A “critical priority” for the Department of Human Services is that children in its care “should be placed with kin whenever possible.”
That’s what Commissioner Cynthia F. Figueroa wrote to us last month after my column described how Victoria O’Brian’s great-nephew was allowed to be adopted by another family despite O’Brian’s desire to raise him.
O’Brian concedes she missed one hearing because her niece, the birth mother, told her she didn’t have to be there. That turned out to be a huge mistake, because Family Court Supervising Judge Walter J. Olszewski used it as evidence that O’Brian wasn’t strongly motivated to take the child.
In his order awarding the boy to another family, he wrote, “Any preference in favor of a relative only relates to standing to participate in adoption proceedings.” It does not give blood relatives a preference in the actual adoption, he said.
DHS and the judge aren’t on the same page. DHS gives family priority, the jurist doesn’t. That concerns me because the judge, who declined to comment, has a similar case headed to his courtroom.
That case concerns LaShawn Robinson, 37, who believes that her nephew was wrongly assigned to a foster parent when DHS knew she wanted to adopt him. Her nephew, who has leukemia, is the son of Robinson’s deceased brother.
Robinson is a certified nursing assistant, a single mom who lives in Strawberry Mansion with her two sons, 11 and 4. Her nephew turns 5 on Tuesday, Sept. 19.
The child is in the foster care of Rachel Greiner, who was his caregiver at Childway Pediatric Services, a nursing facility where she works and where he was treated. Greiner declined to speak when I reached her by phone.
Robinson thought that after clearing background checks and her home being approved, “we were headed for reunification.”
That got snagged in a controversy over the number of visits she made to the child and her ability to administer medicine to him at home. Robinson says her medical training qualifies her to care for the child and she alerted supervisors that her visits would temporarily diminish over the few weeks she cared for her dying father.
The bottom line: After reviewing the case, Deputy Commissioner Kimberly Ali wrote in an email last April that DHS supports placing the child in Robinson’s home. The next month, Ali said the city’s Law Department had filed a motion to have the child awarded to Robinson.
That court date I mentioned earlier is Wednesday, Sept. 20. It is a pretrial hearing at which the competing claims of Greiner and Robinson will be aired, prior to a later hearing at which adoption will be decided.
This brings us back to Judge Olszewski.
All things being equal, family members should get preference, in my opinion. Some will say all things are never precisely equal. That’s true.
But denying a child to family should require proof that placement would actually be bad for the child.
The bottom line must always be what’s best for the child. In this case, it’s Aunt LaShawn.