FINKSBURG — Paulette Fernekees has battled to keep her twin foster children alive ever since Catholic Charities placed them in her home six months ago.
The 9-month-old infants are HIV positive, and suffer from developmental, hearing and vision problems. Still, under Fernekees' diligent care, they were thriving.
The battle ended Wednesday when the agency removed the children on less than 24 hours notice. Now, she worries they won't survive.
"Nobody is going to fight for these children like I have," she said.
Paulette and Bill Fernekees question Catholic Charities' reasons for the abrupt action.
"They told us our home was not 'ethnically appropriate' and that we were 'not a good fit' with their program," said Bill.
The white couple, who have cared for several other black children during the past five years, here and in New Jersey, don't see race as the real reason the twins were removed.
"It's not the color of someone's skin that matters. . . . It's the content of their heart, said James E. Rowe, a registered nurse and state regional health coordinator for Western Maryland, who visited the couple's home several times.
Fernekees said she feels the decision resulted from her complaint over the monthly stipend allotted for the children's careand from a personality conflict with the director of the Catholic Charities' Specialized Foster Care.
Catholic Charities refuses to discuss the case or stipend amounts.
Minutes before three case workers arrived, followed by a state trooper, the children were playing contentedly with their toys. They smiled as the only mother they have ever known hugged them and cried.
"Where are the morals; where are the children's rights?" she asked. "They were just starting to bond with us."