If something should happen to your children, do you have any right to be in your grandchildren’s lives?
One grandmother is sharing her story hoping it isn’t too late for her to make sure her grandson is not lost to foster care.
Darlene Pender’s grandson and his dad used to live with her in New York. Then in November 2016, she says the baby’s mom took him to visit friends in Garden City, Michigan. She never imagined her grandson would never come home.
“I don’t want to cry,” Pender said. “But we love him. We never stopped loving him.”
According to court documents, the child’s 19-year-old mom left her son with a friend in Garden City and returned home to New York. The friend called police and reported him abandoned.
Pender says as soon as she found out she called and asked if she could pick him up. Authorities called back and told her he was immediately placed with foster care.
“Why did they call me and tell me he is foster care? Why didn’t they tell me, 'hey something happened, your grandson is here, come pick him up,'” Pender asked.
Tracey Martin is the attorney representing Pender's son as he fights to keep his parental rights.
“He should have been placed with her from the get-go,” Martin said.
Pender says her son is in recovery for opioid addiction. She says she is a loving and qualified grandmother. She was working with the New York Office of Children and Family Services as a licensed social worker when this happened, and says she called authorities in New York and Michigan to ask for a home study, but the caseworkers kept changing.
Despite Pender's best efforts, it took more than a year to get a home study done.
“They took their time," she said. "They switched judges. They switched workers. They did so many wrong things here."
Martin said the study wasn't approved until 2018, and Pender passed with flying colors.
“The grandmother raised her hand and said I am out here," Martin said. "I want to take custody of my grandkid in November 2016."
Pender said her grandson would have been safe with her and not with a foster family that feels he's theirs.
“He would have been loved," she said
The foster family has grown attached to the little boy they have cared for now for two years, and has hired an attorney to try to get permanent custody.
Attorney Martin says even though Pender is able to give him a safe home, the foster family will likely make the legal argument that because they have had the little boy for so long it is in the child's best interest to stay permanently.
Martin adds that at the same time, under the law, the fact Pender lived out of state should have given her an advantage. The Michigan Interstate Compact calls for such cases to be expedited, so children can return to their home state.
For now, this grandma is going to continue coming to Michigan every month for every court-granted visit with her grandson. Some have been for a couple of hours, other visits have lasted a few days. She is hoping to one day bring him home.
“I am never going to step out of his life, and I am hoping I never have to not see him for a long period of time,” Pender said.