Saturday, June 13, 2009

'Once they are in our house, they're OUR children'

'Mom' to many
Pike, Farah Jadran. Eagle Newspapers, June 11, 2009.

Mary Hudgins stands in her North Syracuse home with her many Mother's Day gifts.
For more than 12 years Mary and Bobby Lee Hudgins Sr. and their four children have called their North Syracuse residence home. But for more than 17 years, 26-plus children have called the Hudgins “mom and dad.”

The Hudgins have always had a lot of love and care to give even after they had their first son Keith, 40, and their triplets Bobby Lee, Kenneth Lee and Calvin Lee, now 34 years old.

Even though Mother’s Day passed almost two weeks ago, the Hudgins dining room table is still covered in cards, flowers, gifts and balloons given to Mary by the numerous children that still call her “mom.”

“I’m still celebrating,” she said.

As she remembered her own childhood growing up in a family of seven children, she had only her father with her life. Although she didn’t have a mother figure, there was neighbor named Miss Clara, who she still thinks of as a mother.

“Miss Clara had one child that she adopted, but no other children,” Hudgins said. “But she looked out for other kids in the neighborhood.”

Like Miss Clara, Hudgins said she truly believes that her upbringing has made her into the loving woman she is today.

“It’s like the parallel to where I am today,” she said of Miss Clara’s presence in her life. “She taught me many things, but most importantly, she taught me about the Lord.”

Firmly believing in Christianity, the Hudgins family attends New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Syracuse with several family members and two foster children that are in their care presently.

Because of their faith, the Hudgins never lost hope in one foster child in particular, Allen. Although each foster child is different and most have different needs that parents need to attend to, Hudgins said she couldn’t believe the things that one of their foster children went through.

Allen came to the Hudgins’ home when he was 11 years old. No matter the problems Allen had, the Hudgins wanted to make sure they gave him a good life for as long as he wanted to be with the family.

“Once they’re in our house, they’re our children,” she said. “We’re devoted no matter what.”

Hudgins said she sees Allen as special because he stayed with the family even after he aged out of the foster program at age 18. He finally felt ready to live on his own when he was 22 years old.
Now in his late 20s, Allen still calls the Hudgins “mom and dad,” even after many years of struggling to overcome challenges for a normal family dynamic.

“We had to teach him so many things,” she said. “He didn’t know how to use a bar of soap and take a bath, and about nutrition.”

She remembered the first time she realized his eating habits when she was making liver for dinner.

“I was cleaning it [liver] and seasoning it when he asked me why I was doing all of this,” she said. “He said that he was used to eating it raw.”

Baffled by the fact that this young boy had eaten something like liver raw made her feel more compassion and a stronger need to turn him around. Hudgins said the environment that children grow up in has such an impact, that Allen was starting over from scratch since he had never had a good example to follow. His nutritional habits were such that he would eat bacon, sausage and eggs all uncooked.

“Even though this happened, he was never ashamed,” she said. “And he knows his mom and dad are proud of him.”

Allen had other issues like hoarding food because he grew up with the fear that he might not eat the next day. Hudgins said she would make 10 or 12 sweet-potato pies at a time with the intention of freezing most of them.

“I remember finding out that he took a few of the pies to eat at the bus stop,” she said. “Those pies only had the batter poured in them so they were raw.”

Like any bad habit, she said it took time and a lot of love and care to help Allen break old habits and form new ones.

Aside from poor eating habits, Allen was never given proper attention while growing up.

“He wanted attention so bad that he would follow me all around the house,” she said.

Allen had a hard time understanding boundaries at first, but the family pushed forward to help him learn. The Hudgins experienced hard times while Allen was in school because his behavior was so erratic, there were several times when they thought they couldn’t help Allen and should just give up.

“Even though we wanted to give up, we thought about how if God didn’t forgive us for our sins we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “My strong conviction in God made us keep him.”

As the Hudgins began to believe in Allen more and more, he started to thrive by attending church more and acting as a respectful family member.

Hudgins said Allen’s living situation before coming to their home was unbelievable.
Allen also struggled with his faith at first because he started to ask where God was in his life when he was eating out of a trashcan or going without a bath.

“Now he is so involved with church, even more than I am,” she said. “He plays in the church’s band and tells others about his relationship with Jesus.”

Because of Allen’s upbringing before the foster care, Hudgins said she truly believes that he has come from the worst of times to the best.

“That in itself is a blessing,” she said. “These children are the purpose of my life.”

Hudgins said she has always had a soft spot for the children and the elderly in her life. As she has come to care for so many kids, she wanted people to know that she and her husband had been taking care of children even before stipends and foster care became what they are today.

The family had been taking in children from time to time no matter if it was for a few days, weeks or months.

“This is my calling from God, the ministry of my life,” she said. “It’s all about the kids and loving those kids.”

While some parents experience “empty nest syndrome” after all their children have grown up and moved out, Hudgins said their home will always be filled with kids that they will love forever. She recommends fostering to those that feel they have love to give.

“Become a foster parent please, because there’s no need for people to feel a void in life,” she said. “Share the love you have because God didn’t give us love to sit on it.”

Even people scared to try fostering should try it, she said. Her faith in God urges Hudgins to care for the children of the Lord.

“I always think of the book of Matthew that says, ‘Suffer little children and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven,’” she said.

Throughout her many years of fostering, she said that people who believe they can’t do something should try it because they can do it, and the blessing would be insurmountable.

“You’ll be doing God’s will and he will richly bestow blessings upon you,” she said.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Infant dies in NY foster home of 'shaken baby syndrome'

Mother to sue over son slain in foster care
County should have prevented it, she says

Drumsta, Raymond. Ithaca Journal, June 8, 2009.

ITHACA - A 14-month-old boy in foster care died due to negligence by the Tompkins County Department of Social Services, according to his mother.

In a notice filed with the claims court, Kristine Freda announced her intention to sue the county in connection with the death of son Adrian Hines last fall. Her attorney, Edward E. Kopko, filed the notice, which alleges that Adrian suffered "severe life-threatening injuries, including head trauma" while in the foster home.

Kopko could not be reached for comment, and the county attorney's office declined to comment. District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson said that her staff continues to investigate Adrian's death, but that no criminal charges have been filed.

Around 5:20 p.m. Oct. 2, deputies, Freeville firefighters and Etna firefighters responded to the report of an unresponsive child at the foster home on Etna Road, sheriff's officials said. Adrian was taken to Cayuga Medical Center and on to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, where he "subsequently died from injuries he sustained," they added.

According to sheriff's officials, an autopsy later determined that Adrian's death was a homicide.

After Adrian suffered his injuries, a doctor at Upstate Medical Center told Freda that the child was brain dead because of head trauma - including swelling and bleeding of his brain - caused by shaken baby syndrome, the notice went on to say.

"Adrian sustained conscious pain and suffering and wrongful death because of the negligence and recklessness of employees, agents and/or servants of (the Department of Social Services)," the notice alleged.

Among many other functions, DSS "oversees recruitment and retention of qualified, caring families who are willing to provide temporary foster care for children and to work with families toward reunification," according to its Web site.

The department removed Adrian from Freda's home in July, the notice said, and filed a neglect petition. The petition alleged that Freda had hit Adrian, shaken him and screamed at him on May 22, 2008, and that she had failed to provide appropriate supervision and make a "sanitary and safe home" for him - all of which Freda had emphatically denied, the papers said.

"A doctor evaluated Adrian subsequent to May 22, 2008 and found Adrian to be without injury," the notice said. Nonetheless, DSS placed Adrian in a foster home on July 24, then moved him to the foster home on Etna Road a few days later, according to the notice.

The foster home was "more dangerous of an environment than Freda's home," the notice alleges, where Adrian was regularly left in the care of the foster family's 15-year-old daughter "without adult supervision."

Adrian died because DSS failed to contact Freda's extended family to place him in their care and failed to investigate the foster home before placing him in it - all protocols that should've been followed, the notice said. The doctor at Upstate Medical Center, who had 30 years of experience, advised Freda that it would be best to take Adrian off life support "and let him die as peacefully as possible," the notice went to say.

"At 12:28 a.m., Oct. 3, 2008, Adrian died in Freda's arms," the notice said. Freda intends to sue for her pain and suffering due to Adrian's death, along with his medical and funeral expenses, "which have been accumulated in an amount to be determined at trial of this action."

Monday, June 8, 2009

$7.4M budget cut will further jeopardize safety of children

Proposed Cuts to Foster Care Protested at New York City Hall
Phillip, Joshua. Epoch Times, June 4, 2009.

Foster care agencies are being threatened with a $7.4 million cut in New York City’s 2010 budget. On Thursday the steps of City Hall were swamped with more than 100 parents and foster care providers.

They were joined by Council Member Bill de Blasio to rally against the proposals, concerned that the cuts would jeopardize the safety of children throughout New York.

“We cannot play Russian roulette with the safety of our children,” said Council Member Bill de Blasio in a press release.

Several sectors of New York are being impacted as the city tries to close a $1.9 billion budget gap. The deficit emerged largely from a $6.8 billion drop in anticipated tax revenue, as jobs and homes were lost amid the global financial crisis.

“Times are tough all over, but gutting programs that protect children is not the answer,” said Mr. de Blasio.

The five percent cut will impact the city’s 35 foster care agencies and near 17,000 foster children. Among the effects of the cuts would be the elimination of 1,000 positions at the Administration for Children’s Services.

Richard Altman, CEO of the Jewish Child Care Association explained that the cuts will result in staff reductions and services that will cause longer lengths of stay for kids in foster care.

“These abused and neglected children and youth are literally in the custody of the city--so the city must not cut the services that protect their safety and well-being," said Mr. Altman. "These children deserve a permanent family connection without delay.”

There is also a proposal to eliminate funding for the Child Safety Initiative, which helps to lower caseloads at community-based preventive service programs. The initiative currently costs the city $4.2 million a year.

“Without the funds needed to support lower caseloads through the Child Safety Initiative our ability to perform ... will be seriously compromised,” said Charles Barrios, division director of Brooklyn Preventive Service Programs at Good Shepherd Services.