OGDEN -- An Ogden mother who battled state child welfare officials for several years to regain custody of one of her two sons finally has her family back together.
A family court judge recently granted Tina Poe full custody of her younger son, Kenny, 12. Poe regained custody of older son Dylan, 17, in 2007.
The three had been torn apart for nearly five years until Kenny moved back with his mother on a 90-day trial basis late last year. Poe had her last court appearance on the case Feb. 4.
The Poes admit their reunification hasn't been a smooth adjustment, but the trio recently moved into a newly remodeled home where they are grateful to have a fresh start.
"All I was asking for was the chance to do this," Poe said. "Most people quit. Most people back down. I didn't. I went full force."
Officials with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services had previously refused to relinquish custody of Kenny, arguing he displayed disturbing behavioral problems.
Last summer, DCFS officials told the Standard-Examiner that Kenny's needs were far greater than what Poe could manage. They logged physical assaults against other children, profanity and stated he attempted to start a fire while in their custody, according to court documents.
During his time with DCFS, Kenny was in and out of foster care and group homes. He spent several months at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City after officials said he showed aggressive behavior that was dangerous to himself and others.
Poe admits Kenny has obstacles to overcome, but said much of his problem stems from being institutionalized and feeling upset about being away from his family. Now that Kenny has been home several months, Poe says many of those behaviors have gone away.
"We just couldn't get through to DCFS' minds that what we were saying was true," said Shawn Beus, Poe's pro bono attorney. "Tina was amazing. She kept plugging away. She stayed consistent on a daily basis."
Poe and Beus say the turning point in the case came when state Rep. Neil A. Hansen, D-Ogden, noticed her story and organized a meeting with DCFS officials.
"The state thought it was a better parent," Beus said. "We told the judge 'give us a chance.' "
Kenny recently graduated from an anger-management class. He still attends individual and group therapy, and the Poes regularly participate in family therapy.
Kenny's teacher at Horace Mann Elementary in Ogden sends home a daily behavioral report and lately, they have been near perfect. The school also has asked Kenny to mentor another child his age who is having similar behavioral problems.
Poe lost custody of her two children in 2005 when she was convicted of aggravated assault after a fight with her now ex-husband. Poe and her attorney have always maintained it was Poe's husband who tried to attack her with a knife, and he was hurt after she grabbed it in self-defense.
While Poe was serving 16 months in prison, her husband abandoned the boys and took off to Florida. Dylan and Kenny were already in state custody by the time she got out.
Poe regained custody of Dylan nine months after successfully completing parole and courses in parenting, anger management and alcohol treatment.
According to DCFS, in fiscal year 2009, 44 percent of children in their custody were reunified with a parent or their primary caregiver, while 25 percent were adopted and 14 percent were placed with other relatives. Eleven percent were emancipated or reached adulthood.
Poe has an associate degree in criminal justice and says she wants to go back to school soon to become a paralegal. With those credentials, Poe hopes she can soon become an advocate for parents who are fighting the state to get their children back.
"I'm not saying they're all bad at DCFS, but there are things that need to be fixed," Poe said. "Who ultimately pays the price when they don't get it right? The children."