Vail Valley: ‘Absolutely the right thing to do’
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –A couple of years ago, Annette and her fiance, Kurt, realized that his half-sister and her infant daughter were in an unstable living situation. The teen mom’s financial and personal issues made for a chaotic lifestyle.
So, the Gypsum couple did what families do in that type of situation: They took the troubled single mom and the baby into their home.
But that reaching-out did not make the problems go away. The teen mom definitely loved her little girl but substance abuse and mental health issues interfered with proper parenting. The young woman liked to party, and would come home drunk or stoned, or not come home at all. The child was sometimes left in the care of people the mother only vaguely knew.
The last straw for Annette came at about Christmas time a year ago, when she discovered the mom and child sleeping in a car parked in the front yard in the early morning hours. She and Kurt called social services.
And that is how a middle-aged couple, who between them have six children ages 14 to 22, ended up with a toddler.
At the time there were no foster home openings in the Eagle County area. The social worker made the choice clear: Either the couple needed to take on the role of “kinship care” parents or the child would be placed in an home outside the county, probably in Denver.
“We said, ‘that’s not an option,'” Annette says.
They took on the responsibility of caring for the dark-haired little girl with the big brown eyes and dimple on her right cheek until the mother could straighten herself up.
Caseworkers helped Annette arrange for day care and medical benefits for the child’s physical needs. The little girl suffered re-occurring ear infections, and needed draining tubes inserted into her eardrums.
The kinship care arrangement was supposed to be temporary. Caseworkers attempted to work with the mom and set up a several-times-a-week visiting schedule between the young woman and her child.
The mom could not stick to the improvement program. Her participation in designated visits was erratic. She would fail to show up for designated visits, leaving her young daughter disappointed and upset. Then the mother disappeared for six weeks.
After more than six months of attempting to work with the mother, Eagle County Health and Human Services filed for a court order to terminate the mother’s rights to the child; and Annette and Kurt filed a petition to adopt.
“At our age, we thought we were done raising children. Then you fall in love with them,” says Annette. “There is no way we would give her up.”
Caseworker Sarah Le Blanc says the mission of Eagle County Health and Human Services is to work with clients to resolve issues and keep families together. But the department also holds parents accountable.
“We need to go to court sometimes, and we do need to remove children from the home,” Le Blanc says.
The teen mother, pregnant again, re-surfaced and contested the termination of her parental rights. The case is now at the appeals court level and could take a year or more to resolve.
The child has begun a transformation from a very angry two-year-old to a happy, intelligent little girl. She shines in social situations and declares, “I love you” frequently.
The nightmares that the little girl initially suffered every night have dwindled to once every couple of months. She does have some security issues and worries about being left alone.
That will not happen with Annette and Kurt as her parents.
“When we realized this (kinship care) was heading toward adoption, we thought ‘do we really want another child?'” recalls Annette, “Sure enough, we do.”
Le Blanc sees a critical need in the county for more foster homes. Sometimes all that is needed is a single night of foster care, while some commitments are longer.
“Being placed out-of-the county is just really scary for kids,” says Le Blanc. “If we can keep them in their own community, it is just better for them. We would love to have that option.”
Annette has no regrets about taking on kinship care responsibilities.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do. I wish more people would do it,” she says.
She would like to see more people open up their homes and hearts for foster care.
“It not only makes a better day, but a great tomorrow for many little ones that need us to be their safe place,” Annette says. “We do this for animals … why not our children?”