In 2002, my wife and I became foster parents. Our first long term foster child was a beautiful little girl named Sirita Sotelo. She was three years old. She had been in foster care since the day she was born, having tested positive for cocaine at birth. She was removed from her mother six times and placed in eight different foster homes. Ours was number eight. She had deep emotional and behavioral problems caused by years in the system. We loved her, and after her biological mother ran out of chances to get her back, we thought we would adopt her. Her biological father had little contact with her for most of her life and previously not sought custody because Sirita was the product of an extra-marital affair, and he was still married to the same woman he was married to when he had the affair with Sirita’s mother. However, when faced with termination of his parental rights, he decided he wanted her. We worried about the many risk factors in the placement, including Sirita’s behavioral issues. To the stepmother she would be the product of her husband’s infidelity, and we worried she would be a “Cinderella.” But we knew nothing about the courts or the system, and did as we were told. We gave Sirita over nine months after she came into our home. A year later, she was dead. Her step mother had beaten her to death, three weeks before her fifth birthday.
We were devastated. I knew what was wrong with the system, and I realized it was time to for change. I went to the local media and the Washington State Legislature and pushed for “Sirita’s Law” to limit how long a child stays in the system and how many times a child would be returned to abusive dysfunctional families. After two years, the law passed with a package of foster care reforms. The story of Sirita's Law is chronicled on the website I built in her honor, http://www.SiritaLaw.com.
However the fight for children’s rights continues. 18,000 children will go through foster care in Washington State in a given year, and over 9000 children are in foster care on any given day. Half of them have been there for three or more years. This is too many, and too long. The longer they stay, the more they are damaged. There are still changes needed. The result of my high profile is that many foster families in trouble have come to me for help. I learned a lot in the years since my daughter’s death, but I came up against the limits of what an individual can do.
I was joined by other foster parents, each with their own incredible story, and we formed an alliance of foster parents, foster care alumni (former foster children that are now adults), and guardians at litem, to defend the rights of the child. Our activities are on two fronts:
Our focus is to protect the foster children of Washington State. We are all volunteers. We ask you to join us defending the rights of these children.
Gary S. Malkasian
Foster Care Justice Alliance