Gardner family heartbroken after foster daughter is taken away
“I can still hear her crying when we walked down the hall and she was being held behind.”
GARDNER, Kan. (KCTV) - The DeHaven family of four is now down to three.
The 3-year-old girl who has lived with them since birth, Mena, is at the center of a legal battle in the Kansas foster care system.
It’s a legal battle John and Nicole DeHaven just lost. Now, their foster daughter has officially been taken away.
Her little brother, 3-year-old Uriah, is left struggling to understand where she is. Nicole said, “He keeps saying, ‘She’ll come home?’”
For now, at least, Mena isn’t coming home.
Giving Mena up
“I can still hear her crying when we walked down the hall and she was being held behind,” Nicole said.
On Tuesday, Wyandotte County District Court Judge Jane Wilson ordered John and Nicole to turn the child over into the custody of the court.
The DeHavens knew giving up Mena was always possible and the moment came within hours.
“They wouldn’t tell us anything. Next thing we know, we get an order saying we have to produce her in less than three hours to Wyandotte County Court,” John said.
Out of respect for the DeHavens, KCTV5 was not there at the surrendering of Mena. Judge Wilson threatened the family with a $1,000 fine if they contacted media. So, John and Nicole waited until Wednesday to tell us their story.
“I just kept telling her, when I had to say goodbye, ‘I love you. I’ll always love you, and Mommy’s going to get you back as soon as I can, OK?” Nicole said.
The fight for Mena
Since 2021, John and Nicole have been fighting to adopt their foster daughter.
State foster contractor Cornerstones of Care wanted to reunite the child with her half-siblings, whom she’d never met, and have her be relocated with a new family in Manhattan, Kansas.
“They maybe met Mena for a total of 10 hours,” John said.
KCTV5 has also reported on the plight of Mena’s siblings. Shortly after the DeHavens shared their story with us in October, the Kansas Department of Children and Families granted the sibling split and allowed the adoption to move forward. Then, the family in Manhattan filed a motion; they wanted Mena.
“We got four days. Four days of ‘we’ll be able to make future plans’ and to finally relax,” Nicole said, crying.
Giving Mena up is the future they always feared. Now, that future is today.
“We were led to believe we were going to be the ones to adopt her,” said Nicole.
The DeHavens were even granted interested party status in the adoption process. And yet, they say they, their attorney, their child advocate guardian ad litem, and even the therapist were kept out of the final decision.
“They never once even reached out to Mena’s therapist and that’s the number one person in staffing,” John said.
“We were denied any notification by mail, orally. Our attorney wasn’t allowed. We were left in the dark,” Nicole said.
The couple believes that, because they told their story publicly, they are being punished.
“It feels like retaliation. It 100% does feel like retaliation and denying us to be able to have a voice in the court,” said John.
“Because I spoke out, my little girl’s being punished,” said Nicole.
Not giving up
Within the hour after Mena was taken, John and Nicole immediately aligned with community advocates. They are also taking their case to higher court.
“I have faith -- now that we can get this situation out of the district court’s hands and into the court of appeals -- that maybe, you know, that finally we can get somebody who has some sort of a sense,” Nicole said.
The DeHavens are struggling to stay strong but said it’s difficult when reality sets in.
“I came home last night and it was like she just vaporized, and her toys are still there,” cried Nicole.
The DeHaven home is the only home Mena has ever known.
“They don’t know what her nighttime routine is, they don’t know what she likes to eat, what certain words mean to her,” said Nicole.
John, who is a child therapist, worries about the trauma Mena will suffer.
“Now, she has pain around love and connection and trust. So, whenever she feels [that], I worry that pain is going to resurface and she’s going to… I can’t. I’m sorry,” cried John, struggling to find the words.
Even worse is finding the words to explain to Uriah where Mena is.
“This morning, that was the first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘Where’s Mena, momma? Where’s Mena?’” said Nicole, hugging her son. “How do you explain to him that’s she not just at a doctor’s appointment or at preschool today?”
KCTV5 contacted Governor Laura Kelly’s office, but we did not hear back.
To help the DeHavens offset some of the legal costs, supporters set up this GoFundMe page.
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