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“I would just stand there and completely take it, and my grandpa would say, ‘That’s right, see how he took it like a man!’ ” Turner said.
Looking back, Turner said he does not understand why county social workers were so intent on keeping him with his family. At first, he was told he might return to his mother, who was addicted to drugs. But after she died in a house fire when he was 7, caseworkers focused on keeping him with his grandparents.
Minnesota’s stress on family reunification is “misguided,” Turner said.
“For one thing, it creates false hopes. You are led to believe that someday soon, maybe next week or next month, you’ll be returning to your loving natural family. But that almost never happens. And it makes you angry and upset and less likely to form an actual relationship with the foster parent you’re with.”
‘I am amazed’
Though most studies have found that foster care children do better with family than with strangers, children who are returned too quickly to parents with a history of abuse are at risk of being hurt again. This is particularly true in cases where families are not offered training and support services once the child returns to the home, say child advocates.
Last year, a citizens’ panel reviewed a sample of child protection cases in Hennepin County. They found a disturbing trend: In many cases, children were reunified with abusive parents multiple times, without verified changes in parental behavior.
In one case, two children were returned to a chemically addicted mother less than a week after she failed three urine tests; in another, three children were returned to a family who had 11 reports of neglect or abuse over 10 years.
“I am amazed at how many chances parents are given,” said Denise Graves, a guardian ad litem who serves on the volunteer panel. “It appears the system acts in the best interests of the parents rather than the best interests of the children.”
Three months ago, Thomas Stone finally read the lengthy case file chronicling his childhood. Kept in a binder the size of a large Bible, the file contained a series of unsettling revelations. Stone struggled to stay composed as he flipped through his file.
For the first time, he learned that he was born with cocaine in his blood.
For the first time, he learned that his father left him unattended, at age 2 or 3, on an unheated porch.
And for the first time, he learned the details of the police raid of his father’s house — the raid that finally got him moved to a loving foster-care family in Brooklyn Park. “I just don’t understand what took so long,” Stone said.
Some day soon, Stone said, he plans to burn the case file and throw the ashes over a cliff, in a symbolic break with his troubled childhood. “I want to burn it all up, all the pain and all the hurt I’ve been through,” he said. “And start life anew.”
Chris Serres • 612-673-4308