After fighting to get back a foster child that was removed from their home in August, a Gaston County couple has achieved the outcome they were hoping for.
David and Michelle Buchanan’s adoption of the 2-year-old boy in question was finalized last week, during a hearing presided over by Gaston County District Court Judge John Greenlee. Though the Buchanans have declined comment on the controversial custody case in the last three months, friends say they are overjoyed with the decision.
The Buchanans began fostering the child when he was a day old in November 2010, and believed they were on a path to adoption over a period of almost two years. After he was removed from their home against their wishes Aug. 31 and placed with a Concord couple, their account was detailed in a Gazette story Sept. 27, which led to the child being returned to the Buchanans’ home about a week later.
The Buchanans and other local foster parents say the toddler’s unnecessary removal from their home was indicative of indiscretions that have existed for years within the DSS system. Since then, the attention brought to the matter has resulted in staff reassignments and structural changes within the department’s Family and Children’s Services division.
While the Buchanans pursued a permanent adoption of the child in the last three months, the Gaston County Department of Social Services asked them not to speak with the media or bring additional attention to the case. Gaston County DSS Director Keith Moon has said that as a matter of policy, foster parents are generally urged to maintain confidentiality.
Concord couple still upset
Despite the happy ending as far as the Buchanans are concerned, the Concord couple that cared for the toddler for five weeks in autumn is still upset.
“I hope that Joshua is safe,” said Chrissy Smith. “But I’d love to see a jury that says we were not done wrong.”
Leon and Chrissy Smith, who have been unable to have children on their own, decided they wanted to adopt this year through the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. They reviewed profiles of children for months before being told in August about a 22-month-old toddler that was being moved out of a Gaston County foster home.
A Gaston County DSS Adoptions Committee approved the Smiths as the child’s adoptive parents on Aug. 29, and the child was brought to their home two days later.
But the Buchanans began to publicly argue that the child was only moved out of their home because of a fallout with social workers who were overseeing their case. They maintained that false and misleading reports were given about their care of the child, which led to the Adoptions Committee’s decision to move him elsewhere.
The Buchanans pleaded for help before the Gaston County Board of Commissioners. Within a week of that, Moon made a unilateral decision to return the child to their home, going against the decision of the Adoptions Committee.
“After consultation with legal counsel, I have decided to overrule the decision of the Adoptions Committee,” Moon wrote in an Oct. 5 email to county leaders. “The child will be placed in foster care with the Buchanan family and we will move quickly to review our adoption process and reconstitute the committee.”
Because the adoption process technically takes 90 days to become official, the Smiths had no legal recourse.
Since then, Moon has changed the committee’s makeup, condensed its size and given the DSS attorney more oversight in guiding each meeting.
Smith said she and her husband have given up hope of regaining custody of the 2-year-old boy.
“My husband and I have decided to move on,” she said Thursday. “I’ve decided I don’t want to spend a year or two fighting custody. That’s not me. I want to have a family and a life and move on.”
The Smiths were present at the hearing where the Buchanans were granted custody of the child, and don’t feel they were treated fairly.
“It’s so political,” said Chrissy Smith. “I’m hoping that in the long run something will come out of this.”
But the Smiths are still strongly considering some type of civil action against Gaston County DSS in the coming months. Chrissy Smith said it would be based on the way they were treated and the turmoil they were made to endure, through no fault of their own.
“My husband and I are still in counseling and still dealing with this,” she said.
Chrissy Smith’s mother, Monny Howell, said their family as a whole has been put through a traumatic experience since October. They will miss the boy that was theirs for five weeks, she said.
“People say how can you love him after just five weeks,” said Howell. “But we loved him just like he was our own.”
You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826 or twitter.com/GazetteMike.
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