Wednesday, April 26, 2006
A sad update on Chester Case and a Statement from the Adoptive Parents
Chester County foster family denied custody A white couple's civil rights were not violated when county officials refused to let them adopt a black child, a judge ruled. By Kathleen Brady Shea and Benjamin Y. Lowe Inquirer Staff Writers In a hushed Philadelphia courtroom, a federal judge last night denied a Chester County family's final effort to regain custody of their beloved 3-year-old foster child. U.S. District Judge James T. Giles ruled that Randall and Susan Borelly, a white couple from Uwchlan Township, had failed to prove that Chester County officials violated their civil rights when they refused the family's request to adopt Kevin, their black foster child of nearly two years. The decision ended an emotional battle for the Borellys, who filed a lawsuit on April 11, arguing that the county Department of Children, Youth and Families' reason for denying them consideration - an unwritten policy limiting families to one adoption per year - was a pretext for racial discrimination. "We love Kevin," Randall Borelly said, "but we don't want to fight for him and move him two years from now. This has to be it." The family had been seeking a temporary restraining order to have Kevin returned. "If we've made it easier for someone else to adopt, then we did the right thing," Susan Borelly said. "There is going to be a lot more focus on that agency." Gertrude King, Kevin's biological great-grandmother, cried as Giles announced his decision. "I don't think it's fair," she said. "They should have never removed him from the Borellys' home." The judge - who distilled more than 15 hours of testimony - said he was bound to conclude that the county's asserted rule or practice was not "applied discriminatorily" to the Borellys. The Multiethnic Placement Act, a federal statute that governs adoption procedures, makes it illegal for agencies that receive federal funds to deny or delay adoptions based on race. But the law does allow for exceptions in individual cases. Race can be a factor in placement if an agency can prove that it is in the best interest of a child. "It's a shame the court's jurisdiction is so limited that it could not make the determination as to the best interests of the child," said Michael Churchill, an attorney for Jean Speiser, Kevin's court-appointed guardian. "Any agency that moves a child... in order to uphold a policy is not acting in the best interest of that child." Giles was reluctant to reopen a December decision by Chester County Court Judge Jacqueline C. Cody that enabled the Department of Children, Youth and Families to place Kevin with a new family. "This court is bound to conclude the state has adjudicated the question of whether the asserted practice or rule existed and whether it was applied in the best interest of Kevin," Giles said. Guy A. Donatelli, the agency's solicitor, said the county would not ask the Borellys to pay its legal fees, which can be a typical practice for those who sue and fail. "The county has always been confident that its actions would withstand this kind of judicial scrutiny," he said. "It's still a little bit too early to predict what the department will do according to policy issues. But every time you go through one of these things, you learn you may find ways to do it better." During the two-day hearing, the Borellys testified that they sought to adopt Kevin, an affectionate youngster with a penchant for high-performance machines, at the urging of a county caseworker, Speiser, and King. County officials deemed them ineligible because they had already expressed their intent to adopt their 11-year-old niece, who had been living with them for several years. Although the Borellys asked whether they could postpone their niece's proceeding to avoid losing Kevin, county officials suggested that the niece's adoption could be jeopardized. Officials said a policy limiting families to one adoption per year - put into writing months after the Borellys' request - served the adoptive children's best interests. "The evidence is very, very clear: There was no policy," Samuel C. Stretton, who represented the Borellys, said in his closing argument. Stretton said no valid explanation existed for the county's actions except racial bias. Churchill added that the county had a duty to "consider the best interests of this child"; instead, it argued an iron-clad policy "contrary to basic social work principles." Donatelli said he agreed that the Borellys are "good people," but he defended the agency's actions. "It did what it did because it thought it was doing what was best for this child," he said. Kevin's adoptive mother also attended the hearing on Friday and Saturday; her husband was present for last night's decision but left the courthouse without comment. The couple, who live in Pennsylvania, gained custody of Kevin on April 5 after county officials abruptly removed him from the Borelly home. County officials said they made a last-minute decision to relocate Kevin two days ahead of schedule because they feared a media onslaught, an assumption the Borellys denied. The Borellys are not the first couple to accuse the county of illegally basing adoption decisions on race. In 1995, B. William and Debra Fell sued unsuccessfully to retain custody of a 4-year-old girl who had lived with them since she was 3 months old. The Fells, a white couple from Downingtown, said the county used "racial matching" when it sent the child, who was black, to live with a Maryland social worker, who was also black. In a 1991 case, a white couple from Royersford, Victor and Mary DeWees, alleged discrimination after being told they could not adopt a 2-year-old mixed-race child from Chester County. Although U.S. District Judge Jay C. Waldman denied the couple permission to adopt the child on the basis of discrimination, he criticized expert testimony that only whites with specialized training can best address the needs of a minority child. The county subsequently reconsidered the DeWeeses' application and granted the adoption. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-701-7625 or firstname.lastname@example.org. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Adoptive parents respond to court ruling By Kathleen Brady Shea and Lini S. Kadaba INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS In an exclusive telephone interview today, the adoptive parents of Kevin, the foster child at the center of an emotional custody dispute, said they wanted the public to know that Kevin is thriving. "He's healthy, and he's happy," said Lisa Blanton, 40, of Hershey, promising that the family will pursue Kevin's best interest far beyond expectations. "The fire is under us now." Lisa and her husband, Martin, 42, talked about their first meeting with Kevin, his quick adjustment to his new parents and 8-year-old sister, and the role of race in adoptions.. On Tuesday evening, a federal court judge cleared the way for the Blantons to adopt the youngster, who will turn 4 next week. U.S. District Judge James T. Giles ruled that Randall and Susan Borelly, a white couple from Uwchlan Township, had failed to prove that Chester County officials violated the Borelleys' civil rights when they refused the couple's request to adopt Kevin, their black foster child of nearly two years. After the ruling, the Blantons emailed the following statement to the media: 4/25/06 STATEMENT FOR THE PRESS While we are not directly a part of today's and other court proceedings, this issue touches us intimately and deeply saddens our family as African Americans. If we collectively speak to the issue of race and its relativity in the adoption process, thousands of potentially needy African American children will disparagingly linger in social systems. Yet, to negate the issue of race as an African American denounces the sacrifice and pride found in our race; that we as a people... thousands of our ancestors, for centuries have fought to reclaim. We would be in essence denouncing all that we aspire to see is real and achievable every time we look in the mirror and as we raise our children. Some will contend this is akin to the phrase "having one's cake and eating it too" but is not that what we all ultimately would like to have? We want race to matter and yet we do not! Ultimately, what we want to give to our son who was caught in this battle is the best chance possible. With our daughter, we want to provide for our son a secure sense of self and love that will sustain him for a lifetime of short- and long-term goals. We do not perceive the adoption process to be one that is based on - he who raises their hand first gets the child - but one that is based on one who patiently awaits to be called. We firmly believe the Chester County Children and Youth called upon us to rise and meet the needs, because they were confident we could do so; we are doing just that. Ultimately, we believe, God made the call and Kevin heard it as well. He has embraced us lovingly from the day we first met and his love has not looked back. Our eyes have never been taken off the true focus of what this is all about, the best interest of a child. No grandstanding, blame shifting, public debate, or emotional rhetoric has deterred us from our first obligation as parents. The courts have spoken multiple times to this matter and the best interests of our child have been committed to record. Living up to these requirements will result in our treating people... no matter the race... as Christ would, looking out for others' interests before our own, and speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves for justice. In all this, we now want to assure the birth parents that their son Kevin has endured and is thriving, he will receive the best care as our son, forever. God has spoken, Kevin is home! Lisa & Martin Blanton -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Contact staff writer Kathy Brady Shea at 610-701-7625 or email@example.com.