Pubdate: Mon, 18 Jan 2010
Source: Calgary Sun, The (CN AB)
Copyright: 2010 The Calgary Sun
Author: Michael Platt, Calgary Sun
Cited: Oregon's Department of Human Services


Child Tug-Of-War Spans International Border

"He has to come home."

Phyllis Heltay's words hang between desperation and disbelief.

She's been fighting for over a year to bring her 11-year-old grandson 
home to Canada, after he was taken into custody by the State of 
Oregon and placed in foster care.

Noah Kirkman faces the possibility of being permanently adopted out 
to strangers, despite having a mother and sister in Calgary, and at 
least three willing homes where the Canadian boy might be cared for 
by blood-relatives. One of those relations is Noah's mother Lisa 
Kirkman, and therein lies the rub: Oregon's Department of Human 
Services considers Lisa such an unfit parent, they'd rather keep Noah 
in the foster system than let him come home.

They won't say why. Indeed, officials in that state won't even 
acknowledge the existence of the Canadian child in their custody, who 
lives with a foster family and attends school near Eugene, Oregon.

"I am not able to provide you with any information about specific 
child welfare cases," said Gene Evans, a state spokesman.

The silence is official, but Lisa Kirkman has reams of court 
documents to back her story, which started when social workers 
arrived on the doorstep, to take Noah away "for a few days."

That was Sept. 2008, and Lisa has been battling to get her son back 
ever since, with her last physical contact in July 2009. Since last 
summer, they've only spoken through supervised phone calls.

"It's an absolute and utter nightmare," said Lisa, a 34-year-old 
freelance journalist.

"To me this is an abduction -- they took my child from me for no reason."

Noah and his younger sister Mia were staying with their step-dad in 
Oregon for the summer, with Lisa joining the family at the end of 
August to collect them home for school.

Unfortunately, Noah was collected by the local police force first. 
Officers in Oakridge, Oregon nabbed the boy for riding his bike 
without a helmet, and then struggled to determine who he was.

Noah is bright, getting top grades, but he has special needs, with 
severe attention deficit disorder being his main challenge.

Noah's unusual behaviour probably led the officers to run the boy's 
name through their system, where they discovered his past history 
with Canadian social services.

Noah's special needs meant Lisa had turned to child and family 
services in two provinces seeking help -- as a result, she has a 
"record" of family difficulties in Canada.

To make matters more sticky, Lisa has a criminal record in Canada. 
She is a marijuana crusader and columnist, and was busted years ago 
for growing medical marijuana without a permit.

That past led Oregon officials to keep Noah and place him in foster 
care, forcing Lisa to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and swear off 
drugs before they'll even consider returning her son.

His American step-father, John, can't take custody, as he is not a 
legal guardian.

Despite "testing well", according to court records and a letter from 
a Calgary-based psychologist, it was recommended Lisa undergo 
behavioural therapy, to teach her emotional control.

All the while, as months ticked by, Noah was moved through four 
different foster homes and various schools. At one point, he was 
living in a devout Christian home, despite being Jewish.

The seemingly-endless tangle of red-tape has even stymied attempts by 
Noah's grandparents from bringing him home. If Lisa isn't a suitable 
parent, they argue, why not give Noah to us?

"More than a year ago, we said we'd be willing to take him until this 
is all sorted out, but we're still waiting," said Heltay.

As well as the grandparents, both working professionals in Calgary, 
Lisa's sister has offered her home.

Before the grandparents can take the boy, officials in Oregon want a 
full assessment of their home, and the Heltay's now await an official 
inspector who will put their lives under a microscope.

Meanwhile, Lisa can only speak to her son over the phone, trying to 
remind a boy who last lived with her 20 months ago that he still has 
a loving family, 1,000 kilometres and an international border away.

"It's like getting your heart ripped out," said Lisa.

"If I allowed myself to get too emotional, I couldn't function. I 
just have to focus on bringing him home."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake