Nowhere Boy

His biological parents didn't want him -- but to get him the help he needs, his adoptive parents must give him up.

Five months later, the Mallamos had to repeat this scenario. On June 16, Jeffco social services agreed to move David to Lost and Found, a residential treatment center in Morrison. But that morning, the Mallamos learned the initial D&N charge filed against them had been dropped a month earlier, after they had refused to plead guilty to it. That meant that David was retroactively back in their custody. They'd be billed for the services he'd received in the interim, and if they wanted David to go to Lost and Found, they'd have to pay for his placement themselves. So essentially, the family was forced to give custody of David to social services once again in order to get him the care he needed.

Social services stepped in and filed another D&N petition against the Mallamos. Under the custody of Jefferson County, David went to Lost and Found, where he's been ever since.

The Mallamos have repeatedly refused to accept the court's characterization of them as neglectful parents -- in part because such an admission could land their names on a registry of child abusers, affecting their future employment and possibly their custody of Molly. And they say their relationship with caseworkers and other social-services staffers has been adversarial from the beginning.

Anthony Camera
A family affair: After eight years, Susan and Paul 
Mallamo say they can no longer care for their adopted 
son, David.
Anthony Camera
A family affair: After eight years, Susan and Paul Mallamo say they can no longer care for their adopted son, David.

"They've been making treatment plans for David without ever having read his case file or visiting this house," says Paul. "They've constantly described our Œfamily dynamic' as being one of the factors here, without knowing anything about our family. It's very distasteful to have to constantly defend your parenting."

"Most parents don't fight for their rights like the Mallamos have," says Mark Henningsen, a therapist who treated David for two years. "They've asked for what they need and what they're entitled to, which probably doesn't put them in the top ten of the county."

Because the case is ongoing and involves a juvenile, the Jefferson County Department of Social Services declined to comment specifically on the Mallamos' case or David's treatment. But the department did note that the number of D&N cases filed in Jeffco has increased by 15 percent, to 432 so far this year, partly because of a poor economy and a growing population. The county, which has seen its share of budget cuts over the past two years, has a static number of employees to handle a ballooning caseload. And when parents such as the Mallamos turn to the counties to provide mental-health services, they compete for resources in an already crowded pool.

"If you look at what's happening, everyone is understaffed and undermonied," says one state mental-health advocate. "There have been huge layoffs across Jefferson County. People who went from having a caseload of fifty now have eighty. You can't always expect the most personal or unlimited services when you have people coming to work every day thinking, 'What if I'm next?'"

"The counties are aware of the problems, and they're scrambling to find ways to deal with them," says Henningsen. "The problems are system-wide."

At the September hearing, Boatright ruled that David should remain at Lost and Found, in the custody of social services, but said that the Mallamos were not to blame for his situation. David was dependent and homeless, not neglected, and through no fault of his parents.

For the Mallamos, it was a minor victory. Their case remains open while the court waits to see how long it will be before David can be safely returned to the home. And that could be a long wait. The average stay at Lost and Found is between three and six months, but some who know David expect him to stay at the center for at least a year. When he's released from the program, he'll be a likely candidate for a step-down treatment, such as therapeutic foster care. In the meantime, David visits his family every Sunday, and Paul, Susan and David receive weekly family counseling.

Paul and Susan continue to pay a portion of David's residential treatment center costs. When a child is placed in a center, social services requires his parents to cover a portion of his room and board, a fee determined on a sliding-scale system. In June, Paul's wages were garnisheed to cover back payments for the various treatment center, foster and shelter placements that David has been through since January.

If JCMH had approved their initial request for help, the Mallamos say, they wouldn't have been charged a dime. They're contemplating civil action to recoup the money they've spent on lawyers and David's treatments.

At Lost and Found, David lives with seventeen other boys and receives 24-hour supervision.

"We provide behavioral monitoring, on-site schooling and a self-contained environment, and constant supervision and safety," says Terry Rogers, Lost and Found's executive director. "Most of things we do are things you just can't do at home, like make sure someone stays awake all night to keep an eye on the kids."

So far, David's stay has been rocky: He's run twice from the home, gotten into fights with other residents and made a list of the boys in the center that he'd like to kill. In early November, he threw a bucket of salt on a staff member, then kicked him in the head and the chest. He was charged with felony assault, and a preliminary hearing on the matter is scheduled for January.

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