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Homecoming


from the Fall 2003 Adoptalk
?br> by Ann Yurcek
?br> Ann Yurcek is the mother of 11 children (five through special needs adoption) who range in age from 10 to 24. In battling to obtain the services her children need, Ann has become a staunch advocate for children with special needs and a proponent of comprehensive mental health services for children. Below she shares good news about one daughter on whose behalf she has fought tirelessly for many years.

?br> Nearly four years ago, I found myself fighting hard for my adoptive daughter?fs right to have residential care and keep her family. At the time, she was stuck in the only state hospital open in Michigan. Now, at last, I have a happy ending to share.
?br> Shay was one of six siblings we adopted from foster care in Minnesota while we were raising six birth children. All six siblings had experienced abuse and had challenges to overcome.
?br> Like her brothers and sisters, Shay came from a history of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as domestic violence. She was also genetically challenged and had been damaged by prenatal exposure to alcohol and other toxins. Many people had failed her through the years, and I was determined I would not be another. Unfortunately, soon after we adopted the siblings, we had to make the gut-wrenching decision to let go of one brother who was abusing our younger daughters and needed a family of his own.
?br> After her brother left, Shay?fs behavior deteriorated, and soon no one?\including Shay?\was safe from her rages. She needed residential care with constant supervision, but neither the state from which she was adopted nor the state where we live would pay to keep her safe?cunless she re-entered foster care.
?br> If we had to give up custody to get Shay the help she needed, our family would lose everything. My husband and I would have to plead guilty to child neglect, and that admission would cost my husband his?medical license.
?br> We could be charged with neglect for refusing to take Shay back home from the state hospital, but we were never allowed to see her hidden psychological profiles. We lacked detailed information about her history. How could we make an informed decision without complete information? In the end, the issue was never about our actions as parents; the true debate was between the two states that had responsibility to pay for the services Shay needed.
?br> I could not face my daughter to tell her that she would lose her family all because we could not afford her healing. She would have no reason to get better if she lost the last of her family. I took a stand that I would try everything before I would let her go. I wrote of my daughter?fs dilemma, and I started a crusade for her to have a family and the right to heal.
?br> Our story reached many high places. Before I was done, I had contacted advocacy organizations in mental health and adoption, our congressman, our senators, the Centers for Medicaid Services, the two state attorney generals?f offices, and even the White House. In time I would find the answers, and with help I was finally able to secure residential care for my daughter without giving up custody.
?br> While we were still negotiating for Shay?fs care, our story was also told in the Fall 2000 issue of Adoptalk with our identities disguised. The fight for Shay had reached the State Department of Community Mental Health by then, and there I learned that she had rights.
?br> After that, through a process called person-centered planning, we got written documentation that Shay needed residential care. I decided on a place just over an hour from home where the staff understood the issues my daughter dealt with, her developmental delay, and her severe mental health issues. Our local Community Mental Health (CMH) agency denied the placement.
?br> Next, according to the law that governs Medicaid, I learned we had a right to file for an administrative tribunal hearing based on that denial. We got help from Michigan Protection and Advocacy and were set to go to appeal. A little less than l8 hours before the hearing, the local CMH agreed to the placement. After l8 months of fighting, my daughter finally had funding for her residential care.
?br> Shay spent 20 months in the residential setting, and continued to receive support from her family. The facility had all the step downs to help Shay learn to function as independently as she could. The center had a residential hall, practice apartments, group homes, and supported apartments. She got help from therapists who understood her problems, had friends who shared similar histories, and had schooling and work-related volunteer opportunities.
?br> Last March, we moved Shay back to town with support from our mental health agency. Now 18, she still has a family, and lives in her own supported independent living apartment with a roommate and a rental subsidy. The team is working to support her, and she is thriving.
?br> Shay still struggles to understand her mental retardation and fetal alcohol syndrome, to cope with her bipolar disorder, and to come to terms with past trauma. But now she talks about her feelings instead of getting violent. She volunteers to help others, she interacts with her siblings, she is learning to lead her own life with supports, and best of all, she knows she is loved.
?br> Through the process of fighting for Shay, I have become an outspoken advocate for other children like her. I have teamed up with friends, and we have helped dozens of families find services their children need. Because there is no manual on parenting from afar, we have learned together to help our children.
?br> Adoption is not only for childhood, it is a place to call home for adolescence and the years to come. Many of our children will need help for the rest of their lives. We will be there for Shay.


Mental Health Resources

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law—Based in Washington, D.C., the Bazelon Center is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization that produces publications related to, and advocates on behalf of the mentally ill. On the web, go to www.bazelon.org.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—A federal agency, CMS administers Medicare, Medicaid, and state children's health insurance programs. Find CMS at www.cms.hhs.gov.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)—NAMI is a self-help and advocacy organization that helps people with mental illnesses. They have 1,200 affiliates throughout the U.S. and Canada. To learn more, visit www.nami.org or call 800-950-NAMI.

Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems—State P&A systems were established through federal mandate to protect the rights of people with mental health and developmental disabilities. Visit National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems at www.napas.org to learn more.


North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
fax: 651-644-9848
e-mail: info@nacac.org
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