October 3, 2004

"I won't get paper bags, it brings back horror stories," Adams said when asked why he only uses plactic bags. As a young boy Adams moved 14 times in 11 years, packing up his belongings in a paper grocery bag. (Photo by Ryan Wood/Daily News)

Speakng out for Others
Angela E. Lackey , Midland Daily News 10/03/2004

Paper bags were a big part of Larry Adams' childhood.

"The damn paper bags," he said. He packed his belongings in a paper bag for every move.

"And I always had room in my paper bag. I couldn't even fill up a paper bag," he said.

"It still impacts me today," he continued. "I will not buy groceries ... in a paper bag. I specify plastic."

Adams, 54, of Midland, spent 11 years in Wayne County's foster care system during the 1950s. He has several complaints -- the constant moving; the fact no one ever explained anything to him, including a reason for moving yet again; that no caseworker was involved in his case more than once, and more.

"As a kid, I was quite quiet, shy. I felt I was supposed to trust those older than me, that they knew better," he said.

He said the foster children went twice a year to the St. Vincent De Paul Society for basic clothing -- T-shirts, shirts, school pants, underwear.

"By the time I went to Boys Town, I had pretty much determined no one did want me, that my life sucked and that no one was going to take responsibility for me except me," he said. "I was going to have to be responsible for me."

But at least one foster couple -- Ernie and Mildred Monshor -- tried to adopt Adams.

He somewhat idealizes life with the elder Monshors. When pressed, Adams said Ernie "drank on occasion" and both were racist. His foster sister, Genevieve Monshor accused Mildred of abuse, when in fact it was Ernie abusing his wife. The accusation cost him a home with the Monshors.

Adams' mother intended for her son to be adopted, and she was shocked when she found he spent 11 years in foster homes. So why did he spend his first months of life in Providence Hospital nursery?

Records mention only one prospective adoptive couple -- the Bellmeyers. He stayed in foster care until he moved to Boys Town at 11.

Adams said today's foster system also has problems. He said a number of children are put in foster care for wrong reasons. In-home services and classes could help some parents. Other parents are just in difficult circumstances.

"Poverty should never be used as a reason to remove a child," he said. "I think we've made it too easy to remove a child from the home."

On the other hand, Adams does not support reunification of the family at any cost and he thinks adoption should be considered a possibility when a child is first placed in foster care. He said children with the least number of options -- older children, different races, disabled children -- should be the system's top priority.

"Too much effort, time and resources are spent on trying to reunify a family that should not be reunified," he said.

He also said some parents are given too many chances and too much time to correct problems.

"Parents should be sat down and given a detailed plan," Adams said. He added they should be given one opportunity and 12 months to accomplish that plan. He said parental rights should be terminated after that.

He doesn't believe parents who are sexual predators should be given even one chance.

"They don't get another chance to abuse the child," he said. "I got very strong feelings on that. Rather than be given a chance, your butt should be put in jail for a long time."

Adams is a strong believer in states' rights, but feels the state has failed when it comes to foster care.

"The system is broken," he said. "Foster care ought to be declared a national crisis and taken over by the federal government.

"There should be national standards," he continued. "I know I will get a ton of argument on this. But they've (the states) failed."

He said the states were asked to meet their own standards in 1997. Not one state did, and he said Michigan was near the bottom.

Midland County officials believe the system is working here.

"It's a different world," Probate Court Judge Dorene Allen said about Wayne County and its foster care system. Allen said Midland County's small size is one advantage.

"We have hands-on knowledge of the kids," Allen said.

There are actually two foster care systems in Midland County. Children who are abused and/or neglected are placed in Family Independence Agency foster care homes, while delinquent children are placed in county homes.

The qualifications for both types of foster care homes are identical. Potential foster parents go through a number of steps before the home is licensed. Michele Bell, the county's foster care coordinator, asks why they want to be foster care parents and visits the home. They are required to provide three reference letters from friends.

The county then does a criminal background check on each potential foster parent. After that comes back, Bell does a home study. This includes looking at how they raised or are raising their children. She asks about how they discipline children, their strengths and weaknesses and their hobbies. Allen said the foster parents are continuously trained.

All this is done to ensure the best possible placement for each child. Bell said in her 16 years with the county, she has had about two complaints. One complaint was substantiated, the other was not.

Allen said there is very little turnover of foster care parents. One home has been licensed for 11 years, and the majority have five or more years experience. Allen said the national average is one to two years.

There also isn't a lot of moving around for Midland County foster children. Allen said in recent years, eight children were moved one time and one child was moved twice. A child with severe problems was moved three times.

Despite Adams' bad experiences, he admires foster parents.

"Your bad foster parents are in the minority. There's a problem with the system," he said. "Why was it necessary for me to go through 14 moves?"

He said many foster care children are still moved frequently.

Now he hopes to help foster children. He has written "Lost Son? A Bastard Child's Journey of Hope, Search, Discovery, and Healing," published by PublishAmerica. His second book, "A Voice from the Voiceless & Forgotten ... An Anthology of a Foster Care System Child Survivor," is to be published next year.

He is also an advocacy ambassador for the Georgia-based International Advocates for Children. One of the group's goals is to change foster care programs.

"The biggest thing I can do as a former foster child ... is speak out," he said.

Adams can be e-mailed at larry@larrya.us. His website is www.larrya.us.

İMidland Daily News 2004

Midland Daily News Article #1 SEARCHING FOR A FAMILY