I have been working with the C. family, a lovely young couple who are risk of losing their only son. These parents are in imminent danger of the loss of their parental rights. As always, I suppose, the story is complicated but also very unusual and compelling. They have had to fire their lawyer this week due to multiple failures to adequately represent their interests. I have promised to do what I could to help them locate another lawyer.
The child’s father is deploying to the Middle East on Thursday of next week (May 26th, 2011). The parents thought that there would be no legal action taken in the case until his return in February of 2012, but we have learned that the DFCS caseworkers are pressing for a quick hearing. They are terrified to be without adequate counsel at this time.
I have just read Nancy Schaefer’s letter on your website. We need information about whether the dollars available to the states through the Adoption and the Safe Families Act are currently available to this DFCS. The youth court and DFCS county in which the parents reside has the worst reputation in Mississippi.
We are working with an investigative reporter with a national reputation who is interested in doing the story. We need documentary evidence or even good stories about loss of parental rights for cash from mississippi. There is a new youth court judge who is a huge adoption advocate. We need the names of helpful contacts. Would sure appreciate your help. I have attached a letter to the judge which summarizes the case and explains my involvement briefly.
(Note: This letter has been edited to protect the families identity.)
This letter was received from an Occupational Therapist, who writes in part.
I have written to you this morning regarding the case of the C. family whose case you were going to hear today. I am an early intervention therapist helping children age 0-3 with developmental problems. Last summer, while in the course of my duties, I stumbled into a situation that has struck me as so blatantly unjust that I could not dismiss it as being out of the scope of my professional practice and as such not my concern.
I met toddler C. (now 27 months old) and his parents in mid August while responding to a request for an oral motor and sensory processing skills assessment. This request was made by toddler C.’s Service Coordinator for the First Steps Early Intervention Program, a service of the MS State Department of Health. I met briefly with them in their home to observe the child’s play and feeding skills which were significantly delayed. During the course of my initial interview I learned that he had been in foster care and was being supervised by a case manager with the Department of Human Services.
The following week Mrs. C., called to cancel our appointment saying that his doctor had admitted him directly from his clinic appointment to the hospital. Mom then called to tell me that the child would miss his second appointment because a hearing had been called to determine if he was unsafe in their custody and needed to be removed from their home for his safety. She was clearly distraught, had recently moved into the area, and had no local family support besides that of her husband. I felt a moral obligation knowing the circumstances to respond to her request for my presence at the hearing.
What occurred at the hearing in the Harrison County Youth Courtroom both shocked me and offended my sense of justice. The conduct of the guardian ad litem struck me as deeply inappropriate and insensitive in relationship to the removal of a child from his parents.
Many accusations were leveled at the parents with no attempt to support them with any evidence. I heard that the same attitude and hearsay was displayed by the DHS supervisor at the follow up hearing a few days later.
At this hearing neither the parents nor their lawyer were permitted to say anything in their defense. Their lawyer unsuccessfully attempted to introduce a report completed by a pediatric gastroenterologist who had diagnosed the child with digestive problems. This report challenged the opinion of the physician that had admitted him into the hospital and had pressed for protective custody in the belief that his weight loss was due to his parents’ failure to feed him adequately.
It is my understanding that this physician denied the parents a referral to a gastroenterologist and in fact the parents were accused in the courtroom of “doctor shopping” for seeking any other medical advice regarding their son’s condition. According to the boy’s mother, threats were made by DHS caseworkers and supervisors that if they sought alternative medical advice this would decrease their chances that they would be given custody of their son.
The reasons for the refusal of the pediatrician to pursue gastroenterological evaluation are unknown. To our knowledge she has not yet provided a detailed rationale for this either verbally or through medical documentation.
Other troubling aspects of this case which I know only through the parents, include advising the parents to plead no contest prior to the first hearing, conflicting messages and inadequate information from case managers and their supervisors, the repeated removal of case managers who indicated their support for the reunification of the family, and the lack of information and advocacy with the goal of family preservation.
I did witness a statement made by a case manager supervisor following the August hearing in which, while refusing to answer the parent’s questions, she stated, “I am glad that you have a good lawyer” and “this is bull-it”. Multiple efforts to engage high level staff at DHS through phone calls and e mails have either not been returned or not followed up.
The parents have completed a detailed chronology of the events that have led to each of their losses of custody. This includes an exhaustive body of data in support of their contention that the child’s removal from their custody is based on unwarranted assumptions, hearsay, misinterpretation, and a failure to investigate the reasons for his weight loss. There is a lot of detail in their chronology about weight loss incidents that has been correlated with the physicians’ documentation.
This young but resourceful family has experienced such isolation throughout this period, now over a year long. Great psychological harm has been done to them. The parents have received thorough and ongoing psychological evaluation and they are found to be normal for people under great stress. There are indications that the boy has experienced psychological harm, but this has not been investigated by a credentialed mental health professional.
This crisis has served to reunite and strengthen the parent’s relationship with one another. They have benefitted from the parent education experiences in which they have participated. They live for the weekly visitations with their child, which have on several occasions, been denied. Their perception is that no one in the Department of Human Services supports their goal of reunification.
It is my opinion that the relationship between the department and the family has been characterized by ignorance, withholding of information, and use of manipulation through threats of the permanent loss of custody. These parents are two loving and competent parents that are at this time beside themselves over this last postponement, only one of many. I ask that you do what you can to end the victimization of this child and his parents at the hands of the Department of Human Services.
Mississippi Occupational Therapist