PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It's the first week back to work for lawmakers at the Arizona state capitol. And one of the first bills to be read in committee got approved unanimously.

SB 1018 pushes the Department of Child Safety to support families who adopt out of foster care when their kids have complex trauma and severe behavioral health problems that need long term care.

Republican Sen. Nancy Barto, who represents District 15, says her bill was inspired by the struggles of a Valley family we first profiled 14 months ago.

Nicole Martin

Nicole Martin and her husband Ben were forced to give up their adopted son when police said he wasn't safe to live in their home anymore.

Nicole Martin and her husband Ben were forced to give up their adopted son when police said he wasn't safe to live in their home anymore.

"Our child is now an orphan with no legal family and yet he has a loving family that misses him more than life itself," Nicole said, speaking from the heart in a virtual hearing for the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

"Just over a year ago, this past November was our first year without him," she added.

Her son, one of nine kids, was adopted as a set of four siblings who were exposed to unthinkable trauma as infants and toddlers.

When police and doctors tell you your child isn't safe in your home, that he might harm his siblings -- or you -- what do you do? An Arizona couple recently had to sign away their parental rights to one of their adopted sons, both so he could get the help he needed and to protect their eight other children.

"I do not regret my 'yes.' I regret that I do not have the support of the community and the mental health services in the state to help us with our yes," Nicole said.

From as young as 4 years old, Nicole says the boy started acting out, with knives and scissors, threatening his siblings, parents, even their pets.

She recorded a shocking video of a conversation with him where he explained in his very sweet and innocent voice that he was trying to choke and kill their cat.

Diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and sociopathic tendencies, her son went through intensive therapy, three intakes at Phoenix Children's Hospital and 16 months in a therapeutic foster home. Each time he came home, he eventually acted out again.

Phoenix police told her if he hurt someone, she could lose all her children.

The Department of Child Safety told her they didn't have any other services.

"He said if this was an autistic adult, I can get you all the help in the world," Martin said.

Their impossible ultimatum ended in court, where the Martins were forced to sever their parental rights, giving their son back to the state in order to get him help and protect their other children.

"How is any parent supposed to make that decision?" Nicole asked.

"It's not OK to allow these kids and these families to slip through the cracks," Barto said.

Sen. Nancy Barto also co-chairs the DCS oversight committee.

"Having to sign a piece of paper that says they are unwilling or unable to parent, neither one is really true! So we have to find a solution," Barto said.

It's personal. Her brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and lived on the streets before he was murdered. Barto helped pass a new residential treatment facility for adults and says she'll do all she can to help Nicole fight for help for her son.

Sen. Barto

Barto helped pass a new residential treatment facility for adults and says she'll do all she can to help Nicole fight for help for her son.

"I think she's a world changer," Barto said.

"She's never going to stop loving him. He's very lucky to have her advocating for him. I wish that for all children in foster care. We owe it to her, we owe it to him, to really work on this until we find a solution," Barto said.

"We need to change this because I'm not the only family," Nicole said.

"If your child has cancer, you get a community around you. You have the best doctors. You have the nurses. You have the entire community around you to lift you up and carry you through. You adopt a child with complex mental illness, you'll hear a lot of crickets. You'll get a lot of judgement," Nicole said.

Nicole Martin family photo

"All eight of the children still talk about him. His stocking still got put up this Christmas," Nicole said.

"All eight of the children still talk about him. His stocking still got put up this Christmas. He's very, very much still a part of this home and this life and our family," Martin said.

So while her heart breaks, wondering where he is now, how he's doing, who's tucking him in at night, she'll keep pushing so her pain has a purpose, to change the law and get kids and parents the help they need.

"I will continue fighting that no other mother ever has to know this grief. And one day, I hope that he can look us up and can see that I kept my word and I never stopped fighting," Martin said.

Sen. Barto says too many kids in our community, even adults and elderly with issues this severe, wind up homeless, in jail, or prison and agencies have got to stop "waiting out the clock until the problem's on someone else's budget."

"There's no reason why kids should be sent out of state. If there's no place here, then we need to make it happen here," Barto said.

If this passes, DCS will have until December to give these families better options.

Nicole Crites anchors 3TV's Good Evening Arizona weekdays. Nicole also digs deep into issues affecting Arizonans.  You'll see her reports on 3TV News at 9 p.m.
 
 

Copyright 2021 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Locations

Recommended for you