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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2003

Foster placement barred in homes of juvenile offenders

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Michigan s Family Independence Agency, the government branch that oversees the state s foster care system, is adopting a new rule that forbids foster children from being placed in homes with juvenile sexual offenders.

Previous rules only prohibited foster children in homes with adult sexual offenders.

The change was prompted by the case of a suburban Toledo couple that has been crusading for reforms in the Michigan foster-care system throughout the Toledo area.

“We had success, and that s a great relief to us,” David Crowton said.

Mr. Crowton and his wife, Hege, of Holland, who formerly lived in Michigan s Oakland County, had their three children placed in a foster home in 1999 when they were battling drug addictions. The children still live with Walter and Denise Lay in South Lyon, Mich. Mrs. Lay is Mr. Crowton s sister.

Two years ago, the Lays son, Dennis, was convicted of criminal sexual conduct. The Crowtons have tried to get their children removed from the foster home, but a Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in January that they should remain there.

Dennis Lay no longer lives with his parents, but Mr. Crowton said he is concerned that Dennis Lay will have contact with the children. Mr. Crowton said he will continue to fight for his children to be returned to him, and for the Family Independence Agency to be held more accountable for its decisions.

“This is not just about my children,” he said. “I already destroyed my life. I m trying to redeem myself by not allowing this to happen to another person.”

Steve Yager, director of the office of family advocates with the Family Independence Agency, said the new regulation is scheduled to take effect in January. From then on, the agency will check all members of the home, not just adults, with Michigan s sexual offender registry.

But children now in foster homes with juvenile sexual offenders will not be removed automatically from the homes. These situations will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, Mr. Yager said.

“When children have been in a home for four or five years, you have a lot of players involved,” he said.

Ohio law says children must not be placed in a foster home if anyone over age 12 has been convicted of a sexual offense, except if the foster placement is with blood relatives. If they are relatives, county agencies have discretion over placing children with juvenile sexual offenders.

“Each time we place a child, we do a police check on every adult that lives in the home and any children in the home that we have reason to believe we should check,” Dean Sparks, head of Lucas County Children Services, said.

Mr. Crowton said he plans to hold a rally this weekend in Lansing to advocate that politicians have access to Family Independence Agency records so the agency can be held accountable for its decisions.

He also plans to put signs all over Michigan to tell the story of his involvement with the agency. He put more than 900 signs in the Toledo area in the last several weeks. City crews are removing them, and officials told Mr. Crowton not to put up any more.

The Michigan governor s office said Mr. Crowton s publicity campaign resulted in between 30 and 50 phone calls to the governor weekly about the foster-care system.

Mr. Crowton said he wants to start a nonprofit company in Toledo that will offer counseling for families in crisis. “We want to be there for families to stop the generation curse. Children learn from their parents,” he said. “We want to be a pro-family group.”



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