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CPS Adoptions: Were Relatives Considered First?

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She was only 19 when Amber Chenault gave birth to her daughter.

"She called her Mommy every time she saw her," said Sophia Peters, Amber's grandmother.

But now the baby calls someone else mommy and it's tearing Amber apart.

"I cry myself to sleep every night," Amber said. "I've got her pictures all over my wall at home. She's my every thing."

When she was just a few months old, the baby was taken into the custody of Child Protective Services. The reasons, CPS said, include her father's lengthy criminal history, unsafe living conditions and Amber's lack of stability.

Amber's family members agree CPS needed to get involved.

"According to the situation they were in, it was necessary," Amber's aunt Julia Kaptchinski said.

CPS got the baby's father to sign away his parental rights, but not Amber.

"I was thinking maybe, just maybe, she just might come home," Amber said.

"CPS is there for reunification first and foremost," Kaptchinski said. "We were told that a number of times and that was another reason we felt everything was going really well."

But things couldn't have gone more wrong, the family said.

"I was one of those people who believed CPS was there to help, and they’re not," Susan Peters, Amber's mother, said.

After a year, CPS said it saw no changes in Amber's life so the agency moved to have her parental rights terminated. Her baby was later adopted by foster parents.

"I do believe she should have been adopted into the family," Amber said. "There was no reason for her to be adopted outside of the family."

"It was a shock," Amber's mother said.

"They just took a great-grandbaby away from me and gave it to strangers for someone else and it hurts," Amber's grandmother said.

They keep telling us she's in a good foster home and she's fine, but that's a foster home. We're her family," Tina Porter said.

Just like Amber's family, Tina and Brian Porter said CPS ignored state law when it allowed their great niece to be adopted by foster parents instead of blood relatives.

"I would never in my life believe, in this country, this kind of behavior is allowed," Brian Porter said.

Tina's niece, the baby's mother, is mentally disabled. Relatives describe her mental capacity as that of a 12-year-old.

"Being mentally disabled doesn't mean you don't have feelings," Tina Porter said. "She does love her children and wanted her children to remain with family versus foster care."

The Porters, who've raised six kids are in the process of adopting their niece's little boy and planned on adopting his baby sister. They've even got a room waiting for her.
"And I walk by that room everyday and we're still waiting. It's not fair," Tina Porter said.

According to the couple's attorney CPS talked Tina's niece into signing away her parental rights with no attorney present.

"She definitely has mental disabilities that were recognized in CPS's own paperwork and no precautions were taken," the Porters’ attorney Don Robinowitz said. "Somebody should have made sure that she was competent to make a decision of this magnitude."

What’s more, the couple accuses CPS of stringing them along for months, making them think they would be adopting the baby girl.

"I trusted em,” Tina Porter said. "I trusted everyone I spoke to."

Then, Tina said she got a call from CPS telling her in 24 hours the baby would be adopted by her foster parents.

"Unbelievable," Tina said. "I still can't believe it. How could this be allowed to happen?"

Amber's aunt Denise Arsement was more than willing to adopt Amber's baby girl.

"In a heartbeat," Arsement said. "And I told them that in court, I told them I would take her."

Out of more than half a dozen relatives CPS knew would take the baby, none were contacted by the state agency, Arsement said.

Even though CPS's own policy states relatives are always considered first, the number of CPS adoptions statewide to relatives is less than 50 percent. In fact, according to the state agency's own figures, in 2008, 61 percent of CPS adoptions were non-relative adoptions. In 2009 it was 57 percent and last year 55 percent of all CPS adoptions were non-relative adoptions.

“CPS knew what they were doing to tell me enough stories to keep stringing me along," Tina Porter said.

The Porters have filed suit and hope a court battle will undo the foster parent adoption so they can adopt their niece's baby girl.

Meanwhile Amber's family has an appeal on file and prays somehow her baby will someday be part of their family.

"I don't go a day without thinking about what she might be doing or where she's at," Amber said.

CPS told FOX 26 Investigates, they originally placed Amber's baby with two different relatives, but at the request of those relatives the child was removed because they were no longer able to care for her.

The state agency said it didn't consider any other relatives because it was ordered by the court to leave the baby with the foster parents who adopted her.

As for the Porters, CPS declined comment due to pending court proceedings.

"Something needs to be changed," Amber's aunt Denise said. "This just can't keep happening to family after family."

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