In the dispute between two families over who will adopt a little girl, the Oregon Department of Human Services deserves some allowance for trying to serve too many foster children with too few staff members — but only some. In the end, the agency charged with overseeing the care of children removed from their parents must bear responsibility for overlooking the request of a relative to adopt the girl.
Norman and Patty Fincher, a Medford couple with four children of their own, have been trying to adopt the 4-year-old girl — the daughter of Norman's cousin — for more than two years, only to be thwarted by what can charitably be described as bureaucratic bungling.
Meanwhile, the girl has lived in Wilderville with foster parents, who also want to adopt her. DHS is preparing to grant the foster parents' request, over the Finchers' objections.
Even DHS officials acknowledge that the agency's own rules dictate that children be placed with relatives when possible, and that they should have contacted the Finchers when it became clear that attempts to reunite the child with her birth parents would fail. That contact never took place, and the Finchers' subsequent attempts to maintain contact with the girl met with obstacles from the system.
Both the Finchers and Madeline and Pat Fitzsimmons, the Wilderville couple, say DHS has handled the situation badly.
In all fairness, DHS is trying to do a monumental job with too few resources. A list of facts about foster care that appeared with the news story about this case in Sunday's paper sheds some light on the situation:
- Since 2003, the number of Jackson County children in foster care has doubled, from 200 to 400.
- A single DHS caseworker handles 20 to 22 families at a time. In other states, the average caseload is closer to 15 families.
Under those circumstances, it is not surprising that mistakes can happen in cases such as this. But that doesn't make it right.
To make matters worse, DHS, which must constantly scramble to find enough qualified foster parents to care for those 400 children, appears to have lost a good foster home as a result of this situation.
Madeline Fitzsimmons says this is not the first time she and her husband have had problems with the agency, and that they are through being foster parents as a result.
The good news for the little girl is that she has two sets of qualified parents who want to adopt her. Many foster children would be lucky to have one. The bad news is that she is caught in the middle of a dispute that is not her fault and that she cannot understand.