CHANELY RAMIREZ is on the run.
The despondent teenager ran away last week because the city's Department of Human Services is planning to remove her from the foster family she loves.
Chanely called me Tuesday from a friend's house to plead for help.
"They're trying to take me away from my mom," she said, sobbing.
"They have no reason to do it."
"I love my mom, she's everything to me," the 16-year-old said of her foster mother, Rowena Faulk.
"You know how they say foster kids feel like foster kids? She's like a real mom to me," she said.
"She makes sure I get to school every day. She makes sure I have all my necessities and more. She talks to me and gives me advice. I could talk to her about anything. It's like I live with my real mother."
Chanely said that she ran away Friday after a sleepless night of worry.
Disagreements between her foster mother and a new social worker had spiraled into open conflict, she said, and DHS had removed another foster child from the house last Thursday.
She knew she was next.
"I couldn't get no kind of sleep," she said.
"I was restless. I couldn't eat."
Finally, she packed some stuff and took off, with a cell phone that Faulk's biological daughter made her take to keep in touch, she said.
Chanely said that she wandered the streets of Philadelphia for two days, then slept at a friend's house until the friend's parents became suspicious about why she wasn't attending school.
"I'm running out of places to go," she told me yesterday afternoon.
"I'm scared. It's cold. It's drizzling. I'm soaking-wet."
She won't tell anyone where she is. And Faulk said that she won't give officials Chanely's cell-phone number because she fears that she'll lose her trust, and that Chanely will drop out of touch with her, too.
"Will she have to die before anybody listens?" Faulk said, weeping.
DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose said through a spokeswoman that she "wants the voices of children to be heard."
She wouldn't comment further.
A source said that the commissioner has personally intervened in the case and is trying to find Chanely and resolve the situation in the teen's best interest.
Chanely has lived in Faulk's Upper Darby home since September, after her biological mother threw her out, she said.
"I guess you could say I was bad, or what-not, so she kicked me out," she said.
But she's doing much better living with Faulk.
"If you look at everything I've done this year compared to last year - my grades are better, I'm not boy-crazy any more, I work, I go to school," Chanely said.
"The lady has no reason to take me out of the house," she said of her social worker.
Faulk said that she'd clashed with authorities over several issues, including her impact on Chanely's relationship with her biological family.
"They said I was overstepping my boundaries as a foster parent," she said.
The spiraling dispute escalated last week, and Chanely said that she was screaming at the worker on the phone and was also belligerent at a meeting on Wednesday.
"I was screaming, but how do you expect somebody to be when you're talking about something traumatic?" Chanely said.
"I feel like everybody's trying to take me from where I want to be and where I'm doing good."
I'm sure there's another side to this story. There always is.
But no one will tell me what it is. Not DHS. Not anyone at First Home Care Corp., which is providing services under contract to DHS. Not Chanely's child advocate, who didn't return my call.
But what could possibly justify removing a child who's so attached to her foster mother and turn her over to the unpredictability of another foster-care home?
A person familiar with the case said that a personality clash between providers and a strong-willed foster parent sometimes results in the child being taken away - whether or not it's in the child's best interest.
"No one gets to know what happened because DHS hides behind client confidentiality," the source said.
I do know this much.
There's a teenager who has found a home where she feels loved and cared for, where she wants to remain.
And I can't imagine anything more important than that. *
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