Ashley Boone is a licensed foster parent with expertise in caring for children with special needs. She also has experience as a social worker, supporting children who have been separated from their parents.
However, despite her strong bond with her nephews, aged 6 and 7, the 36-year-old Tulsa resident has been unable to take them in. The boys are currently living with a white foster parent in rural Minnesota who is not related to them but wishes to adopt them.
Boone and local civil rights leaders have spoken out about what they see as unfairness and injustice within the Kandiyohi County child welfare agency in Minnesota and the state’s courts, which have made it difficult for her to care for her nephews.
“When they get older, they’re going to wonder why family didn’t want them… It’s not for lack of us trying. We’re fighting so hard for them,” she said to the Sahan Journal.
As a child welfare specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Boone has seen firsthand the harm caused to children when they are separated from their relatives. Cynthia Wilson, president of the Minnesota chapter of the NAACP, remarked, “When there’s a family member that’s able, with all of the tangibles that Ashley has, it’s kind of a no-brainer. When you have someone who has all of the things that are being requested, and then you’re still giving them a problem, something else is going on.”
The children were taken away from their parents’ care at ages 3 and 4 after reports of neglect, drug use, and domestic violence in their home. Court records show that the boys tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana when they were taken.
Since then, they have been placed in four foster homes with caregivers who are not related to them. In one instance, the brothers had to be quickly removed from an informal foster care placement after it was revealed that their caregivers left the young children alone in an unheated garage for discipline.
Their current placement with a sales manager in rural Minnesota has been the longest and has lasted for 21 months. The foster parent’s adult son, who has a Puerto Rican background, also lives in the home and helps care for the children. The court considered the foster home to be biracial due to the son’s background.
So far, therapists report that the boys are safe, well-cared for, and starting to heal from the difficult experiences they have had. Boone has not given up her fight for custody, despite the legal complexities and challenges she has faced in the case.
Her lawyer, Kelli Thiel, fights for the rights of black and Indigenous foster children to stay with their relatives, emphasizing the long-term effects of separating families. At first, the child welfare agency in Kandiyohi County sent letters to relatives in several states, including Minnesota, California, Georgia, and West Virginia, asking if they would be interested in taking care of the children.
State law requires agencies to consider relatives as foster care placements and involve them in the child’s care and planning. Their grandmother Thelma Frieson, a cousin, and a great-aunt who was already a licensed foster parent in California were among the out-of-state maternal relatives who agreed to take them in. Two paternal relatives from Minnesota offered as well but were ruled ineligible.
Boone, being the boys’ maternal aunt, did not receive a letter from the county but learned about the situation from her cousin. She quickly contacted the child welfare agency, expressing her willingness to take in her nephews. Their grandmother, Frieson, also did the same. Boone even got a foster parent license in Oklahoma as a backup plan if her mother’s adoption did not happen.
Frieson had adopted the children’s birth mother from foster care when she was 13 years old. She and Boone didn’t know the boys at first because of a period of estrangement with their mother, but they reached out quickly after learning they were in need.
Boone and her family were shocked when a judge rejected her argument that the boys should be raised around people of their culture who resemble them.
The foster mom and those supporting her adoption request stated in the court records that she and the children have grown increasingly connected. They believe that moving children to their maternal aunt’s house three states away will cause additional and unneeded disruption in their lives.
After the foster mother’s adoption plan was overturned by the state, the child welfare workers in Kandiyohi County started making plans for the boys to move in with their aunt.
Boone felt that she had finally succeeded in her fight for her nephews and shared the news with friends and family, asking for their continued support and prayers for both her and the current foster mother.
“I cried happy tears for days,” she said. “I know this will be a loss for her,” she texted a friend. “I am prayerful that this will be amicable and we can stay extended family.”