A Stable Home For Joy?

That's what the state said it wanted; that's not what this little girl got.

Still more disturbing, Oklahoma City child-welfare authorities told New Times they could not find any record of Joy or her foster parents.

Earlier this year, the Oklahoma child-welfare system came under attack in an investigative series by the Tulsa Tribune, which found that agency workers are underpaid, poorly trained and doing a bad job of identifying and tracking abused and neglected children. In one instance, the Tribune found that state workers did not check on a child for eight months after placing it in a foster home.

Last week, the newspaper's findings were validated in a report issued by a state child-abuse commission set up by the Oklahoma legislature.

Joy had lived with these foster parents prior to being placed with the Johnsons, and their earlier attempt to adopt her was rejected by DES. The foster mother said she did not know why they were not approved for adoption earlier. The Johnsons say that during the court hearing, a DES official testified that the foster family was rejected because of their age and the home environment. DES will not comment on what has changed to now make the foster parents acceptable. The foster mother told New Times, "We've got the final adoption papers. This is all over and done with."

Yet, concerns about the foster parents have surfaced since Joy was returned to them. Joy's psychologist was openly uneasy about the foster parents' ability to help Joy overcome her emotional problems. Referring to the couple's assertion that they saw no sign of abuse-related problems in Joy, Harrison wrote, "It is my concern that these behaviors may still be present; however, the current foster parents are either minimizing the seriousness of the behavior and/or not watching for the behavior with as much intensity as the [Johnsons] did."

Cedric Johnson alleges that DES, in returning Joy to the foster parents, brushed off his concerns that the foster parents were uneducated and lacked economic stability.

Joy's psychologist alluded to a similar concern about the family's ability to help Joy learn, noting that the child's language skills are below par. "I would also recommend that this child be placed in a Head Start and/or preschool program, as her language delays may be secondary to environmental deprivation," Harrison said in her report.

Cedric, who was on cordial terms with the foster parents as the Johnsons prepared to adopt Joy, describes them as "an older couple whose only source of income, outside of foster-care payments, is from Social Security and odd jobs the father finds." (As a DES official testified in court, one of the agency's concerns about allowing the foster parents to adopt was that they also provided a home to troubled older boys referred by Boys' Ranch.)

Cedric reports that during the time Joy was living with them, the foster parents moved from a middle-class residential area to a two-bedroom rental unit in a drug- and crime-infested neighborhood. Cedric says he raised concerns about Joy's safety with officials connected to the case, but was told not to worry because the child didn't go outside and the family was looking for another home. He said he'd driven by their former home and noticed that the bicycle they had given Joy was lying abandoned next to the empty house.

The foster mother would not comment on why the family subsequently moved to Oklahoma. "I've been in Arizona for 46 years and I was just ready to move. It didn't have anything to do with Joy," she said. The foster father was reluctant to discuss it further.

The foster mother expressed anger that the Johnsons were still interested in Joy. "If that was me and I'd lost the case, I would just forget about it. They bribed this child. Money don't buy everything." She also was upset at being contacted by a newspaper. "Why are you researching this anyway?" she asked.

The Johnsons say they were shocked to learn that the foster family moved out of the apartment about the time the judge rendered his decision in favor of leaving the child in the foster home. Judge Jacobs would allow no testimony about the couple's fitness to foster-parent Joy, saying that the agency had testified that they met state requirements, and "DES offered no testimony whatever to indicate the foster family's situation was about to change," Cedric Johnson says.

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