by Health Impact News/MedicalKidnap.com Staff
All that Shanley wanted for her 20th birthday on February 22 was to get her son back from DHR, and to no longer be considered a foster child herself. Ashton was born while Shanley was in foster care, and when she was kicked out of her foster home last summer at the age of 19, she was not permitted to take her son with her. Alabama social workers tell her that she cannot get him back at this time because they still consider her a foster child, even though she is legally an adult, living on her own with both a job and an apartment.
Shanley is not accused of any kind of neglect or abuse, so it doesn’t make sense to her that Walker County Department of Human Resources (DHR) refuses to allow her to have her son with her.
She has worked hard and thought that once she proved herself by holding down a job and passing a home inspection, Ashton could come home with her. It was a devastating blow at her most recent ISP meeting to learn that DHR still considers her a foster child, and that this is the reason they give for keeping her son in her previous foster home.
Shanley entered the foster care system when social workers accused her parents, Chuck and Ramona Devlin, of “inadequate supervision of a minor” because Shanley became pregnant at the age of 14. Health Impact News questioned the Devlins about the circumstances surrounding the allegation. There was no doubt in Shanley’s mind about the date she became pregnant. As she said the date, any accusation of wrong-doing by the parents fell by the wayside.
It is a date that most in the south will never forget – April 27, 2011.
The April 27th Tornado Outbreak
That was the day that Meteorologist James Spann call the “generational” tornado outbreak, the kind of tornado event that only happens about once every 40 years. 252 people lost their lives in the 62 tornadoes across the state of Alabama that day. In Walker County, where the Devlins lived, there were 9 tornadoes, including 3 category 4 twisters. There were 1629 injuries and 84 deaths just in Walker County.
The Devlins had opened their home to friends and neighbors during the day that James Spann had warned would be a very serious day. Shanley’s boyfriend and his family were among the guests who packed into the sturdy home of the Devlins. In just about every home across the state, normal parenting tasks were ignored in favor of the more important parental responsibility of watching ABC 33/40 and James Spann’s coverage of the severe weather, so we would know when to direct everyone to take cover in the safest place in the house. Kids across the south who were old enough to do so were expected to entertain themselves while their parents were glued to the TV screens. It was a very serious day, and everyone knew it.
It was a frightening day, following a difficult season in the Devlin family. The month before, Shanley watched her aunt die. An ambulance had taken a wrong turn and didn’t get there in time. Then, Shanley’s sister had a miscarriage. Shanley was struggling to deal with it all, and she found comfort in the arms of her boyfriend during the storms.
Her parents told Health Impact News they can’t figure out how in the world their daughter managed to get pregnant with so many people in the house that day. Yet somehow, DHR social worker Judy Kitchens saw her pregnancy under such conditions to be a case of neglectful and inadequate supervision by her parents.
The social worker was already involved with some relatives of Shanley, but the cases did not involve either Shanley or her parents. It was through an unfortunate chance encounter with the relatives that the social worker learned of Shanley’s pregnancy and she got on DHR’s radar.
Once that happened, intervention was swift. Kitchens reportedly came to the Devlin home and told Shanley:
If you want to keep your baby, you have to go live at Childhaven and leave your parents.
The Devlins’ protests fell on deaf ears. Their 16 year old son was still at home at the time, but DHR never tried to remove him from the home. Shanley has not been home since. Her parents were never accused of any kind of abuse or any other type of neglect.
Their only crime was “inadequate supervision,” allowing their daughter to become pregnant during the April 27th tornado outbreak. Instead of allowing the family to deal with the prospect of the new baby together, Shanley was taken away from them to face her pregnancy without any family support. There were other family members willing to care for Shanley, but DHR refused to consider placement with them.
How is it possible that a family can be torn apart under such circumstances? Yet, a social worker and a judge allowed this to happen.
Childhaven Group Home – Not Exactly a “Haven”
That very day of Kitchens’ visit, when Shanley was about 12 weeks pregnant, she was placed into Childhaven, a non-profit Church of Christ group home in Cullman, Alabama, that works with social services to serve abused and neglected children.
Childhaven is where Baby Braelon and his young mother, a 14 year old rape victim, were placed after he was seized from Shelby County Medical Center. After their story broke last summer, Shanley recognized photos posted online that were taken of the home by the young mother. At the time Shanley contacted Health Impact News, the group home had not been identified by name.
Newborn Alabama Baby is Now Sick in the Hospital While Under DHR Care After Being Taken from 14-year Old Mother
Shanley’s family was only allowed to visit with her once a week. When doctors at Cullman Regional Medical Center induced her labor early, Shanley says that she fought to have her mother by her side for the birth. Ashton was born on January 16, and weighed 8 lbs 1 oz.
Shanley chose to breastfeed her baby. He received all the recommended vaccines, and he was circumcised. She was not told about any risks of circumcision. When she asked for information about the procedure, she says that Dr. Short told her that it was “routine” and that “everybody did it.”
After Ashton’s birth on Monday, Shanley and her baby were taken back to Childhaven on Wednesday. She reports that her chores at the group home resumed that very night. She says she could barely walk but was required to wash dishes Wednesday night.
She had court the next day in Walker County. They had to leave before breakfast, and she remembers a long walk to the courthouse during which she had to carry the baby in his car seat to court – which experts say is too much weight for a newly postpartum mother to be carrying. Midwife Jill McDanal says that a new mother should not carry anything heavier than her baby for the first 6 weeks after birth. After court, workers reportedly refused to get her anything to eat until they returned to Childhaven, more than an hour drive away.
Because there were times that Shanley cried about her situation, she says they told her she was depressed and made her take pills for depression. She got into trouble for refusing to take depression medication, and reports that she was once grounded for not taking postpartum pain medication.
Beating the Odds: Graduating from Highschool as a Teen Mother in Foster Care
She and her baby were moved around to a couple of other placements, until they ended up in the foster home where her son remains to this day. Despite all the challenges, she was able to graduate on time from high school in May of 2016.
She received a few cards of congratulations for her graduation. Shanley reports that her foster parents opened the cards and took out all the money contained within “right in front of me” and handed her the empty cards. To this day, she has never seen her graduation money, sent to her by people who care about her.
When she went into the foster care system, her family had been receiving a disability check every month for her. Shanley’s father had been in a car accident in 2001, where he was hit by a drunk driver. After Shanley went into DHR custody, social workers allegedly told her that the $731 per month disability check would go into an account for her to get when she turned 19. To date she has never seen a dime of that money. At one point a social worker reportedly laughed and told her that check is what was keeping her in foster care.
Kicked Out of Foster Home
During all the time that Shanley was in foster care with her son, she took care of him. She helped care for other children in the homes as well, cooking nutritious meals as much as possible, and helping with nap time and other caretaking tasks.
She reports that one day last summer her son was cranky and tired and asked to lay down. She says that the foster mother told him it was too early for a nap. Shanley became frustrated that the foster mother wouldn’t let her be the mom to her son and trust her instincts that he wasn’t feeling well.
The foster mother reportedly then told her to spend the night with a friend. Later that day the foster mom texted her that she didn’t need to come back. Shanley says:
If I would have known this, I would have never left.
She was now homeless, without her son, on July 17, 2016, with only her backpack. Her foster mother wouldn’t give her son or any of her things to her. It was not until a month ago, in January 2017, that she has finally been given some of her possessions. She says she still does not have her tablet, prom dress, suitcases, or any of her papers.
Social worker Kristie Alexander allegedly told her that she was considered to be on runaway status, even though she was legally an adult according to Alabama state law. There was a time when she was not even allowed to see her son.
Since she has been out of the foster home, Shanley has secured a job, her own apartment, and she pays her own bills. But that hasn’t changed her status with DHR. In a court hearing in November, she requested to be released from foster care, but they refused.
Medical Neglect by DHR?
She also asked for DHR to fulfill their obligation to pay for her braces. Social worker Kristie Alexander allegedly signed the contract agreement back in December 2015 for her to get braces. Shanley states that because no payments were made to the orthodontists, she was unable to get her braces adjusted last year. She writes:
Therefore, I was being refused treatment, and had wires cutting my jaw and my mouth was extremely sore and Walker County DHR refused to do anything!
After a judge ruled in September that DHR must pay for her braces, Shanley scheduled another appointment to get her braces adjusted. One payment was finally made by DHR in October, but nothing since then.
Shanley Still Forbidden to See Biological Family
Shanley has grown up quickly, without help from her biological family or her foster family. Her social worker has told her and her family that they are forbidden to see each other.
However, in separate conversations with Health Impact News, both Shanley and her parents told us that they have never been given a reason why. Shanley wrote a letter that she has sent to DHR commissioner Nancy Buckner, Senator Cam Ward, and Representative Mac McCutcheon, former chair of the DHR Task Force. She has not received a reply to the letter in which she wrote:
Alexander told me that if I contacted my biological family for any reason, that I will never have my son with me again.
“They’re not giving me a reason,” she says, but they have told her that Ashton is not allowed to see his grandparents. She wants to know how talking to her parents could possibly endanger her child.
Will They Ever Let Her Go?
In January, Shanley became hopeful that she and her son would be reunited soon. She reports that she passed the home study with flying colors. During an ISP meeting on January 13, DHR told her that she would be out of foster care within a week and her son would be home soon.
However, that didn’t happen.
Shanley said that in a recent ISP meeting, DHR’s Jessica Hamilton told her that her son cannot come home because she is in foster care. Shanley recently emailed us, saying:
As of February 1, 2017, they have refused to let me out until court which is in March, and they said they can keep me till I am 21, and as long as they have me, they have my child! This is not right! I am an amazing mother and deserve to have my child home where he belongs!
Son Being Drugged in Foster Care
Shanley is concerned for her son’s well-being in foster care. He was diagnosed by DHR’s psychiatrists as being ADHD, and is now on psychotropic medication. She says that she and others who have observed him do not believe that he is actually ADHD. She believes that he is being drugged for being a normal boy who talks a lot and asks, “Why?”
Shanley prefers that he not be on such risky medications, but when she protested, she was told that, if he didn’t get on the medications, he would always be a “bad child,” and would never succeed in school.
She recognizes that it could do more harm than good for her to refuse to give him the medications during his weekend visits with him, so she gives him the medication.
The foster mother reportedly gives the weekend doses of the medication in a ziplock baggie to Shanley, who has repeatedly asked for them to be in the bottle, as the law requires. When Shanley picked up her son after the January 13th ISP meeting, her court-appointed attorney witnessed the foster mother hand her the ziplock baggie. Shanley hoped that her attorney would speak up for her, but she reportedly told her later that she cannot force the foster mother to give her the pill bottle. Instead, Shanley says that the attorney said:
I’m going to turn around because this is against the law.
She says that the foster mother “just handed the baggie to me and walked off.” In frustration, she told her attorney that she had better not end up in jail for having her son’s medication in a baggie.
Nothing has been done, even though Shanley has complained about this to the DHR social worker, the supervisor, her court-appointed attorney, Ashton’s Guardian ad Litem, and the foster mother. This has been happening since November 4. Shanley has suggested that the foster mother at least use an old pill bottle that had her son’s information on it, but that hasn’t happened, either.
The foster mother reportedly has Ashton on 10 mg of melatonin every night, which is concerning to Shanley. Even among experts, there is mixed information about its safety for children. As a mother, she would rather the risks not be taken with her son, but her objection has been ignored.
Ashton recently told his mother that they are going to do dental surgery on him soon to put him to sleep and put caps on all his teeth.
When she was in the foster home, Shanley recalls the children being spanked with switches and fly swatters. Sometimes her son had accidents at night, and would be spanked. When she would complain that her son shouldn’t be spanked for that, she says she was told that she didn’t know anything about how to be a mom. When Shanley reported the spankings to the social worker, she said that since the social worker didn’t witness them, there was nothing she could do about it.
They Just Want to Be Out of the System
There is no apparent reason for either Shanley or her son to be in the foster care system. Shanley told us that:
The only thing I want for my birthday is not to be a foster kid and for my son to come home. That would be the best birthday present ever.
She writes a letter every day to her little boy, and keeps a journal of everything that has happened to her and her family. Here is a recent letter:
As of February 22, 2017, Shanley is 20 years old – legally an adult, with her own apartment and means to support her son. She no longer has a GAL, because she is over 18.
Yet, she cannot have her son back because she is still considered a minor in the foster care system.
On February 15, Shanley called DHR to request documents on her case, because they have never given her paperwork on any of her case. They told her that she was not allowed to have them because she is a minor.
How can DHR define her status as a minor or not a minor depending on what they want to do? Is the definition of a minor an arbitrary thing, situationally defined by DHR to suit the needs of the moment?
How You Can Help
Supporters have set up a Facebook page called Bring Ashton Home, and are using Twitter hashtags #BringAshtonHome and #DevlinStrong.
Shanley goes back to court on March 1 at 8:30 am at the Walker County Courthouse at 219 19th St W, Jasper, AL 35501.
(Note: This is a date change from the original story. Shanley learned on Monday morning that court has been changed from Thursday, March 2, to Wednesday, March 1. Same time and place.)
She would love supporters to stand with her. She wants people to know that she refuses to give up:
It’s not just hurting me; it’s hurting my baby.
Shanley’s father Chuck Devlin says that all the family wants is:
for Shanley to get her son, and for DHR to leave her alone and let her be a mommy and stay out of her life. Anyone who knows her knows she puts her son first.
Ramona, Shanley’s mother, has prayed for years for her family to be restored. She wants to know:
Where is justice? Where are family values?
Supporters may call the following:
Senator Connie Rowe, who chairs the DHR Task Force, is the Senator representing the Devlins’ district. She may be reached at (334) 242-7600, or contacted here.
Representative Greg Reed represents the Devlins’ district in Walker County. He is also a member of the DHR Task Force. He may be reached at (334) 242-7894, or contacted here.
Another story of an Alabama foster child whose children were taken:
Should Foster Children who Become Parents as Adults Automatically Have Their Children Seized? Alabama Mother Fights to Get Children Back
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