By Joseph Shapiro | NPR
When Sylvia and Brandon Cunningham got out of jail in North Carolina several years ago, after serving months on drug charges, a judge laid out the steps they needed to take to get their children back from foster care.
After a balky start, they followed through. They got sober and stayed sober. They attended parenting classes and therapy. They got jobs. They showed up for weekly visits with their kids.
Eventually, a judge determined that the Cunninghams had shown they could be good parents and that their house — a tidy trailer at the end of a dirt road — was safe for their children.
But only three of their four children came home.
In 2021, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that one of their sons — who was then 5 — was properly placed for adoption on the grounds that the Cunninghams had failed to reimburse the government for some of the cost of their child’s foster care.
And in North Carolina, that’s reason enough for a court to permanently take away your child.
“When parents lose custodial rights to their children, it is typically because of serious issues like abandonment, neglect, and the inability to adequately care for the children. Occasionally, you hear stories of parents who turned their lives around – parents that got sober, found jobs, and completed the steps for their children to be returned to them. That’s what the Cunningham’s did, but because of an unpaid and unknown bill owed to the state for foster care, they will never get to see one of their sons again. Fortunately, this isn’t something that we see in Arizona, but some states still enforce policies that target those who are already financially struggling and make it even harder for those parents and the children they are trying to support. Policy needs to change to help families stay together, not make it easier to rip them apart.”
–Rose Law Group family law attorney Scott Ghormley