The If, Not When

A story of allegations By Shane Downing Ever since she was a little girl, Grace Meyers knew she wanted a big family. She also knew she wanted to one day adopt a child. Two, to be exact. In a way, things worked out when Grace and her husband, Charlie, found out that they weren’t able to naturally conceive. In 2009, the two self-identifying “older parents” decided to give foster parenting a chance. But despite the fact that the Meyers were eager to become foster parents and expressed interested in adoption, they were unprepared for the child abuse allegation that would devastate their family — twice.

Out of the Blue

The Meyers were ecstatic to welcome their first three foster children into their home. The siblings had come from a troubled family, but the Meyers were prepared to do everything they needed to support them. The first couple of months were great, but when the 9-year-old boy told the caseworker that Charlie was napping with the two toddler-aged girls, things quickly fell apart. Indeed, Charlie and the two girls were napping at the same time; however, they were doing so in different beds and in different parts of the house. Regardless, the allegation had been made. Child Protective Services called the Meyers and said that they would be over to remove the children from their home. “The worker showed up to the house, went into the room where the girls were sleeping, flipped on the lights, and scared the living daylights out of them,” Grace said. Half an hour later, Grace and Charlie, their foster children taken, were left to wonder what had happened. The subsequent “police-style” investigation concluded that it had all been a misunderstanding — Charlie hadn’t abused the children in his care. The allegation was unsubstantiated, but the damage was done and the children ended up being permanently removed from the family.

Finally, a Family

The Meyers spent the next nine months grieving; however, they ultimately knew that if they wanted to help children, they needed to give fostering another chance. Three months later, the Meyers welcomed 4-year-old Jane and her 2-year-old brother, Timmy, into their home. The Meyers described their new foster children as “hardcore.” The siblings’ older brother had sexually molested Jane, and Jane and Timmy had previously been tied up with duct tape and beaten by relatives. Grace and Charlie showered them with love. But nearly a year later, and two weeks before they were able to file for custody of Jane and Timmy, the Meyers lost them to the system. Despite the history of sexual abuse, Jane and Timmy were sent to a family that had expressed interest in adopting both of them and their older brother. Jane and Timmy lasted in the placement for three months before their new foster parents called it quits. The children said that they wanted to return to the Meyers, but they were instead sent to another family’s home. Then another family’s home. Then another. The Meyers had initially been Jane and Timmy’s third placement. They ended up also being the children’s seventh. “When we got the call and we agreed to take them back,” Grace said, “nobody else would take them. They probably would have been institutionalized — they were that severe.” The trauma caused by the rapidity of multiple foster placements — in addition to the trauma from before they entered the system — had taken a toll on the two children. Jane and Timmy were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Jane also struggled with bipolar and a mood disorder. Regardless of the challenges that they saw ahead, the Meyers accepted the children back into their home in September 2012. The following year, they adopted them.

Lightning Strikes Twice

In 2015, Grace, Charlie, Jane and Timmy’s family grew by two foster children. “We wanted them to have other siblings,” Grace said, “and we felt like we were ready to bring more children into our home.” However, the Meyers’ dream of a family of six was shattered when Jane made an outcry at school. She said, “Daddy beat me up.” CPS launched a second investigation into the Meyers; and this time, Charlie was forced to leave the house. For the next 60 days, he lived at a motel. The two foster children were immediately removed from the Meyers’ care. Grace, an educator, took what vacation time she had and went on FMLA so she could be home and available for Jane and Timmy. Had the same accusations been brought against her, she, as the primary breadwinner, would have lost her job. Grace had a letter from Jane’s psychiatrist saying that Jane wasn’t able to differentiate between what is true and what is past trauma. According to Grace, the investigators refused to listen to her, and the results were devastating. With Charlie out of the house and with the loss of her future siblings, Jane regressed. The 11-year-old — who at best functions at the level of a 5-year-old — became so violent at one point that Grace had to call the police on her. “I was helpless,” Charlie said, “because I couldn’t be there to help my daughter and to help protect my wife. But they just wouldn’t listen to us, they wouldn’t listen to our agency, and they wouldn’t listen to her doctors. They were out for blood.” As the CPS investigators stepped out and Family Based Services stepped in, the Meyers brought in an attorney to prepare for an administrative hearing. Based on the evidence, the case was ruled as undetermined; and after two months, Charlie was finally allowed back into his home to see his children. “They couldn’t determine if I was at fault or if I wasn’t at fault,” Charlie said. “But if Jane has another outcry, they’re going to look at my record and pull me in right away.”

Allegation Number Three

It’s been a year, but the Meyers fully expect Jane to make another allegation against them in the future — they’re preparing accordingly. “The documentation we had is what saved us from being charged the first time,” Grace said. “I now have a binder that I can just hand to CPS next time.” Charlie has gone as far as to install cameras around their home. “If CPS comes to our house,” he said, “we can just say it never happened, look at the tape.” If the Meyers do end up getting investigated a third time, they hope that CPS won’t treat them the same way they were treated the past two times. “Changes need to be made,” Charlie said, “We’re the last ones that they should look at like we’re criminals. We didn’t have a court order or anything to get into fostering — we wanted to help children.” “They need to listen to foster parents the same way they listen to the doctors, the agency and the school,” Grace said. “CPS should have looked at what the professionals were telling them about our children before they started messing up our home,” Charlie added. He went onto say, “They made us feel like they wanted us to quit, but we’re not here to get out. We’re here to continue to help our children, because we love them. We’re in it for the right reasons.” The Meyers are not alone in their experiences. Although it is unclear how many foster parents have allegations brought against them each year, most professionals say that it is not a matter of if you’re accused of child maltreatment as a foster parent, but when. Organizations like the National Foster Parent Association help shed light on the challenges foster parents face with allegations. “This is the kind of stuff that we hear all of the time,” said NFPA President Irene Clements. “When we talk to families that are quitting because of an investigation, it’s because they’re treated like they’re guilty, they’re never given the benefit of the doubt, they’re never given any information by their agency, they’re not able to talk to their caseworker during the investigation, and many times they’re unaware of what they’re being accused of.” “When families are being investigated, they’re left in limbo,” Clements said. “It’s not surprising that we can’t get more people to be foster parents.” *Some details (including names and dates) of this story have been altered to protect the anonymity of the involved family. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shane Downing is a San Francisco-based writer covering stories relating to neighborhood news, homelessness and city planning. His articles on foster care and at-risk youth have been published with ThinkProgress, The Chronicle of Social Change and Hoodline. Follow him on Twitter @SCdowning.

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