Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Foster care system honors parents who regained custody of their kids

Ruthie Behan, 36, and her son, Eli Behan, 11, pose for a photo at the Eckerd Community Alternatives event Thursday that honored parents for successfully reuniting with their children.


Ruthie Behan, 36, and her son, Eli Behan, 11, pose for a photo at the Eckerd Community Alternatives event Thursday that honored parents for successfully reuniting with their children.

LARGO — Mary Jackson's worst day was the day the state took her four kids away.

But in a turnaround both for her and the foster care system, she was invited to a ceremony Thursday with balloons, snacks and visiting dignitaries to honor parents who have worked hard and regained custody of their children.

Jackson covered her face in her hands, overcome with emotion, when she stood up to be recognized. Later, she said that after going through the agony of temporarily losing her kids, the ceremony sent "a positive message that there is hope and people do care." She said it shows that while parents sometimes make mistakes, "after mistakes are made, they can still be a good parent."

This is something new for the foster care system. Although the system has always tried to reunite families, many parents have felt child welfare caseworkers were enemies conspiring to take their kids away. Now officials are making a point that keeping families together is their ultimate goal.

"There are no words that can express our sincere gratitude and appreciation for all you have done," said Lorita Shirley, executive director of Eckerd Community Alternatives, addressing about a dozen families. Eckerd supervises foster care programs in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

As several officials pointed out Thursday, studies have shown children often do better when they grow up in their own flawed families, compared to foster care.

Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon said that even with high-quality foster care, "if a child is in five different homes, I don't care if they're the best homes available, that child ultimately begins to believe they don't belong anywhere."

The bottom line, he said, is that the system needs to concentrate on keeping families together.

"In the last 31/2 years, there has been a 37 percent reduction in children in out-of-home care, from 29,000 to 18,000," Sheldon said, in remarks interrupted by applause.

Even though the law has long required caseworkers to try to reunite moms and dads with their kids, it's now emphasized more, said Catherine Babcock, director of operations of Eckerd Community Alternatives.

Gov. Charlie Crist has declared this "Family Reunification Week."

Jackson, 32, of Palm Harbor, said her case began when she was working overnight as a waitress, and left her four children at home, but they locked the babysitter out of the house because another relative told them to.

Her children were removed temporarily. "Nothing worse could have happened, except me dying," she said. The criminal charges of child neglect were dropped, but she still had to work on a "case plan" with various tasks before she could get her children back.

She said her caseworkers were helpful and supportive. She and other families interviewed Thursday said their caseworkers never felt like enemies.

Ruthie Behan, 36, of New Port Richey, another mother honored, said she struggled for years with alcohol, and lost custody of her 11-year-old son. But she got sober, worked hard and won the right to welcome him back home.

"I was just the bottom of the bottom, what they would consider a hopeless case," said Behan. Losing custody of Eli, after a night of drinking, just made her worse.

"Never in a million years" did she expect to be invited to a ceremony in her honor, she said. She called it a miracle.

Times Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or

Foster care system honors parents who regained custody of their kids 05/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 12:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump sprinkles political attacks into Scout Jamboree speech

    GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering's official blog: Fully hydrate. Be "courteous" and "kind." And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as "build …

    President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America's 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., July 24, 2017. [New York Times]
  2. Trump, seething about attorney general, speculates about firing Sessions, sources say

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.

  3. John McCain to return to Senate for health care vote

    WASHINGTON — The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Sen. John McCain — but tough talk from President Donald Trump won no new public support from skeptical GOP senators for the flagging effort that all but …

  4. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies


    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  5. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.