The horrors that Kristen Stillman has endured in her short life are beyond imagining: abandoned at the age of eight by her mother, raped repeatedly by the man she was left with, bearing four children fathered by her rapist before she was twenty. And then the final injury, one far easier for most people to grasp: Denver County billed Kristen for the foster care of her children.
The children she would not have had if the Denver Department of Human Services had watched out for Kristen when she was a child.
By the time Kristen went to court on September 14 to relinquish her parental rights to those children -- so that they could be adopted and have the family life she never did -- the bill had topped $5,000.
When I first heard Kristen's story, it was difficult to grasp all that she had lived through.The foster-care tab from Denver County was not: Everyone can understand a billing error. And what else could billing a rape victim for the results of those rapes be? "There has to be some mistake," I told Kristen. "No matter whether you want to tell your story, I'll make some calls and see if we can clear this up."
Turns out, the bill was not a mistake: Denver County was just following the rules handed down by the state's Department of Human Services when it billed Kristen for the care of her children, who had been snatched by her rapist when Kristen finally fled to Kansas with the kids, put in foster care, then briefly returned to Kristen before she realized she could not care and provide for four children under the age of seven
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Too bad the county hadn't followed its rules years before, when people warned the department that something funny was happening in the house on Irving Street where Kristen lived.
Kristen did decide to tell her story, in hopes that the next little girl who's being abused feels empowered to tell her story -- in hopes that the next time someone hears from a little girl in trouble, they take action. Kristen Stillman's story, our cover on September 9, inspired hundreds of people to ask what they could do to help.
And it also, finally, inspired Denver County to do the right thing. After the state determined that it was entirely "up to the county's discretion" what it wanted to do with Kristen's bill -- and after many, many behind-the-scenes discussions -- the bill has been canceled. Yesterday, I learned that Kristen's case has been closed.
Her story is not over, of course. But now she finally dares to hope it might have a happy ending.