AUGUSTA – The recent release of Sally Schofield, a former caseworker and foster parent for Maine’s Department of Human Services convicted of manslaughter of Logan Marr, 5, has some people talking about where the system is at.
Marr was found dead from asphyxiation after being bound with duct tape and strapped into a high chair in the basement of Schofield’s home.
“Fostering The Next Generation” tells the stories of foster parents in the state, covering the good, the bad and the ugly in part one of “Fostering the Next Generation.”
“So much of what we are trying to support fundamentally – is to make sure children are in loving, healthy, happy homes,” said Commissioner Mary Mayhew of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In Maine alone there are over 1,800 children in protective care, 60 percent of which are because their parents struggled with substance abuse. While the numbers of children in protective care is declining, the need for foster parents is dire.
“The foster families do create that bridge and that connection (to) not only support the child but to create the level of supports to these vulnerable families,” said Mayhew.
Meet the Kneelands. Like every family, their kids like to learn how to play music, collect rocks outside and even make lunch together with the family. But before this family became picture perfect, they faced a few storms along the way. They fostered a child they were hoping to adopt, but was later placed with a biological relative.
“You have this child and you daily take care of them, do everything for them and to be ripped away – feels like – it was devastating,” said Brian Kneeland, a foster parent.
The Kneelands went into the system because they wanted to adopt a child. They claim DHHS officials gave them false hope when they matched them with the little boy, only to have him removed three months later when a biological parent came into the picture.
“Say okay, ‘there’s not a chance or a slim chance that you’ll be able to adopt this child,'” said Kneeland, “Not say, okay, ‘all of the family are out of the picture.'”
It became a nightmare for the family. The child was removed from the home after authorities determined he should be placed with that biological family member.
“Our jobs, when appropriate, is to reunify children with their parents,” said Mayhew, “When that is not possible, we absolutely want to be working with foster families interested in adopting.”
With an empty crib, pictures and leftover clothes, all that’s left is a broken heart.
“It’s like a grieving process. It takes time and time not necessarily heals all wounds,” said Kneeland, “You never forget that first time.”
Despite the setback, they were determined to have the family they always dreamed of having.
“Somebody has to take care of children that are in the foster care system – waiting to be placed in a good home,” said Ashley Kneeland, “Somebody has to do something.”
A year later after adopting in Florida, they are now the parents of four siblings.
“We were lucky that we were chosen to be there parents,” said Ashley, “They had the opportunity to say no and they didn’t. We were the lucky ones.”
For families like the Kneelands, it’s the lack of resources and communications that discourages them. They feel there’s just not enough support or rights for foster parents.
“The department always has to be evaluating how we do our work,” said Mayhew, “We need to be open and transparent to the extent that we can be and communicating with foster families. We need to continue to work on providing effective support and resources to foster families so they do feel they have a level of support from the department and they are able to be an effective foster family.”