Lexington woman fights placement on child abuse and neglect registry

A former Lexington foster mother is taking her fight to be taken off the state's registry of people who have abused or neglected children to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Joyce Givens was a foster mother until a 15-year-old girl in her care failed to take medicine to maintain a transplanted kidney in 2008, prompting social workers to place Givens on the child abuse and neglect registry. She was never charged with a crime, and the girl later testified that she lied to Givens and others about taking the medicine.

Givens contends that she shouldn't be on the list for several reasons, including that the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services allowed her to adopt a 12-year-old foster child in 2009, after she had been placed on the registry.

"I was and am a good parent," Givens said in an interview Wednesday.

On June 17, the Kentucky Supreme Court received a request from Givens to consider whether she should be granted a hearing in Fayette Circuit Court to decide whether her name should be removed from the registry.

"She doesn't think she should be placed on that registry. She did not cause any child to be neglected or abused, and if the child was neglected, it's the result of the cabinet's failure to comply with their own policies and procedures," Givens' attorney, Gayle Slaughter, said Tuesday.

"How could they be accusing her of neglect ... and at the same time be telling a circuit court judge, 'This is a wonderful person who is suitable to adopt?' "

Citing confidentiality laws, the cabinet declined to discuss Givens' case.

Speaking generally, cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said anyone on the abuse registry is banned from being a foster parent. But that ban does not automatically result in the removal of all foster children living in a home, particularly if a child is on track to be adopted by a foster parent, Midkiff said.

"Each child's circumstances are considered individually. If the health and safety of a child is not compromised, the decision could be made to leave the child in the home," she said. "The cabinet would carefully consider the interest of any child awaiting adoption before breaking the bond between the adoptive parent and child."

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the cabinet's decision to recommend the adoption despite Givens' inclusion on the abuse registry raises questions, but it might have been appropriate.

"At first blush, the idea of someone being on the list and at the same time being allowed to adopt is a non sequitur, to be sure. And that may, in fact, be the case," Brooks said. "But there are also just as many reasons to believe that the specific decisions — while seemingly contradictory — are in the common best interests on the individual kids at question."

Givens was a foster parent for 16 years, and she had cared for more 400 children in her home "without incident," according to a 2009 Fayette Circuit Court petition that she filed.

The 15-year-old girl, who was not identified in court records, was placed in Givens' home in 2008. She had been living there for two months when physicians discovered the kidney that had been transplanted four years earlier was not working properly.

The 15-year-old testified before a cabinet hearing officer in 2009 that she filled out a medication log as if she had been taking her medicine and that she told a nurse who visited the home monthly that she was taking the medicine even though she knew it was untrue, court documents said.

The girl ended up in the hospital, with the kidney in danger of failing. She recovered, but she was removed from Givens' home.

A social worker sent Givens a letter in 2008 saying she had neglected the girl "in that you did not appropriately supervise her in administering medications timely and daily ... leading to possible rejection of the kidney and loss of certain functions of the kidney."

A cabinet hearing officer decided in 2009 that Givens had neglected the girl and should be on the state's abuse and neglect registry.

Givens contends in court documents that she did not neglect the girl and that the cabinet made several mistakes in the case.

In a 2009 Fayette Circuit Court petition, Givens argued that cabinet officials did not tell her that the girl had a history of not taking her medicine. Had she known, "she would have never permitted her to be responsible for taking her medications," Givens said in the petition.

Givens, a single mother with three jobs, said the cabinet should not have placed two medically fragile children in her home. Another foster child, a 17-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis, arrived at Givens' home before the 15-year-old girl.

Midkiff said there is no prohibition against foster parents working outside the home.

"Whether that is advisable in a particular situation depends on the needs of the foster children, the age of the children and the hours of the foster parent's job," Midkiff said.