CAROLLYNN SMITH, 63, showed up at the church on the corner of NE MLK and Shaver with four of her five adopted grandchildren last Friday night, September 26.
Smith has had legal custody of Chaquita, 13, Kaseen, 12, Jarah, 11, and Tyree, 9, along with their older brother DeQuaranDra, 16, since 1998. By all accounts, they're a tight-knit, happy family. Or as Lynn Young, an assessor for Christian Family Adoptions, noted in a letter to the state's Department of Human Services (DHS) in December 2007, the kids are "well behaved," "doing well in school," "bright," and "polite," respectively.
On Friday night, Tyree had also brought a photo of his two younger siblings, Kofi, 7, and C'Lynn, 4, to show the Mercury. A photo of his brother and sister are all Tyree has: Unlike their five older brothers and sisters, the youngest pair were sent to live with a white family by the DHS in 2005, after Kofi tested positive for cocaine while living with Smith's daughter. The two children are about to be legally adopted by that family.
In a January 2008 letter to Smith, DHS explains that as a single woman of 63 with five other kids on her hands, Smith is not the best person to take care of her two youngest grandchildren. Smith disagrees, and has been protesting DHS' decision ever since.
"I'm not prejudiced," she says, referring to the white family that currently has custody of her youngest grandchildren. "But I feel like family should be with family. Blood should be with blood."
In June last year, a month after she was denied further contact with Kofi and C'Lynn, Smith began showing up once a week outside the DHS office on N Vancouver with a sign reading "Give Me Back My Children." She took her protest to the DHS office in Salem back in March, then last Tuesday, September 23, to Portland City Hall. There, she bumped into Ed Garren, former city council candidate and advisor to the mayor's newly formed Human Relations Committee.
Garren, a family therapist who worked as a children's social worker in South Central Los Angeles for three years before coming to Portland in 2005, is concerned about Smith's situation and is hoping to draw attention to it.
"If you want to create homeless people and drug addicts, you cause this kind of trauma in their early childhood," says Garren. "The kids are already living with strangers, and wondering why they can't see grandma. The fact that the department could not only arrange but basically encourage and support a situation like this is unconscionable."
Garren's main concern is that in the court proceedings he has read surrounding Smith, her two youngest grandchildren are represented as independent of their five brothers and sisters and grandmother.
"So the court has been seeing that these are two children with no connection to any family, who are therefore a clean slate in terms of adoption," he says. "But these are children who know their family and siblings. And an adoption is being arranged that will terminate all relationships and access between Mrs. Smith and the other grandchildren, until they become adults."
Smith says her age and marital status shouldn't be an issue—her two adolescent grandchildren will be grown up soon, and she has an extended network of friends and family, not to mention church members, willing to help out in a pinch.
Furthermore, Smith feels the DHS is retaliating against her for being outspoken against its adoption decision. In August, Smith received a call from a DHS-appointed mediator, Meg Goldberg, saying that a planned meeting with Kofi and C'Lynn had been terminated because the kids' adopted family were "offended" by a series of articles on Smith's situation published in the Skanner newspaper, Smith says. Goldberg declined comment.
"I don't see what's offensive about asking to see my grandchildren," says Smith. "They want it all on the hush hush, but I'm not the quiet type, and until they do right by me I'm going to keep fighting for what's right."
Kofi and C'Lynn's adoption becomes final at a court hearing before Judge Nan Waller in Multnomah County Family Court on October 30. Smith is currently fighting the case without an attorney.
It is against DHS policy to comment on specific cases, but DHS spokeswoman Patty Wentz was able to speak generally about DHS' decision-making process. "In all cases of adoption there's a review committee that includes all parties to the case," says Wentz. "The DHS does not make recommendations unilaterally or in a vacuum." She adds that "all avenues for reconsideration in this case have been exausted."