Instead of working to reunite Anna* with her mother as mandated by the North Carolina Division of Social Services, Buncombe’s Department of Social Services (DSS) and the court system have worked in tandem to enable adoption of this Caucasian child by the foster parent, a 70 year old African-American woman. The foster parent has never entered the court room, rarely has a good thing to say about Anna in team meetings, and yet the judge said she was exceedingly patient and gracious to keep the door open to Mom. Against sound judgment and a state mandate for reasonable life relationships, the county DSS and the judge are working to place a 7 year old child with a person who may not have the ability to care for her until she is 18.
The mom, Melissa*, has done everything required and ordered of her, even going above and beyond what DSS has asked. Melissa had been a hospital nurse, working her way up to nursing supervisor, when she was in a terrible car accident, crushing her pelvis. She began taking prescription painkillers which led to an addiction. When the prescriptions were no longer available, she resorted to alternative procurement methods. But before becoming Anna’s legal guardian, she enjoyed full sustained recovery for a number of years. You see, Melissa is the great-aunt of Anna. Melissa and her husband were heartbroken when their niece’s baby was being neglected. Melissa says, “ She had no crib, no clothes, no toys.”
Melissa and her husband spent $3,000 to become legal guardians of Anna. “Since she was 3 months old, I have been her mother, drying her tears, kissing her boo-boos, teaching her ABC’s and scaring away the monster under the bed.” Melissa and her husband joined Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Asheville when Anna was a baby. Five years later Melissa’s husband suddenly passed away. After his death, Melissa was the subject of a home invasion and rape. (According to Asheville Police Department records, the case was closed without an investigation.) She relapsed and left Anna in the care of a neighbor while she went to the hospital. This is when DSS came in and took Anna – two years ago.
DSS has not recognized that Melissa was sober for five years prior to the relapse. DSS and the judge have discriminated against Melissa because she was prescribed methadone to subdue the cravings for opiods. After more than 50 years of evidence showing that methadone maintenance (MM) treatment works, the courts—both civil and criminal—are making decisions only a doctor should make, telling patients to stop taking their legally prescribed methadone. These decisions are coming down particularly hard on women, who in some cases are being told by DSS’ Child Protective Services that they have to get off methadone if they want custody of their child.
Judge Dotson-Smith said that Melissa needed to wean herself off of methadone. Methadone use is considered a disability, making the judge’s “prescription” a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Professionals in drug recovery are appalled that Melissa’s sustained sobriety has not been recognized by the judge or DSS. There is a big difference in recovery versus being in active addiction. In recovery, relapses are expected and are part of the process of overcoming addiction. On the one year anniversary of her husband’s death and the subsequent removal of Anna from the home, Melissa had a second relapse but has maintained sobriety for the past year; the judge should be commending Melissa for this.
Throughout the ordeal with DSS, Melissa has attended weekly AA meetings, participated in drug recovery counseling three times per week, completing the program. Melissa’s recovery counselor sent the judge a recommendation.
DSS encouraged Melissa to create a support network; her church family at Emmanuel Lutheran has done just that. Not only have members donated over $7,000 to pay for an attorney to try to regain custody of Anna, but provided transportation, prayer support and even new clothes and bedding for Anna’s room. Anna was baptized at Emmanuel but DSS refuses to allow the foster parent to bring her to church services and Sunday School. Emmanuel Lutheran School offered Anna a free scholarship when she had to change schools in January but DSS refused it and would not even meet with the principal or tour the school.
Emmanuel’s pastor and members wrote letters of support for Melissa but the judge ignored them, even to the point of disobeying DSS’ mandate that collateral contacts (the letters) always be investigated. DSS and the judge should have followed-up with the supporters to ask for more details. Even the social worker didn’t conduct an appropriate home study, not checking to see that there was food and a room for Ava at Melissa’s apartment. It was obvious from the beginning that the DSS mandate to reunite families was not being followed.
DSS thought Melissa and Anna were easy prey – not eligible for a court-appointed attorney and not able to afford one. No relatives in the area to help take care of Anna. After the social worker revealed in December that vast financial resources would be available to the foster parent if she adopted Anna, she was relieved of the case. In last week’s article, it was reported that perverse incentives -$85,000 or more – from federal and state sources entice DSS to push for foster parent adoptions. This encourages “legal kidnapping”.
However, DSS was not expecting the body of Christ at Emmanuel and those in the drug recovery/counseling arena to get involved. Despite fulfilling all of DSS’ requests, Melissa has not been able to regain Anna. Melissa has been widowed and a victim of sexual assault. She remains in sustained recovery and has gone above and beyond to regain her daughter. But DSS and the courts stripped her of her parental rights and illegally excluded her from the permanent placement meeting. They have bulldozed over the 47 year old Mom to enable adoption by the elderly foster parent who does not meet the DSS criteria for a reasonable life relationship. Two Emmanuel families have contracted with an attorney to become adoptive families for Anna if the courts will not return her to her Mom. But all efforts are being ignored. Next week’s update will highlight the courts’ continued harassment of this Mom and unmitigated problems in the foster home leading 7 year old Anna to threaten suicide. *Names were changed to protect the identities of the mom and child.
I love my mom because she is the best mom ever. She plays games with me. She swims with me and she laughs a lot. I love you very much, Anna