In Need of Care

Reintegration plan has two of mother’s four children returning home in February

Sedgwick County District Court Judge Patrick Walters told the mother Friday that he wants to see all of her children back home but agrees with a plan to slowly reintegrate the children.
Sedgwick County District Court Judge Patrick Walters told the mother Friday that he wants to see all of her children back home but agrees with a plan to slowly reintegrate the children. File photo

She wants her children back.

On Friday, the mother heard Sedgwick County District Court Patrick Walters say that two of her four children would come home in February. That could happen earlier if things continue to go well or later if they don’t.

The judge assured her that he wants to send all four of her children home but also wants her family to be successful.

A few months ago, she might have cursed in the courtroom, as she had at other hearings when things didn’t go her way.

This time, though, she sat silent.

The woman’s children have been in foster care since February after allegations that her then-boyfriend was abusing them and that she was not keeping them safe. A petition filed on behalf of the children also alleged drug abuse in the home. The family’s journey through the system has been chronicled as part of The Eagle’s “In Need of Care” series.

“She wants all four kids home,” the mother’s lawyer, Judy Fowler, told Walters, reminding him that at a hearing in October he had said the only issue that still concerned him was the mother’s sobriety.

“She’s handled that,” Fowler said. “Mom has done everything we’ve asked of her. She has worked very, very hard.”

Walters agreed. But he also listened to Assistant District Attorney Tricia Knoll, who said the woman’s two oldest children still have resentment toward their mother “about what was going on in the home.” They’re verbally aggressive toward her and the clinician during therapy sessions, Knoll said.

Their behavior is affecting the younger children, she said, adding the youngest has been wetting the bed because his older siblings are acting out.

“Despite mother’s best efforts, she cannot control their behavior,” Knoll said.

For that reason, Knoll said, it made sense to bring the two youngest children home first and give the older children more time in therapy.

“I think the plan gives the family the best chance to succeed,” she said.

If the youngest children get home in February, they will have been away just about a year.

The Eagle has been covering the family since just after police put the four children in protective custody Feb. 7. A judge granted the newspaper access to child-in-need-of-care petitions, which typically have been out of public view, at the beginning of the year.

The Eagle has agreed to not name the children. It also agreed not to name the parents involved in the case because doing so would identify the children. The children’s father, from whom the mother is divorced, has waived his rights in the case.

The number of reports of child abuse and neglect in Sedgwick County has increased 31 percent since 2009, records from the state show.

History of abuse

“My mom’s boyfriend beats mom and us,” one of the woman’s sons told a Kansas Department for Children and Families social worker in February.

The boy and his brothers and sister all told the social worker that their mother’s boyfriend hit them, sometimes with a leather belt, sometimes with a ruler. Court documents in the case describe a history of domestic violence and drug abuse.

The youngest child told the social worker his leg had been bruised for a month from a spanking with a belt. The oldest said he had seen their mother’s boyfriend – a gang member, court documents say – throw their mother into walls and a door, giving her a bloody lip and a black eye.

On Feb. 11, a few days after police took the children away, the state stepped in. The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office filed a petition to declare the children in need of care.

The mother told the children “Good job, guys. They’re taking you into state custody. I hope you’re happy” when police took them away.

“I was crazy mad,” the mother said later in court, crying. “I got p----- off, because those are my kids.”

It was not the first time the state had been involved with the mother, her children and her then-boyfriend. The boyfriend, who moved in with the mother after dating her for six weeks, according to court testimony, has two children of his own. The state terminated his parental rights last year, records show.

Court documents show 13 previous DCF reports involving the family, including an older son not named in this case, and the mother’s boyfriend’s family. The reports date to Oct. 15, 2003.

The mother had testified earlier in the case that she allowed her boyfriend to discipline her children, even though he had lost custody of his own, because he was “the man of the house.”

In court on Feb. 20, the mother testified that she did not like spanking her children.

“I don’t like to hear them cry,” she said.

She also didn’t like to spank them “because then DCF gets involved,” she said.

Spanking the children was necessary sometimes, though, she said.

She denied allegations that she smoked pot in front of the children. She said she had smoked marijuana in her bedroom.

She told her ex-husband’s lawyer that she knew her boyfriend had lost custody of two children and that he had been accused – though the state found no proof – of sexually abusing another girlfriend’s daughter.

“And you had him move into your home?” a lawyer asked her.

“Correct,” she answered.

Impressive progress

Since then, the mother has said she is no longer involved with the man. She has passed drug tests ordered by the court and has attended all hearings and appointments, her lawyer said.

On Friday, she and the children’s father were about 10 minutes late to court. They said they hadn’t heard the case be called over the intercom at the juvenile courthouse.

Walters started the hearing without the parents and also expressed frustration that a case worker hadn’t yet arrived.

“This is our big day,” he said, referring to the Friday docket. “Everyone knows that. I’ve got 24 cases on my docket this morning.”

The parents joined their lawyers at the table shortly after the start of the hearing.

The judge said he was impressed by the mother’s progress.

Later, in a phone call with The Eagle, the mother said she was disappointed she wasn’t getting all of her children back in February. She said she was “just a puppet in their puppet show.”

“I want to reward the mother for all her hard work and at the same time, I want her to be successful,” Walters said at the hearing.

Then he looked at the mother: “It is my goal to integrate the kids with you. That’s my goal.”

He scheduled a hearing for March 5.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle