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In Indiana, 61,492 children were reported to Child Protective Services for child maltreatment in 2003.

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DHS Needs a Dose of Common Sense

by Mary Callahan,
author of "Memoirs of a Babystealer"

Three years ago, I had a foster child who was not allowed any contact with his mother. He was diagnosed with Attachment Disorder and Dissociative Personality Disorder. The team decided that he would never attach in his present circumstance until he detached with his past.

I bought into it. I even enforced it. When he asked about his mother, I answered, "Your mother is not a part of your life any more."

Then I had one of those moments of clarity you hear about. It came courtesy of terrorists flying planes into buildings, but suddenly all I could see was that we could all die tomorrow in a terrorist attack and I had a child in my home who hadn't heard his mother say "I love you" in a year. I knew that was wrong. His DHS worker knew it too and gave us his mother's phone number.

My foster son has since developed a very close relationship with his mother. He just spent Christmas with her. That relationship has done more to solve his behavior problems then all the years of counseling or any other tact we took to try to correct it.

What happened to me in that moment of clarity was that I replaced the junk science I was relying on with common sense.

Junk Science

Earlier this month when I participated in the 5 day Walk for DHS Accountability, I heard many a story in which common sense was replaced by junk science. Then that junk science used to justify actions that are not just wrong. They are cruel. Any unnecessary separation of parent and child is cruel

Common sense would tell us that children behave better where they are happier and are destructive in a home where they don't want to be. But DHS says when children are destructive in their foster home but well behaved with their birth family, it indicates that they are only comfortable being themselves in the foster home. This bizarre logic is frequently used to stop family visits and even cease reunification efforts.

And the junk scientists tell us that a baby who rocks for hours in the crib at his foster home is telling us he has been sexually abused in his birth home, that the rocking is masturbation. Common sense, even my nurses training, tells me that miserable children rock to sooth themselves and a child who has just lost everyone he knows and loves would be miserable.

Psychological Disorders

Sally Schofield said Logan Marr was the most "parentified" child she had ever seen because she was so protective of her sister Bailey. That psychological term shines the light of blame back on the mom, Christie Marr, implying that Logan started playing the parent role because Christie wasn't doing it. DHS bought that logic and was using it to justify terminating Christie's parental rights. Now that we know the truth, that those girls were in an abusive foster home, doesn't it seem like normal behavior on Logan's part to have been protective of her sister? Did DHS miss some signs that could have averted Logan's tragic death because they preferred the junk science explanation? (Her foster mother who was also a DHS child protective worker, killed her. She was 5 at the time.)

Possibly the worst misuse of psychology is the labeling of all birth parents as personality disordered. I met one on the Walk who was diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disordered because she was always well dressed for meetings, and another who was called Depressive because she didn't dress well enough.

If they bring their family to court with them, they have Dependent Personality Disorder. If they come alone, they are too isolated. And if a parent gets too emotional at what is happening to their family they can be diagnosed as Histrionic Personality Disorder. If they are not upset enough, they must not care. And if they bring a stack of letters from teachers and doctors supporting their case, they are called manipulative, possibly to a sociopathic degree, to be able to fool so many people into thinking they were good parents.

Then there is the ubiquitous "denial." Parents either have to agree that they are bad parents or they are in "denial."

These diagnoses may come directly from the DHS worker or they may come from a professional who is hired by DHS to make the diagnosis. There is one group of such professionals who have bragged publicly that "not one in one hundred" parents come out of their evaluation without a diagnosis.

Predetermined Diagnoses

Doesn't that mean the outcome is determined before the test is even administered? Isn't that junk science?

2004 promises to be a new beginning for DHS. They will be merging with BDS. A new commissioner will be named to run the newly combined organization. But on the Walk for DHS Accountability the question asked over and over was, "Will anything really change?" Will it be a new beginning for the children and families of Maine or just the bureaucrats?

Common Sense

It could be a new beginning if DHS would throw out the junk science evaluations and replace them with common sense. If they would try to see the parents through their children's eyes instead of some shrink's tests, that could change everything. Children don't care if their parents dress to well or too poorly, have too much support or too little, get too upset or not upset enough. That's what unconditional love is all about and that is what should count MOST in any determination of what is best for children.

And I ask my fellow foster parents to consider this irony. We don't have to have parenting evaluations to do what we do. Only the birth parents do. How many of us do you think could pass them? Imagine if you had to pass the test just to keep your own children.

So try to open your mind to the possibility that your foster children's birth parents aren't the demons you've been led to believe they are. You might even find you have a lot in common with them. After all, you love the same child. Maybe you could even consider opening your homes to them, if that would make your foster child happy.

Remember, sometimes when a child says. "I want my Mommy," it doesn't mean he has a trauma bond with her, or that he is "parentified" or that he is responding to his mother's manipulative personality disorder. Sometimes it just means he wants his Mommy.

It's common sense.

Mary Callahan
Lisbon, Maine
(207) 353-4223

Originally published in the Sun Journal (Maine) on Sun. Jan 5, 2004

Posted: January 8, 2004