HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — A Madison-based non-profit, Kids to Love, which provides services and homes for foster children, won a significant victory at the Alabama Supreme Court Wednesday.
The court ruled the Alabama Department of Human Resources is subject to a restraining filed by Kids to Love to keep DHR from removing children from Kids to Love foster homes.
Kids to Love held a news conference Thursday afternoon, pledging to continue to advocate for foster children. Lee Marshall, founder and CEO of Kids to Love, said they will continue the court challenge to DHR’s leadership and its June decision suspending state foster care referrals to Kids to Love for placement.
DHR told News 19 today, “There is ongoing litigation and another side of the story to tell.”
At the press conference, Kids to Love attorney Isabel Montoya-Minisee described months of efforts by Kids to Love to contact DHR regarding the suspension and any remedies that were needed. She said DHR was not responsive to those requests.
She also said DHR ordered an inspection of Kids to Love facilities and records in June and found no violations. Kids to Love’s license for foster placement remains in good standing with DHR.
Montoya-Minisee also challenged DHR’s claim that Kids to Love violated a child’s confidentiality by posting a photo and description on their website. She said the description of the child was provided by DHR and that the use of photos of foster children was the result of a longstanding agreement between Marshall and DHR.
When Kids to Love finally learned the initials of the child whose confidentiality was allegedly violated, the attorney said they took the photo down within five minutes. She said in late July, DHR also rescinded the agreement for the use of photos with Marshall. That agreement dated back more than 20 years and helped start Marshall’s Kids to Love efforts, when she was a news anchor, Montoya-Minisee said.
The attorney said DHR’s suspension move is a bureaucratic roadblock and outside of the agency’s own policies. She also said Kids to Love’s challenge is with DHR’s leadership in Montgomery and they are not blaming any of DHR’s regional leadership or staff.
“They have suspended referrals, so we have no administrative remedy,” she said. “They will not suspend the license, they have not suspended Kids to Love’s licenses, because we would be entitled to an administrative hearing and an administrative process. And there is policy that governs the suspension of a license. There is no DHR policy by which the department can implement a suspension of referrals or that governs that process.”
Marshall and Montoya-Minisee called on Gov. Kay Ivey to lift the suspension on foster referrals, which they said she has the authority to do.
The Alabama Supreme Court ruling means Kids to Love will move forward in its lawsuit against DHR’s leadership. Montoya-Minisee said Thursday they want a hearing seeking injunctive relief as soon as possible. “At that hearing, we fully expect to be able to prove to the court that the suspension on referrals should be lifted, and we expect that suspension of referrals will be lifted,” she said.
Marshall said the organization continues to provide services, but foster kids are suffering due to DHR’s approach.
“The tragedy here today is there are over 6,000 kids in foster care and just 2,300 licensed foster homes,” she said. “DHR consistently recruits for more foster families. We have amazing foster families that have empty bedrooms that are just waiting to stand up and say we’ll welcome these children home.”
Marshall said children are unfairly being used as tokens in this battle, but Kids to Love isn’t going anywhere. “To me, it’s unfortunately about egos at the state office and control and none of it is focused on serving children and that is a crisis,” she said.
Marshall, who was born into foster care and later adopted, was asked about how she felt about the ongoing struggle with DHR.
“What I have the unique perspective to see are the children we get to help every single day,” she said. “Kids that don’t have a voice, kids that don’t have an advocate. Kids that go into ISP meetings, the individual service plan, and they need assessing, they need diagnosing, they need treatment and nobody is there to fight for them. They don’t have a voice, so to me, we say, ‘We passionately advocate.’ DHR views that as interfering. We will continue to passionately advocate for all children in foster care in the state of Alabama, because they deserve a voice.”
In a court filing Thursday afternoon, DHR notified Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate that during the appeal process, Kids to Love said it was entitled to an “administrative fair hearing.” Thursday’s filing goes on to say, “The request for such a hearing has been submitted to the DHR Administrative Hearing Division to be set.”