Mary Callahan on 12 April 2011 TruthBrigade Radio

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Mary Callahan: Testimony from A Former Foster Parent

Callahan, Mary My mother used to say it takes all kinds to make a world. The same thing can be said about foster parents. After 10 years in the business and 10 more trying to reform the business, I've met a lot of fellow foster parents. And it definitly takes all kinds.

Much like the rest of the world, when it comes to foster parents, there are saints; there are sinners and there is everything in between.

Yes, there really are saints. You see stories about them in the newspaper right around Mother's Day every year. They are the families with a whole passel of kids, some of them handicapped, and all of them doing better because they are in that home. I used to believe those families were hiding the real truth. Nobody is that good, I thought. But I got to know a few and I couldn't find a dirty little secret no matter how hard I tried. They just have a knack, a way with kids that you can't learn from a book. They are great foster families. But there aren't that many of them.

I have met more foster parents at the other end of the spectrum, the ones who are in it for the money and don't care at all about the kids. They share tips freely at foster parent meetings about how to stretch the stipend dollar. Serve generic foods to foster kids. Return the clothes bought with the clothing allowance and take the cash. It wouldn't be so bad if they were actually nice to the kids, but they are not. The kids are just a means to an end and the reason they don't rat their foster parents out is because they are afraid of them.

Of course, there are worse sins that being in it for the money. We have all seen the horror stories on the news about kids physically or sexually abused in foster care. Some are even killed in the system, like poor Logan Marr here in Maine. Her foster mother got so sick of her tantrums that she duct taped her to a chair so tightly that she suffocated. I've never run across that kind myself and hope I never do.

The extremes are easy to spot. It's the people in between, most of us, that are hard to figure and hard to judge. They (we) are like onions, layers and more layers. But at the center of the onion, you will usually find someone who meant well. Things just got so complicated. Take my friend Carole for example.

Carole was a Kindergarten teacher and one of her former students was being taken into foster care with his brother. She was crazy about the little guy and went to great lengths to get her license and get those boys as quickly as possible. She knew the mom pretty well too and was sympathetic to her situation. She allowed frequent visits in her home and even went on outings as one big family.

She wanted, like most of us do, to be one of those "perfect" families. But it was more than she could do. The boys were so traumatized by the removal itself, they were not the boys she remembered.

You think you can undo the damage if you just listen enough, hug enough, love enough. But no matter how hard she tried the boys resisted her affection, ran away, tore their bedroom furniture to shreds, swore at her, spit at her. She stopped trying to love enough and started trying to discipline enough. She took away things that mattered to them. She sent them to their rooms. Nothing worked. Eventually they were being sent to a closet. And staying there for a long time. Hours.

She had become a bad foster parent, a bad person, someone she would have hated if she was looking at it objectively from the outside.

It might seem you could just ask for help if you find yourself in over your head but it is not that easy. The social worker's response can be anything from ripping the child from your home and having you blacklisted, to no response at all. It is hard to take the chance of a severe response. If Carole had told the truth she might have found herself on a child abuse registry unable to teach any more.

Most of the time, it is no response at all. They say things like, "I know it's hard, but keep up the good work." and leave you in the same position you were in before. Once I pressed and asked my worker to see if anyone in her office had any ideas for how to solve a behavior problem with one of my kids. She never got back to me. I asked her again the next week and she said no one had any ideas.

And that's just one reason a child can be unsafe, even with well meaning foster parents. Sometimes accidents happen because every one is in a new situation. The children are more anxious than usual, testing their limits, maybe climbing on things they shouldn't climb on, playing with things they shouldn't play with. The foster parents are trying to get a handle on this particular child's abilities and sometimes misjudge those abilities. I have heard many stories of broken bones and stitches while kids are in foster care that had nothing to do with abuse.

The worst story, and I read it in the paper, was a child mauled by the foster family dog just days after being removed from his birth family for a very minor reason. The dog had never hurt anyone before. But the child had never lived with a dog before either. It probably couldn't have been predicted or prevented. But it points to the reason children shouldn't be in foster care in the first place except in extreme circumstances.

Sometimes the biggest danger in foster care is from other foster kids. It seems sexual abuse from another foster child is very common. One study showed a child can't be in care more than 18 months without being molested by someone, usually another foster child.

It happened in my foster home. I found an 11 year old performing a sex act on a 9 year old, minutes after I has said good-night to them both in separate bedrooms. Soon I learned it wasn't the first time. When I called the duty worker he screamed, "Why wasn't there an alarm on the bedroom door?" I screamed back that I was specifically told there was no history of sexual abuse.

It turns out that wasn't true, but they were afraid I wouldn't take the child if they told me the truth.

Lastly, there is the abuse by the system itself. The trauma of the removal from birth family cannot be overestimated. Children relive the story over and over, usually finding some way to take the blame.

Then there are the secondary removals. Every time a child moves from home to home they need to learn a new set of rules. They worry that things could be worse, not better in the new foster home. They may blame themselves all over again and wonder if anyone will ever want to keep them.

Sometimes a child finds a really great home, stays for years, and then some heartless worker decides to move them. It is amazing the excuses that will be given for doing that, but usually it is just a power play. Some foster parent has forgotten who is in charge and needs to be taught a lesson.

Even the kids who end up with the sainted foster parents have probably gone through hell getting there.

So why are so many kids in foster care? Why are they being removed over minor issues like a spanking or a messy house? People say, “Err on the side of the child.” People who say that have a vision of foster care through rose colored glasses that is so inaccurate.

They, the decision makers, should learn the truth about life in foster care and then remove only children whose home life is far worse than foster care. Nine out of ten kids in care now can go home now if that is the criteria. Then nine out of ten foster parents can get fired.

Mary Callahan, RN
Lisbon, Maine
author of "Memoirs of a Babystealer"

Lessons Learnt From Her Testimony

  1. There are good and bad members in every special interest in the "child protection" industry. The presence of good members is insufficient to rectify the corruption in the industry as they are the minority and will often quit after realizing that the system is irreparable.

  2. Despite the presence of a small number of good foster parents, Ms. Callahan stated that there are more foster parents at the other end of the spectrum who foster for money and don't care at all about the children placed with them. This lends support to refute the judicial position that foster homes are known safe environment.

  3. Her testimony confirms that risks of abuse on foster children not only come from foster parents but also from other foster children kept in the same household. This is exactly what Ms. Diane Holden had suffered while she was placed in the 23 foster homes in British Columbia.

  4. Selection of service providers is at the discretion of "child protection" workers. This gives them immense power as they are in a position to distribute tax dollars to those of their liking. This contributes to the corruption in the industry.

    The video on the left is on Ana Kasparian and Cenk Uygur discussing a U.K. couple denied the ability to be foster parents because they are openly against homosexuality due to their Christian religion.

    From information collected from foster children and foster parents, it is safe to contend that those who get plenty of removed children are those who please "child protection" workers and never disagree with their position and action. On the other hand, those who repeatedly question their decisions will soon lose foster children placed in their homes. Obviously, retaliation is not only on birth parents but also on foster parents as well.

  5. Teresa Iezzi 1 State-sponsored child removal activities expose taxpayers to lawsuits and contingent liabilities. Sometimes, MCFD's foster parents could end up suing MCFD (to be more precise taxpayers) for damages. A former foster parent in Burnaby, British Columbia, Teresa Iezzi, went public to The Province on May 11, 2009, just one day before the provincial election. She alleged that she contracted Hepatitis C from an attack of foster child under her care and her foster parenting contract was terminated by MCFD as a result of this. She is seeking apology and financial compensation of an unspecified amount from MCFD. It is noteworthy to remark that she was earning $7,500 per month, which was her main source of income while fostering children removed by MCFD. Assuming that her income was the same at the onset of her fostering business 22 years ago, she had earned $1,980,000 from taxpayers.

    This lucrative industry has attracted many service providers whose primary interest is to make money. The well being of children is often irrelevant to them.

  6. There are no shortage of court cases in which foster parents sued the child protection agency for various reasons. In British Columbia, "N. K. v. British Columbia (Director, CFCSA), 2008 BCSC 1321" (Docket: E082317, S080017, Registry: Vancouver Supreme Court) is a case in which foster parents alleged bias against them and challenged MCFD's decision to discontinue the adoption process relying on the Judicial Review Procedure Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 241, the Adoption Act, the CFCSA. Their petition was dismissed with costs.

    Child removal activities have led to many lawsuits of different nature from various parties. Resulting litigations have cost taxpayers dearly in legal expenses, court awarded costs and damages.

    Moreover, "child protection" cases jam the courts and enhance scheduling difficulty to hear criminal cases which have much more serious impacts on society. In British Columbia, trial dates of criminal cases are set so far into the future. The accused have successfully argued that their legal right stipulated in Section 11 (b) of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be tried within a reasonable time has been violated and have the charges stayed.

[This page was added on 25 July 2011, last revised on 25 July 2011.]