The founder of a Wichita group that works with children is trying to convince a judge to allow her to adopt a 2-year-old girl that has been in her care since nearly birth – a ruling that would go against a state agency’s decision to send the child to a biological family member.
Andrea Dixon, executive director of FaithBuilders, testified for about 3 1/2 hours Tuesday before Sedgwick County Juvenile Court Judge Robb Rumsey. She and her husband have been foster parents to the girl since two days after she was born.
In November, the Kansas Department for Children and Families recommended that the girl and her 3-year-old brother should be adopted by her 67-year-old great grandmother who lives in South Carolina.
“(The girl) is extremely bonded to the Dixon home,” Leah Gagne, Dixon’s attorney, told the court. “She calls Andrea ‘Momma,’ and Mr. Dixon ‘Daddy.’”
Michael Lazzo, the court-appointed guardian for the girl, said Dixon’s actions were stopping the bonding between the girl and her brother.
A decision won’t come anytime soon.
Because of scheduling conflicts for the court and attorneys, the hearing was continued until April 14-17. Rumsey told the attorneys he didn’t want to hear the case in a piecemeal fashion.
The parents of the 2-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy – who also have three other girls – previously surrendered parental rights. All five children range in age from 2 to 6.
Another Wichita foster care family had been taking care of the other four children for more than two years. The three girls, however, were adopted by an uncle who lives in North Carolina.
The 3-year-old boy was left to live with the great-grandmother on Dec. 19, following DCF’s direction. The great-grandmother and uncle live about four hours apart, said Lynnette Herrman, attorney for the great-grandmother.
Dixon’s motion before the court claims that DCF didn’t make a “reasonable” placement in deciding to send both of the younger children to the great-grandmother. It asks the court to overturn that decision.
Dixon has three biological daughters, a stepdaughter, a 5-year-old boy for whom she has legal custodianship and the 2-year-old girl as a foster child.
One of the issues in the case is why DCF is concerned about keeping the 2-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy together now, when it approved their placement in separate foster care homes two years ago.
FaithBuilders is the subject of an investigation that began in October. The internal review was initiated after state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, wrote a letter to DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore with complaints about the agency’s Wichita office and FaithBuilders, which has 30 respite and foster care homes in the area.
One of the complaints was that the Wichita office was directing children to FaithBuilders’ homes and improperly providing confidential information to the nonprofit. Dixon has said that her organization has done nothing wrong.
On Oct. 24, Gilmore suspended foster care placements with FaithBuilders until the review was completed. Days after DCF conducted a review of the Wichita office in mid-October, Diane Bidwell resigned as director of that office after about 2 1/2 years in the position.
Dixon testified Tuesday that her organization takes children into its homes only if it has had a prior relationship with the family. She said she had been working the birth mother of the five children for 2 1/2 years before the 2-year-old became a foster child in her home as an infant.
In questioning, Herrman asked Dixon who notified her about the birth of the 2-year-old besides the mother.
“Was it Diane Bidwell?” Herrman asked.
“I didn’t even know Diane Bidwell at that point,” Dixon replied.
Lazzo asked if Dixon, who is white, was concerned about cultural differences with the 2-year-old, who is African-American, growing up in a white home. She replied that she has support from African-American friends.
“We recognize there’s a difference,” she said, “and we also recognize there is not.”
Dixon was also questioned about whether she would allow the 2-year-old to continue to have contact with her 3-year-old brother. She replied that she would.
During testimony, Dixon also questioned the planning of DCF in placing the five children. She said the plan changed several times.
“Is the reason you want to adopt (the girl) because the state didn’t have a plan and everything was a mess?” Herrman asked.
“We decided we were bonded,” Dixon said. “We love her. She interacts with our family.”
The foster care mother for the 3-year-old boy also testified. She acknowledged that during a hearing with DCF she was part of the unanimous vote for both children to go to the great-grandmother.
The woman, however, also said she thought that if Dixon was allowed to keep the 2-year-old, she would work with the great-grandmother so the children could stay in touch.
Tim Henderson, the presiding juvenile court judge, earlier had ordered that the children and their family members not be identified publicly.