State of the Child: The Schrader's Story
CANTON, BRADFORD COUNTY (WOLF-TV) —
For about 10 years, Eric Schrader and his wife fostered more than 20 children.
He calls their experience rewarding.
But he says it was also challenging, especially in cases where the ultimate goal was to reunite the children with their families.
While the Schrader's had their issues with the state's foster care system, no case was as difficult as what they ultimately decided would be their last.
In 2015, Schrader and his family welcomed five young siblings from Northumberland County into their home.
The youngest was just four months old.
"They were very high-strung children coming from where they came from. A number of them had been abused, neglected, so we had to deal with all sorts of behaviors on the scope from here to here,” Schrader said.
It wasn’t easy at first.
But after a consistent structured routine, the Schrader's and the children started to make progress.
After several months, a Northumberland County caseworker approached the Schrader's and unofficially asked them if they were interested in adopting the children.
"We collectively made a decision that, yes, we wanted that responsibility,” he said.
The courts were on a path to terminate parental rights, but the hearings kept getting delayed.
So, the Schrader's had to patiently wait to adopt the children.
But that all changed one day in mid-2016.
As Eric tells it: the 5-year-old woke up from a nap with two red scratches on the side of her neck.
Shortly after, a caseworker with the agency they worked with arrived at their home for their weekly visit to check on the children.
"She started to ask her 'who did this to you?' Now, we were just like 'what do you mean?' I asked her, 'what do you mean who did it?' She goes, 'you've gotta tell me who did this? Somebody in this house had to have done this to you?'"
Eric says the caseworker kept prodding the child, who was now hysterical, to admit who hurt her.
"After a few minutes of this, she finally blurted out my wife's name. It was an answer under duress,” he added.
Eric's wife volunteered to leave the home while the state conducted an investigation, but the children were removed from the home instead.
A state caseworker completed her review and eventually cleared them of any wrongdoing.
But a judge ordered the children not to return.
"I can't even describe; I can't find the words to tell you what that feels like. I have no, I don't know. It's awful,” Eric, fighting back tears, said.
Schrader says the experience has changed him and his wife.
"She has anxiety, depression issues. I, myself, and I have nothing to hide, I've been in the hospital, I think, four times with some kind of attacks like where you can't breathe and stuff. And it hurts tremendously."
Schrader never got an answer as to why the children were never returned.
But he has his beliefs.
"I do believe that compensation does have a role to play. And maybe parallel with that, maybe having a good record. If there's any kind of trouble, like if a county finds trouble with us, the agency would back down and take the county's side instead of supporting us,” he said.
Eric says bottom line is if the courts didn't delay each hearing, then his family would have been able to adopt the children.
Northumberland County Children and Youth Services told us they are unaware of any issues with Adelphoi Village, the agency the Schrader’s worked with and whose employee Eric says was behind the reason the children were removed from the home.
Meanwhile, Adelphoi Village released the following statement:
“While we can’t comment on the particular details of any case, Adelphoi Village’s top priority is the safety and well-being of the children in our care. We have offered foster care services for over 40 years and have consistently demonstrated our commitment to the children and families we serve.”