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Family Preservation Often Isn’t Best for Child, Foster Parents Say

May 19, 1994

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ Daniel Cramer said his 6-year-old foster daughter punched, bit and scratched him when they first met, a violent reaction to being sexually abused while with her biological family.

Nonetheless, the state returned her to her family after several months just as she was beginning to trust her foster parents, Cramer said. Two months later she was back with Cramer and his wife because of more abuse.

″She was worse than the first time we got her. ... You’ve never seen so much rage in a little girl,″ Cramer said Wednesday at the weeklong National Foster Parent Association conference.

Many of the roughly 2,000 foster parents from across the country shared Cramer’s complaint that states are too quick to return foster children to their homes.

″The law says the child must be returned as quickly as possible to the family. ... The agencies often return them too soon and they’re abused over and over and over,″ said Cora White of Madison, Wis., the association president and foster parent.

However, returning children to their biological family usually is in their best interest, even if the family is still troubled, said officials with Michigan’s Families First program, run through the Department of Social Services.

Like programs in many other states, Families First officials work closely with parents at imminent risk of having their child removed from the home due to abuse or neglect.

″Most parents love their children and want to be good parents. ... Even troubled families can change,″ said caseworker Nola Carew, who spoke on a panel at the conference.

But some foster parents said children suffer while social service agencies and the court system give biological families chances to improve conditions at home.

Also, foster parents have little or no input in court proceedings that determine the child’s future, they said.

″We knew what was going to happen if she went back, but our voices weren’t heard at all,″ Cramer said of his foster daughter. ″Someone’s got to stand up for these kids.″

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