A father changes tune on foster care
Rusty Stout resented leaving birth mother
When he was 19, Rusty Stout said that if state officials ever came to take away a child of his as they once took him away from his mother, he would be armed and ready to stop them.
“I plan on pulling out my .45 and shooting them right in the damn head,” Stout told The Spokesman-Review in a 2003 report on the state’s struggle to handle difficult foster children like he was.
Taken out of the abusive home of his drug-addicted mother at age 10, Stout blew through group homes, foster homes and psychiatric hospitals until he at last found stability with foster parents Jim and Nancy Plourde in the late 1990s.
Now, at age 27, Stout again has found sanctuary with the Plourdes, who have taken the convicted felon into their home after he completed a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program.
This week, the Plourdes consoled Stout as he made the most difficult decision of his deeply troubled life – to voluntarily terminate rights to his own child in Yakima County Juvenile Court.
“My perception of (Child Protective Services) is the enemy has changed,” said Stout.
He now knows that just as the state took him away from his mother because she would never be able to raise him safely, he is in no position to raise his 1-year-old son. Through adoption, the boy has a chance at a normal life Stout never had.
Stout was made a ward of the state after he was beaten, abused and neglected by his mother and a succession of men in her life.
“Before I went into foster care, all my parents would do is fight and argue, scream and yell and beat each other up,” Stout said, adding that more than once his mother tried to kill herself in front of him.
By the time he was placed with the Plourdes, he had been labeled a severely troubled child – bipolar with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and unspecified personality disorder.
For two and a half years, the Plourdes provided the boy with a sense of permanence and a degree of normalcy.
“Rusty was one of the smartest kids I ever met,” Nancy Plourde said. “He was an extremely talented artist.”
But his last chance ended the day he stabbed a boy during a fight at Ferris High School in 1998.
That night, his foster father sat on Stout to restrain him from hurting himself or others in the home. When the Plourdes reported the incident, the state stripped them of their foster care license and a caseworker came to take the boy away once again.
“I’ll never forget the look of betrayal he gave me,” Nancy Plourde said of Stout. “He was lying on his bed watching TV and he looked at me like, ‘How could you do this to me?’ ”
Given the choice between being taken to juvenile detention and striking out on his own, Stout ran away while his caseworker stopped at a convenience store for sodas.
Eventually, his mother, who had moved to Illinois, sent him money for a bus ticket to join her there.
“With her, it was the first time I ever took a crack hit,” Stout recalled. He was 15.
“That was the start of my drug use. I had experimented with pot, but as soon as I had the ‘good stuff,’ as I called it then, I was off and running.”
The troubled youth became a troubled adult. Unable to hold a job, he turned to crime to feed a methamphetamine addiction.
He is currently on probation after serving jail time on four convictions in Yakima County, including felony identity theft and violation of a no-contact order.
After undergoing drug rehabilitation, he called the Plourdes and asked to come live with them again in their south Spokane home. He has enrolled at Spokane Falls Community College in hopes of one day becoming a drug dependency counselor.
He has agreed to give up his parental rights to his 1-year-old son in exchange for an open adoption that will allow him at least to keep track of the boy as he grows up.
Stout also has a 5-year-old son by another woman, who also has a history of drug use. He hopes to one day be a father to the boy, who is being raised by the mother’s grandparents.
Stout’s own mother died of a drug overdose in 2008.
Today there are programs for some of the 400 children aging out of state foster care each year that didn’t exist when Stout was in the system.
“We have made great strides since then,” said Jim Pritchard, program manager for Foster Care to 21, which allows youth to remain in foster care after they graduate from high school or obtain their GED, so that they can pursue postsecondary education.
Other programs for foster children include Independent Youth Housing, Medicaid to 21, Independent Living and Transitional Living, Supplemental Education Transition Planning and Passport to College scholarships.
“We have a lot of services, but not enough to cover all the youths (in state care),” Pritchard said, adding that some of these services face budget cuts after July 1.
A study released this year by researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Chicago found that keeping youths in foster care longer improved their chances for success later in life.
“Rusty was not prepared,” Plourde said. “He was just dropped – a troublemaker too difficult to care for.”