In Loving Memory of Daisai Derzon Who Died in Foster Care Aged 3

I am writing my story to clear up some information that is published on this page. Here is my story:

121111082424_daisai_derzon[1]We became foster parents on 12/05/2001 in the small town of Canon City, Colorado. We had one biological daughter and wanted another child. We had suffered numerous lost pregnancies and it had taken it's toll on me physically and emotionally.

I was married to a sheriff's deputy and he would come home from work and tell me the stories of children he had assisted the Department of Social Services in removing from their home. My heart always broke for both the children and parent, because I could relate to their loss.

After some soul searching, we decided that we could offer these children a safe and stable family until they could be reunified with their parents. If for some reason the parents could not reunify with these children, then we would like to be considered to adopt. We were not of means, and could only offer love and what we had to share with them.

On the day we became officially certified as foster parents, we were placed with a bouncing, red haired, freckled faced, one year old boy. Then another beautiful baby boy, and our fair share of beautiful teenage girls. We were specialized in at-risk teenage girls. We were overwhelmingly blessed. We had adopted two little boys and had a house full of teenage girls. Our family was complete or so we thought.

Like I had stated my husband was in law enforcement and that career took us to Cortez Colorado where we moved all of our children with us, including our foster children. We had already adopted two by this time and filled up a five bedroom home with beautiful faces when we got the call. I will never forget that call. One of two that would change my life forever.

First, let me tell you about the first call. My husband and I had stolen a few rare minutes to ourselves and had slipped off to breakfast while the kids where at school. Our two youngest (you know those two beautiful boys that we had been blessed with) were now three and four. The call came in on my cell from what I would call my caseworker. Foster parents have a coordinator that works for DSS. She said that Kerri Orr, a caseworker that I knew very well, had just been given a case where two small children had been abandoned in a local hotel.

At first, I honestly need to admit I said no. I was just so busy with all the other beautiful faces that I had been blessed with to take two small ones. Then I say that God spoke to me. I told my husband that we had to go and get them.

We reached the hospital where the two had been taken to be checked out and met Kerri Orr. She was there with one very young little girl named Daisai Derzon and one little boy not much older than her named Addy Derzon. When I saw them at the hospital they were the worst case of filthy you can imagine. Just picture that these two little babies had been left alone in a hotel. It still gives me chills when I think of it.

We took them home that night not confident on their name and age. They were trying to find the parents because the only information was from a drunk that they left with the kids. I want to change the direction of where that is going though. This is not a story about how bad the bio-parents are or were. This is my story about one of the most beautiful little girls.

The day after I received Addy and Daisai, I received the call that DHS in Montezuma County had discovered another child in a neighboring town, the kids' brother. Cassius Derzon came to me the next day. Wow, now I had three small kids on top of my two small children. I was worried that I would not have enough, give enough, love enough, and all of those fears that come along with children. I told the caseworkers that this would need to be a short-term placement. Well needless to say, one week turned into a month, then a year, and next over two years.

This is the part of the story I would like to correct from the article on Daisai Derzon. Her, Addy, and Cassius was with me for well over two years, not the two weeks that you reported. These kids were loved!!! That is the most important piece that I want to stress. They may have been technically foster children but they were never treated that way. I was totally and am still are completely in love with these children. Granted at times I was overwhelmed and wanted to cry, telling myself that the good outweighs any of the bad. All was going along well.

The kids were thriving. Addy who is autistic was talking, and making connections. Cassius was in school and was described as being so well adjusted. Then there was Daisai Derzon. She was the only little girl in a group of six under six. She was my shadow. She loved Dora. She was a mommies girl. She loved tea parties, and dress up. Anyway, back to my story.

We had moved from Cortez Colorado to Parachute Colorado in 2007. At that time, we took all of our children with us again including our foster children. We had some housing issues shortly after we moved. We were in a battle with the home builder because we had black mold and our house was ruled toxic.

DHS decided that they had found a placement to adopt all three children. They fed us the same lines about Michelle and Robert Baber that was all over the news. She was college educated in child services, they had a huge family network, but most importantly they were financially well off. Kerri Orr called me that summer day to tell me about the Baber's. I exchanged emails with the Baber's and they attached pictures of their family life along with the emails.

Call it mother's intuition but I knew that something was not right with them. I begged for the kids to not go to the Baber's, but DHS had made up their mind. They were sending the Baber's to my home in a few days to get the kids. The caseworkers would not be there through the exchange since we lived in Parachute CO and they were in Cortez Colorado.

The Baber's came to my home that summer day to pick up these children that I had loved and parented for a couple of years now and I had to place my beautiful babies in their truck and tell them goodbye. Of course, there were the promises that we would be allowed to keep in contact with the kids. That never happened. Michelle Baber blocked all attempts to speak with the kids after they left out home.

Then came that day in January, the day I received the other call I was telling you about earlier. I had just gotten home from work when I saw the light on the phone. I changed clothes and went about my usual nightly routine of homework, dinner, and chores knowing that I needed to check the messages.

I know this may seem weird, but it was like I somehow knew that the light on the phone on that day meant something bad. My father had been very ill after receiving chemo for prostate and colon cancer. He was gravely ill and in the hospital so I was dreading the call.

Well, after the kids were all bathed, fed, and homework was done I made my way to the phone. I can pinpoint my life changing to that very instant that I heard the message. It was one of my friends from law enforcement and was also a foster parent herself. I can still hear Amy's voice saying, "Debbie, it is Amy and you need to call me ASAP. It is bad. It is the kids. Just call me". That was it, That was when it all started.

Frantically I searched all over for numbers that were right in front of me all along. Not hardly able to catch my breath I called Amy.

What do you mean it is the kids I remembered screaming at her. What happened. What happened???

She explained, that my beautiful baby girl Daisai Derzon laid in Children's Hospital in Denver with a head wound. Crying, Amy begins to tell me, "It is not good. She is not going to make it. She did this to her".

What I screamed. What did she do.

Amy then told me that Daisai had suffered a head injury at the hands of Michelle Baber. We in the law enforcement family knew right from the beginning that it was Michelle Baber who had done this to Daisai. We knew she was claiming some bogus story about Daisai hitting her head or having a seizure, but she had never had anything even close to that the whole time she was with me. Again, let me stress that it was years not weeks like reported previously on here.

Well after I got the call I called my husband home to be with me. He was just hearing about it through his law enforcement connection.

The next thing that happened was I received a call from Dennis Story the director of Social Services in Montezuma County. I answered the phone because I was hovering over it waiting for any word or I was hoping that someone would call and tell me that they had made a mistake. It was not her. It couldn't be, right? Then the call came in and on the other end I heard Dennis say that she was gone. That was all I heard from then on.

I started screaming Dear God, please no, please do not take her from me. Please no, please no!!! I threw the phone at my husband and he finished talking to Dennis as my world came to a screeching halt.

I thought I had known loss from all of the numerous pregnancies, but there was nothing that could prepare me for this. The next few weeks were a blur. I honestly do not know how I made it through those days.

We buried her on a cold January morning in Cortez Colorado. I have told so many people since then that when they lowered that tiny casket covered in white cloud like material in the ground, that I went with her. Here I was a woman so richly blessed. One biological daughter, two adopted sons, and several teenage girls that we were lucky enough to call our children. How could I possibly think that a piece of me died? But it did.

I changed. I became bitter and angry. My marriage failed. My children were hurt by losing Daisai, the divorce, and their mother was a broken woman. I was so angry at so many people for so long. Angry at Kerri Orr, and Dennis Story from social services (who honestly loved Daisai too), angry at my husband because he didn't stop them from moving the kids, and angry at God. Being angry at God was the hardest. How could this happen? How could someone bash in her head? How/Why?

I did not go to Michelle Baber's trial. I asked Kerri Orr to speak for us on what Michelle had taken from us, but most importantly from Addy and Cassius.

Michelle was sentenced and as they say, life has to move on. It seemed like life was moving on for everyone but me. I was being held hostage by all the anger and pain I felt.

It has taken me all this time but now I can say that I have found forgiveness. I forgive Michelle Baber. I forgive Dennis Story and Kerri Orr. I forgive my husband, and most importantly I forgive myself. I blamed myself for the longest time. I thought that I should have protected her. I should have taken the kids and ran with them when we found out they were being moved. I ran through all of the what if's. Now I know that my beautiful girl waits with Jesus and we will be together one day.

I just wanted you to hear a different prospective on the Daisia Derzon case. When I read the court records and she was referred to as a ward of the state or parentless, I want to set the record straight. Daisai and her brothers we not my biological children granted, however make no mistake that they were my children and I love them.

RIP Daisai and all of my love goes out to Addy and Cassius. I hope one day you will find the other mother you had in your life that thinks about you each and every day. I will always love you and I pray that one day we can be together again. Thank you for letting me share my story.

Struggling with the System

kelly largeBeing a foster family was both a rewarding and frustrating experience.

My husband and I heard about babies being placed in overcrowded, unsafe shelters and wanted to help. We were ready to love and take care of these infants, and provide them a safe, stable home. But we had no idea about the struggles that we would encounter. Just getting the most basic care for our new family members was trying.

Most of the babies we picked up from our local shelter needed medical care that the state failed to provide. They suffered from ailments like scabies, lice and dehydration. Twenty three of the 27 babies we cared for required medical attention in the first 24 hours in our home.

In order for the children’s medical care to be covered, we had to provide doctors with their state-issued medical numbers. But it was very hard to get this information from the state. I made many calls in an attempt to gain it, but my efforts frequently went nowhere. I knew the babies needed treatment, so I often ended up paying for expensive medicine that would have been covered by the state.

I tried to make sure the babies received everything they needed to help them have a better life. Sometimes, what they needed was to see siblings or parents, but my efforts to advocate for these visits were often blocked. The visits were set up and supervised by state social workers, so when the social workers dropped the ball, there was nothing I could do to help. Even my calls to their supervisors would go unanswered.

My heart broke every time we had a baby for a month or more who had no visits, then was removed from our home. These little ones did not have any memory of their parents and got comfortable with us, only to be ripped from our family and placed in another home. And some of them continued to move from home to home after they left our house.

It was tough. The worst part was that I didn’t feel like the state did what was best for the child all of the time. I heard one little boy was in the shelter and four different homes within his first week of foster care. He left our home because he had autistic tendencies that I was not told about or trained to care for. Another time, the state had me hand over a little boy without filling out any paper work. For weeks I received inquiries from doctors and lawyers who didn’t know where he was. I was scared for his well-being.

But for one little sweetie who was placed with us, it all worked out exactly the way it should have. Her transition home happened with the least trauma possible. The child had been abused by her father, but she had a good mom who fought to get her back. I bonded with her mom, and we were able to have visits and slowly transition the baby back into her care. It was a beautiful thing to work together as a team for this baby. This kiddo thrived. It just saddened me to know that out the 27 kids we cared for, she was the only one who transitioned to a permanent, loving home the way she was supposed to.

Another child who touched my heart came to us after being shaken. The little boy had pretty severe traumatic injuries – he was very stiff and his eyesight was poor. But while he was with us, his body loosened up, and he was able to make out shapes and expressions. He also began to laugh and giggle. He even started to roll over at our house. It was amazing to me how much he changed.

Because our life circumstances changed, my husband and I are no longer fostering, but nothing can take away the sweet memories I have with each little baby I had a chance to love. I got to celebrate big milestones in their development and the progression of healing in their bodies. There are so many tender moments to treasure. I would never change any moment I had with the adorable little ones. I hope I changed their lives for the better. I know they changed mine.

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Little Girl Lost: My Failed Foster Adoption

Her brothers came into our lives two weeks earlier. As we sat in a local McDonald’s, we were excited and anxious to finally meet this little girl we had heard so much about: our new daughter.

The minutes flew by, and then in walked the most adorable little 5-year-old ballerina. She was dressed all in pink and wearing a matching pink tutu. I looked at my husband, two weeks into fatherhood, and saw the tears flooding his eyes as he met his new daughter for the very first time. I watched as he leaned over to explain to the boys that she was their sister. They were two and three years old.

Tears filled my eyes as I remembered a time when my own brother and sister were taken away and put in different foster homes. The feelings that flooded my heart were bitter sweet. This, coupled with the overwhelming needs of two adorable little boys who were suffering a great deal of unknown issues, already had me very concerned. My concerns grew even greater as I watched this beautiful little girl leading her foster mother in a beautifully choreographed ballet aimed at meeting her every whim.

I watched my husband as he sat misty eyed, already in love and completely clueless to the antics being played out in front of him. Because family and children services was desperate to find an adoptive home to reunite the three siblings, and because of my eagerness to please my husband, we had bypassed all of the usual protocols and fast-tracked the adoption. We agreed and signed the paperwork before ever seeing or meeting this wonderful little family of three. It is something that never should have been allowed, or encouraged. The long drive home was even more concerning. I knew there was trouble brewing, but desperately wanted to reunite this little family and give my husband the greatest gift I could give, a family.

The days were long and the nights even longer. Our youngest, Jimmy, was a preemie and was still suffering effects of in utero drug use, which required that he be held upright all night long to breathe. Adrian suffered from failure to thrive, unrelenting toddler diarrhea, constant temper tantrums, undiagnosed developmental delays and possible autism (or so it seemed). Our beautiful little girl, Anne, needed more attention than both of them put together. And if she didn’t get it, there were penalties for it.

The paperwork we read on the children seemed to be misleading. Or, written by someone who had never spent time parenting this little family. I was dying inside and I didn’t know what to do. I felt like a total and complete failure. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, overworked, sleep deprived, and quickly becoming depressed. One day I was wearing a suit, beautiful heels and lived in the world of banking. Now, I lived in my pajamas because I couldn’t muster the desire, time, nor strength to change. I raised two children on my own, I was a single mother for 17 years. My children were college educated and doing phenomenally. I thought I knew everything I could about parenting, but these three had reduced me to tears and rubble within a few short months.

I couldn’t understand. I grew up in foster care, I overcame brutal child abuse. I loved being a mother more than anything in life. We attended all of our training sessions, but nothing prepared me for what I was experiencing. Our beautiful little girl had long since divided and conquered. Our case workers blamed everything on me and my past. No one supported me, they merely pointed fingers at me because I was complaining, making waves and making life hard on everyone. The more they blamed me, the louder I became and the more research I did trying to find some reason as to why this beautiful little family was in such chaos.

Every day brought a myriad of fights, crying and tantrums from all three. Anne was touching her brothers in private places, pushed them down the stairs, feeding them mushrooms out of the yard. There were pictures being drawn at school and brought home with guns shooting her brothers heads off, pictures of her and I fighting with daggers while my husband lay in bed beside me. No one seemed concerned except me. Finally, three months later, a crisis intervention team got involved. Nobody at the time had any experience or training in RAD (reactive attachment disorder) or trauma. I was beside myself by now, and all fingers pointed at me.

I called DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services) and told them to remove Anne from my home as soon as possible. When they came, my husband was surprised there were no tears. He thought she had loved him as much as he loved her. I explained, yet again, how reactive attachment worked. Months later, DFCS finally received our boy’s evaluations from the Marcus Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. Adrian suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and unknown learning disabilities. He tested slightly above mental retardation. However, I knew some of that was due to their neglectful and abusive foster environment. They had lived their entire life in foster care and came to our home unhealthy, nonverbal and way behind.

Jimmy suffered from undiagnosed medical issues. Our beautiful little girl suffered from an even longer list. Today, I’m a better parent for the experience. I practice trauma-responsive care, even lead training sessions on it. I have a circle of support and I know where to go when I need help, advice, or merely a shoulder to cry on. We are still evolving, but it’s a start. I can’t help but wonder if I had been equipped with these tools before this little family came into our lives, would the outcome would have been different?

I miss my sweet little girl every single day and my heart breaks for her. I feel I have let her down and feel I merely added to her list of laundry because I was not equipped with the correct tools, or support to parent a traumatized child. I feel the system let me down because they did not arm us with the correct information to make an informed decision. Parenting children of trauma can often cause caregivers to become traumatized, or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There are no statistics on broken foster care adoptions, so I have none to give you. And abuse is common, just ask the children. We must fight for total transparency in the system. I personally feel we need to allow journalists in the courtrooms. Only then will America become educated and informed on the issues, gaps and inadequacies of protecting our vulnerable, voiceless children who are left to courts to choose their fate.

If we continue to mask the realities of the system, the children will continue to suffer and failures like mine will continue to plague a system that has long been broken. And America will continue to be none the wiser. Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.

Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.

A version of this column originally appeared in:

An Anchor

carrie new largeMy son Robert went through a lot of instability in his first year. My husband and I first met him when we brought him home from the hospital at just 2 days old. The plan was for Robert and his sister Katie, whom we were already fostering, to stay with us for a short time and to then be adopted by a relative. But after the kids left our care, there were some bumps in the road, and they ended up in separate foster homes.

When we let Robert and Katie go, we thought it would be best for both of them. We never intended for them to be shuffled through different homes. But the reality is that kids in foster care get moved often, and for many different reasons. There are good homes and not-so-good homes. Life happens, illness takes over, good intentions become regretted decisions, and these all have a huge impact on the child.

Robert’s new situation was heartbreaking. He wasn’t being cared for properly in his foster home — he was often left in his playpen or high chair and not bathed on a regular basis. The family was busy with jobs and obligations and Robert seemed like a side note, a paycheck placement.

My husband and I had never stopped loving Robert or his sister. When we learned that they were available for adoption, we began the process to make them part of our family.

We were incredibly thankful when Robert, then 1, and Katie, then 3, moved back into our home, joining our two biological daughters, Laura and Mia and our son Jabar, also once our foster child. But it wasn’t an easy transition. Robert now had attachment struggles — he hated to be touched, held, kissed or hugged, and would often refuse a meal simply because I asked that he take a bite.

From his experiences, Robert’s view of a mother was one that left him disappointed and angry. He needed to learn that I was not going to abandon him and this would take time.

I decided to focus my attention on providing for Robert’s basic needs. I changed his diapers, gave him food and simply offered my presence. After a while, and a handful of attachment therapy sessions, the boy who once screamed every time I touched him started to lean against me as I sat on the couch. Before long, Robert was holding my hand as we walked to the bus stop instead of cautiously walking a few feet away. I will never forget the morning I went to wake him up and as he stood in his crib, heard him eagerly say, “I love you.”

As foster parents, we are asked to not only care for the basic needs of a child, but also sit alongside them as they digest the hurt and damage they have undeservingly experienced. We need to remember that these kids — even the littlest ones — who come into our care are hurting and struggling to digest the interruptions in their lives.

The reality is, whether the abuse and neglect come from birth families or fellow foster families, the impact on the children will have lasting effects. I believe we need more loving families who are willing to become foster parents to raise the standard in which we place these precious children. And I want to encourage future foster parents to seek support for themselves, in order be an anchor for the children they welcome into their homes, their hearts. It is our job to show kids a new kind of love, a love that is strong when they can’t be.

This Mother’s Day I will enjoy my breakfast in bed with a smile. Not because life is easy, but because I am surrounded by my five beautiful kids, as they try to make their way under the covers and steal a bite of my waffles. Mother’s Day is more than a day off from chores around the house or being pampered with flowers. It is a day to be thankful for our children, because without them, there would be nothing to celebrate.

It is my prayer to spend the rest of my life showing Robert, and each of my kids, the kind of love they deserve from a mother. I hope to show them that we are more than our beginnings.

A version of this column originally appeared in: