Letters Lewis AND "Friends"
The State (Columbia, SC)
Seymour Kurtz told "The State" that Friends of Children has "had from time to time misunderstanding” with the Children's Bureau, but I do not think they have escalated to the point of conflict”. Frank Lewis disagrees.
Differences over the conduct of a home study for one South Carolina couple, who are adopting a baby boy through Friends of Children, led to a long and testy spate of correspondence between Lewis and Mary Ann Zahner, assistant executive director of Friends of Children in Atlanta.
It began in September, when Lewis wrote Ms. Zahner:
“This is to notify you that I will not approve any placements made by your agency with South Carolina families unless the home study presented to me has been conducted by an agency licensed by the South Carolina Department of Social Services as a child-placing agency or otherwise authorized by South Carolina law for that purpose. The same stipulation applies to the agency designated to provide postplacement supervision.”
Ms, Zahner asked in a return letter whether Lewis meant he would not permit our Georgia infant to enter the state of South Carolina with his or her adopting mother or father, after the child has been lawfully placed with them under Georgia law, unless those parents also secure a home study from an agency licensed in South Carolina."
Lewis' reply was terse: "In reply to your letter of 10-18-83: you are correct.”
In an Oct. 28 letter, Ms. Zahner said: "Now, Mr. Lewis, we do not want to, and will not, violate the laws of South Carolina. We appreciate your willingness to guide us as to your laws and regulations.
“Since you are telling us, under color of the law of South Carolina what we may or may not do, please examine the following which represents what we want to do in South Carolina and tell us if we may or may not do these things under the law or regulations of South Carolina.
"a. We want to send one of our professional employees, a citizen and a resident of the state of Georgia, out of Georgia and into the state of South Carolina. Now, she will most likely drive, though it's possible that she might fly to go from Georgia into South Carolina. Because the professional who attempted to visit the M. family is named 'Sue', we will henceforth, for the purpose of these questions, call such professional ‘Sue.'
"Now, Mr. Lewis, I am sure you would not suggest that Sue would violate any of the laws or regulations of South Carolina at this point, would you?
"b, Now let me add some details, that might or might not cause you to refuse her presence in South Carolina or cause you to abide her presence in your state. She would be carrying with her a pencil and paper for purposes of writing and she would also be carrying legal papers (a copy of the consent of the biological parent of Baby Boy X identifying Friends of Children as the adoption agency to whom such parent entrusted her child and a copy of legal documents necessary, under laws of the state of South Carolina, to be presented to the courts of your state regarding the care and custody of such child).
"Wou1d you at this point, suggest that Sue would have broken the laws or violated the regulations of your state?
"c. Assuming that you do not, yet, view Sues conduct as criminal, let me add more detail of what Sue would do, if you would tolerate her presence and activity in your state: She would visit with the . family and Baby Boy X; she would visually seem them; she would speak to all three of them (expecting verbal responses only from the Ms). She would give them or their attorney the above described papers of legal significance.
"So far, we are legal? Before you answer that, I think it only fair that you should be advised as to the type of dialogue that Sue would probably perpetrate: Sue would probably say hello, identify herself. look at the beautiful baby, ask about the baby's health and adjustment and the impact of foster parenthood of the M. family, ask them if they have any questions, ask them about the medical care extended the child under the circumstances of this case, ask them how their friends and family have interrelated with them and the baby.
"Sue would also be available to respond to some of the usual questions that might be asked of her. Would Sue break the laws of your state if she were to do those things in South Carolina?"
Ms. Zahner went on to ask which specific statutes or regulations would be broken under the circumstances described, indicating Friends of Children had placed the child and felt responsible for him.
"Would you respect us if we abandoned our involvement just because you are also involved? You know, a child does not suffer by having two sets of grandparents. Why is it not possible that both of us, who care for our child participate in the concern for that child? Once we have provided one of your citizens with the custody of a baby, are we to be no longer respected, tolerated, considered?
“If what we propose to do is illegal, tell us so and why. If not, let my people come."
Lewis responded, “We have not meant to imply that the specifics of what your caseworker would do are wrong, but that the very fact that you continue to practice as an agency in South Carolina without a license is wrong.
"We are concerned that you have asked families to travel some distance to see a caseworker at a place other than the child’s home. We are also concerned that the families were asked, in the alternative, to meet your caseworker at an airport...
“One additional comment: the Children’s Bureau is a professionally staffed and standards-based adoption agency. We are not grandparents. Your clients and ours have the right to expect that the professionals involved in facilitating their adoption will not unnecessarily intrude into their lives.
“Since the Children’s Bureau, as the agency responsible for supervising, is doing that and reporting to you, it seems that the visits of your staff not only are contrary to South Carolina statute, but also are superfluous because the service is being provided”
Ms. Zahner thanked Lewis for “exonerating" the caseworker from Friends of Children, whose home study would proceed as planned.
"Your letter is disturbing. It takes comments and information that I provided by way of correction and presents them as sanction. I am not and have not at any time sanctioned the practice of your agency in South Carolina. If it comes to my attention that you continue to practice in South Carolina without a license, I will report that activity to the local solicitor and request that action be brought under the penalty section of our licensing statute.
"To be very specific, as interstate Compact Administrator, I will not grant approval of placements made by your agency to families who reside in South Carolina in instances where there is information that reveals that a person employed by your agency conducted a home study or any part of a home study within the state of` South Carolina.
"I will not approve placements into this state unless you make arrangements with an agency authorized by South Carolina law to provide post-placement supervision."