Foster Mom Loses Custody of Own Son
By JENNIFER JACOBS, Sept. 2, 2008, The Des Moines Register
An Iowa woman has lost custody of her 12-year-old son because a judge ruled that the foster children she brought into her home caused stress.
The mother, Desiree Bosch of Pleasant Hill, believes the decision could have implications for other Iowa parents. She thinks they may worry they could have their biological children taken away if they're a foster parent, or will choose not to become foster parents at all.
Bosch says her son benefited from having foster siblings in their home, but an Iowa judge believed otherwise.
Polk County District Judge Richard Blane II said that most of the children had significant social and psychological issues, causing Chandler Bosch anxiety that could lead him to have serious emotional problems himself.
"Chandler has had a series of children, mostly older than himself, who he must share not only his mother, (but) his home, his room and his things," Blane said last month in an order modifying the Boschs' divorce decree. "His internal feelings have been adversely affected by this string of foster children."
Blane's ruling meant Chandler, who has lived with his mother since his parents divorced eight years ago, had to move into his father's Knoxville home on Aug. 19, switch schools, and leave behind close friends.
A national expert on foster care said he had not heard of a similar situation. Carl Jones, executive director of the National Foster Parent Association, said he hasn't heard that the stresses of foster parenting played a role in a divorce custody decision.
Blane wrote that his decision hinged on Bosch's choice to share her house with outsiders to make extra income, even at the expense of her biological child's mental health.
Years ago, before becoming a foster parent, Bosch rented out an extra bedroom in her house, exposing Chandler to a series of male occupants who contributed anxiety and stress in the home, the judge said. During that year-and-a-half period, then-8-year-old Chandler began to stutter. The speech problem improved when his mom quit renting the room.
The judge noted that Bosch later cared for a 14-year-old boy who stole her minivan, led police on a chase, then crashed the van and died. The boy had been diagnosed with psychotic tendencies at age 5.
"Desiree has allowed the home she has with Chandler to be a constant revolving door," the judge wrote.
Since becoming a foster parent three years ago, Bosch has cared for one or two foster children at a time. Currently, she has told the state she will accept only one.
But the judge said that Bosch's sole income is from the government for caring for the children she has taken in. Even though she is trained as a dental hygienist, he wrote, she does not intend to work as anything except "a mom."
"Although altruistic and admirable on one hand, this is not in the best interest of Chandler, from the psychological impact, potential physical harm, as well as the negative economic impact," Blane wrote.
The judge said that it was "a difficult decision," but that the evidence showed that Bosch's ex-husband, Tim, a 37-year-old college groundskeeper who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and his wife, Erin, a Pella Corp. employee, have a superior ability to care for Chandler's needs. They can provide Chandler with his own bedroom, he wrote.
Blane relied heavily on a custody evaluation done by Dr. Keri Kinnard of the Child Guidance Center in Des Moines.
Chandler, meanwhile, said he loves both of his parents and "wants to avoid hurting either," court documents show.
Desiree Bosch declined more than a limited interview with The Des Moines Register.
Tim Bosch said in a telephone interview that he doesn't think the judge changed the divorce decree simply because his ex-wife is a foster parent, although that was a factor.
"There was so much more than just foster parenting issues involved in this case," he said.
Jerry Foxhoven, director of the Center for Children's Rights at Drake University Law School, said after reading Blane's Aug. 18 ruling that he doesn't think the judge is saying foster parents can't be good parents.
"I think, without being real blunt, the judge is saying Desiree's making a choice between how she's making her income and that effect on her child," Foxhoven said.
Court documents say that Tim Bosch said Chandler confided problems with the foster children, but when Tim asked Desiree about mental disorders that could affect Chandler, she said she couldn't share that information because of privacy rules. The judge wrote that Desiree was right, but that it frustrated Tim.
Foxhoven pointed out that the judge didn't say Chandler shouldn't be around foster children.
Blane said that during visits to his mother every other weekend, Chandler will still have contact with a foster sibling currently in Bosch's care.
But the judge said Chandler was negatively affected when a 17-year-old foster sibling with whom Chandler was close ran away this summer. Another foster child who was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder broke some of Chandler's belongings, stole items and posed disciplinary problems, the judge wrote. Bosch asked to have him removed from her home after three months.
And last year, a 13-year-old boy named Chris brought up sex with Chandler and one of his friends when they were in the bedroom with the door closed, the judge wrote. Chris used some stuffed animals in a "sexual fashion," then cornered the boys, both age 11.
It's not clear whether Chris made any sexual advances, but it upset Chandler very much, the judge wrote. Bosch admonished and corrected Chris, and reported the episode to the state Department of Human Services.
Months later, Chandler was still emotional when he described the episode to his father when Tim Bosch returned from deployment in the Middle East. Tim Bosch became quite concerned, court documents state.
"I don't think my son has a problem sharing his things or his room, but when you're tucked in at night with someone you're uncomfortable to begin with, it becomes an issue," Tim Bosch said.
Chris didn't know Chandler had told his father about the stuffed animal incident, Tim Bosch said, but that same day, Chris, then 14, stole both keys to Desiree Bosch's minivan.
Police documents show that even though Desiree Bosch tried to block the locked vehicle with her body, Chris took off at speeds as high as 90 mph, and was killed when the van rolled.
Court documents say Chandler was doing well academically and socially at Phillips Elementary School in Des Moines, but was struggling emotionally. Desiree Bosch took him to a therapist.
Foxhoven said Chandler could be struggling because one foster sibling died and another ran away.
"Those are facts of life that happen to brothers and sisters," Foxhoven said.
Foxhoven said the judge had to focus his decision on what was best for Chandler.
"Not, 'What's best for society?' or 'What's best for our child welfare system?' " he said. "Even if he thinks this is going to be devastating to the foster program, which I don't think it is because there are other factors, he would still have to say, 'I have to do what's right for Chandler.' "
Tim Bosch said his son is adjusting well to Knoxville and is making friends.