Foster mother describes how DCF uproots kids

Debra Post looks at her husband Brad as they sit in their home in Groton on Friday, September 22, 2017. The couple cared for the four children of Kirsten Fauquet at the center of a recent case with the Department of Child and Family Services.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Debra Post looks at her husband Brad as they sit in their home in Groton on Friday, September 22, 2017. The couple cared for the four children of Kirsten Fauquet at the center of a recent case with the Department of Child and Family Services. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Groton — Debra Post cries when she talks about her foster daughter’s suffering.

The child was 5 years old, coming home on the school bus on Sept. 8, 2016, happy about starting kindergarten at Claude Chester Elementary School.

Post was foster mother to the girl and three of her siblings, now at the center of the parental rights case to be heard next month in Waterford Juvenile Court.

Post had to tell her foster daughter something painful. The Department of Children and Families had arrived at the house earlier that day. A caseworker took the girl's two younger siblings.

“I had to tell her that (her siblings) weren’t here anymore. ... This poor little girl — mind you, still in counseling — had a meltdown,” Post said.

The child cried all afternoon, Post said.

Post, of Groton, is one of the key figures in the upcoming DCF case involving Kirsten Fauquet and John Stratzman, the Groton couple whose toddler son nearly died after he was removed from their home and placed in the care of a relative, who was not a licensed foster care parent, in June 2015. Post, 55, cared for two of Fauquet’s children for two years and two others for several months.

Post, who is Fauquet's aunt, took the critically ill toddler to the hospital after she received him from another foster home.

DCF has petitioned to terminate the parental rights of Fauquet and Stratzman. The trial, which had been scheduled for September, instead will begin Oct. 23. Post, who is expected to testify, described in interviews this week how DCF shuttled the children among different relatives, transferred the case shortly before the Office of the Child Advocate released its investigation, and belittled her as it made decisions affecting the children.

The agency issued this statement through its spokesman on Friday. "Our social workers — both before and after they start working with families — receive extensive instruction and coaching on the importance of treating families with respect. That is reinforced through improved and ongoing supervision that focuses on working together respectfully with families — even in the most complicated and difficult of circumstances."

"While the Department has said repeatedly that its work in 2016 did not meet our own standards and that we have taken appropriate disciplinary action, the issues being raised presently are separate and apart from the earlier concerns that we readily acknowledged," the agency said.

Under state and federal law, DCF cannot discuss specific case details due to confidentiality and the need to protect the privacy of children and families, the statement said. "However, we are working diligently with the family to ensure that we secure permanent and stable families for each of the children involved."

Post and her husband of 31 years, Brad, 52, took Fauquet’s oldest two children, a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, shortly after they were first removed from their home in June 2015.

The couple volunteered to take the children and DCF approved it, although they had a full house.

Fauquet’s third child, a son who became known as “baby Dylan” after his injuries were documented in an investigation by the Office of the Child Advocate, initially was placed in the home of Crystal Magee and her husband in Groton.

It should never have happened, Post said. Crystal Magee has lung disease and her husband, Donald, recently had had brain surgery, Post said. An investigation later found Donald Magee has a criminal history, including a prior conviction for assault, and both adults’ driver’s licenses were indefinitely suspended. Crystal Magee faces charges of risk of injury to a minor and cruelty to persons, and appears next in New London Superior Court on Wednesday.

Days before the boy’s injuries were discovered, DCF told the Magees to make arrangements to move him to the Post home, Debra Post said. The caseworker never saw the child during the move, she said. Donald Magee brought the toddler to her on Nov. 10, 2015, and she took him to the hospital the next morning, she said.

Doctors described the child as emaciated, and found broken bones in both arms, injuries that were several weeks old.

The boy was moved multiple times by DCF after his release from the hospital, according to relatives. First, he went to Debra Post's sister’s house for two weeks. Then he went to another relative’s house in Niantic. Next, he was moved to a nonrelative foster home in Hartford. Then DCF brought him back to the couple’s house in Niantic, Post said. Fauquet said the child was also in Chesterfield. He is now 3 years old.

The other children also were moved.

Case being monitored

In June 2016, DCF asked Debra and Brad Post to take a child who had been living with their daughter and to also take Fauquet’s fifth child. The newborn was removed from Fauquet while she was still at the hospital after giving birth. DCF may remove a child under the doctrine of “predictive neglect,” used to determine whether conditions exist that are injurious to a child. Although a child has not been harmed, the agency may remove a child based on an allegation of possible future harm, such as in instances where siblings have been neglected or abused and the circumstances have not been resolved.

Post was licensed to care for Fauquet's older two children at the time, but not licensed for the others, she said. She agreed to take both children anyway. Her two grandchildren had moved out of the house by then.

In September 2016, shortly before the Office of the Child Advocate released its investigation, DCF shifted the case from its Norwich office to its Willimantic office, Debra Post said.

The day the case was transferred, a Norwich caseworker arrived at her house at 9:30 a.m. with no notice, Post said. Her foster daughter was at school, and while the child was gone, the worker took the younger two children and brought them to a nonrelative foster home in Lisbon, Post said. The 5-year-old came home to find her siblings gone.

The two siblings didn’t stay in Lisbon. One child, who is now 2 years old, was moved to her paternal grandmother’s house in Plainfield. The youngest, who is now 15 months old, was moved to a nonrelative foster home in Middletown, Fauquet said.

Sarah Egan, the child advocate, said her office continues to monitor the case. Her office's "recent discussion with DCF has reinforced that the focus remains where it should, on finding permanent and supportive relationships for all of the children, with the adults in their lives and with each other," she wrote in an email.

As a result of the baby Dylan investigation, the Office of the Chief Public Defender ensured additional training for lawyers representing infants and toddlers, and revised its guidelines to strengthen requirements of lawyers to see children and investigate their circumstances.

Niantic attorney Ryan Ziolkowski, who represents four of Fauquet's children, he said he recently supported an emergency motion filed by Fauquet's attorney, Lisa Vincent, asking the court to prevent a move of the older two children from Post's home two weeks ago. The motion was denied, he said.

Claims of harassment

The Posts rent a house on Long Hill Road, tucked among businesses and strip malls. An abandoned house near the backyard is rotting. Old furniture is piled nearby. Post said caseworkers never made an issue of the abandoned structure until after the case became public. Her family made changes based on DCF’s requests, she said. The couple had an above-ground pool that wasn’t fenced. They took it down. A caseworker commented on black marks on the wall. They repainted the inside of the house, she said.

In months that followed, Post said she was harassed. The caseworker made “crude remarks” during visits, commenting on her clothing, her furniture, dirt on her husband's arms, and their teeth, she said.

Debra Post lost some teeth and is afraid of the dentist, but took the children, she said. Brad Post delivers car parts and his elbows have a rough appearance, she said. During other visits, the caseworker told Post to cut back on company and stop taking the children to Groton Community Meals on Mondays, Post said. The meal service at the Groton Senior Center serves families who need a hot meal, a break from cooking or company.

The caseworkers didn't want her bringing the children because “they feel they were giving me money and that was a soup kitchen and that was more for the homeless and poor people,” she said.

Money is expected to be an issue during trial. Post received about $800 per child, per month, in foster stipends, she said. Fauquet and Stratzman, who work full-time and were cited in DCF paperwork for inability to pay the rent, receive no rental assistance through DCF. The agency also cited Fauquet's mental health and condition of the family's house in removing the children.

At a meeting with DCF in July, a caseworker told Post that she and her husband were not candidates to adopt the oldest two children, Debra Post said.

“We weren’t good enough,” she said. “I gave those children stability, the love, I took them camping. I took them to Storyland in New Hampshire. Everything I did was making them part of my life.”

Two weeks ago, DCF picked up the children, now ages 6 and 4, and brought them to a relative’s house in Niantic for an extended visit with their sibling. They didn’t come back.

"My poor babies, they're scared. They probably think no one wants them," said Fauquet, in tears and saying the agency moved the children again Thursday.

Post sat at her kitchen table during a separate interview and cried as she described what happened. She felt forced to give up the children because of harassment, she said.

“I can’t do this no more because of DCF,” she said. “They’re over here harassing me because they messed up. You’re going to come into my home, you’re going to insult me and you’re going to insult my husband because your department messed up. ... No way in heck that 18-month-old child should have been placed with (the Magees) when there’s so many red flags. But you’re going to take that out on me?"

“Any respect I have for the department — I don’t have it anymore. I cooperated with them in every way. And this is what I get from them. This is what the children get. ... I want justice for those children."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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