THE FAMILY TRAP

UNDER ITS "REUNIFICATION-FIRST" POSICY, THE STATE OF ARIZONA ROUTINELY FORCES CHILDREN TO LIVE WITH PARENTS WHO ARE UNFIT GUARDIANS BY ANY DEFINITION

@sub:Foster Parents
@body:Mary Ann Ulichny and her husband, Michael, took in 13 children during a quarter-century of foster-care parenting. The Tucson couple was a child-welfare success story--caring, thoughtful, safe.

They didn't do it for the money, which was and is minimal. They did it because they love kids. But the Ulichnys say they've had it.

"No more foster kids for us," says Mary Ann, in such a way that leaves the door open just a crack. "There are families willing and able to change. But there are so many that do not and will not. You wouldn't believe the effort CPS goes to to try and rehabilitate these families, even when it's completely hopeless."
The Ulichnys are among the state's 2,000 or so licensed foster-care parents. He's the acting chief of the Tucson Police Department. She's a housewife. The couple has raised four children of their own.

It pains the Ulichnys that a onetime foster daughter--whom they had planned to adopt before CPS reunited her with her biological parents--is now abusing her own daughter.

"It happened because she was taken from us at a time that was very vulnerable to her and returned to a situation that didn't work," Mary Ann says. "Within a week, the girl was beaten and thrown out of her house and put back in the system. But we never knew that for a long time. She's now doing exactly the same thing her mother did to her."
The Ulichnys took on the most troubled children: One child had been raped by his grandfather. Another had been physically assaulted by his alcoholic father. All came from families that defined the word "dysfunctional."

But Mary Ann says it didn't bother her when foster kids would ask when they could go home to their real parents.

"Of course they want to go home," she says. "They always feel if they had done something a little differently, been a little quieter, been a better kid, none of these things would have happened. If they go back and they're just a little better, everything will be okay. But it doesn't happen that way."
The Ulichnys know firsthand of CPS' tireless efforts to try to reunify broken-down biological families.

"I hesitate to call them parents, because that implies they parent," Mary Ann says. "They reproduce. That's nasty of me, but it's true. And once a child is removed, services are put in place for the parents, ad nauseam."
The irony that CPS is named Child Protective Services, not Parent Protective Services, has not escaped the couple's notice.

Mary Ann tells the wrenching tale of one child trapped in the foster-care system for far too long, then unfortunately returned to her natural parents.

The girl had been in the system for more than two years when the state placed her with the Ulichnys. At one point--after she'd bounced from relatives to group homes to foster homes--CPS planned to seek severance of her mom's and dad's parental rights.

But, Mary Ann says, the girl insisted she wanted to be with her family. A juvenile judge then ordered CPS to arrange another round of parenting and counseling classes.

The girl returned to her natural parents after about four years in foster care. Within six weeks, however, police responded to reports that the girl's father was battering her and her mother.

A court injunction ordered him out of the home. Without his financial support, Mary Ann says, the girl's mother has turned to prostitution to support her drug habit. Now 15, the girl has dropped out of school and is seeking a place to live.

Things weren't always so relentlessly grim. When the Ulichnys started foster parenting in the mid-1960s, Mary Ann says, a family in crisis was one lacking money or one whose kids were running a bit wild.

Everything's changed now.
"I want you to understand that this doesn't hurt because I have a need to mother," she says. "It hurts to see the child go back home and know that nothing has changed. That nothing has changed.

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