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Vermont DCF success stories - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont DCF success stories

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BENNINGTON, Vt. -

The death of a Poultney toddler who had been in state custody and then returned to her biological parent put the spotlight on the Vermont Department for Children and Families. But not all children end up with a fate like Dezirae Sheldon. More than 26 percent of children who end up in DCF custody get adopted.

We spoke to one family who tells us their adopted daughter-- who started off with a tumultuous home life-- is now headed off to school in the fall, among other accomplishments. They say they are a DCF success story.

Courtney Sausville says she was forced to grow up fast. At 13, the Department for Children and Families removed Sausville and her three siblings from her biological parents.

"One of my parents is in prison for the things they had done and the other one, to my opinion, wasn't the type of parent that I needed to grow up around," she said.

After DCF took Sausville away, she lived in several different foster homes. Eventually the court gave her and her siblings the option to return home.

"I was like, no, it's not something I should do. It's not gonna be good for me. I will probably end up the same way my parents are," Sausville said.

She tells us her biological mother did not fight her decision. After her parents' rights were terminated, trying to find the right fit for a forever family was a challenge. She spent two years at Kendy Skidmore's home as a foster child. Then Skidmore adopted her. Realizing this was where she wanted to be was a relief-- and a celebration.

Sausville's biological mom reached out to Skidmore.

"On Facebook, thanking me for taking good care of Courtney and that she seemed happy and she was glad that she was happy, and she'd always love her, but she knew that this was what she wanted," Skidmore said.

With her new mom, Sausville got a busy home life. Skidmore has fostered or adopted 30 children over 5-and-a-half years.

"Rewarding, trying, it can be stressful and trying at times," Skidmore said. "But I think it's probably the most rewarding job I've ever had."

Vermont currently has 1,000 children in DCF custody, 750 of them are in foster care. But DCF says they can always use more foster families.

"I often hear people say, I live in Vermont, I didn't think abuse and neglect happens here. And it does," said Valerie Miner of DCF.

The foster families go through a training and screening process. DCF says they also make sure that they are in a good place emotionally to handle children. Families receive a stipend depending on age, up to $631 per month for one child. Skidmore says that helps, but doesn't cover the cost of providing for her big family. They go through a gallon of milk a day. She also has had children who have had a variety of issues, including one who set their bed on fire.

"I've had girls who were cutters, they cut themselves when they got stressed. I've had girls with significant behavior problems," Skidmore said.

The emotional toll of bringing children into her home who are then returned to their parents can also be tough. DCF says family reunification is a goal. According to the most recent report from DCF, over 49 percent of children go back to their biological parents. Over 47 percent of children leave DCF custody in less than a year. A parent must go through court proceedings and required courses, like drug counseling if necessary, to get their child back.

But sometimes reunification doesn't go as planned. In the case of Dezirae Sheldon, her mother, Sandra Eastman, was originally found by DCF to have been abusive. The baby lived with relatives for a short time until a judge found Eastman fit to have Dezirae back home.

"It's good to see progress made in families so that children can go home, because all kids want to be with their mom or their dad or both, but you get attached to them, you know," Skidmore said.

Being a foster child can also be challenging. Sausville says it was tough to socialize at school due to the regulations DCF has on foster children. If she wanted to sleep over at a friend's house or go on a weekend trip, she had to plan well in advance. DCF requires approvals by the child's social worker and other officials before a foster child is allowed to stay overnight anywhere other than their foster home. But this family says the rewards outweigh the challenges.

"I just graduated high school, a year early," Sausville said. "I'm going to college of St. Joseph's in Rutland on a full ride for my first year of school."

"She's always been a kid who you know, knew what she wanted, or at least thinks she knows what she wants. And quite disciplined," Skidmore said.

For Sausville, looking at a case like Dezirae Sheldon's makes her almost feel guilty that she escaped a home she feels was not fit for her.

"It's kind of upsetting because, it's like, here I am, one of the kids who did make it. And then you think there are kids, younger than me, older than me, who didn't get the chance that I got," she said.

Sausville has plenty of photos, but doesn't keep any of her biological parents. She says she is grateful they gave her life, but this is her forever family now.

DCF says they do regular checks on foster families to make sure that after they pass the initial screening, they maintain good standing. Many people may not think they can be foster parents, but you just have to be 21. Single and married people are all eligible.

Related Stories:

Successes, failures of Vt. child protection system

A closer look at how Vermont protects children
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