A St. Paul woman’s foster care license has been revoked more than a year after an 8-year-old boy in her care sneaked out of her home and took a car for a joyride through the east metro.
A Ramsey County investigation into former foster care provider Darlene Chess documented issues dating back to 2012, long before the boy’s escapade captured headlines, according to a July 1 letter revoking her license.
Chess said Tuesday that some of the allegations were false and many were challenges that all parents experience.
“Everybody’s not perfect,” she said. “It’s everyday life. When you’re a foster parent, you don’t know what you’re getting.”
The county began investigating Chess after the boy drove a 1992 Buick Roadmaster from Chess’ home in the 800 block of Selby Avenue to Mounds View, an approximately 14-mile drive, in April 2015. Two other foster children, ages 3 and 5, in Chess’ care were in the car at the time. One other child in her care was not.
Several people began calling police about the boy driver around 5 a.m., reporting that he was swerving on Interstate 35E. One driver followed him for 10 miles. The boy pulled into a random homeowner’s driveway about 6:20 a.m., followed by a state trooper.
No one was hurt in the incident.
“You were not aware that the children were missing until you woke at 7:45 a.m.,” the letter said.
It took a year to investigate Chess and issue the revocation because of the need for a thorough investigation, time to review the findings and other possible “workload pressures,” said Karen Smigielski, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).
Ramsey County Community Human Services investigated Chess and recommended the revocation, which DHS approved.
Smigielski said the children were removed from Chess’ care the day of the incident, and no others were placed in her home.
The order of revocation also stated that the boy told investigators that Chess was “mean and that you ‘whooped’ him/her with a plastic belt on more than one occasion, and that you ‘whooped’ all of the foster children.”
Chess denied that, saying that she was in the process of adopting the boy, a chronic runaway, and three other foster children in her care. The boy wanted to be with his dad, whose parental rights had been terminated, so he concocted allegations to stop the process, Chess said. (The other three children are siblings but are not related to the boy.)
There were other complaints from 2012 to 2015, but none resulted in a suspension or formal negative action at the time. The majority were determined to be unfounded, while one complaint ended in an informal resolution, said county spokesman John Siqveland.
Chess can appeal the state’s decision in a hearing, and she said Tuesday that she plans to contact her lawyer. “I did my best for the community,” Chess said. “It was very difficult. Some children just couldn’t be away from their parents.”
Staff writer Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.