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Our Children Are Dying, And No One Will Help

It seems that Children and Youth Services of Pennsylvania have been under severe scrutiny as of late. Over the years, countless news articles have been done depicting uninvestigated child abuse, fatalities of children, and the lack of response to child lines being made. Sadly, Beaver county CYS has been facing the most recent allegations of nonchalance when it comes to the safety of local children.

Just one month ago, WTAE Pittsburgh Action News conducted a special investigation into several local CYS agencies, one of which was Beaver county. The report showed that had CYS responded to child lines that were conducted, several children in the county would still be alive to this day. And whereas the other agencies sent spokesmen to make a statement, Beaver county refused to reply to the story.

The CYS Bench book, which is the reigning guidelines to be followed by each employee of the agency, states this on page 11: “All children have the right: to be happy, thriving, self-actualized, educated, healthy, and content; to have the opportunity to reach their full potential as individuals capable of healthy relationships and productive lives; and to have a fair chance in life with opportunities for healthy, balanced, and well-rounded development.”

If this is the case, then why is CYS ignoring reports made from doctors, police, therapists, teachers, guidance counselors, eye witnesses, and the children themselves? If all children have the right to safety, then why are these children dying? Why are they allowed to remain in homes where they fear daily for their safety? Where they watch domestic violence and are exposed to drug deals, prostitution, and gross negligence?

And just as important, why are the higher powers turning a blind eye?

STATS from the PA Child Protective Services Annual Report of 2015 (which is the most recent) and the PA Partnerships Annual Report of 2015:

·         In 2015, only 10.4% of abuses reported in PA were substantiated by CYS (meaning they were looked into and abuse or neglect was proven).

·         Out of the 10.4% substantiated, 2.2% of those ended in fatality (34 cases) or near fatality (58 cases).

·         Of the 34 cases that ended in fatality, 58% of those families already had CYS involvement or the case had been closed “successfully”.

·         Of the 58 cases that ended in near fatality, 55% percent of these children had CYS involvement or the case had already been closed “successfully”.

·         Of the fatalities in PA, 27% of the children had been removed from foster care and given back to biological parents. Of near fatalities, 19% of children had been reunified with parents and removed from foster care.

·         1 fatality occurred in Beaver county in 2015 – the family was known to CYS through multiple abuse reports. This mother had threatened the week prior to murder her children and then herself. Her children were not removed from her care until the 2-month old was killed.

·         1 near fatality (19-month-old that now has traumatic brain injury) also occurred in Beaver county – No charges have been filed and no parenting or anger management classes were completed.

·         Out of the 40,590 reports of abuse and neglect, 35,313 (87%) were made by mandated reporters – people trained in the symptoms of abuse and neglect; people that are mandated to report their sightings; therapists, foster parents, drug and alcohol counselors, psychiatrists, law enforcement, etc. And yet only 10% were deemed actual abuse by CYS caseworkers (an occupation with a turn-over rate of an average of 2-years, many straight from college and in any field of study).

·         In 2015, PA law enforcers reported 12,608 crimes against children where the adults didn’t qualify as a “perpetrator” to CYS. All of these crimes were then forwarded to the District Attorney’s office instead of CYS and the children remained in their homes.

·         In 2015 - 181,371 children received in-home services provided through CYS.

·         In 2015 – 22,980 children entered foster care or remained in foster care from the previous year.

·         In 2015 – 2,544 children re-entered foster care after having already been reunited with a parent previously during their lifetime.

·         In 2015 – 24.1% (a quarter) of all biological family reunifications failed.

Not in the CPS Report:

·         According to the Beaver Falls police department, so far multiple young children have died in Beaver County at the hands of their parents – no charges have been filed, CYS was aware of complaints made against the families, and the siblings of the deceased children remain in these homes. The police department also stated that CYS is not sending all of the child lines to them, as stated in the protocol. And according to the Franklin Twp. Police department in Beaver County, if they get the reports at all, they are multiple weeks after the date of the report, and they have already been cast aside by CYS.

·         After a conversation in 2016 with a CYS caseworker, I was informed that if a guardian is a “functioning addict” and “there are no broken bones”, there is no way that CYS will step in and assist the children.

·         Even as recent as this week, after well over a dozen reports from professionals AND the children themselves made to CYS regarding a particular case of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, neglect, drug abuse, and drug dealing – CYS talked to the suspected abuser about those involved in making the child lines and asked if the guardian would agree to a Drug and Alcohol Evaluation. When the father vehemently refused, CYS said that they couldn’t mandate it. And then they left the children in the home.

Following the Money:

·         In 2015, the state of PA received $344 million dollars in federal funds for child welfare, $1.036 billion dollars from the state, and $388 dollars from their local funds (on average) – totaling $1.769 billion dollars statewide for child welfare purposes.

·         Of that total, $43.5 million dollars were used for investigating child abuse. That left $1.726 billion dollars for salaries, trainings, and child abuse clearances.

·         Of that $43.5 million, $2.3 million was used for Beaver, Butler, and Lawrence county investigations of abuse and neglect.

·         If the average county has 50 caseworkers (what I was informed was the average number) that average $35,000 per year (what I was told was the average pay) in all 67 counties, that would add up to $117,250,000 dollars.

·         Child abuse clearance costs totaled $6.017 million for the state of PA in 2015.

·         MAXIMUM foster care subsidies given out in 2015 was $138 million dollars.

·         The state’s total amount of estimated caseworker salaries, child abuse investigations, foster care subsidies, and child abuse clearances equals $304,767,000.

·         Minus that from the $1.769 billion dollars given to PA for child welfare and you have a remaining balance of $1.464 billion dollars – WHERE IS IT GOING? (I realize that the state is paying for caseworkers to go to college, facilities and their utilities, trainings, etc. But obviously the actual functions of the agency are being used so sparingly in comparison the $1.5 billion used elsewhere.)

·         According to the State of PA’s government salary reports, The Beaver County Director of CYS made $104,000 in 2014 while she complained that they were understaffed. This amount is more than double that of what any of the surrounding county CYS directors made in the same year or since.)

·         According to two previous CYS caseworker in the local counties, both were told on multiple occasions NOT to remove children until the end of the fiscal year… if they remove more or less than the allotted amount, the county would get less funding for the following year.

·         According to a current CYS caseworker, she has been forced to close out cases that still needed child welfare assistance because the case could currently be closed “successfully”, whereas if they waited another month, the family could “blow up” and throw off their numbers of successful reunifications.

It’s important to note that these are just the reports for BEAVER COUNTY. Children are dying and being severely abused in all of our surrounding counties, including Lawrence County. Also in this county are caseworkers who are committing fraud - writing up reports about visiting children in their biological or foster homes monthly, even though they haven’t been to the home in a year or more. And when these are reported to the supervisors, nothing is done. In fact, foster parents are threatened to never receive future foster children, be banned from all potential adoptions, and even told that their current children can be taken from them if they continue to advocate “too much” for the foster children in their care.

Due to this statewide abuse of power in the system, there is a yearly drop in quality foster families. Good people who provide love, support, and safety for these children in need are being forced out of the system due to the horrific treatment by the agencies sworn to help these very kids. And when the counties can say “we would help more children if we had any foster homes to put them in!”, we know the truth. If it weren’t for CYS supervisors, County Commissioners, District Attorneys, and crooked police focusing so much on lining their own pockets and following their own political agendas, we may have more people willing to step up to the plate for these dying children.

And until that happens, we will continue to live in a society where money, power, and corruption trump the lives and well-being of the very children that we see in our schools, our parks, and our streets. Because when it comes right down to it, our local counties have decided that some children are only SOME children have the right: to be happy, thriving, self-actualized, educated, healthy, and content; to have the opportunity to reach their full potential as individuals capable of healthy relationships and productive lives; and to have a fair chance in life with opportunities for healthy, balanced, and well-rounded development.

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A Guide to "The Children Who Raised Me"

I am humbled, excited, overwhelmed, and just plain giddy – my first book is finally complete and has been released for purchase through Austin Brothers Publishing! This journey has been freakishly long with its fair share of mountains and valleys… but in the end, I think the timing has been perfectly God-ordained.

Just in the past few days, I’ve had numerous questions asked of me that I thought would be good to address here, in a blog post. It feels almost like an online interview where I get to answer your own questions for everyone else to benefit from – except that I get time to think about each answer without getting nervous, which is my personal favorite way to do things! So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

Q: Is your book going to be available in stores or just online?

A: My book is currently released on my new publisher’s website (Austin Brothers Publishing) based out of Texas. In just a short time, the book will also be loaded onto Amazon.com, and it will be added to the Ingram Catalog, which is the largest book catalog in the country. This will allow my book to be ordered at churches, bookstores, schools, coffee shops, etc. Depending on which stores pick up my book will depend on if it will be available locally or just remain online or in catalogs.

Q: Will there be an e-book and a hardcover edition available?

A: There WILL be an e-book available by next week, actually! The price for the e-book should be around $7 and will appear on my publisher’s website. Additionally, it will be available for purchase on ITunes, Amazon, Smashwords, and all the other major electronic reading applications. As far as a hardcover addition, this will depend on how well the book sells. There is quite a hefty expense that comes along with formatting the book into a hardcover, so if a need appears to be great enough for it, I will consider that down the road!

Q: Why did you choose to use your children’s real names in the book?

A: This was a topic that I thought long and hard about. In the end, it came down to the fact that my children’s names are on my Facebook page and on my website – all of which is public domain. To change their names in the book would basically be moot and probably confusing to those who have followed along with the blog. I don’t want anyone assuming that I went out and got an entirely new slew of children running around! That would get me committed for sure!

Q: How did you choose to develop your book into the format you did with each kid having their own section instead of the traditional chapters we normally see in books?

A: Well, when I first started the book, I figured I’d go chronologically and with normal chapters that would generally appear in a memoir. However, it read very heavy – the events that occurred in our lives had great periods of time in which there was an awful lot of darkness with not a whole lot of light. So when I decided to break the book up by child, all of a sudden the reader was able to start over in the story and take a break from the gloom, see certain incidents that were specific to each child, and get more breaks with humor and joy in the midst of the heaviness. All in all, I wanted the book to feel like a meal, filled with light courses, entrees, pallet cleansers, and dessert! In the end, I wanted the reader to feel full and complete, which is what I hope I accomplished!

Q: How did you decide what personal information to keep in versus edit out?

A: This was another very tricky element in writing a memoir. There are so many factors that go into telling a story with as much accuracy as possible without over-sharing someone else’s tale. I approached each section through my eyes only, because that would be the only way to keep it accurate to what I had experienced. I am not capable of making assumptions of anyone else’s feelings or thoughts, just my own perceptions of things. And as with all personal information, I tried to tell the readers as much as I could about my own perplexing feelings and struggles. In that, I wanted to be as open and as free as my heart would allow. But when it came to the rest of my family and others involved in our story, I tried to edit out just the facts – things that I was given from CYS, agency workers, doctors, and my family members themselves.

Even so, I took the time to have my family read the book. I wanted as many editing eyes on the emotional stuff as possible. This included my older two children. Whereas I didn’t let them read the entire book (simply because it’s far too heavy for their young minds), I did read them many of the details of their own sections in the book. I allowed them the opportunity to say yes or no to certain events. If they felt even slightly uncomfortable with parts, I edited them or removed them altogether. My oldest, Cameron, asked why I talked about their behaviors so much. I explained that this was so other parents could have a better understanding of the struggles their own children face. With that simple answer, my kids gave me their blessing to tell all the goofy things they do, just so that it will help you all!

Q: How did you come up with the title, I really like it!

A: Why, thank you! I like it, too! But I cannot take credit for the title. That was all God! I was sleeping one night after a ridiculously long day of editing, and I sat straight up in bed as if I’d been awakened by a fire alarm. The only thing running through my head was the title God wanted me to use: The Children Who Raised Me. From that moment on, my editing became smooth and the book began to flow in a new direction, pointing to a main aspect that I wanted to come from this - that in a family, we are ALL a part of shaping one another. Each of us has a purpose and a place, and the adults are learning right along with the Littles. As we bring all of our broken parts to the table, we are able to use them to create a whole unit, one that looks and functions differently than any other. Again, I cannot speak to how my children feel or think, but I can attest to the fact that my children, all four of them, (and my husband) have had a significant role in raising me to become the woman God needs me to be.

Q: Who is your target audience for this book?

A: Well, the book has a great deal of content in it, so it can be used to reach a great deal of people. When I first started out, I wanted the book to be used for other parents raising children with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Then, I realized that parents raising any special needs child may find what we’ve gone through as beneficial. And then I thought that families looking to foster or adopt may really want to see what often doesn’t get shared by caseworkers as they try to get children placed in homes – the dirty, raw parts of parenting someone else’s children. And THEN I found out that schools and mental health agencies were interested in the book to use as a training tool for their employees, helping them understand the complexities of attachment disorders and how to manage them differently than other disorders.

Overall, this book is for any parent, guardian, or adult that is working with children – it’s for the person who's lost a child and feels like they’ve been told that “it’s time to move on”, even though they’re not ready yet. It's for the parents struggling with infertility and weighing all the options through the emotional lenses they are wearing. It’s for the marriage that is hanging on by a thread under the weight of all that family entails. It’s for the professionals who want to do more but are bound by the legalities and insufficiencies of a broken child welfare and judicial system. This book, The Children Who Raised Me, is for anyone who is looking for Hope and needs to know that they’re not alone in their search.

Q: Are you available for speaking engagements? If so, what are the topics that you cover and your fee?

A: I AM available for speaking engagements! Despite having a tummy that HATES public speaking, the rest of me actually quite enjoys it. I have spoken at churches, schools, mental health agencies, and adoption groups so far – depending on where I speak and what they’re interested in learning, I can share about trauma issues and how it effects children and attachment, RAD, parenting, adoption and foster care issues that need to be changed in our child welfare agency, how churches and organizations can best rise up to help adoptive and foster parents… and I can even lead worship if you’re interested 😊.

But as far as a fee, I do not have a set amount. Because so many churches or groups are small, I would ask for a love offering of whatever is doable for that particular group. If I speak at an agency, I would just ask for a comparable guest speaker amount, that’s all. My goal is to bless, encourage, educate, and love on those who need it. That’s not something I am able to put a price on, and I never want to be out of anyone’s reach… trust me, I don’t think of myself highly enough for such things! But I do ask that my expenses be covered so that I can continue on in what I feel God’s leading me to do!

If you’re interested in booking me for a speaking engagement, you can email me through my Contact’s Page on the website.

Q: Are you planning on writing a second book?

A: YES! I absolutely love writing and will do it until my dying day – when a book will be coming out is still up in the air, especially since this one has taken up so much of my efforts! But definitely look for one in the future.

Q: How can I get my book signed by you?

A: This question is cracking me up! You guys, my handwriting is not really all that exciting, but apparently this is a big deal because this is the question I was asked the most! So, for those of you who really want to see my name on the inside of your book cover, then watch my MommyhoodSFS Facebook page and my website for upcoming book signings. If I’m not going to be in your area and you want to set up an engagement for me, you feel free!! Otherwise, we can find a way for you to mail me your book to be signed. Again… cracking me up right now!

 

Okay, I hope this has been helpful for everyone! In addition to the book, don’t forget that I have an online membership program that is helpful to professionals and guardians in dealing with children with special needs, attachment issues, and mental health diagnoses. Check it out on the site for further info!

Love to you all and thank you, once again, for all the support you’ve shown. I am so blessed to meet so many beautiful people through such a painful topic – God really does know how to make beauty from ashes.

Hugs and Hope,

Shivonne

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"The Children Who Raised Me" ~ Now Available!

In case you missed the memo (which, how could you because I've basically been blowing up my social media feeds with the news because I'm SOOOO excited), my first book is now available online at tatepublishing.com!  If you've followed my family's story, you may already know some of what falls in the pages of this particular memoir. However, have no fear, there is plenty of NEW content that helps put our lives into some perspective. 

From foster care to adoption, mental health behaviors to Reactive Attachment Disorder, grief and loss to new life, Christian parenting to just plain survival - this book has a little bit of something for everyone and I'm so blessed that God gave me the words that needed to be said... words that are hard to say. Although I floundered my way through much of it, my deepest aim was to shed light on the hard parts of raising someone else's children... to say the things that we're told not to say, and to take away the facade that all things related to adoption, fostering, and just plain parenting is nothing but happiness and love.

Because let's be honest. It's oftentimes not. In fact, sometimes it sucks so badly that you can't find breath and you make parenting mistakes and you cry ugly tears that no one should ever feel they need to hide out of shame. We are ALL together in this parenting thing. Whether it's messed or blessed, we are together. Even when you've felt you couldn't go on another moment; Even when you gave up and came back and gave up again and came back again all within the same 10 minutes; Even if you feel like you're failing...

There is always Hope.

And you are never alone.

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In My Heart - Always Four

Words can’t describe it, but sometimes I awaken in the night with a smile on my face. The smile comes from a faraway dream, one in which I was running my fingers gently through your curls or tracing your nose and lips in a way that only a mother can. In those foggy moments between sleep and awake, I listen to you tell me stories while I calmly rock you back and forth as I had a thousand times before. I dream that you laugh, that you run to me, that you remember me.

And then, as dawn wakes me from my sleep, I realize that you aren’t really here. My smile leaks from my eyes and down my cheeks, bittersweet memories making me wish I could close my eyes forever. Because when I am awake, I am reminded that I have not seen you face in a year - that I have not heard your laugh and your lispy words since that fated day last September. Your wailing pleas to stay with me were the last you uttered, and I failed you. I wasn’t able to let you stay. And little did we know that we would never see you again.

The pain that you may think I don’t love you, that I left you in your dire circumstances, is often more than I can bear. And yet thinking that you don’t remember me at all, well… that’s my own selfish fear. Yet I would rather you to have forgotten all of our memories if it meant that you were safe, that you were happy - that you were truly loved.

If I knew you were healthy and that there was nothing to fear for your future, I would gladly awaken to those tears each day. I would comfort your siblings with ease. I would hold your other Daddy without quite as much pain. But I don’t know those things. And my children don’t. And my husband doesn’t. We are tormented with the constant knowledge that you are so close, and yet we are helpless to save you.

I have given myself over to the fact that there are others that will never understand this loss. Many have reminded me, so innocently, that I chose this. I chose to foster. That I should have expected you to leave. But what I choose is to forgive their words. I know that they don’t understand what you go through, what you’ve seen. I know they have no idea the pain you’ve endured and how that pain has affected our family, as well.

They couldn’t possibly know. And then there are others who say that we should “move on, already”… like we are capable of pretending your existence wasn’t real – or treat you as if you are no longer alive and grieve you in a way that is impossible. But again, I choose to forgive because I know that those words are spoken as an attempt to ease our suffering – knowing that people are trying to help, even if they don’t know how.

I remember the day that I told a stranger how many children I had. For so long, I had four kids. It didn’t matter their status. Adopted, Foster, Pre-Adoptive, Biological – they were just terms that confused others. But there I was, in line at the grocery store. A woman told me how well-behaved my two kids were that had come to the store with me that day.

“How many children do you have?” she’d asked simply.

For months I had said four. I couldn’t bear to discount you, as if your lack of presence meant you no longer mattered in our family line-up. But on that day, the sadness was more than I could explain. And honestly, I know that she didn’t need to hear my story. She just wanted to buy her groceries and go home. And so I answered in words that sit clearly in my memory to this day.

“Three. I have three kids.”

I remember the look my daughter gave me as she tried to contradict my answer. I swiftly spoke over her and made quick conversation with the woman until it was time to take my bags and leave. Once in the van, I had to explain to a sobbing girl that WE still counted you in our family, but that others wouldn’t understand our story. I told her that we left you out of the equation for the ease of those around us.

But today, on the anniversary of your loss, I will not leave you out. I am aware that so many will read this – a handful will cry, some will offer words of condolences, and even more will interject more words of “let it go” and “you’re still struggling with this?”

But today is not about any of the readers. Just as we honor Memorial Day or September 11th, celebrating lives that were lost and allowing ourselves to sit with our grief without trying to brush it away to appease daily life, today is not about them.

Today is about you, sweet boy. It’s about you, and me, and Daddy, and Brother, and Sissy, and Wyatt. It’s about remembering you, whether it’s with laughter or with tears. Whatever emotion comes, I will face it and so will my children and my husband. We will look at your photos and watch home videos, sharing your memory and praying for your safety. And tomorrow, our “holiday” will be over, despite waking up with smiles that turn to tears as usual. And we will wipe the tears and go about our days, acknowledging you silently and lovingly as we pass your pictures on the wall.

But don’t mistake our silence. For you will never be forgotten, my child. You will always be one of us – one of my four.

I love you forever and always.

Mama

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Just A Foster Mother

She reaches a fork in the road and wonders which way to take. To the left, there are daisies lining the smooth ground as sunbeams dance off polished stones. But the woman, she knows that sunlight eventually sets and those daisies will eventually wither and die. To the right, there are thorns and potholes littering the way and it’s so dim she can barely see down the path at all. And the road begins to feel all too familiar.

She decides to take the passive way out and plunks her bottom down in the middle of the road, sobbing whilst looking at an upside-down road map, rendered completely incapable of making a decision. At every pass, it feels like the choices she must make are the wrong ones, her weary feet shuffling through a field of landmines. And because of this, her nerves are raw. They are frazzled. Fried. She’s terrified to move, scared to even breathe, fear paralyzing every part of her.

In the distance she could swear she hears a child’s cry. A cry that she knows well, calling her name at the same time as it calls up the most wounded part of her soul. The poor woman’s stomach is in constant knots, her body exhausted from sleepless nights filled with both loud weeping and, what’s even worse, silence. The nothingness of those early morning hours frightens her in a way that nothing else has. Those hours of stillness and slumber push her into a state of panic and wild thoughts.

But the daylight is no better - it holds no rest for her shakiness. Because it is in the daylight that she can see all the reminders, all the memories, all the paths previously taken that have left her empty-handed. The daylight shows her that she still has to move forward, leaving a place that she will miss and choose a road that promises uncertainty and possible heart-break, something that this pieced-together self couldn’t withstand.

She has always found HOPE to be her sanctuary. It has always been the holy concept that holds her hand when the storms are blowing all around. But in these dark, dark hours, hope scares the woman. Hope has become too dangerous. Because by hoping, it allows her to wonder if there is still a chance that things will get better. It lets her imagine that one of the paths she may choose could bring her all that my heart needs to be whole again. And for that reason, hope is breaking her. She is not strong enough to hold onto that familiar hand right now. She cannot let herself believe that things will “work out” because too often, they just don’t.  And it’s then, when the world has robbed her of what she cherishes the most, that she loses another piece of herself.

She is a foster mother. And she has just lost her child – the child that was promised to her by a system that can’t stand upright due to the weight of law and injustice on its shoulders.  The woman’s faith has been shaken. Her life has been taken. Her courage has been obliterated.

Her child knew love. Her child knew safety and affection. And her child was taken from love and returned to violence and fear. But she cannot save her child, for she is just a foster mother. She cannot fight for her child, for she is just a foster mother. She cannot grieve openly, for she is just a foster mother. No one asks if she is OK, for she is just a foster mother. And in the midst of it all, she is told that this was her job. She is told that she has no say. She is told that all that she has given will have to be enough…. That the child she has lost will probably forget her, but hopefully remember the good that was instilled, if even for a short while.

And when her arms are left empty after however many children she has lost, she is asked if she would do it all over again. And with the only thing she can find that is certain in her life, she reaches out and takes Hope by the hand once more as she answers the question with a bold, resounding ‘Yes’.

For she is a Mother.

 

~For every foster parent who reads this, know that I see your pain. I feel your hurt with my own heart - that deep down ache that never goes away is what makes you stronger than anyone on this planet. You are storing up treasures in Heaven with your willing hearts and continuously open arms. Your children, the ones that you have lost, they WILL remember. You have left your fingerprints on their souls... and souls, they never forget. Keep finding your Hope.~

If you're finding yourself wanting MORE support, check out the membership page at www.mommyhoodsfs.com/store/ .

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