Advocacy, Rights for Foster Parents and DCS Policies

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Raven Lewis started this petition to Indiana DCS Ombudsman Bureau and

Greetings everyone

My name is Raven Lewis. I have been a foster mom for almost four years. Children are my passion. They are the future. I love opening my home, giving love and inspiring hope. My family is full of nurturing, healing, and empowerment. I come from a family that has been fostering since before I was born. My grandmother, godmother, aunt, and cousin have all either fostered, adopted or both. I have even inspired a few of my friends to foster. The above picture is a picture of my children. I love them all. All have been reunited except one. I truly miss him. Shortly following our 2019 family vacation to Disney World our world was shaken and our lives were turned upside down. 

Here is my story

On April 16th, 2019 after returning from visiting family, I was told by my agency that my foster children were removed and would not be returned. That was it...no explanation given. Let it be known that the Villages foster and adoption agency disrupted placement of my foster children without the consent of DCS. DCS is required for a "Change of Placement" of the child(ren) if they are in your home over 12 months. (8-515.05. Removal of child from foster parent's home; requirements; notification; review.) In fact the assessment worker was shocked that the children had been moved prior to her even coming out and determined that the children were removed without reasonable cause. My foster daughter was in my home for almost two years and my foster son was with us just over a year. A month prior to the children’s removal, I had a difference of opinion with the clinical director of my licensing agency and I reached out to my foster son’s FCM to discuss the matter. This caused a disagreement between the the FCM and my agency. I believe that the clinical director felt that I challenged her authority and that this is the true cause of the removal of the children. Their claim was that they saw a bruise on the child that looked similar to a bruise from last year. First of all, the child is a LEVEL 7 and is known for having bruises. She came into my home with bruises. Not only does she self-inflict but her equilibrium is off so she frequently stumbles into things. Of course all of this was known to the Villages! She often had bruises her entire time with us and I would follow protocol. I would take pictures, document and notify both the Villages and her FCM. What I could not understand was why now would they make a report. There were never any concerns prior. The Villages actions were arbitrary, retaliatory, and fueled by animosity. I once had faith in my agency but now only disappointment. I was deeply saddened because this action taken by the Villages proved to me that one’s own personal motives came before a child’s best interest. The children and I were betrayed by the very people that were suppose to advocate for them. 

I thought that since foster parents were given the right to appeal a change in placement and that my agency blatantly disregarded DCS policy, all it would take was for my voice to be heard and my family would be reunited. I couldn’t have been more wrong. No one cared about what I had to say. No one cared about right and wrong. I objected to the modification for a change in placement of both children. Because the assessment was still open, my objection for my foster daughter was denied and she was placed with her aunt. This was her fourth placement within a month. In less than a month’s time, she was placed back with me. I understood the GaL’s and FCMs reservation. They wanted to see the 311 because they felt like it had to be more to the story. They couldn’t fathom why the Villages would uproot this child without reasonable cause. Now the other case was completely different.

The same week that my foster son was removed from my care, his new FCM, Kelly Leatherbury transitioned in. I reached out to her as well as her supervisor, Marcy Atkins and was told that they did not know me. His FCM asked me why would she go against a contracted agency that DCS has long-standing relationship with.  All providers were rather new with the exception of his therapist and GaL. The Villages defamed my character with lies and his team pretty much turned on me. They became biased and compromised. What is ironic is, these are the very people that I advocated for him to have. They once gave me such praise on how I worked with him and how far he had come prior but when asked to speak in court, they said the complete opposite. In the year’s time that my foster son was with me he made tremendous progress and he bonded with my family. There were never any concerns for him in my care. Every case review the whole team gave updates and not once did anyone voice a concern for him in my care. I just can’t understand how DCS approved the action of the Villages. DCS and team members arguments were “what is done is done” and that the child is adjusting well in a two-parent household. First off, that is very discriminatory. They did not care that I was a single parent when he was placed in my home or when his prior FCMs asked me to adopt him prior to all of this. Saying that he is in a good home and doing well is not enough. Every foster home should be a “good home.” I was confused. What was wrong with my home? The fact is the judge ordered that he be placed in a pre-adopt home and the home that he is in is not. My home was his pre-adoptive home. I even filed an intent to adopt him. 

Today in court, Judge Burleson demonstrated why we have a failed system. Back in court on May 21, 2019 she heard my argument and set a reminder for her judgement to be handed down on May 28, 2019. It wasn’t until today, July 09, 2019 during a scheduled case review, that she gave her ruling. Judge Burleson said that she had misplaced her reminder to make the ruling. She quickly said that the child is doing well where he is, denied my objection, and quickly dismissed me. Even after the false allegation was unsubstantiated, I filed an intent for adoption, and DCS’s admittance that the Villages agency disregarded policy and proper protocol, the child was not returned to our family. 

DCS’s inaction to follow policy has caused these children much anguish. This neglectful and irresponsible move was very inconsistent with the children’s treatment and service plans. It caused them to miss several sessions of therapy, counseling, visits, appointments, and even surgery. This unprecedented removal has not only caused a disruption to their day to day routines but has caused further unnecessary trauma to their lives. Additionally, these children are at risk of developing attachment disorders. These children called me mom. These children were under the impression that this move was temporary because I was out of town and that they would be returned to my care. They did not even get to say their “goodbyes.” This careless act not only affected these children but my own as well. This has been a very traumatic, disheartening, and discouraging experience for all involved. As a foster parent, I am left feeling attacked and disregarded. 

I even contacted Central Licensing and was told that occurrences like mine were common and agencies can use their discretion to bend and break the rules. I just don’t get it! Why have rules or policies if they are not going to be enforced? As foster parents, we are expected to follow all policies to the “T!” I was told that DCS and agencies do so because they can get away with it. They know most people don’t have the money or resources to sue or challenge them. 

I currently know several foster parents that are afraid to speak out and cower in fear of retaliation. THIS HAS TO CHANGE! Where are our rights? Who advocates for us? We need our voices to be heard! We go through so much as foster parents. We open our hearts and homes and allow a violation of our privacy. What about the time and effort that we invest? We are willing to change our routines, our very lives to help children in need and this is the thanks we get! How dare them wonder why it is hard to find foster parents! We need to stick together and make them hear our voices. 

It is DCS’s responsibility and due diligence to uphold proper policy and procedure. If agencies can just do as they please, what is the purpose of the DCS Ombudsman Bureau or Central Licensing or DCS policies for that matter? They need to be held accountable for their actions and made to adhere to their policies.

The Villages are now seeking the revocation of my license. After much backlash, they are willing to go this far to avoid admitting any wrongdoing on their part. If you ask too many questions, don’t fall in line, or speak out, they will seek to weed you out. If you know me and can vouch for my character, please sign. If you have seen my interaction with my children and feel that I should not be deterred, please sign and share. Also, briefly describe how you know me or describe what your observation of my interaction with my children was. If you believe that I make a difference in the lives of the children that I foster and think that I should be able to keep my license, please sign and share. If you feel that there has been a great injustice here and this change is necessary, please sign and share. Even if you choose not to sign, please share. We have to support and advocate for each other. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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