Two young parents face off against DHS to regain custody of their twin boys.
Alyssa and Chris Weber had the same kindergarten teacher but they didn’t meet until grade school. They started dating when she was a junior in high school.
“We used to hit each other over the head with a pop bottle,” recalled Alyssa. Soon after, he proposed: “He did a knee slide up to me in the cafeteria and asked me to marry him with a ring and everything,” she said.
“I didn’t have a rose in my mouth. That was the only off key,” added Chris.
The Webers married in 2008 at Stayton Pioneer Park. Alyssa had just found out she was with child. “We were both happy … and shocked, and kinda scared because of the fact that we were homeless,” she said. They hadn’t been able to make the rent and were living in their Chevy Lumina for a few weeks. Upon receiving the news, they moved in with Alyssa’s grandmother until their twin boys, Aiden and Zander, were born. Soon after, they found a place of their own.
“Two weeks after we moved out, DHS took our kids,” said Alyssa, who was eighteen at the time.
She had noticed two-month old Zander was fussy and wasn’t moving normally. Concerned, she rushed him to the emergency room. An x-ray revealed he fractured his clavicle, but an ER doctor explained that this kind of injury is common in babies, often caused by the birth process, and that they may go undetected because children so young don’t move around very much. Zander’s fracture was left to heal on its own.
At the time, the Webers didn’t know what could have caused the fracture.
The hospital called the child abuse report hot line in March ’09. “It is our policy [that we report] any child up to age two with any fracture that is not associated with a motor vehicle accident,” said Julie Howard, Salem Hospital spokesperson.
The Marion County child abuse expert ordered full body x-rays of both boys, which revealed a possible fracture on Aiden. When investigators could not get a clear answer of how either injury may have happened, DHS [Department of Human Services] took custody of the twins, suspecting child abuse.
Soon after, it was confirmed that Aiden never actually suffered a fracture, but by then it was too late.
“We all sat around and thought what could’ve caused Zander’s fracture. Within a week after they were taken, we figured it out,” said Alyssa. “We were on our way to go pick up my mum and go shopping. She would help us out with what we needed that we couldn’t get with food stamps. I noticed the car seats were a little snug but we were already late to pick her up. We almost rear-ended someone. I slammed on the brakes to avoid an accident.”
The day before the almost-accident, the boys had received shots and Alyssa was expecting them to be fussy, which is why she said she did not noticed he was hurt.
“We told DHS what happened and they still said the cause was undetermined,” she said. “We didn’t agree with that report.”
Authorities dropped all criminal abuse charges but DHS founded them for neglect because of the ‘unexplained’ injury.
As part of the DHS investigation, the Webers submitted to DHS psychological tests. A DHS-appointed psychiatrists diagnosed Alyssa with depression, anxiety and ADHD. Chris was diagnosed with PTSD and ADHD, and was told he needed to “grow up and mature.”
“When they found out it wasn’t child abuse and that we were gonna do everything possible so that it didn’t happen again, they told me that I wasn’t mentally stable enough to care for twin boys when I was doing it fine before,” she said. “I only made one mistake which was not loosening up their car seats before leaving the house.”
The Webers did say they have been sad.
“It’s hard enough every morning waking up and not seeing the boys in our house. We stored all their toys in her grandma’s house so we didn’t have to see them,” said Chris.
Two weeks after the call to the hot line, a juvenile court judge granted DHS temporary custody of the children, while DHS stated they would “continue to seek jurisdiction of the children.” The conditions for return included the parents’ cooperation with treating their mental health issues and them proving they had the knowledge and ability to parent.
“How do they know that I can’t parent when they haven’t even given me the chance to try and I’m a first time parent?” questioned Alyssa.
The twins have been in foster care for the last sixteen months. During this period, the Webers found an infected gouge on one of the boys’ heads, it was revealed that they had received a double dose of vaccines, and the kids were taken out of state, they said.
“I didn’t see anything stating that they had permission from the judge. They went to a wedding for a family that wasn’t even their family and we missed a home visit over it,” said Alyssa.
Since the boys were taken, the Webers have been allowed to visit them a couple of hours a week in a DHS location supervised by a note-taking observer.
In August’09, DHS had noted the parents’ strong bond with the babies. Yet by December, the Webers failed to meet many of the DHS workers’ standards. They stated a lack of bonding with the children; they commented on the Webers’ appearance, which was “unkempt;” they made “little eye contact” and they claimed the children made less vocalizations and attempts to stand up when around their parents than with the foster parents.
They stated: “Both children are very attached to their foster parents … both children do not appear to have a strong bond with their parents.”
The Webers agree. They say the time spent away, the limited visits and the children’s young age have contributed to their lack of proper bonding.
“Other DHS kids may seem like they are bonding better with their parents because they are older,” said Alyssa.
“Our boys don’t look at us as parents, they look at us as the Monday babysitters,” said Chris, adding that a joyful DHS employee told him one of the boys said “hi dada” to the foster parent. “It was good news because they’re talking but it was a slap in the face, it was like saying ‘Guess what, your kids don’t believe in you.”
Alyssa said, “It hurts. It doesn’t feel right. I carried them for practically 9 months. We’re the ones who created them. I went through the c-section and the recovery time. I spent all those nights taking care of them and I make a single mistake and someone else gets to have my kids.”
In order to improve their bonding skills and meet DHS requirements, the Webers took a class called “How to bond with your child,” which recommended parents to “use your babies as weights to benchpress” among other things. They also had several meetings with parenting counselors.
Their efforts were in vain. DHS stated that they had failed to demonstrate their newly acquired skills; for example, by not using the DHS toys. “We used the toys. And we have recorded every visit until DHS told us we weren’t allowed to record anymore,” said Chris.
In the first part of 2010, the State’s plan continued to be returning the kids to their home and the couple had made some progress in DHS’ opinion: Alyssa was engaged in counseling and taking medication, and they had taken parenting classes. They were ready for Aiden and Zander to come home. “We baby proofed our whole house,” said Chris.
Then, in June ’10, there was an unexpected turn of events: DHS recommended that the plan for Aiden and Zander be changed from return to parent to adoption, based on visit observations and the fact that Chris had failed to get a job and attend counseling.
“It all changed when the foster parents said they wanted to be permanent guardians for the boys,” said Chris. “DHS always had their mind set on adoption,” added Alyssa.
Indeed, a May 2009 court document stated that adoption was a concurrent plan. “It doesn’t seem right when it says that that early,” said Chris.
They believe that their boys are very desirable candidates for adoption because they’re younger than most kids who enter the foster care system and they’re identical twins.
“They won’t remember their parents if they’re adopted out now. On a little one they can change their last names, they can make them believe they’re the real parents. And identical twin boys are like gold for people because not everybody can have twins and twins get the most attention,” said Alyssa, adding that people used to stop her constantly to praise her babies.
A juvenile court judge will make a final decision August 30th at 9:00 a.m.
“Chris has a job now and he got into counseling,” said Alyssa. Chris is confident that the boys will come home this time, but Alyssa said, “I don’t want to get my hopes up.”
Added to their fears is the fact that Alyssa is now seven months pregnant. She is expecting another boy, who will carry the name of Iven James.
“I should be happy about this pregnancy but all I am is terrified. DHS told me I’m red flagged. They told me, ‘If you’re gonna have it in the hospital we’re gonna be there ready to pick it up,’” she said. “They are saying we are not stable enough to have either the twins or Iven.”
Gene Evans, communications officer for Child Welfare, said it’s very rare for DHS to be in the hospital when an infant is born, but he said, “It does happen if there’s a danger but not because another child is in DHS.”
He continued, “Every case is different. Every case starts with someone reporting a child is in danger.” He also said that a report could come from a DHS employee if they thought either parent presented a danger and that they are in fact mandatory reporters.
Evans said that potential issues could be drugs, alcohol or even mental illness, including depression, but DHS would need a reason beyond just the depression per se, such as deeming the mother unable to make decisions. “It’s about the mom’s behavior,” he said.
The Webers plan to have Alyssa’s father adopt Iven before he’s born, but they haven’t started the process because of a lack of resources, and a hope that the judge will rule in their favor before they need to resort to that.
At her young age of twenty, she is thinking about having a hysterectomy. “I’m thinking about having my tubes tied after this one because of all the troubles with DHS. I’m too terrified at having more babies yanked from me,” she said. The Webers wanted a large family.
“We had a lot of hopes and dreams for our kids, like how we would spend our first holidays,” said Alyssa. “We haven’t had a single holiday with them. I’ve requested them, and I said I would agree to having supervision the entire time, and nothing. They say ‘we’re closed for that.’”
The Webers have a clean record. “We don’t do drugs, we’re completely clean people,” said Chris, adding that they are peaceful people and that he never even curses. “In over seven years he’s yelled at me once or twice, and that was only to get my attention,” added Alyssa.
They think their financial situation acted against them, particularly in their inability to hire a lawyer. “I got a court-appointed attorney. They work for the state, doing what the state wants,” said Alyssa.
There is one loophole, but they’re not confident it will help. Chris is Native American, Ojibwa, Black Foot, Cherokee and Cheyenne. However, he doesn’t have an official statement of his background. “I’ve been trying to find my grandfather my whole life,” he said.
DHS rules apply differently to Native Americans. “It would be up to the tribe to decide whether or not the boys can come home,” he said. “But it’s up to DHS.”
The requirement to achieve Native American status may vary. “In some cases it could be 1/2 and for others it could be 1/16,” stated Evans.
The May 2009 record stated that DHS was “still researching whether the [Indian Child Welfare Act] would apply to this case.” The Webers have yet to receive an answer.
Though they believe their case is unfair, they say sometimes DHS is justified, as in Chris’s case. He was abused as a child and grew up in foster homes.
“DHS is taking an Oregon kid unrightfully,” said Alyssa. “I believe that DHS Child Welfare in the state of Oregon has become corrupt with either money or power and are beginning to discriminate against young parents or parents with minor mental health issues.”
According to Chris, DHS would have returned the kids faster if he had left Alyssa. “The judge said my mental disabilities don’t inhibit my ability to parent, but Alyssa’s disability would.”
The Webers owe DHS a few thousand dollars for their boys’ stay. “$365 dollars per month for each. It’s like a daycare fee,” they agreed.
States fund their own child protective services, with large amounts of help from the federal government. Additionally, states receive federal incentives for increasing the number of foster children who are adopted out.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, Oregon received $220,000 in 2009 for increasing its rate of adoptions compared to previous years.
“They say that they are there to help put families back together but that is a lie,” Alyssa stated. “They are there to rip them apart and get the money while doing so.”