The Iowa Department of Services has recently been placed under scrutiny after the bodies of Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray were found in the homes of their foster parents – and more recently – the conviction of two Iowa foster parents for abuse of their adoptive children. The Des Moines Register reports that in all the cases listed there were multiple attempts in vain to reach out to DHS on the issue and in one case, 68 calls to local law enforcement. There’s no denying that if DHS and law enforcement had taken these calls seriously, these poor children’s lives would have been spared. Being a former foster child myself, I wonder how the workers weren’t able to catch these issues before they got this out of hand. I remember having workers constantly in our lives and in the home checking in on us. The actions of these loathsome individuals put a black mark on everyone who has ever worked for Iowa DHS and may even deter people from making reports in the future, fearing that nothing will become of their concerns.
As I have stated in the previous paragraph, I was foster child adopted out the system. I remember the day we got removed from our home: it was my first day of 4th grade, I had just gotten out of gym and was heading down the hallway back to the classroom when I was called to the principal’s office. Fearing that I had already done something wrong, I was microanalizing every action I made that day. When I reached the office, I immediately blurt out, “Did I do something wrong?” He told me no, but I could sense that there was something was amiss. He told me that there was someone there to see me, and when I turned around I saw a tall, slender man with brown hair step forward. He was holding my youngest brother, who was a baby at that time, while my other brother stood beside him. He handed me my baby brother as I asked what was going on. The man sat me down and told me that he was with the Department of Human Services and that he was going to take us to a better home. With tears streaming down my face I asked him if we could at least say goodbye, to which he replied no. It was at that time I wiped my tears and told myself I would have to be strong for my brothers and did everything in my power to never let them see my cry again.
He did everything in his power to make us feel better, taking us to McDonald’s and talking with me before he took us to the county headquarters in Muscatine, Iowa. When we arrived, our worker spent hours trying to find us a placement. When he finally found a home, he told us that the parent could take 2 of us, but could not take my baby brother. He said that both homes were fairly near each other and assured us that we would be able to contact him. The first night was the hardest – no, that’s a lie – the first month was. I remember feeling anger, confusion, and mourning for what I had lost. I’m not going to lie to you and say I was the poster child for outstanding children, I was a difficult child to deal with. I had this preconceived notion that if I misbehaved enough they would cut their losses and send us back to our mom. When I realized that this method was proving to be unsuccessful, I got used to the fact that we couldn’t go home at that time. Our first foster mother decided to go back to school and told us that we would be going to another home. She told us that a family of three was going to take us: Michelle, Darrell, and Luke Mattingly.
When we arrived at the house Michelle showed us around and introduced us to her husband and son. When I walked into my room I almost passed out, I had my own bathroom! But it wasn’t just that, it felt very natural to be there, like we had known them our whole lives. It didn’t take us long to get into the swing of things and we were constantly going places: fishing, parks, birthday parties, family get togethers, baseball games, softball games, basketball games. I also spent a lot of time talking about music with my foster Dad; he pretty much shaped the musical taste I have today. While there I met one of the most influential people in my life, Robin Griggs. She was a teacher at my school, but is also a mother to many adopted children and a dear friend to all who cross paths with her. She loves with everything she has and spreads that love around. She has a way about her that draws one in and fills them with a bright happiness; even if they aren’t feeling especially happy. I watched how she impacted the people around her and remember wanting to be just like her.
We spent a few years there before DHS decided to terminate my birth mother’s parental rights. As soon as that process was done our adoption worker came in, Jan Louper. She was the best worker I’ve ever had, dedicating herself wholeheartedly to us and our search for what she called a forever home and bring us homemade cookies with every visit. It was a tough time for my brother and I: on one hand, we wanted to find a home that would be ours forever, but we didn’t want to leave the home we were in. After some trial and error, we found the people we would call our Mom and Dad forever.
I have had the pleasure to know both parents and workers in the Iowa DHS, all of them dedicated to the protection and well-being of the children they are responsible for. I am in no way saying that they are all this way; there are unfortunately people that have disingenuous intentions and I agree that there are steps that need to be taken to make sure that nothing like what happened to these poor children happens again. Think back to the last time you read an article by a major newspaper or even something shared on social media that was about a foster or adoptive parent doing something great for their community or children, or how many Lifetime movies – movies in general – are about those evil foster parents. I believe that the whole system and the hundreds of good people caring for children in foster care and group homes around Iowa, only come into light when something tragic occurs.