Family says state won’t let them adopt 4-year-old parent
(WXYZ) – A local family is desperate to adopt their 4-year-old parent, but they say the state is preventing them from keeping the little girl in the family. Instead, the family lawyer says one of the employees at the adoption agency they used is trying to adopt the child.
To protect her privacy, we are not using the baby girl’s real name. Instead, we call her Elizabeth.
The Mihailoff family feel like the system has let them down and say their only option now is to share their story of how they lose their relative to strangers.
âShe is my heart,â said Ruth Mihailoff in tears. “She is very much loved … She is a member of a large, very loving family.”
Ruth has been fighting for her granddaughter, Elizabeth, since 2018.
It was then that the one-year-old became a ward of the state after Elizabeth’s mother lost her parental rights due to drug addiction.
âNo one will love or care for this little girl as much as her family will. Period,â said Ruth.
Under Michigan law, family members have priority to adopt loved ones. So why is the state saying the Mihailoff family can’t do this? And why was Elizabeth found at the home of one of the adoption agency employees?
A state-contracted foster and adoption agency in Livonia called Forever Families was responsible for assessing Ruth and her family. State officials say the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services paid Forever Families $ 1,958,350 in 2020; the agency acts on behalf of the MDHHS.
Under the supervision of Forever Families, Ruth and her other daughter, Tayler, took care of the little girl. They say Elizabeth thrived with her cousins ââand her stepsister.
But after several months, Forever Families told Ruth she couldn’t adopt. They said she was entered into the MDHHS central registry for child abuse and neglect for something Ruth’s ex-husband allegedly did 13 years ago. Even though Ruth has documents from the MDHHS indicating that she is not on the central register, the decision had been made.
“What did you think when they said you couldn’t adopt him?” Asked Heather Catallo, 7th investigator.
âI was devastated. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, âsaid Ruth.
Tayler therefore asked to adopt Elizabeth instead.
âDo you feel like you had the same time and ability to be ready for this process as your mother,â Catallo asked Tayler Mihailoff.
“No! I had 2 months, I think, to return all the papers. While I was working full time, while I was a mom.
Tayler’s attorney says Forever Families’ reports on Tayler are filled with inaccuracies that workers have used against her, including falsely claiming that Tayler did not have a car and that her son has special needs.
Then, in June 2019, Ruth and Tayler got into an argument over Ruth’s divorce and Tayler sent her mother threatening texts. The mother and daughter say they quickly reconciled, but they say the state used those text messages to deny Tayler’s adoption request.
âThings happen in life, and you can’t determine someone’s entire life from certain text messages someone has made,â Tayler said.
“If it wasn’t in front of a kid and they weren’t screaming and making a scene, and that’s how they texted each other, that’s not the worst thing in the world,” said Macie Tuiasosopo Gaines, Tayler’s lawyer.
She says emails she uncovered during their legal challenge revealed Forever Families was working behind the scenes to turn down Tayler’s offer of adoption with the woman who had final say on Elizabeth’s fate: the superintendent of Michigan Children’s Institute (MCI).
MCI is part of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which contracts with agencies like Forever Families.
âThey’re all part of the same agency,â said Vivek Sankaran, director of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic at the University of Michigan. âThis recommendation is almost binding on the courts. It’s an incredibly high standard for someone to go to court to challenge the recommendation made by the Michigan Children’s Institute.
Sankaran says the MCI system needs to change.
âGiving this agency so much authority to make decisions about a child should concern us all,â said Sankaran. âBecause I think families often fear that they won’t even have the chance to tell their story. want for our families – if our children were in foster care? And I’m not sure we would want a government agency to have that much authority over who makes the decisions.
Gaines says the MCI superintendent told Forever Families to remove Elizabeth from Tayler’s house just before Thanksgiving in 2019.
âEven though before Elizabeth was fired, we went to the Intake Care Review Board. And they issued a notice saying she had to stay with her family. His family is linked. And MCI canceled that immediately, âGaines said. Gaines said the lawyer, known as Guardian ad Litem, who represented Elizabeth during the process, also believes she should stay with her family – but MCI has the final say.
âThey didn’t just take her away from me. They took her from her cousins ââ- my children. And everyone ! It’s not something you get used to, âTayler said.
Two years later, Tayler and Ruth are still trying to challenge MCI’s decision in court.
But Attorney General Dana Nessel retaliates, defending MCI’s decision to deny the family the ability to adopt their own parent, arguing in court records that Tayler was immature and “overwhelmed.”
As part of their legal challenge, Gaines says she learned that someone else had applied to adopt Elizabeth.
Gaines says the person trying to adopt Elizabeth is an employee of Forever Families.
âI was appalled,â Gaines said, calling it a huge conflict of interest. âThey stole this baby!
“Her name is on this file, she visited the homes of these people and as social workers they can do whatever they can to make sure that this placement is possible and that it has not been done.” Gaines said.
Gaines says records show the Forever Families employee was at Taylor’s home for an assessment and the Forever Families employee signed other reports that impacted the adoption decision.
For the past two years, the Mihailoffs have not been able to see or speak to Elizabeth, and they have no idea where she is living. But the 7 investigators found the child recently, and she appears to be staying with the Forever Families employee who Gaines says is trying to adopt the now 4-year-old girl.
âI will continue to fight if I have to work five jobs, I will continue to fight for my granddaughter. Because she doesn’t deserve what was done to her, âsaid Ruth.
Forever Families declined to comment on this story, citing confidentiality rules, but Elizabeth’s case was transferred to another agency due to a “conflict of interest”.
The attorney general also does not comment, with a spokeswoman saying only: “The ministry cannot discuss specific adoption cases as they remain a confidential process.”
Both sides will be back in court for what is called a Section 45 hearing on Tuesday morning, as the family try to argue that MCI’s decision was wrong.
If you have a story for Heather, please email her at [email protected]