I knew that trying to adopt a child from the foster-care system would be challenging, but I never imagined the biggest challenge would be dealing with Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Families.
With the opioid epidemic, the ranks of children in DCF’s care have swelled from 13,165 in fiscal year 2012 to 16,516 in fiscal 2016, according to DCF. About 3,000 are waiting for adoptive homes, and nearly a third of those will never find them. DCF should be working hard to recruit more qualified families, not driving them away.
I live in New York but was drawn to Massachusetts because its foster-care adoption website lets users search for children who aren’t legally freed for adoption yet and may have less severe issues than those who have been in the system longer. I inquired about a seven-year-old girl and was named her “pre-adoptive match,” meaning I could adopt her after parental rights had been terminated.
Over four months, I made eight trips to visit C. I took her ice skating, bowling, and to museums and parks. We bonded. C’s social worker told me C was excited about the prospect of my adopting her and of visiting me in New York.
But that didn’t stop DCF from closing the match after I complained about the agency’s handling of several issues.
First, C’s foster mother told me just before a planned visit that the social worker had put visits on hold. The social worker confirmed this wasn’t true. She couldn’t explain why the foster mother would say such a thing. Because she had lied with such conviction, I wondered whether she was mentally fit. The social worker promised to get answers for me but never did. In fact, she and her supervisor never even confronted the foster mother about lying.
Perhaps if DCF workers asked more pertinent questions, fewer children in the agency’s care would end up being hurt. In fiscal 2016, 35 children died in DCF’s care, 256 were victims of abuse and neglect, and 263 were neglected or abused, according to DCF. But when I pressed C’s social worker on how she could be sure C was safe, she simply said, “Her home is licensed by DCF.”
Then came shocker No. 2. The social worker had told me DCF would bring C to my house for visits, but as we were planning a visit, she emailed, “We will need to figure out transportation.” When I reminded her she had promised to provide transportation, she denied having done so.
I complained to her supervisor and eventually the supervisor’s supervisor. A few weeks later, I received a call from the first supervisor saying they had decided to close the match because of concerns about my ability to work collaboratively with them.
“What about C?” I asked.
“I’m sure she’ll be sad, but she’ll be working on that in therapy,” the supervisor said.
I felt terrible for C. Didn’t she already have enough material to work on in therapy? Indeed, the experience likely reinforced what her life history had already taught her, according to Dr. Arthur Becker, a Williamsville, N.Y., psychologist who treats foster children. “In her world, relationships don’t last long,” he said. “She would have experienced significant difficulty forming emotionally meaningful relationships.”
When I asked the supervisor if I could challenge the decision, she said no, although DCF has an appeals process. I sent a grievance accompanied by 65 pages of email documentation.
DCF regulations state that clients must receive a written response to a grievance within 21 days. I sent my grievance months ago, but all I received was a voicemail from the supervisor saying, “You’re not a match for C.”
In response to this article, DCF sent me a letter citing several bogus claims by the foster mother, including a statement that I had gotten upset with C for laughing after my dog became stuck between car seats. The letter also referred disparagingly to problems with my “energy level,” although I had informed DCF that I had been diagnosed with anemia, which is now being treated.
The letter was a flimsy attempt to explain how C and I could suddenly not be a match, when I had heard for months what a great match we made. If DCF was willing to fabricate charges ― feeble as they are ― against someone whose worst crime was trying to adopt a child, I can only imagine what it does to justify its actions against more vulnerable citizens. Apparently, DCF makes up its own rules as it goes along, and that’s bad news for the children in the state’s care and prospective adoptive families.