Why Is The ‘Sound Of Hope’ Movie So Hopeless?

It’s hard to overstate how counterproductive it is to depict foster care as a joyless, draining, hell on Earth.

Vermont couples barred from fostering children because of their Christian beliefs on sexuality, says lawsuit

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Brian Wuoti of Vermont is a Baptist pastor and a high school math teacher. His wife of 14 years, Kaitlyn Wuoti, leads a bi-weekly women's Bible study and homeschools their five children. They first became foster parents in 2014, adopting a pair of brothers who have become an "integral" part of their family.

Michael Gantt is the lead pastor of another church, and Rebecca Gantt, his wife of 25 years, raises their seven children. They became foster parents in 2016. Extra to their four biological children, they have adopted three children from the Green Mountain State's foster care system.

Both families believe that God created everyone in his image; that sex is binary and fixed by God at conception; and that all people deserve respect and love.

These two families unfortunately share something more in common beside their establishment of loving homes, dedication to protecting the vulnerable, sterling records, and Christian faith.

According to their lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, the Vermont Department for Children and Families has barred them from continuing to foster children on account of their religious beliefs about sexuality.

'Vermont would prefer children have no home than to place them with families of faith with these views.'

"Although the Wuotis and Gantts have adopted five children between them, the Department has determined they are unfit to foster or adopt any child solely due to their religiously inspired and widely held belief that girls cannot become boys or vice versa," said the lawsuit.

"And Vermont applies this policy categorically — whether applicants want to adopt their grandchild, provide respite care for an infant for just a few hours, or foster a child who shares all of their religious views," continued the suit. "Vermont would prefer children have no home than to place them with families of faith with these views."

The Wuotis discovered that their mainstream Christian beliefs rendered them ineligible to give orphans and other vulnerable minors a supportive home in 2022, when the state was reviewing their application to renew their foster care license.

Despite a case worker suggesting that she "probably could not hand pick a more wonderful foster family," and the Wuotis' licensor apparently indicating there was "no doubt" they could welcome another child into their home, everything changed when they indicated they were Christians and would not embrace the ideological fads of the day. Somehow, they instantly ceased to be wonderful. An absence of doubt in their ability to foster another child became an absolute certainty in their inability.

They received a "Notice of Decision" from the VDCF recommending the revocation of their license.

Last year — a year where the state had 985 children in out-of-home protective custody, 467 in conditional custody, and 150 family support cases — the Gantts heard the call of a child in need.

The VDCF apparently asked the couple whether they could take an emergency placement — a baby about to be born to a homeless junkie. Prior to taking another child into their home, the couple received an email "explaining that families must accept the State's orthodoxy about gender fluidity 'even if the foster parents hold divergent personal opinions or beliefs,'" said the lawsuit.

The Gantts met with a caseworker about fostering the baby and made clear they would "love and accept any child" but that they would not compromise on their Christian beliefs. Michael Gantt also made clear to a department employee he would not bend the knee to gender ideology — no Pride parades, no incorrect pronouns.

The couple received a "Notice of Decision" concerning their license revocation in February.

'The division is committed to making ongoing efforts to recruit, train, support and retain foster families who are LGBTQ affirming and supporting.'

While the lawsuit references various indicators that the VDCF is ideologically captive and hostile to traditional views, a number of which are still maintained by the majority of Americans, it highlighted the department's LGBT activist orientation, manifest in Policy 76.

The policy states, "When assessing safety and risk in an environment where an LGBTQ child or youth resides, family services workers will determine whether a parent, caregiver, or other family member's attitude and behavior about the child or youth's sexual or gender identity impact the safety and well-being of the child."

"The division is committed to making ongoing efforts to recruit, train, support and retain foster families who are LGBTQ affirming and supporting," the policy says in a section on placement considerations.

The lawsuit indicated that the VDCF has reinterpreted its existing requirements of foster parents in accordance with Policy 76 and that foster families must demonstrate they can follow the policy's guidance.

Extra to the policy, other departmental communications and rules have indicated that devout Christians need not apply.

A Sept. 8, 2023, email circulated to all foster families by the VDCF reportedly stated, "Eligibility for licensure is dependent on foster parents and applicants being able to support youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or another diverse identity (LGBTQI+) even if the foster parents hold divergent personal opinions or beliefs."

'It bears mentioning that this suit was filed at the start of pride month.'

A VDCF spokesman relayed a statement from Aryka Radke, deputy commissioner of the Family Services Division, to the Christian Post, saying that while the department does not comment on the details of pending lawsuits, "generally speaking, DCF takes the care and support of youth in our custody seriously, and we work to ensure that youth in foster care are placed in homes that support all aspects of what makes them who they are. This includes their sexual orientation and gender identity."

"It bears mentioning that this suit was filed at the start of pride month — a time when we reflect on the achievements and continued struggles of the LGBTQI+ movement," Radke continued, signaling her bias. "The department stands in partnership with the community, and continually works to be a better partner, ally, and support system — rather than a barrier to the children and youth who identify as part of this community."

"Providing safe, affirming, accepting and welcoming homes benefits all youth and it has the power to save lives. This is true year-round, and bears underscoring for these youth especially during pride," added Radke.

'They don't need the state pushing its gender ideology on them.'

Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse, the Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel representing the families, highlighted to the Christian Post that contrary to Radke's suggestion, it's the state's polices that "are actually harmful."

"I would point people to the Cass review that came out of England showing that pharmacological and surgical intervention likely caused more harm than any good and that the evidence is incredibly weak in this area," said Wildmalm-Delphonse. "Children just need a loving place, someone to care for them while they work out these types of issues. They don't need the state pushing its gender ideology on them."

Blaze News previously detailed the extent to which the Cass Review, a multi-year investigation into the pseudoscience of transgenderism, commissioned by England's National Health Service, undermined the ideology that now reigns supreme at the VDCF.

Dr. Hilary Cass, a British medical doctor who previously served as president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, reached a number of damning conclusions in her final report, such as:

  • the "systematic review showed no clear evidence that social transition in childhood has any positive or negative mental health outcomes, and relatively weak evidence for any effect in adolescence";
  • puberty blockers compromise bone density and have no apparent impact on "gender dysphoria or body satisfaction"; and
  • the evidence in support of "gender-affirming care" is "weak" and unreliable.

Alliance Defending Freedom stated, "By denying people the chance to be foster and adoptive parents because of their religious beliefs and compelling them to speak the government’s preferred message about sexual orientation and gender identity, Vermont is violating the First Amendment."

The lawsuit alleges the VDCF has specifically violated the couples' rights to free speech, free association, and free exercise of religion, as well as the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause. The couple seeks a declaration on the part of the department that its LGBT activist mandate encompassing Policy 76 and a handful of rules violated and continues to violated their constitutionally protected rights. Additionally, they seek an injunction against similar and future denials of foster licenses on the bases of protected beliefs.

"Every child deserves a loving home, and children suffer when the government excludes people of faith from adoption and foster care," added the Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Gantts and Wuotis are hardly the first to be precluded from adopting or fostering on the basis of their Christian faith. The Massachusetts DCF rejected Catholics Mike and Kitty Burke last year. Washington State dashed Shane and Jenn DeGross' dreams in 2022.

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Nearly all states take foster kids' federal benefits and use them to offset cost of foster care: Report

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A disturbing report from the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law indicates that nearly all states routinely take federal benefits from children in the foster system and use those benefits to offset the cost of foster care.

Like their counterparts who are not in the foster care system, some foster kids are entitled to receive federal money, including disability benefits associated with Social Security as well as survivor benefits associated with the Veterans' Administration and the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program, which are issued upon the death of a parent, the Children's Advocacy Institute study noted.

However, of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, only seven received a passing grade in the study: Arizona, D.C., New Mexico, Oregon, Maryland, Illinois, and Washington state. The rest received an F because they otherwise abscond with the foster kids' federal money in the name of "revenue maximization," oftentimes without even bothering to tell the children first.

"For this subset of foster youth, who face tremendous obstacles when they transition out of care, these assets can serve as a lifeline, contributing to economic stability, self-sufficiency, and successful outcomes," the study said. "Most foster youth eligible for these federal benefits will never see a dollar of their money, or even know that someone has applied for and received benefits on their behalf."

The Detroit Free Press investigated the issue in Michigan, one of the 44 states to receive a failing grade in the study. According to the outlet, in fiscal year 2022-23, Michigan collected $3.2 million in federal benefits designated for foster children, all of which went toward reimbursing "the state for the cost of caring for kids in the child welfare system."

The only way a Michigan foster child may begin receiving some of his or her federal benefits or have those benefits saved on the child's behalf is when "the child’s total income exceeds the cost of care," the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services indicated.

Yet, the state has apparently failed to deliver in some of those cases as well. The Free Press noted that one former foster youth whose father died did not receive federal benefits for the first six months after he was returned to the care of his birth mother, meaning the state collected nearly $5,400 to which the young man was entitled.

"I don’t understand how they can do that to kids when they’re trying to move forward with their life," said the boy's mother, Jenny Bowden.

"It makes you feel like they really don’t care about it, or they’re trying to have a good image without having to do the work," Bowden's son added.

When asked for comment, the Michigan DHHS made no attempt to deny denying foster kids their federal benefits. "This is common practice among many states," the agency said.

"When a child is placed in an out-of-home situation with MDHHS, income or funds available to the child are secured and used to reimburse the public taxpayer dollars that provide payment for the child's care. If the child's total income exceeds the cost of care, the excess is saved for the child," the agency helpfully explained.

Jill Bauer, a staff attorney at Legal Services in Washtenaw County in Michigan, took a decidedly different view. "Why should kids with Social Security have to pay for their own foster care?" she asked rhetorically.

Elisa Weichel, administrative director of the Child Advocacy Institute, even suggested that the state practice of taking federal money that belongs to foster children just reinforces to such children that they are viewed as possible revenue sources rather than as human beings.

"We believe that the state is choosing to put its own financial interests above the best interests of the children in its care," Weichel told the Free Press, "which unfortunately is a message these children probably also get in other ways."

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Heartbreaking Memoir Troubled Indicts The Elites Tearing Apart Two-Parent Homes

Troubled exposes the 'luxury belief' that stable families are unimportant and that education and upward mobility can repair volatile upbringings.

Blaze News investigates: Michigan foster parents accused of child abuse and the adult children who have come to their defense

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On December 4, 2023, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that her office had charged two sets of foster and adoptive parents — Jerry and Tam'al Flore and Joel and Tammy Brown — with various crimes related to child abuse, as Blaze News previously reported. The charges against the defendants are so serious in nature that all four face life in prison if convicted.

While Michiganders of goodwill reeled with shock over the alleged crimes, some members of the Flore family and their friends reeled with shock that Jerry and Tam'al, of all people, had been accused of them. Four of the Flores' adult children, one of their sons-in-law, and several family friends spoke with Blaze News, and without exception, all came to the Flores' defense and vehemently repudiated all accusations of criminal or ethical wrongdoing in their case.

Blaze News also spoke with one relative of the Browns who similarly denied all accusations against them and who implored us to take a closer look at the Browns' and Flores' cases. However, on the advice of counsel, Joel and Tammy Brown opted not to speak with us other than to say that they both had "passed 3 polygraphs at the beginning of the case." Messages left with the Browns' attorneys were not returned.

'Doing what God has called them to do': The Flores' large family

In many ways, Jerry and Tam'al Flore are living the American dream. They are both in their 50s, have been married for 37 years, and have spent most of that time living in a large, beautiful home on 15 acres in DeWitt, Michigan, a quiet, rural city of nearly 5,000 residents just north of Lansing.

They also have 18 — that's right, 18 — children, only two of whom came into the family the old-fashioned way. The other 16 were welcomed into the family by way of adoption, mostly because the Flores wanted to keep biological siblings together.

Over a 20-year period, the Flores also opened their home to more than 40 other foster children, bringing the total number of children who were placed in their care at one point or another to nearly 60. The Flores told Blaze News that they are just as surprised as anyone at the way their family grew.

"We never purposed to have that many, but we did feel that we were called to do this," insisted Tam'al. Tam'al is an adopted child, and several of Jerry's cousins are adopted as well, so adoption always seemed natural and appealing to them.

The Flores are also devout Christians, and they see adoption as a means of living out their faith. "Scripture talks about taking care of the widows and the orphans," Tam'al explained, "and we have taken that very seriously."

Neighbor Roberta Pennock, who attends the same church as the Flores, expressed a similar idea. "From what I know of them as people and as Christians," Pennock said, "I believe that they've been doing what God has called them to do, and they've been praying about it."

Joshua Flore, the Flores' 33-year-old biological son, an open and affable man with some cognitive disabilities who has held a steady job for more than a decade, told Blaze News that his adopted brothers and sisters have all been "wonderful" answers to his prayers. "It was almost like we were supposed to have them," he said.

The entire Flore family, circa 2019. (Featured: Jerry Flore, Tam'al Flore, Shamber Brown, Sierra Flore, Christian Flore, and Josh Flore. The other faces have been obscured to protect their privacy.)Family photo shared with Blaze News

'Under the guise of discipline': Accusations of child abuse

In her December 4 press conference, Nessel, flanked by a team of female assistants, alleged that the Browns and Flores, longtime friends who live just down the street from one another, had subjected their adopted children to "routine and systemic mental and physical abuse under the guise of discipline." For this reason, Nessel's office has issued 36 total charges against the four defendants, though the vast majority of the charges have been issued against the Flores.

Jerry Flore has been charged with six counts of first-degree child abuse and one count of first-degree child abuse in the presence of another child, each of which carries a life sentence, two counts of second-degree child abuse, one count of conspiracy to commit second-degree child abuse, and misdemeanor interfering with a police report. Tam'al Flore faces all those charges plus an additional six counts of third-degree child abuse, bringing her total number of charges to a staggering 17.

The Flores' five minor children were removed from their home in July 2021 after a complaint from an in-law of Natiana Castillo, the Flores' 22-year-old adult adoptive daughter. In addition to Castillo and her in-law, five other adult Flore children — including their 30-year-old biological daughter, Mariah "Ryah" Wideman — have accused the Flores of abuse.

Neither Wideman nor Castillo responded to Blaze News' request for comment. Castillo is now believed to be divorced, reportedly on account of domestic violence.

Both the Flores and Browns had also already been charged with abuse at the local level in connection with one of the Browns' then-adopted daughters, who was sent to the Flores for respite care before she was 13 years old because of her severe, sometimes even violent, behaviors related to mental illness. The Flores were charged for allegedly abusing the girl, while the Browns were accused of keeping their daughter in an allegedly abusive environment.

In July 2022, a judge dismissed the case against the Browns because of insufficient evidence, and the following spring, a prosecutor dropped the charges against the Flores. The Browns have since relinquished parental rights over the girl, and she is now reportedly in a residential foster care facility.

'Personal, financial gain': The Flores' alleged motive

During her speech, AG Nessel repeatedly indicated that the Flores and Browns were motivated to foster and adopt so many children because of the subsidies given to foster parents to offset the cost of care. "The Flore and Brown defendants were easily able to manipulate the system to receive over $1 million tax-free," she said. The scheme was "all for personal, financial gain," she added elsewhere.

In their communications with Blaze News, the Flores said that they had received just over $562,000 in foster-related subsidies since 2007 but noted that they had also assisted a total of 59 children and adopted 16 of them during that time. The couple claimed that they regularly spent between $2,500 and $3,000 a month on food alone.

They also added that they didn't just feed their kids. They claimed they also provided them with "clothing, sports, pets, taekwondo, vacations every year, classes/tutors, acting lessons, horses, music lessons, row boat, jet-ski, kayaks, canoes, paddle boat, pontoon, vacation home, camps, curriculum, braces ... [and] cars."

Josh Nunez, who has known the Flores for at least a decade and has spent a significant amount of time with them at their home and on family trips together, also told Blaze News that the Flores spared no expense when it came to their children. "The amount of generosity that they [show] towards others" and "the things they've done for their kids ... put me to shame," Nunez said.

Josh and Jerry FlorePhoto shared with Blaze News

'A reaction to the action': The Flores and corporal punishment

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Flores' approach to parenting is the fact that they spanked their biological and adopted children when they were little. Though Michigan foster parents are prohibited from exacting any form of corporal punishment on any child living in their home, once the Flores adopted the children, they were able to incorporate spanking into their discipline regimen.

Until recently, spanking, sometimes referred to as paddling, did not raise many eyebrows since it was such a common practice. In fact, at least 15 states still allow teachers and staff in public schools to use corporal punishment, and a district in Missouri recently reintroduced the practice in certain circumstances, reportedly at the behest of local parents.

Michigan law does not permit corporal punishment in public schools. Private schools in the state can use it in theory, though it is unclear whether any of them still do.

All four adult Flore children who spoke with Blaze News confirmed that they had been spanked as children, but all of them claimed that the spankings were always proportional to their misbehavior and short in duration. They also stated that they were no longer spanked by the time they reached middle school.

"I never got a consequence not knowing why I was getting a consequence or not knowing I'd done something wrong," said Christian Flore, a 22-year-old online content creator and business owner who now shares an apartment with his 23-year-old biological sister, Sierra Flore. "There [was] always a reaction to the action."

Some Flore children claimed they had been spanked with a soup ladle. Others said their parents had used a decorative paddle. All of them insisted that their punishment was just.

"Kids aren't perfect," Sierra claimed. "They're going to get in trouble; they're going to get spanked."

"I feel like almost all the spankings I got, I deserved," Christian added. He likewise stated that he intends to discipline his future children in a similar manner.

"What my parents did, what they instilled in us was something I want to translate into my own kids in the future because they held us to such high standards," he said. He also admitted that he sometimes thinks kids in other families "get away with so much [because] they don't have self-control."

Christian and Sierra's 26-year-old biological sister, Shamber — a photographer who married Ramon Brown, one of the Browns' adopted sons, to become Shamber Brown — can still recall the physical and sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her biological family.

"I know what an unsafe setting looks like," Shamber told Blaze News, and "nothing [in the Flore home] made me feel leery or unsafe."

From left to right: Joel Brown, Tammy Brown, Ramon Brown, Shamber Brown, Tam'al Flore, Jerry FloreWedding photo shared with Blaze News

'The square': The Flores put a new twist on an old consequence

As the Flore children got older, spankings and paddlings became less and less effective. Plus, when fostering, Jerry and Tam'al had to enforce house rules in ways that did not involve corporal punishment but that would nonetheless have an impact on vulnerable minors who had often already suffered abuse from biological relatives.

One such discipline technique they used was referred to as "the square," and it can best be understood as a form of time-out. Despite reports claiming that the square was a clearly delineated location in the Flore home, the square was actually an undefined space near one of the Flore parents.

While in the square, children could not interact playfully with their siblings. However, they could do their homework or assigned chores, use the bathroom as necessary, and even play with Legos or read books, the Flores and their adult children told Blaze News.

"It's equivalent to being grounded to your room except you're in front of the supervision of the parents," Shamber said.

According to an adoption home assessment conducted on the Flores by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in June 2014, children in the square were occasionally instructed to engage temporarily in "strong sitting" "with their legs crossed and their hands on their knees," an additional element that gave at least one family reference pause. But the Flores insisted that the purpose of this "strong posture" was simply to help a child "calm down."

In one particularly protracted punishment, one of the Flores' adopted daughters was grounded to the square for four straight weeks. However, Jerry and Tam'al claimed that the girl, who had allegedly engaged in "compulsive lying," remained in the square by choice. Rather than quickly complete her assigned tasks, the Flores said, the girl "was incredibly stubborn and chose to just sit there." She even later bragged to a Children's Protective Services staff member that "she purposely dragged it out," they said.

Missed meals, a flight of stairs, locked bedrooms: Other accusations

Nessel has divulged very little about the allegations against the Flores, claiming only that they committed "heinous and egregious" mental and physical abuse. According to the Flores, she has even yet to provide a bill of particulars that would give them better insight into the accusations against them.

They are thus left to speculate based on previous investigations conducted by CPS and Clinton County detectives. One possible accusation is that the children were sometimes deprived of food for misbehaving. The Flores insist that their children were always given food but added that wayward behavior sometimes resulted in missing a family meal.

"Our known household policy was if a child refused to do a chore, they were then choosing the possible consequence of missing the next yummy meal, but would instead have a piece of bread with butter and a glass of milk," the Flores told Blaze News in an email.

As evidence that their children were always fed appropriately, they pointed to their 2014 adoption home study, which stated that based on the observations of multiple family references, all the Flore children "are well cared for," "have their physical needs met," and "seem to be eating a nutritious diet."

Screenshot of Flores' adoptive family assessment

Another accusation against them relates to locking some of the children's bedrooms from the outside. The Flores admit that for a short period of time, they did lock some of the boys in at night — but for good reason: the boys had been secretly "acting out sexually" by taking off their clothes and lying naked with their younger sisters.

On one occasion at the Flore home, two minor children were caught naked together in a top bunk bed. In her haste to separate them, Tam'al pulled the male child, who was then 13 and estimated to be 5'10" tall, down "three or four" bunk-bed stairs to the floor, Shamber Brown told Blaze News.

One of the Flore boys later told CPS that he had been "smacked down" some garage stairs, though whether he is the same boy from the bunk-bed incident could not be confirmed.

In any case, in an effort to protect the girls from further sexual encounters with their brothers, who are all older than they are and one of whom is their biological sibling, the Flores decided to switch the knobs on the boys' bedroom doors so that they could be locked from the outside.

"Ring videos prove boy's [sic] bedroom doors were locked ONLY AT NIGHT for our daughter's [sic] safety," the Flores wrote in an email to Blaze News.

"We needed to put systems in place so we were not guilty of 'failure to protect.'"

Christian Flore claimed that the unforeseen sexual behaviors put his parents in a "we're damned if we do, we're damned if we don't" kind of situation wherein they tried to balance protecting the girls while also recognizing that "these kids are all minors" with a history of trauma. Locking the boys in their bedroom at night so that the rest of the house could get some sleep was always meant to be a temporary solution that ended even more quickly than expected when all five minor children were removed from the home just a few weeks later.

Among the kids involved in the sexual behavior were three boys and two girls from two different biological families. Before entering the Flore home, the two girls and their biological brother had endured horrendous sexual abuse at the hands of their biological family, as documented in the 2014 adoptive home study. The two other boys had reportedly suffered neglect.

'Just heartbreaking': Important facts surrounding the Flore case

There are several ancillary aspects of this case that may affect the way some view the allegations against the Flores. The first is that Ryah Wideman, the Flores' biological daughter and one of the accusers against them, used to place her children in her parents' care on a regular basis.

"[Ryah] wanted my wife to come down once a week to watch [her two kids]," Jerry Flore said. "... So she would go down and clean their house. ... [We sometimes] would bring the kids up and we would take them for a night or two and watch them so that her and her husband could get out on a date or take a long weekend away."

In fact, Sierra Flore even alleged that Ryah once admitted to deliberately using her children to "manipulate" their mother. "So my mom was kind of always like walking on eggshells with Ryah, thinking, 'OK, I want to be involved in my grandkids' life,'" Sierra said. However, Sierra also noted that she has not spoken to Ryah in years and does not know Ryah's current view on the charges against their parents.

Ryah did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Blaze News.

Another noteworthy fact is that one of the Flores' minor daughters, now 13, has repeatedly attempted to return to the Flore home. Family friend Josh Nunez even recalled a night a few months ago when the girl, who has reportedly had nearly two dozen different foster placements since she was removed from the Flores, ran away from her caretaker and headed for the Flore home on foot in the dead of winter. As the Flores have released their parental rights and could go to jail for interacting with any of the minor children, Nunez was called to ensure that the girl was safe and warm until police arrived.

"[The girl was] crying outside the house," Nunez told Blaze News, "and my wife and I waited there until the police got there and made sure that she was safe and warm inside the garage. The garage is heated, but it's just heartbreaking."

"She wanted to be with her mom and dad."

The girl's older biological brother, who will soon turn 18 and has reportedly been living on the streets, also previously admitted to officials that he felt safe in the Flore home. On one such occasion, approximately six months before he was permanently removed from the home, the boy ran away. He was found soon afterward and transported to an area hospital for examination following a possible suicide attempt. There, he told hospital staff that the Flores hadn't harmed him; he just didn't like their "views."

"Has a good social structure," the attending physician wrote. "... He reports that he ran away due to stressors at home including having different ideological views from parents. Denies any abuse at home."

Screenshot of hospital report shared with Blaze News

A medical resident likewise wrote that the boy had "good social structure at home." In consultation with the attending physician, the resident eventually discharged the boy to the Flores' care.

Screenshot of hospital report shared with Blaze News

After running away on a separate occasion, the same boy told police he had done so because he didn't like the Flores' rules. "When asked why he had run away from the home, he stated that he was tired of being told what to do," a detective wrote in a report viewed by Blaze News. "He did not like being home schooled and wished to attend public school and wanted to be out on his own."

Like the Flore teen, Dana Nessel appears to take issue with the Flores' preference for homeschooling, claiming that "one reason while why this abuse was able to go undetected in the Flore home, the home of the most significant and apparent abuse, was due to the fact that all the children were homeschooled.

"School is often a safe place for children," she continued, "where such abuse is discovered either by the school, by the teachers or the staff, or by the child being away from abusers long enough to be able to disclose what's happening inside their home."

While Nessel is right that the Flores often homeschooled their children, they did not homeschool exclusively. The adult Flore children told Blaze News that they had been enrolled in private and public schools at various times and that they had also received help from private tutors. One tutor, Linda Rice, told Blaze News that in the five years she worked with the Flore children, she "never" witnessed any abusive incidents or received any reports of possible abuse.

A 'targeted attack': Nessel's legal history with the Flore family

These latest charges filed against Jerry and Tam'al Flore are not the Flore family's first legal run-in with Attorney General Dana Nessel. A few years before Nessel took office, the LGBTQ-affiliated plaintiffs in Dumont et al. v. Gordon et al.sued the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for discrimination because it partnered with co-defendant St. Vincent Catholic Charities, an organization that adheres to biblical teaching about marriage, for foster and adoption placements.

For many years, the Flores had worked with St. Vincent's to foster and adopt children, including their daughter Shamber and her biological siblings. Shamber and another adoptive couple working with St. Vincent's were eventually named as intervenor defendants in the suit.

St. Vincent's was represented in the case by Becket, a legal nonprofit dedicated to religious freedom. Its webpage about the case includes a feature image of Jerry and Tam'al Flore with Shamber.

Screenshot of Becket website, used with permission

In 2019, Nessel's first year in office, the parties settled, prompting St. Vincent's then to turn around and sue the state for religious discrimination. Nessel attempted to have that suit dismissed, but U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker refused, slamming the state for engaging in a "targeted attack" on St. Vincent's for its "sincerely held religious belief" regarding marriage.

At the time, Nessel averred that she would "fight to support the constitutional precepts of separation of church and state and equal protection under the law for all Michigan residents and all Americans."

Three years later, the state reversed course and decided to re-establish partnerships with Christian organizations like St. Vincent's after the Supreme Court ruled that the City of Philadelphia had violated the First Amendment when it discriminated against a Catholic foster agency that refused to place children with LGBTQ+ couples.

'Never seen a case this messy': A problematic investigation

The original investigation into alleged child abuse in the Flore home also seems to have been bungled from the start, and Nessel admitted as much in her press conference. "The initial investigation needed more work," she said, "and the initial CPS investigation could have had better documentation and more accurate notes."

When the Detroit News looked into the CPS and police reports about the Flore case and compared those reports with videos and transcripts of witness interviews, the outlet reported finding "dozens of" "inaccuracies and false statements." In one instance, a child had been quoted as saying that Tam'al "used to use the spatula but that left too many bruises," even though transcripts reportedly showed that the child made no mention of a spatula or being bruised, the outlet said.

In another case, a Flore daughter was documented as saying to CPS that her sister Shamber Brown had been "beaten" so "severely" when she was a little girl that she had bruises "from the thighs up to her back" and couldn't sit down for weeks after she threw away silverware rather than wash it properly. However, a transcript of the interview revealed that the daughter made no mention of bruises "from the thighs up to her back" or that Shamber was unable to sit for weeks afterward, though the daughter told the Detroit News that the CPS report still had not misrepresented her overall point.

Shamber denied that she even received a spanking for throwing away expensive silverware, which was eventually recovered. Instead, she was forced to eat with her fingers for a short time, the Flores told Blaze News.

Despite these and other errors, the CPS reports were then copied and pasted directly into police reports, thereby replicating the same inaccuracies. "This is such an inept job of investigating capital crime," said the Flores' attorney, David Carter. "I've never seen a case this messy in my life."

Nessel asserted that these documentation issues did not "affect the actual disclosures of abuse or the substance of the case."

In addition to the documentation errors, it also seems that reports on the case may be incomplete, as investigators have not consulted several people with firsthand knowledge of the Flores' home life in general and Jerry and Tam'al's parenting styles in particular. The four friends and neighbors who spoke with Blaze News, all of whom have known the family for years, say that to date, they have never been interviewed by any CPS or law enforcement officials about the allegations against the Flores.

Sean Dush, one of the detectives assigned to the Flore case back in 2021, has since been named interim sheriff of Clinton County and is up for election this year. He appeared with Nessel at the December press conference, where he suggested that some of the problems in the investigation were due to staffing issues in his department.

Neither Dush nor Nessel's office responded to Blaze News' request for comment.

'We are the evidence': Some children and friends stand by the Flores

Overall, the Flore children and friends who spoke with Blaze News believe that the accusations against Jerry and Tam'al are a miscarriage of justice wrought by bitter or jealous children and facilitated by agenda-driven investigators who believed the complaints against the Flores without an open mind or an appropriate degree of skepticism. As such, many of these loved ones vowed to stand by the Flores' side.
"My parents advocated for us," Sierra Flore told us. "... Here's my chance to return that favor. Here's my chance to advocate for them because they are being falsely accused of so much."
"If anything, we are the evidence."
Her brother Josh expressed a similar sentiment. "They're my responsibility. I'm gonna take care of my family," he said.
"I'm not gonna let them down."

Jerry and Tam'al FlorePhoto shared with Blaze News

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Surrogate Recalls Pain She And Baby Felt After The Child’s Parents Demanded Abortion

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'House of horrors': Nationally awarded foster dad faces 20 child sex abuse charges, accused of kicking kid off roof

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A Wyoming man is facing a litany of charges related to alleged child sex abuse and physically assaulting minors. The man had previously been recognized for being a model foster parent, and had been given a national award for his care of children.

Steven Randall Marler, 48, was arrested last week and has been charged with 20 counts related to sexual abuse of four children, five counts of battery against four minors, and one count of child endangerment. The alleged child sex abuse allegedly occurred between 2011 and 2021.

"The sexual abuse claims include groping, sexual intrusion, and committing sexual acts against one child inside a treehouse," according to the Daily Mail.

Marler and his wife Kristen have been fostering children since 2008. They have adopted six children, plus hosted dozens of children at their home in Casper, Wyoming.

In 2013, Steven and Kristen Marler were recognized by the federal Administration for Children and Families as one of the top three families in the country and given an Adoption Excellence Award. The couple were invited to the White House for their foster care.

The Administration for Children and Families said the couple possessed key traits of "honesty, integrity, and compassion."

The federal organization noted that the pair "have an exceptional ability and willingness to respect the children’s relationship with their parents."

The award listing said, "In addition to creating permanency for children, they also provide support and resources and mentor other foster parents."

However, Kristen Marler pleaded no contest to misdemeanor child endangering in 2022 after initially being charged with child abuse, according to court documents.

Investigators reportedly noticed that one of the children under the care of the Marler couple had feet that resembled "small cantaloupes."

The affidavit said the young girl had swollen feet, dry, sloughing nail beds, and “excruciating pain in her feet.”

The girl allegedly told investigators that she was forced to stand from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. at home or run in place as punishment.

The Cowboy State Daily reported, "The children only got to drink during brief visits to the bathroom sink faucet, allegedly. The girl received half a potato for breakfast if she completed her 'disciplines,' and a potato with some meat for lunch, says the document."

"After she told her parents she no longer wanted to live with them, she no longer received fruit, vegetables or dairy products, and she was not allowed to eat the meal that was prepared for the rest of the family," the affidavit reads.

The girl said that there were locks on the pantry and the refrigerator to keep out the children.

Kambria Marler, a former foster child at the home, says her time there was a "house of horrors."

Kambria allegedly escaped the home at the age of 17, and said Marler physically abused the children for the slightest of infractions.

"I'm pretty sure all of us have had concussions," the 20-year-old Kambria told K2 Radio.

Kambria said that the adult pair would withhold food from the children as a form of punishment, she would get so hungry that she would eat dog food.

Kambria said she was sent to the Wyoming Cowboy Challenge Academy when she was 17. At the time, Kambria weighed just 69 pounds from malnourishment.

K2 Radio reported, "Out of spite one day, Kambria etched an 'X' onto the dusty glass of a family portrait over Kristen's face. Her foster mother became enraged and began to beat her. Then, allegedly, she had the other foster children take sharpies and cross out Kambria's face in all their family photos."

Charging documents claim Steven Marler punched a child in the nose so hard that the kid drew blood.

Marler is accused of endangering a child by kicking "the victim off the roof and did not get (the child) medical attention."

Marler reportedly faces up to life in prison for the first-degree sexual abuse charges, 20 years for the second-degree charges, and up to 15 years for the third-degree charges.

Court records show Marler was released on $225,000 bond.

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4 foster parents, including former state HHS child advocate, accused of adopting 'dozens of' kids to amass $1M in subsidies

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Two Michigan couples have been accused of exploiting the adoption and foster care systems to funnel dozens of vulnerable children into their homes where they could abuse them while still bankrolling state subsidies.

The case relates to Joel and Tammy Brown and Jerry and Tamal Flore, all 50-somethings who live down the street from one another in DeWitt, Michigan, about 10 miles north of Lansing. Since 2007, the two couples have fostered and/or adopted a total of nearly 30 children, many of whom were then severely abused, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel claimed.

"The state believes that the Browns and Flores conspired together to adopt dozens of children who were removed from previously abusive biological homes and subjected them to prolonged, routine, and systemic mental and physical abuse under the guise of discipline," Nessel said at a press conference earlier this month.

Nessel indicated that the defendants were mainly motivated by "financial gain." Through adoption subsidies offered by the state, the Browns and Flores together amassed nearly $1 million, all tax-free, Nessel said.

Nessel also noted that, until last year, Joel Brown had been working as a child advocate in the Children’s Services Agency within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Sometime in 2022, he was placed on unpaid administrative leave and subsequently fired.

The reason for his termination is unknown. However, Nessel argued that Joel Brown used his insider understanding of the system to "circumvent detection of the ongoing child abuse in his own home and that of the Flores."

Both the Browns and the Flores had previously been charged with child abuse in Clinton County. The four were arrested in 2021 after accusations surfaced that, among other things, they had beaten children with a boat oar, thrown them down the stairs, locked them in closets, and denied them food. The accusations date back to at least 2014.

At a preliminary hearing the following year, Judge Michael Clarizio determined that the prosecutor had not presented sufficient evidence to proceed farther with the case against the Browns. The charges against the Flores had been reduced and then dismissed once Nessel's office took over the investigation.

On December 4, Nessel's office announced that the couples had been charged once again. All four have been charged with felony first-degree child abuse, a crime which carries a potential life sentence, as well as other offenses. In all, the four were charged with 36 counts, most of which are felonies.

Some of the alleged victims are now adults, and the statute of limitations has since expired on the alleged abuse of others, so the case addresses alleged abuse against just eight children. Nessel argued that the case demonstrates the need for a longer statute of limitations for child abuse, for stronger charges against those who "coach" abuse victims to lie to investigators, and for better regulation of homeschooling so that the state can keep a closer eye on possible perpetrators.

Nessel claimed that all alleged victims have been removed from the Browns' and Flores' care.

"In the area of child abuse, the harms caused to an individual's mental health are often, unfortunately, overlooked," Nessel said. "Abusive behavior by any parents — adoptive or biological — is unacceptable and will not and cannot be tolerated."

However, not everyone believes the accusations against the Browns and Flores. Shamber Brown, an adult who was adopted by the Flores as a child, readily defended both couples in an interview with WILX. "It’s really been crazy hearing the accusations just because, I mean, if I’m being totally frank, my mom is my best friend," she said.

Brown claimed that the Flores and Browns are just close friends who participate in all kinds of activities together, "from church to school to vacations." The families are so close, she said, that she married one of the Browns' sons. She insisted that her husband never endured any abuse and that he agrees that both sets of parents have been "falsely accused."

David Carter, who is representing the Flores, called the latest charges a witch hunt. "They're taking a second bite of the apple and trying to resurrect a case that never should've been brought," he said, referring to the previous charges against his clients that were later dropped.

Mary Chartier, who is representing Joel Brown, expressed similar confidence that her client would soon be exonerated. "We believe the same result will occur this time around," she said. "We won in court once, and we’re confident that we’ll do so again."

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Not Encouraging A Foster Child’s Rainbow Identity Would Be ‘Abuse’ Under Proposed HHS Rule

The rule says caregivers who do not ‘affirm’ LGBT kids fail to support the child's ‘health and wellbeing’ as required by law.

Lawsuit: Massachusetts refuses to allow couple to foster or adopt children because of their Christian faith

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A Christian conservative couple in Massachusetts has been denied the ability to adopt or foster children because of the perception by state officials that "their faith is not supportive and neither are they" of the gender and sexuality of hypothetical "LGBTQIA+ youth."

Cognizant that the "discriminatory" standard applied to them would ultimately mean a prohibition on all families like theirs of various faiths, Catholics Mitty and Catherine "Kitty" Burke have taken the commonwealth to court with the help of the religious liberty group Becket.

Parents in search of a child

Mike Burke is an Iraq War veteran. His wife, Kitty, is a former paraprofessional for special-needs kids. They are both highly involved in their church, where they perform music for mass.

After long struggling with infertility, they resolved to share their gifts, home, and love with a vulnerable foster child.

Their proposed help and stability could go a long way. After all, according to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, there are well over 1,521 children currently without families who could benefit from a stable pair of doting parents.

The Burkes applied to become foster parents in 2022.

In addition to drawn-out interviews and various home assessments, they completed at least 30 hours of mandatory training to the satisfaction of their instructor, who reported to the DCF that Mike and Kitty Burke "have a solid understanding of how trauma can affect people, as Mike spoke openly about his PTSD as a Veteran. Both were active participants throughout MAPP and their comments often helped to enrich the training. It is anticipated that they will work cooperatively with DCF throughout their adoption journey."

Linda-Jeanne Mack of 18 Degrees, who had conducted their home interviews, centered a great deal of her focus on Mike and Kitty Burke's views about sexuality, court documents show.

The DCF indicated in its report for the third quarter of this fiscal year that 43% of recently processed children in the 3-17 age group identified as female; 45% identified as male; 3% were missing an identifier in their records; 4% did not wish to answer; and a handful, not amounting to 1% of the total, ascribed to some gender-dysphoric identity. The plurality of kids who volunteered an answer indicated they were straight.

When asked "how they'd feel if their child identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, or any other sexuality," Kitty reportedly said, "There's nothing wrong with it, I'm going to love you the same, but I believe you would need to live a chaste life."

However, both potential parents made clear that they did not reject biological sex and held fast to their religious convictions, unswayed by the ideological fads of the day.

Christians need not apply

Mack wrote in her report that the couple has "a lot of strengths ... and really seems to understand adoption/foster care," but expressed concern whether the Burkes' beliefs about gender and sexuality would permit them to be "supportive of LGBTQIA+ youth," adding, "Their faith is not supportive and neither are they."

The social worker is said to have further noted her "apprehension about recommending [the Burkes] as a resource family due to the couple's views related to people who identify as LGBTQIA++ . . . . They are heavily involved in their Catholic Church and cite their religious views as their primary reason for seeing LGBTQIA++ individuals in this way."

Whereas Mack highlighted her concerns about the Burkes' lack of woke bona fides but did not explicitly recommend that they should be barred from fostering, court documents show that officials linked to the DCF were more than happy to go the distance to crush the couple's dreams.

Like Mack, the Licensing Review Team, under the control and responsibility of the DCF, acknowledged the Burkes' many strong qualities, but ultimately denied their application, stating, "Issue(s) of concern for which the couple's license study was denied is based on the couple's statements/responses regarding placement of children who identified LGBTQIA."

The license study concluded, "Based on this families [sic] beliefs about children who identify as LGBTQIA+ and after a careful review of this assessment by the regional DCF licensing and training review team, the Department is unable to issue a license for them to foster/adopt at this time."

The Burkes said in a statement, "After months of interviews and training, and after years of heartbreak, we were on the verge of finally becoming parents. ... We were absolutely devastated to learn that Massachusetts would rather children sleep in the hallways of hospitals than let us welcome children in need into our home."

The Burkes' mention of children sleeping in hospitals appears to reference the claim by DCF workers last year that children had taken to sleeping on bed-less office floors, as reported by the Boston Globe.

Following the DCF licensing team's decision, the Burkes asked for an explanation for the ruling, then requested a fair hearing.

Upon seeing the allegedly "discriminatory" rationale behind the DCF's decisions, they determined they would have to take legal action.

Burke v. Walsh

Becket filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Mike and Kitty Burke in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Aug. 8 "to ensure that families like the Burkes can offer loving homes to children in need amid the state's foster care crisis."

The religious liberty group noted, "This sad conflict was entirely avoidable. Massachusetts wants to maximize foster families and rightly protect potential foster parents from religious discrimination. Instead, Massachusetts turned its policies into a ban on certain religious beliefs. This is as unconstitutional as it is unnecessary."

The couple's lawsuit claims multiple violations of their First Amendment rights, particularly the Free Exercise Clause, and highlights how the DCF's decision reeks of religious hostility, categorical discrimination, religious gerrymandering, and compelled speech.

The suit states, "The denial of the Burkes' application to serve as foster parents substantially burdens their religious exercise because it forces them to choose between the opportunity to become foster and adoptive parents for children in need and maintaining their religious beliefs," adding that the DCF's decision was ultimately "based on an individualized assessment of their religious beliefs."

Furthermore, the suit alleges, "DCF has conditioned its approval of the Burkes' application on their willingness to affirm DCF's preferred view of gender and human sexuality."

Kate Walsh, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and Linda Spears, commissioner of the DCF, are among those named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Extra to pressing the federal court to prevent state officials from declining to confer a foster care license upon the Burkes, the suit seeks compensatory damages against the defendants along with attorney fees.

Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said in a statement, "It takes the heroic effort of parents like Mike and Kitty to provide vulnerable children with loving homes through foster care."

"Massachusetts' actions leave the Burkes, and families of other faiths, out in the cold. How can they explain this to children waiting for a home?" added Windham.

The Catholic News Agency indicated that neither Spears' nor Walsh's offices have yet responded to requests for comment.

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