Ending Foster Care Abuse is a Step Toward Family Restoration

Amanda Hawkins, 2L at Regent University School of Law, recently completed Juvenile Law, and researched the world of foster care from an abused child's perspective. In looking at actual cases, Hawkins discovered that although children in foster care are often placed there under state protection from abuse, they are sometimes subject to the worst abuse imaginable. Ending foster care abuse is another critical step toward societal family restoration.

In her article "Reduce the Abuse: Exploring Solutions to Abusive Foster Care," she writes:
“On Jan. 31, 2001, 5-year-old Logan Marr was found dead in the basement of her foster mother's home in Chelsea, Maine.”[1][1] The foster mother, Sally Schofield, was the third foster mother to take Logan in since she was taken from her birth mother, Christy Marr.[2][2]  Sally was also a highly respected former caseworker for Maine's Department of Human Services.[3][3]  Sally was convicted of manslaughter after police determined that she had bound Logan with duct tape and strapped her into a high chair in the basement causing her to die from asphyxiation.[4][4] 
Little Stephanie never had a chance.[5][5]  Days after being born she was wrapped in plastic and discarded by her parents on a street corner.[6][6]  By the time she was found she had suffered brain damage, and therefore entered the foster care system with many disabilities.[7][7] After being moved from foster care home to foster care home for eight years, she was once again found wrapped in plastic and discarded on a street corner; this time, she was dead though and it was her foster mother who discarded her.[8][8]  
Bruce never had an advocate.[9][9]  Bruce was removed from his biological parent’s home, by children services, because his parents were starving him, and then placed into another home where his foster parent’s continued to mistreat and starve him and other foster children.[10][10]  Despite this abuse, the state permitted these abusive foster parents to adopt Bruce and three other children, because the children service’s agency failed to report the abuse and instead reported the foster parents as loving and deeply religious.[11][11] 
“In January 2003, 7-year-old boy Faheem Williams was found dead in a plastic bin in the basement of his foster mother’s house, right after the discovery of his beaten, burned, and starving brothers lying in their own excrement.”[12][12]  Their foster mother Sherry Murphy is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for aggravated assault, criminal restraint, and child endangerment of Faheem’s brothers .[13][13]  Wesley Murphy, who was living in the foster home with Faheem, admitted he had accidently killed Faheem with a wrestling move in which he had forced his knee into the child’s abdomen while the children were playing in the living room.[14][14]
Two young girls from Ohio claim their foster parents subjected them to almost seven years of torture - "including being caged in kennels like animals."[15][15] Although their foster parents had a history of abusing their own child, they were permitted to foster eleven children.[16][16]  A home study assessment was negligently performed before the girls were placed in the foster parent’s home, approving the foster parents to adopt multiple children, despite foster parent Michael Gravelle having previously molested his own daughter.[17][17]
Stories of foster care abuse experienced by children like Logan, Stephanie, Bruce, Faheem, and many others are happening every day.[18][18]   Children in foster care have already experienced abandonment, abuse, or neglect by their biological parents when the state places them into the foster care system. [19][19]  Allowing these children to continue to be abandoned, abused, and neglected in the foster care system defeats the purpose for which foster care was created -to provide children a safe home where their basic needs can be met until they can be placed back in their home with their parents or eventually be adopted.[20][20] 
When the state intends to help children who are abandoned, abused, and neglected, through policies and procedures removing the child from their abusive parents, there is a problem when the child is placed again, and again into another similarly abusive home, without an advocate, without a chance.  This article addresses whether foster care abuse can be reduced by implementing programs through state legislation which would provide for community partnerships and provisions when children in foster care are connected to community safety nets which could include: community-wide preventative measures, community-based third-party advocate centers, community partnerships between caseworkers and faith based organizations, and mandatory legal representation for children when they have allegedly been abused, abandoned, or neglected.  Part I discusses the foster care system in the United States and the problems associated with foster care abuse.  Part II reveals statistics and cases regarding foster care abuse as a problem, and some current laws that have been enacted to deal with it, including the role child protective services [CPS] plays.  Finally, Part III suggests some positive solutions to reduce foster care abuse, when implemented within the state through legislation and community partnerships. 
One solution alone is not enough to eliminate foster care abuse.  Rather several solutions can and need to be implemented by states to end the unnecessary and tragic continued harm to children by foster parents."
To read the rest of her article, and discover some of the solutions for ending foster care abuse to restore families and children, click here.

[1][1] “The Taking of Logan Marr,” PBS Frontline: Failure to Protect, (Feb. 2003), available at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/fostercare.
[2][2] Id.
The teenaged Christy had moved in with her mother, Kathy Baker, shortly after Logan's birth, and the two had fought constantly over how to raise the baby. It was Kathy who initiated Christy's first contact with Maine's Department of Human Services; in May 1996, she called the department to report her concerns about Logan's safety. According to DHS records, Kathy told an intake worker that she had always worried "that Christy is too immature and troubled to be a good parent to Logan," and that "Christy can't or won't put Logan's needs before her own. Kathy said that Christy screams and hollers at the baby all the time and handles her extremely roughly. "DHS sent caseworker Diane Sanborn to assess Logan's situation. Despite Kathy's allegations, she did not find anything that immediately concerned her about Christy's parenting.  Id.
[3][3] Id.
[4][4] Id.
Sally was arrested and charged with depraved indifference, murder, and manslaughter. A prosecution affidavit alleged that she had taped Logan into her high chair, and taped her mouth shut. Sally waived her right to a jury trial, and a judge concluded that she had not intentionally killed Logan. But he found her guilty of manslaughter and sentenced her to 20 years in prison.
Caseworker Allison Peters testified at the trial, but was never asked about her failure to respond to Logan's complaints about Sally. She was placed on paid administrative leave for a month, and has since left DHS. No formal disciplinary action was taken against any DHS employees in connection with Logan's death, although the case prompted the state legislature to initiate two investigations of the department. Id.
[5][5] Leslie Kaufman, Help, But Not Enough, for Girl Who Was Discarded Twice, N.Y.Times, July 18, 2003, at A1.
[6][6] Id.
[7][7] Id.
[8][8] Id.  Although the foster care agency’s records indicated that the foster mother was taking excellent care of the child and was meticulous and contentious, police found the home filthy and unsanitary, covered with hair, feces, and insects, and Stephanie’s feeding tube, that kept her alive, coated with grime and weeks-old formula. Id.
[9][9] Iver Peterson, In Home That Looked Loving, 4 Boy’s Suffering Was Unseen, N.Y. Times, Oct. 28, 2004, at A1.
[10][10] Id.
[11][11] Id.                                                                                                                                                            
Although employees with the foster care agency visited the home he was placed into 38 times in 4 years, they failed to help him as his foster care parents continued to starve him.  Finally, the emaciated, four foot tall, nineteen year-old ran away from his abusive foster parents and was found by some neighbors rummaging through their garbage at 2am.  Bruce suffered abuse from his foster parents for over eight years before neighbors alerted officials, who finally acted on his behalf to protect his “best interests” and get him the care he needed. Id.             
See also Abbey M. Marzick, The Foster Care Ombudsman: Applying an International Concept to Help Prevent Institutional Abuse of America's Foster Youth, 45 Fam. Ct. Rev. 506, 510 (2007).
Children's Rights filed a civil damages action against the State of New Jersey on behalf of the severely abused and neglected Jackson boys.  Approximately one year after the complaint was filed, Children's Rights settled with the state for $12.5 million. The New Jersey Child Advocate was instrumental in the case, releasing a preliminary investigation report detailing DYFS' failure to protect the Jackson children and filing a petition to have Marcia Robinson Lowry appointed Guardian Ad Litem for the boys. Id.

[12][12] To Settle Suit in Boy’s Death, New Jersey to Pay $7.5 Million, The Associated Press, Nov. 12, 2006, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/12/nyregion/12settle.html?_r=1&ref=sherrylmurphy; See also Francie Grace, New Charge In N.J. Child Abuse Case: Boyfriend Of Mother Charged With Molesting 6-Year-Old Boy, CBS News.com, Jan. 8, 2003, available at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/01/09/national/main535796.shtml.
[13][13] To Settle Suit in Boy’s Death, supra note 12.
[14][14] Id.  Wesley Murphy, Faheem’s cousin, plead guilty to reckless manslaughter, and has since served his time. Id. 
Sherry Murphy admitted that she left the boy’s body on the floor of her Irvington home, then put it in a plastic hamper, which she took with her when they moved to Newark . . . Faheem, Raheem and Tyrone had been living with Ms. Murphy after their mother, Melinda Williams, went to prison for endangering a child she had been baby-sitting . . . New Jersey spent $7.5 million to settle this lawsuit over this child welfare case; this payout is the second-largest made by the State Division of Youth and Family Services over child welfare mistakes, according to state officials.  Id. 
[15][15] Bridget Freeland, Gross Abuses Alleged in Foster Child System, Courthouse News Service, November 17, 2010, available at http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/11/17/31907.htm
[16][16] Id. 
The girls also sued Collin Myers Ph.D., and Fairhaven Counseling of Cuyahoga Falls, who endorsed the adoption. . . The girls, whom the Cleveland News reported are 11 and 12 years old, say they lived in the Gravelle's (Michael Gravelle and Sharen Curtis-Tipperman fka Sharen Gravelle ) home from 1997 until 2005, when they were rescued by authorities. . . The girls say the Gravelles' foster children were "caged in unsanitary kennel-like structures, complete with alarms, where they were required to sleep, and which were used for discipline." . . . The girls say they were housed in rodent-infested rooms, and "hosed down outside, regardless of the season or temperature after incidents of enuresis." . . . The girls say that more than once the Gravelles pushed their head into the toilet and flushed it, or stuffed a sock in their mouth as a form of punishment.  Id. 
[17][17] Id.  Molestation “occurred between 1984 and 1986, which he admitted to Lorain County authorities, and had attended sexual abuse counseling sessions, where he was ‘very uncooperative,’ according to the complaint.”  Id.    
[18][18] See supra notes 1-16 (2001, 2003, 2005).
[19][19] Sarah H. Ramsey, Douglas E. Abrams, Children and the Law 161 (2001). 
[20][20] Id. 

1 comment:

  1. It is heartbreaking to hear how so many vulnerable and innocent children go from one abusive situation to another, even though they are supposedly under the protection of the State. However, these issues are not easily solved. Placing children in foster homes alone is a difficult task. Many families do not want to raise someone else’s children, especially children that are older, have behavioral or medical problems, or have experienced emotional trauma. Secondly, when foster parents do come forward they are often motivated by money or other forms of benefits associated with being a foster parent. This motivation is often difficult to detect and causes a barrier to providing loving, emotional support to the child. Simultaneously, foster parents are often not adequately trained to address the behavioral needs of the child nor are they trained to deal with the broken relationship between the child and the biological parent. When a child misbehaves, in response to the trauma he or she has experienced, foster parents may become overwhelmed and give up on the child or last out against the child. If foster parents were better equipped to deal with the emotional, psychological, and behavioral needs of the child, abuse by foster parents may be less likely to occur. While this is not the only solution to prevent abuses by foster parents, it is certainly one way to protect children.