A grandmother is desperately trying to get custody of her two grandsons who are wards of the state. Their mother's accused of having a meth lab in her house. The boys are now in their third foster home.
Their grandmother, Laura Jones wants them to live with her in Florida, but for the last two months, she's hit one roadblock after another.
So how does a family member, who is willing and able to care for loved ones in crisis, get custody, when their calls to the Department of Health and Human Services go unanswered?
Laura Jones says --- you fight.
Jones, whose son is the father to both boys, lives in Florida. She contacted the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to say she would take them in because her son has drug problems of his own.
DHHS told her she couldn't have them. Jones says "the reason being I was in Florida. Only reason they gave me."
Jones kept calling DHHS. She sent a letter and a folder full of documents to the judge presiding over the boys' case---to prove she was capable of taking care of them. Jones says "I can give the boys the care and attention they need, structure, healthy food, just love them."
Jones' folder was returned by the court and Tyler and Hayden were moved to a permanent foster home.
Bobbie Johnson is the Associate Director of Child and Welfare Services at DHHS. She says the department's number one priority is placing children with family and at the very least keeping children connected to them. Johnson says "every case looks different, but our policy is we keep kids connected to extended family and others important to them when safe and appropriate, based on the best interest of the children."
Representative Deb Sanderson, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, says the legislation, recently passed, makes kinship placement an easier process that can be handled expeditiously. Rep. Sanderson says " the one thing the department wants to focus on is reducing the trauma for children in a time that is very traumatic for them."
So does Laura Jones. "They're about to go into the holiday season alone. They've been with me every holiday except for last year, their whole lives."
Shawn Yardley is the CEO of Community Concepts and a former DHHS caseworker and supervisor. He says DHHS, the state's largest agency, is a complex system, with employees and the people they deal with all under a lot of stress and dealing with a myriad of emotions.
Yardley stresses "it's always good to have champions within the system to be able to make sure it works and I think sometimes with the number and volume and intensity of work, not every child has champions they need."
Right now there are 1,876 children in DHHS care.
23 of them living with family members out of state.
Laura Jones hopes Tyler and Hayden push that number to 25.
Jones says "I have watched those boys grow into the sweetest human beings you ever want to meet. They've got good parents, they've just made bad choices, but they raised good boys."
After not hearing from DHHS for weeks, Jones got an unexpected call on Wednesday. The process has started and she should have custody of her grandsons by Christmas.
Jones says the excitement was just crazy! "I wandered around the house last night looking at things going oh the boys are going to love this and this is what they normally know. What am I going to do with their bedrooms?"
And while Jones knows the boys will need a lot of love and support, she is grateful to have the chance to provide it. "It will be a long road for all of us, but together we can do anything."
As for the boys' mother, Sarah Goodwin is out on bail and she has made arrangements to enter a long-term, in-patient rehabilitation program at the end of the month. She says her boys mean everything to her and she going to work hard and do what she needs to do to get back them back.