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are we ever going to learn the truth? - Michele Bachmann


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makesm e wonder if we will hear the real story about hwo she raised these kids. Plus I can't imagine how much some of those girls suffered under her care.

STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) - From her first campaign to her latest, Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann has used her time as a foster parent to help create an image of a family-focused Christian driven by compassion and social conviction.

Now, with the national spotlight shining bright, the Minnesota congresswoman is claiming her family is off limits.

In this instance, Bachmann is trying to have it both ways and may end up undercutting an authentic streak that's helped her rise in polling to challenge the front-runner for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney.

"I am running for the presidency of the United States," Bachmann said recently when asked to comment on reports of controversial treatments offered at her husband's counseling clinic and about the family's federally subsidized home loan. "My husband is not running for the presidency. Neither are my children. Neither is our business. Neither is our foster children."

Yet, when it suits her, Bachmann mentions that she and her husband have been "the proud foster parents of 23 great children." And she portrays her entry into foster parenting as an act of faith, saying that she and husband Marcus, a trained therapist, were following the lead of fellow parishioners at her church.

"Our hearts were broken for at-risk kids," she said last month in an unpublicized appearance at Jonathan House, a communal center in Washington for young Christian men.

In a brief interview last spring, Bachmann told The Associated Press that her house had as many as nine children at once, her own five plus four more. She gave a similar account at Jonathan House, according to video someone in attendance posted on the Internet.

"We brought our first child in and we got a phone call. 'Would we take another?' And we did. Got a phone call, 'Would you take another?' And we did. Got another phone call. 'Would you take another?' And we did," Bachmann said.

"Then we said, 'Hold on just a minute,'" she added. "We had another biological baby and by that point we had a census of nine kids in the house. And at that point we couldn't all sit around a table, so we had to blow out a wall and make our kitchen bigger."

Bachmann talks about foster parenting in mostly abstract terms and never mentions the children by name. The government considers their identities protected. One located by the AP wouldn't comment, and none has come forward to tell his or her story for attribution. Former neighbors confess having only vague recollections, if any at all, of the foster children.

The little that is known about this part of her life was pieced together from interviews and spotty public records.

The Bachmanns were first licensed as child foster care providers in 1992, when they were living in the scenic town of Stillwater, east of St. Paul, on the St. Croix River.

George Hendrickson, who managed Bachmann cases for several years through the Professional Association of Treatment Homes placement agency, remembers visiting a well-kept home big enough so that the foster children and the Bachmann kids didn't have to share bedrooms. He said he found Bachmann to be relaxed, organized and engaging.

Hendrickson said the Bachmanns initially hoped to care for young unwed mothers, but instead found themselves shepherding a steady stream of teenage girls battling eating problems. Most were connected to an eating disorder treatment program.

Marcus Bachmann's background in mental health treatment helped the couple earn a license. While therapy for the foster girls was done mainly through a university program, the Bachmanns helped them make steps toward health. Hendrickson remembers one girl so averse to eating that she had trouble being in a kitchen; the Bachmanns, he said, got her to feel comfortable setting the table, pulling food out of a cupboard and serving dinner.

In his four years as their caseworker, Hendrickson said, there were seldom more than two foster children in the Bachmann home at once; they were licensed for up to three. Her own accounts of a bulging household would put her outside those bounds.

Hendrickson and one former neighbor recall some girls in the white, two-story home for months at a time. They say other children came in emergency situations - staying "a scant amount of time, sometimes just overnight," as neighbor Susan Mosiman put it.

"When we first moved in I didn't realize they were foster children. I just assumed they were friends of the children," Mosiman said, referring to the couple's five biological children. "They were just there doing homework, playing and acting like a normal family."

The goal was to shelter and support the girls while they completed outpatient treatment, and gradually prepare them to return home or to launch into life independently.

Newspaper voter guides from Bachmann's school board bid in 1999 and state Senate run a year later list her as a foster mother to 20 children. Late in Bachmann's 2000 campaign - about six months after her foster license expired - she wrote a commentary piece for the Stillwater Gazette that also used the figure.

By her bid for Congress, six years later, the count had risen to 23 in newspaper's voter guide and other materials.

Bachmann and her campaign have declined to clear up inconsistences between the number of children she and Marcus cared for at any given time and the number overall, as well how they fit within the license standards. Spokesman Doug Sachtleben would only say that Bachmann has been "clear and consistent" on the topic.

State law allows placement agencies to destroy closed case files after seven years, and those pertaining to the Bachmanns are now gone. The state Department of Human Services didn't maintain any Bachmann-specific files, said spokeswoman Beth Voigt. The Bachmanns haven't said whether they still possess any records.

Hendrickson, now chief executive at the placement agency, doesn't doubt the details she's shared publicly.

"In my working experience with her, if she said they served 23 kids, I believe there were 23 kids," he said.

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23 kids may have gone through her home, but she was not a parent to that many kids. Sorry, but I don't think you can brag about being a parent to a short-term emergency placement. I also find it telling that they wanted to work with unwed mothers, and worked with girls with eating disorders. I'm not saying it's not a valid calling, but by generically calling herself a foster parent, she gives the impression that she's worked with abused kids removed from their homes. Not quite the same thing.

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Her focus on this drives me nuts. My grandmother took in foster care placements in the same state for more than fifty years, including a number of long-term placements who took the family name, and a few who ended up being adopted into the family. It doesn't make you morally superior or a better Christian. It's just the right thing to do, if you can. You shouldn't get bonus sympathy points for doing what we should all be doing, if we can. Caring for children shouldn't make you "special," it should just make you decent.

That said, I hesitate to assume the children were ill-treated in any way. I know that children in foster care often have to learn the basics of being in a more orderly family, and that that can feel like "oppression" to them at first, and that they sometimes act out as a result. Once there are some basic limits in place (meals on time, set bedtimes, whatever it is), they test them. That's pretty normal. All children test boundaries. It can just be more extreme with children who have had the sort of home upset (one way or another) that lands them in the system.

I don't think emergency placements are easy to handle--there's not enough time to establish routines--but they're, well, SHORT. I doubt my grandma would place her long-term placements and her emergency placements in the same category, "parenting"-wise. (Though sometimes one does become the other, and sometimes emergency placements will come back several times before things get sorted out at home.)

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23 kids may have gone through her home, but she was not a parent to that many kids. Sorry, but I don't think you can brag about being a parent to a short-term emergency placement. I also find it telling that they wanted to work with unwed mothers, and worked with girls with eating disorders. I'm not saying it's not a valid calling, but by generically calling herself a foster parent, she gives the impression that she's worked with abused kids removed from their homes. Not quite the same thing.

Terrie,

We had family friends who took in foster children. They ended up adopting two of the kids that didn't find placement, and they were friends to me growing up.

She often took babies that she would keep for only a few days, and I remember crying myself when one of the babies found permanent placement. I was a teenager, and I don't know how on earth she did that. I would want to keep them all. But aside from the two boys, she was not overburdened with a large number at once. And I would suspect that she had at least 23 kids that came through her home, if you added them all up. She loved and nurtured all of them, but I don't know that she'd ever use the grand tally as something to boast about, if she even counted.

I think that "23 foster children" might give conjure up the idea that she was something of a Duggar, and it may be that they kept children for a very short time each time like our friends did. At no one time can I remember our friend having more than her two adopted boys and one little one at one time, and that was over a period of 15 years while we were in regular contact with them. It gives a bit of a misleading picture that is likely meant to cast Bachmann as some kind of ubermother that will cast her as virtuous.

ETA: She may be virtuous in this, but I meant to indicate it as something to buy votes.

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I don't think emergency placements are easy to handle--there's not enough time to establish routines--but they're, well, SHORT. I doubt my grandma would place her long-term placements and her emergency placements in the same category, "parenting"-wise. (Though sometimes one does become the other, and sometimes emergency placements will come back several times before things get sorted out at home.)

I love it when I think the same thing at the same time as an FJer!

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she wants everyone to know about it but not to know any details. this is how she thinks she can run her campaign. good luck on that.

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Palin tried to use this same tactic: "hands off on my kids", but then trotted them and her "hockey mom" gig out constantly to prop her up. It's disgusting.

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