The children were found wandering outside unattended while their mother was passed out on the sofa. Two of the children were severely burnt by a hair straightener on their legs. Food was scarce and the children were not fed regularly. There was substance abuse and incidents of domestic violence in the home. These are the findings from the reports over several years, until finally the Department of Human Services opened an abuse and neglect case was opened in 2016. There were five children in all, ranging in age from infant to five-years-old.
“I’ve known all the kids since they were born,” said family friend, Michael Alley. “I was invited to birthday celebrations and helped their mom when she needed it. I knew the parents drank a lot, but I had no idea what was really going on.”
Michael got involved in 2017 when the oldest child was having a difficult time with his siblings. “I asked if the child N.A. could stay with me for Christmas break,” said Michael. “He was all of five years old; he said he didn’t want to be with his parents and was grateful to be away from them. After that, I committed to having him on weekends.” It wasn’t long before M.A., the second oldest, wanted to stay at Michael’s too.
The baby, Z.A., was sent to a foster home to help with his severe developmental delays. He was also diagnosed with attachment issues as a result of significant neglect.
All five children were living with their grandparents by this time, until it came to light that, due to substance abuse, this was also not an appropriate placement. Within six months, Michael went from taking care of one child on the weekends, to having five children under the age of five living in his home.
“It was very expensive,” said Michael. “I had changes in my work, needed childcare, and didn’t have documentation to enroll them anywhere. I needed a bigger house, a bigger car, and all I had was my savings. I remember at one point thinking, ‘how am I going to pay my bills?’ But I couldn’t quit. I would tell other adults, ‘These kids are pure and innocent and it’s not their fault. If we quit, we aren’t any better than their parents.’”
The trauma the children had endured led to some extreme behaviors. Each of the children had some difficulty regulating their urinary habits, and four of them were in diapers at the same time. The kids had also developed varying issues around food and eating, including significant overeating and hoarding food. The children would sometimes act violently, and some had night terrors.
For instance, one of the children was so traumatized he could not control his urination. “In kindergarten and first grade, he was changing his diaper by himself three or four times a day at school. He used hand signals with his teacher when he needed to change it,” said Michael. But Malachi has made significant progress while in Michael’s care. “Now he is nine years old and, while he still has accidents at night, it used to be six times a day.”
Michael settled into routines with the children and paid out-of-pocket for the therapies they needed. Michael decided he wanted to adopt the children, but the Department of Human Services was slow in processing the case and creating permanency for the children. That’s when Michael hired Tim Eirich at Grob & Eirich.
“I had already had the kids for years, but the case was not moving along,” said Michael. “The kids would get a new GAL and we would have to start over, or they would think the parents were making progress when they weren’t. I hired Tim to fight for us. As soon as he was involved, things started getting done.”
The termination of parental rights was finalized in 2019, and Michael says Tim was instrumental in finally making that happen. “Working with Tim felt like we had the smartest person in the room on our side,” said Michael. “When we got to trial, everything had already been done and there wasn’t much left to do.”
Michael and his husband, TJ, were married in 2021. They were determined to get the kids the services they needed to heal. “The most important thing to us was the therapy,” said Michael. “We spent so many years going to different clinics that had less experience and education than we needed. We finally found one led by PhDs where every child and parent gets their own therapist, and they all work together.”
Senior Associate, Kerry Simpson, joined Tim on the case, and she was able to negotiate a significant subsidy for Michael in order to ensure proper care of the children. The subsidy included Medicaid, adoption expense reimbursement, a generous cash subsidy per child, per year until age 18, as well as respite care and therapy reimbursement for three years.
“It was a huge victory,” said Kerry. “And it didn’t take months. It was just offer, counter, offer, done. These children have significantly high needs and are now in a home together where they are thriving. We need people like Michael, but there is a cost. The department has to support the children’s needs.”
“We wanted to fight to get as much as we could because that is what the law allows, and these kids deserve it,” said Michael.
Once the subsidy was finalized, the children were ready for adoption, and the kids wanted to start the school year with their new last name. “Kerry worked hard to get a phone hearing the week before school started,” said Michael. “We had the same judge who had overseen the case for all five years, and the kids each got a plaque that is now hanging in their rooms.” The children were adopted this past August, followed by a huge party in the park.
Michael was only 24 years old when N.A. came to stay with him, and as an LGBT couple, the department was skeptical if he and TJ would provide a stable home. “But we have been able to prove to be one of the most positive outcomes Colorado has ever seen,” said Michael. “We can be an example to others in our community, a way to change people’s minds. One day, our goal is to establish a nonprofit to buy large homes for people who want to take in large sibling groups.”
“Michael, TJ and the kids are such a beautiful family. They show us what it means to be a family, biology or not,” said Kerry.