Foster parents call for better treatment by DCYFBy DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau
January 23. 2018 10:10PM
CONCORD - Foster parents Dylan and Jaime Remenar take helpless children in crisis into their home, and are trusted with some of the state's most challenging cases.
On Tuesday, the Belmont couple spoke out against what they say is mistreatment of foster parents by the state agency assigned to protect children in New Hampshire, the Division for Children, Youth and Families.
"I am speaking today as an advocate for all foster parents, especially the many who have contacted me this past year to share stories similar to mine, but were too afraid to speak here today," Dylan Remenar told the House Children and Family Law Committee on Tuesday.
He opened testimony on HB 1562, which would establish a foster parent bill of rights, and HB 1234, which would give foster parents the right to intervene in legal proceedings involving the custody of children in their care.
There's more at stake than the impact on the foster families and foster children, said the bills' sponsor, Rep. Sean Morrison, R-Epping. The supply of foster families has been dwindling as the demand increases for these families' services.
Without some change in the treatment of foster families, the availability of foster homes could be severely affected, Morrison said, leaving the hundreds of children displaced by the opioid epidemic with nowhere to go.
In 2010, New Hampshire had 896 foster families, but by 2016 the number had dropped to 593, according to the DCYF Annual Progress and Services Report. In the past year, the division has for the first time in many years licensed more homes than it has closed, bringing the number for 2017 to 737.
"It is my contention that, if the treatment of foster families continues as it has, that the numbers will go down once again," Morrison said.
Each of the 14 speakers lined up to testify were in support of Morrison's bills, with no opposing testimony from DCYF or its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services.
Fear of reprisals
"We initially had some great years working with DCYF and fostering children," said Dylan Remenar, "but the past year has been the worst year of our lives simply because of DCYF's incompetence."
After caring for a child for a year and a half, the couple was told by DCYF workers that a judge had approved them for adoption. "This information was shared with all parties involved, including the child's biological family," Dylan said. "We celebrated with our entire family, only to find out months later that DCYF made a mistake and had misread the court order."
What followed was months of confusion and legal wrangling, during which the Remenars were told again that they could adopt, and then again that they couldn't.
"After the child spent every night with us for over two-and-a-half years, DCYF eventually scheduled to have him transition back to his family on Mother's Day," said Dylan. "Choosing this date was just cruel to my wife after she raised the child as her own and was told by DCYF she would be adopting. My family has been devastated by this experience and we are now in counseling and struggling to find a way to continue life as we once knew it."
Other foster families have submitted testimony to the committee, many of them anonymously.
The foster parent bill of rights proposed by Morrison would require that foster parents be given notice regarding child placement decisions; it would allow them a voice in court and in planning visitation between children and their birth parents; it would give foster parents consideration if adoption of the child becomes the primary goal.
And it would guarantee "freedom from coercion, discrimination and reprisals for voicing concerns about a child in the foster parent's care."
Dylan said he and his wife were assured by newly confirmed DHHS Associate Commissioner Christine Tappan, in charge of child protection services, that they could speak freely with no fear of reprisals.
The issue of foster parenting is moving ahead on several fronts.
A petition by the New Hampshire Foster and Adoptive Parent Association (NHFAPA) for a bill of rights has collected more than 1,000 signatures on change.org.
Morrison maintains the NHFAPA has been co-opted by DCYF, and that is reflected in what he called a weaker proposal.
A legislative subcommittee led by state Rep. Mariellen MacKay, R-Nashua, is attempting to reconcile the competing documents and develop a single recommendation for the legislature.