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'We trusted her' to protect children

Niagara County Social Services Commissioner reacts with disappointment to arrest of former Foster Mom of the Year on charges of child abuse.

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — On Tuesday, Niagara County Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino granted 2 On Your Side an extensive interview regarding the recent arrest of a North Tonawanda woman who -- less than a year after being named as Niagara County’s foster mother of the year -- was charged with abusing one of the children placed in her care.

Kathleen Jackson was the foster parent taking care of three children, ages 1 through 5, who had been removed from the home of a Niagara Falls couple last August.

In late November, however, one of the children appeared to have been severely beaten and Jackson was subsequently charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

While limited by existing laws as to  what he could say about the case, Restaino confirmed that the children were removed from Jackson’s Wheatfield Street home immediately after suspicions of abuse were raised and that Jackson is no longer providing foster care.

“Obviously it is disappointing … we had placed our trust in her,” said Restaino, who said Jackson had been a foster parent for almost 15 years and that there had never been concerns raised about her prior to November.

The parents of the children who had been placed in Jackson’s care, Katherina Adams and James Burgess, told 2 On Your Side they believed the Department of Social Services dropped the ball in ensuring the safety of their three sons.

“My kids didn’t deserve this. They were supposed to protect my children, but they allowed this to happen to them,” Adams said.

“I would disagree with that,” responded Restaino, who said that his review of the case file demonstrated to him that his case workers “did everything they are required to do by law."

Restaino also insisted the children in Jackson’s care were checked on monthly in accordance with existing statutes.

Becoming a foster parent

According to Restaino, foster parents are only approved to care for children after a rigorous review process. It includes the completion of a 10-hour training course, along with criminal background checks, interviews with neighbors, employment history, and a safety inspection of their home.

In addition, the conditions of the home and the makeup of the household are subject to annual review and those involved in the program have their training updated on a yearly basis as well.

He also said that there is a constant need for more foster parents, and anyone interested in becoming one can begin the application process by calling 716-278-8663

What happened with Kathleen Jackson?

Perhaps no one was more shocked by the allegations against Jackson that Restaino, who presented Jackson and her husband with Niagara County’s foster parents of the year award less than a year ago.

“It is something that that law enforcement will end up determining, obviously, but without getting into specifics, I have an idea of maybe what was going on at that particular time with Ms Jackson. I can't really discuss it … but I think it was something unfortunate at that particular time as it relates to what was going on with her life.”

But when asked to elaborate further on what kind of personal circumstance could turn a honored foster mom in to an alleged child abuser, Restaino responded firmly, “No, I can’t comment on it.”

There have been occasions, according to Restaino, where foster parents have situations in their lives where they need a break from providing foster care.

“It is in incumbent the foster parent to contact us in such a situation, and let us know,” said Restaino, who also confirmed that Jackson never made any such request.

While Adams and Burgess now wonder if other children had been abused by Jackson in the past, Restaino says his office is not currently reaching out to those formerly in their care to find out.

“I do feel bad for the biological parents,” said Restaino. “We do the best that we can to ensure children are placed in safe homes … and we believed we were placing them in a safe home. Particularly when there hadn’t been any other prior indication that there would be any type of a concern.”