be held accountable for our actions…I also firmly believe this story is an example of the failure of our foster care system.

Unfortunately Michael Tate’s story is not a unique one…there are several Michael’s in prison today across the country who in many ways have the same story…though it may not have resulted in murder.

As I said in the beginning, Michael must pay for his actions but I also feel others should pay for what they did (or did not do) for Michael while he was part of the system. I also do not find any record of his birth mother being charged with abuse; only her parental rights were terminated. A lot of damage was done during his first 3 years of life with his mother…the system added to it.

Today we see the results!

STORY:

By Sue Lindsay Rocky Mountain News
October 12, 2007

He was blond, with a shy, sweet smile, the kind of little boy they just wanted to love.

Michael Tate was 6 years old when a Morrison couple chose him to be their son.

But it didn’t last long.

Tammy and Dave Wachtl had several successful visits with Michael at a foster home. But within a week of coming to live with the Wachtls, the couple relinquished the youngster. He would shriek like a wounded wild animal and bash his head against the wall.

The string of doctors who treated Tate described him as the most severely disturbed child they had ever seen.

His problems worsened as he became a teen. He tried to strangle himself, drank poison, and jumped out a window during repeated suicide attempts. At one point, he threatened to rape and kill a foster family.

Then, on Nov. 8, 2004, he wound up in the Fitzgerald family’s garage. What started out as a burglary turned deadly, after Tate and his friend, Michael Fitzgerald, were confronted by Fitzgerald’s father.

Steven Fitzgerald fought for his life, wildly swinging a scooter at the two teens. The 41-year-old man died after being beaten with a shovel and stabbed.

Both boys were charged with his murder. Tate faces a life sentence after a jury last month convicted him of felony murder. Michael Fitzgerald pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 72 years.

At the time of the killing, Fitzgerald, then 17, and Tate, 16, were runaways from a Jefferson County social services facility.

In fact, Tate had spent nearly all of his life in the custody of Jefferson County.

“He is the product of Jefferson County. They raised him and they prosecuted him for murder,” said his attorney, Shawna Geiger.

Social services in spotlight

Geiger, during Tate’s trial, tried unsuccessfully to persuade jurors Tate was not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

The evidence extended far beyond the circumstances of Fitzgerald’s death, with Geiger, at times, putting Jefferson County social services in the defendant’s seat. One psychiatrist after another took the stand, revealing the dark and unpredictable world of a deeply troubled teen.

Geiger contends that social services failed Tate after he was taken, at 3, from his abusive mother.

In a letter written when Tate was 5, the boy’s first therapist, Dena Grossier, told his caseworker:

“I cannot stress strongly enough the need for … Michael to be in a stable, consistent, loving home on a permanent basis AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.”

By the time Tate was 16, however, he had been moved 40 times into 28 different foster homes, social services facilities and psychiatric hospitals.

“Social services is no place to raise a child,” Geiger said.

Today’s head of Jefferson County Human Services, Lynn Johnson, says policies have changed since Tate came into the system in 1994. Now, federal guidelines and state law require that children have a stable home within a year.

But some professionals familiar with the Tate case say there was little the system could do. They describe a child who was beyond repair by the time he was a toddler.

Tate’s case continues to haunt the two caseworkers who primarily managed his care.

Adoption caseworker Alice Johnson left trembling and wiping tears away after testifying.

“I think of him as a little boy still,” she said. “I hate to see him so hurt.”

Caseworker Lana Holmes cried as she told jurors about seeing Tate shortly after his adoption failed.

“Are you my mommy?” she recalled the 7-year-old saying.

Years later, she believes Tate should have been given something more than social services was equipped to provide.

“He got the treatment that was available, but I would say he still fell through the cracks,” she said. “He needed more than he was getting.”

Indications of abuse

The foundation for Tate’s mental and behavioral problems was forged during the first three years of his life, psychiatrists testified.

Tate and his older brother, Ronnie, had bruises and scars and described physical abuse at the hands of their mother. Later, Tate’s behavior pointed to sexual abuse as well.

The boys were put into a foster home where they proved to be unmanageable — defecating throughout the house, destroying furniture and scratching the ivory off the piano keys, Holmes told jurors.

The boys were moved to a “therapeutic” foster home.

Eventually, a judge terminated the parental rights of their mother, a substance abuser with her own mental health issues.

Tate, then 5, was now available for adoption, but Johnson said she knew Tate would be a challenge the minute she saw him. He was hiding under a table with his hands over his ears.

“He just struck me as being very, very alone and empty,” she said.

That same year, Tate had his first psychiatric hospitalization because he was biting himself, screaming uncontrollably in the grip of apparent flashbacks, tearing his hair out and was “so emotionally distraught he couldn’t function,” Johnson said.

After a month at a psychiatric hospital, he spent about eight months in residential treatment, then moved into another therapeutic foster home.

“He could hold it together for a while,” Johnson said, “but then he would lose it.”

‘Unreachable state’

By the time Tate was 6, Johnson had decided that Tate and his brother would have to be split up. Tate’s brother went to a foster family where he stayed for six years.

Tate’s prospects remained slim. Then Johnson found the Wachtls.

The caseworker told Tate she had found him a “forever home.” Tate was so elated he ran smack into the plate glass sliding door of the Wachtls’ mountain home the first time he visited in July 1995.

“Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!” he called when he first saw them.

“His enthusiasm was overwhelming,” Tammy Wachtl recalled. “He couldn’t get over that this was his new house, that these were his new dogs.”

But to Johnson, the boy’s exuberance seemed to be a warning sign. This wasn’t a true and healthy attachment — the kind that is made slowly, over time.

“He didn’t know these people, but he desperately wanted a family,” she said.

Tammy Wachtl said she fell in love with the boy the moment she saw him.

“I was thinking emotionally there was such goodness within him. There was just no way I could say no,” she said. “He was so happy, so eager to please, so lovable.”

She quit her job to care for him, but soon learned it was more than a full-time job.

“He would slip into this unreachable state,” she said. “He would go into fits until he had completely exhausted himself. We couldn’t determine what was causing them, so we couldn’t prevent them or predict when they would happen.”

The first happened when a ball grazed his arm during a game of catch.

“It was like a wild animal had been shot, the sounds he made. I still can hear it. It was horrible,” she said, crying softly. “He just went on with this sound until he literally had nothing left.”

Episodes took place several times a day.

During the ride home from a McDonald’s outing, Wachtl said, “Out of the clear blue, he said, ‘I saw you looking out of the corner of your eyes at my shorts.'” He began viciously kicking the window of the car, trying to get out.

At home, he banged his head, bit himself, kicked and flailed so hard that he put a hole in the wall.

Ultimately, the caseworker advised that the Wachtls return him to the county.

Wachtl called the decision “heartbreaking.”

“He had so much to offer. He deserved so much. But it became very evident that he needed more mental health care than we could provide.

“I was scared of the future,” she said. “I knew my marriage would not survive it. We would have to become missionaries to make this work. Literally, this would be our life.”

Johnson told Tate he hadn’t been “behaving well,” so he wouldn’t be able to live with the Wachtls.

Tammy Wachtl said she and Tate sat next to each other on the sofa, crying. Tate, who had just turned 7, clung to her and sobbed.

Tate later told his guardian ad litem, “I blew it.”

In retrospect, Tammy Wachtl wonders if things would have turned out differently if she and her husband had been better prepared. They underwent eight hours of training as adoptive parents, but felt helpless when Tate went into his psychotic rages.

“The training we got was really generic, for dealing with a normal kid,” she said. “I don’t remember any specific tools that they gave me for dealing with the problems that Michael had.”

Diagnosed with PTSD

Tate next bounced between a therapeutic foster home, a residential center and four visits to the psych ward at Children’s Hospital.

He set fires and saw spiders. He accused families of abusing him and was flooded with memories of sexual abuse, Johnson testified.

He referred to himself in the third person, telling his foster family, “You’ll have to ask Michael.”

“It seemed like he was getting worse,” Johnson said.

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and put on anti-psychotic drugs.

Johnson abandoned plans to place him for adoption and told him she wouldn’t be seeing him anymore.

The transition was devastating.

“Every child wants a family,” said his foster care caseworker, Holmes.

She moved the boy to Devereux Cleo Wallace, a center that offered both residential and psychiatric care.

He left the center at age 10, after staying three years. Holmes conceded the time was too long, but she was worried he wouldn’t be able to function in a family setting. She gave counselors six months to prepare him, then put him in a foster home for special-needs kids.

“It did not go well,” Holmes recalled. Tate was destructive, urinated all over the house and had screaming fits. Holmes tried to reunite Tate with his brother, but that also failed.

Tate’s life became a blur of residential treatment facilities, group homes and hospitalizations.

He bit himself and banged his head as a “soothing mechanism.” He began to cut himself. He was gripped by hallucinations, screaming, “Mommy, don’t do that to me! Mommy, don’t hurt me! … Don’t touch me! Don’t kill me!” He hoarded food and newspaper clips.

By his teen years, Tate had been given nearly every anti-psychotic, anti-seizure, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and other mood-altering drug in existence.

He became institutionalized, unable to live outside the walls of a structured environment.

At age 13, Holmes said, Tate didn’t know how to tie his shoes. He had never been around anyone using a microwave or a washing machine. Except for a brief attempt at kindergarten, all of Tate’s education took place behind locked doors.

A final attempt to place him in a foster home in 2003, when he was 14, ended abruptly after Tate threatened to rape and kill the foster family. This happened after he told his religious foster father, “Satan is my lord.”

Caseworkers were trying to find Tate a permanent home in a residential center in Larkspur when he ran away from another center and hooked up with Michael Fitzgerald. Within weeks, Steven Fitzgerald was murdered.

Steven Fitzgerald’s widow declined to be interviewed for this story about her husband’s slaying or her son’s troubles before his dad’s death.

Tate, now 19, will be sentenced Nov. 2. Under Colorado law, he is guaranteed a new institutional home: Prison.

The victim:

Steven Fitzgerald

Age: 41

Job: Colorado Department of Transportation

Family: Wife Kris, teenage daughter Jessica and son Michael, now serving 62 years in prison for his dad’s death

What happened: He surprised his son, Michael, and Michael Tate as they were burglarizing the Fitzgerald home. The younger Fitzgerald watched as Tate stabbed and beat his father to death with a shovel. They had been in the home a day earlier, coming on a Sunday when they knew the devoutly religious Fitzgerald would be at church with the rest of his family.
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5721492,00.html
 

  

Heroes for our Foster Youth!

For the past few months I have been considering a blog entry to honor those whom I feel should be considered “Heroes for our Foster Youth.”

I have decided to make this an actual reality. I know, despite the numerous problems within today’s foster care system, there are many individuals, families and organizations doing something to make life better for the youth in care. Without their actions life within the system would be worse than it could be.

I will be searching the Internet, newspapers and receiving input from others to choose those whom I determine should be honored. I plan on making this a monthly entry on my blog.

There are so many negative stories that can be found with what is wrong with our system. I know this as I have contributed to it. However the positive side of the system is rarely brought forward in the headlines. This will be my small effort to highlight the positive even while I continue to highlight the negative as well.

A week or so ago I received the comments below:

“Any government – Any system – has always, and will always come up short in the level of financial and other support it provides in caring for these children.

Yet there are those who continue to open their hearts and lives to the children in foster care.

We ride the ups and downs of a system that both heals and breaks the heart…a roller coaster of expectation and grief.

We struggle to heal the trauma of abandonment and separation, of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, of sexual molestation and depravation.

We strive to help our children overcome the difficulty of attachment disorder, the self-doubt and the misconceptions inflicted by an ignorant, self indulgent society.

WHY?

Because we understand that there really are monsters under the bed!

So keep up the fight! – Continue to advocate and provide a voice for our children!

If you can’t get through the front door – go in the back or through a window!

An ignorant soul once asked me: ‘Why would you ever want to take these kinds of kids into your home’?

My (The comment sender) response was to write a song…

“Because”

Because the cry of precious children erupts like fire in my veins
Because these children deserve more than to be labeled with your stupid names
Because the pain and torment they endure burns inside my very soul
Because I feel the emptiness within and wish to make them whole
Because not one little lamb should be lost from the fold
Because I know what it’s like to need someone to hold
Because each child’s heartbreaking story needs to be told
Because we all need some comfort, this world is so cold
Because the burden is to heavy for little shoulders to bear
Because there are monsters of evil lurking out there
Because what is a dream unless your willing to share
Because children need to believe that someone still cares
Because my heart has been broken, now I can feel
Because I have been wounded, I know how to heal
Because I have been taken, I never will steal
Because I have been lied to, I know what is real
Because I understand the need for a home
Because no child should be left alone
Because my eyes have seen their eyes cry
Because of this – I will not sit idly by”

Words and Music for Because by Tony DeLorenzo and Richard Ferreira Copyright 2003 The Sword & Spirit Band

Permission to reprint the words to this song has been granted by Tony for this blog entry and may not be reproduced anywhere else without him giving permission.
 
I thought this was very nice and moving but they might just be words as I have seen before. However Tony also sent me a link to his web site (I will provide a link later).

The words expressed above were not just words. They are a real part of Tony’s, his wife; Richard’s, his wife and the Sword & the Spirit Band. They are a true expression of their love, passion and committment to today’s foster youth. They have put action behind their words, they have dedicated their lives is so many ways to better the lives of youth in foster care.  Tony and I have also exchanged communications over the past week.  Tony’s words above better say my sentiment than I ever could. They have proven themselves to be “Heroes of Foster Youth” and I therefore choose them as Heroes for the month of October 2007.

Tony’s Family

“Tony, Carrie along with their 6 children on Adoption Day”

It all started approximately 10 years ago when Tony and Richard Ferreira made a decision to personally enter the world of these very special children and together with their wives they became ‘foster parents’.

“Our hearts melted, our lives and the lives of our children were eternally touched. We will never be the same!” – (Tony)

Tony and his wife Carries recently adopted three beautiful children and are in the process of adopting their fourth.

Richard and his wife Beth have spent the past many years caring for Vermont’s most neediest children.

Collectively these two couples have cared for nearly 100 foster youth in their homes.

Motivated by their experiences as foster parents and the stories from the youth placed in their care, Tony and Richard began to writing songs for/about these precious children and their families that care for them.

Tony stated further in his comments to me; “Creating a greater awareness to the needs of foster and adoptive children and their families by educating and motivating the local community through music, art, drama and literary productions

Developing and promoting projects through music and the arts that reach out and effect positive change in the lives of these children and those who care for them.

The Sword & Spirit Band was created to be a ‘voice for the children in the foster care system and we are working hard at increasing our exposure.

Our song & story transcend beyond mere entertainment and the stereotypical band seeking promotion of their music. But rather, this story is the silent cry and the unpainted picture, as seen through the eyes of the children we care for; and a dream to make a real difference in the lives of some very special children.”

The Sword & The Spirit is a labor of Love for Tony DeLorenzo, Eric Lea and Richard Ferreira.

Tony, Eric and Richard – lifelong friends – started the band as a way to reach out to children in the foster care system.

The Sword and The Spirit is a band committed to writing and performing original music that presents an unadulterated, true and realistic voice; revealing the inner heart of foster and adoptive children in our communities.

Sword & Spirit Band

The Band

Their songs acknowledge and identify with the children’s fragile emotions and their pain; they represent the silent cry and the unpainted picture as seen through the eyes of the children in care.

They take great care in presenting this voice to the public that they may convey a message of hope and healing to them. Their music offers a positive alternative to the angry and negative messages so prevalent in today’s mainstream entertainment industry.

Due to the vulnerable state of these children they feel they are particularly susceptible to these negative messages and a source of positive energy is needed.

Their mission is to create a greater awareness within the community to the needs of these children and their families; to develop and promote projects through music and the arts that reach out and effect positive change in the lives of these children and those who care for them.

These are often the forgotten children in society. Some have been abused, neglected and/or abandoned by their biological families; and desperately need a safe, loving and permanent home.

Others just need a place to call home until their situation is safe enough for them to return home.

However, many of these children enter a system that makes them strangers in the places where they live, moving multiple times in short periods, never being able to create a permanent connection with their caregivers. Eventually they are “aged out” or emancipated from “the system”; destined to repeat the cycle over again.

The Sword & Spirit’s music relates to the children’s pain and sense of abandonment; it gives air to their feelings. The band’s goal is to be a voice for these children and to encourage society not to forget them. No child is a mistake – They are all gifts from God!

The Sword & The Spirit Band was formed 1998 and has been going strong since then. They have performed in VT, NY, NJ, CT and RI raising awareness and funds for the needs of foster youth. They have even gone to Canada to perform and raised thousands for Special Olympics as well. They have made three CD’s of their work and are working on a fourth.

They are also currently developing a non profit organization called “Eye of The Dreamer Productions” which hopes to procure property that will house a Music and Arts Center for underprivileged youth. The center will offer after-school and evening Music Mentoring Programs, Short Story, Poetry & Illustration Courses, Painting/Drawing Courses, Computer Animated Design Courses, Youth Art Exhibitions, Music Concerts, Drama Performances and much much more.

The Good Lord Willing, they hope the center will eventually also provide a place where precious children who have been placed in ‘The Foster Care System’ from all over the country, can come to Vermont for 1, 2 or 3  week Music & Arts Camp Programs (and perhaps, even a horse ranch)!

These programs have a two fold purpose:

One, they are intended to open the eyes of imagination and the voice of expression in the children, through the healing power of music and the arts.

As Paul McCartney once said “Music can heal, it can do more than ease the pain, It can throw a lifeline to kids who can’t be reached in any other way”

Two, the programs are designed to give foster and adoptive parents much needed and deserved respite so they can continue to ‘stay the course’ and know that their children are receiving ultimate care and enrichment!

As you can see they are not occasional laborers in the field of foster youth; rather it is their lifetime commitment of love!

It is my honor and pleasure to choose Tony, Carrie, Richard, Beth as well as The Sword & The Spirit Band as “Heroes for Foster Youth” for the month of October. They have definitely by their actions earned it!

One of their songs “Dream Lost in the Wind” reads:

Reach out your hand! …….Please!
Not another sad song you say

We want to sing and dance and play

But… too many children’s tears have been shed
Maybe it’s time the adults cry instead

Maybe these words
will bring tears to your eyes

Maybe your ears
will hear their cries

Maybe your heart
will melt inside

Maybe then you will realize

I am a dream lost in the wind

I am a tear cried in the rain
I am a heart filled with emptiness
I am a child without a name

I am a child nobody wanted
I am a child everyone fears
I just need someone to hold me
I cry but nobody hears
Nobody hears

Don’t ask me to share my secrets
At least not today
They are all I have
That someone can’t take away

Hold me close
Somebody please
Rock me gently in your arms
Give me reason to believe

Love comes slowly
Trust is not built in a day
It takes years to give back
The dreams that were stolen away

Copyright 2007 The Sword & The Spirit
Words & music written by Tony, Richard & Nathan Goodwin

 A Band Performance

“The Band Performing”

May your heart be moved as mine was as you read the story of these wonderful people.

Their mission may currently be limited to the Northeast but I hope and pray by this small effort by me that word about them will flow forth across the country and their dreams might soon become a reality.

They say, “All children are a gift from God.” I say, “They are God’s gift to Foster Youth.”

I hope to possibly meet them all in person in April 2008 if chosen as a speaker for the VT Foster & Adoptive Family Association Annual Conference.

Please take the time to visit their web site. It includes further details of their story, mission, past and future events, their music (which can be listened to) and some great photographs…it is an awesome adventure! You may also order their CDs to help fund their continuing mission.

Sword & Sprit web site:

http://www.swordspirit.net

Foster Care Reimbursement Rates

As you read this please bear in mind that I am highly critical of our current foster care system.

I believe far too many children are  removed from their homes too quickly or for unjustified reasons.

I further believe that that there are children left in homes where they are in imminent danger when they should have been removed and these children pay the ultimate price.

I believe youth in care are moved far too many times from home to home which causes damage to them which may haunt them for a lifetime.

I further believe necessary services are not provided to the foster parents or the children in their care.

Though I am critical of the current system I believe if the state determines they need to remove a child from their home then it becomes their responsibility to provide adequate funding to provide for that care.

The report below reflects yet another reason our current foster care system is failing those they are to care for; the children! It also gives added reasons of why our system needs refrom from top to bottom!

Yesterday October 3, 2007, the Children’s Rights Organization, the National Foster Parent Association and the University of Maryland School of Social Work released a historic, first-ever nationwide, state-by-state calculation of the real cost of supporting children in foster care. The report reveals widespread deficiencies in reimbursement rates across the nation—and major disparities among the states—and proposes a new standard rate for each state to use in fulfilling the federal requirement to provide foster parents with payments to cover the basic needs of children in foster care, including food, shelter, clothing and school supplies.

One of the requirements foster parents must meet prior to being licensed is that they have income necessary to meet their financial obligations without any reimbursement from doing foster care. Reimbursement from foster care is meant to cover only additional financial outlay due to caring for a child; the states are not meeting these costs today.

Providing foster care for a child is not meant as a way for foster parents to become rich nor should it cause financial difficulties due to low reimbursement. There is a minority of foster parents that do attempt to provide care for the money but they usually do not last long as foster parents. The majority of foster parents are meeting the needs of children in their care out of their own pockets due to the low reimbursements made by the states. 
 
Most states reimburse foster parents significantly less than the actual cost of raising a foster child, complicating the task of finding good homes for children who need them, according to this first-of-its-kind survey.

The survey analyzed regional living expenses and calculated on a state-by-state basis the minimum cost of adequately raising a foster child. Only Arizona and the District of Columbia pay foster parents more than this minimum amount, according the survey.

To adequately cover the cost of rearing a foster child, base payments would need to be increased as follows:

10 states would need to be raised at least 25%:

Alaska, Nevada, Wyoming, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Connecticut and Maryland 

10 states would need to be raised from 26-50%:

Montana, New Mexico, Minnesota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Georgia, New Jersey and Hawaii

15 states would need to be raised from 51-75%:

California, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Michigan, Alabama, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Vermont, Delaware and Massachusetts

9 states would need to be raised from 76-100%:

Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Rhode Island and New Hampshire

5 states would need to more than double their current base rates:
 
Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin

Of the more than 513,000 U.S. children in foster care at any given time, about 75 percent live with foster parents, while most of the others are placed in group homes and institutions.

The report expressed concern that inadequate reimbursement rates would worsen a shortfall of foster parents, “potentially increasing the likelihood that children will be placed in institutions or shuttled from one foster placement to another.”

“The bottom line is that when these rates don’t reflect the real expenses that foster parents face, it’s the children who suffer,” said Karen Jorgenson, executive director of the Foster Parent Association.

Although child welfare agencies are required by federal law to reimburse foster parents for the cost of raising foster children, there is no national minimum, leaving states and localities free to set their own rates. The result is a huge disparity. The base rates paid for raising a 2-year-old foster child range from $236 a month in Nebraska to $869 in the District of Columbia.

The “minimum adequate rates” in the report represented the cost of providing basic needs — housing, food, clothing, and school supplies — as well as a child’s participation in normal after-school sports and activities.

The monthly rates recommended by the report, averaged out on a national basis, were $629 for 2-year-olds, $721 for 9-year-olds and $790 for 16-year-olds. Currently, the average actual monthly base rates offered by states are $488 for 2-year-olds, $509 for 9-year-olds and $568 for 16-year-olds.

For details of each state click on the link below:

http://www.childrensrights.org/site/PageServer?pagename=hittingthemarc

http://www.larrya.us (my web site)