Seven months after the baby was taken, the family had a meeting, accompanied by Sarah’s court appointed attorney and the social worker from his office. They were told that a “clinical review” of Sarah’s case had been conducted and that these people who had never met Sarah, her baby, or the baby’s grandmother had decided that terminating Sarah’s parental rights and placing Tabitha for adoption was in Tabitha’s best interest.
They claimed that because of Sarah’s disability she cannot learn to properly care for a disabled child.
At this point it was made clear that the baby’s grandmother was ready and willing to assume guardianship and help Sarah with Tabitha’s care. The grandmother was told that DCF would not support any petition to have her granddaughter placed with her because she had “too much on her plate”. The grandmother had guardianship of other grandchildren, one of whom is autistic.
At the next court hearing following that meeting, the judge ordered that Sarah be given the opportunity to prove her competence as there had been virtually no services put in place by DCF to work towards reunification. He ordered them to place Sarah and Tabitha into a program where they would live together under supervision. As the only option presented, Sarah had no choice but to move into a Transitional Living program on November 7, 2014.
It is important to note here that the majority of the legal proceedings in this case took place where no one but Sarah’s public defender was allowed into the court to be with, support, or advocate for her at all. DCF consistently viewed every attempt Sarah’s mother made to help as further evidence of Sarah’s incompetence rather than as support – – – even though virtually every parent in the country has or is allowed support beyond themselves.
Sarah’s first appointed public defenders treated Sarah’s mother as an adversary when it was pointed out, time after time, that they had not objected to anything DCF said or did despite the obvious violation of her rights.
During the 90 days Sarah was forced to live at the program, the situation deteriorated very rapidly. Several disciplinary reports were filed during that time, as well as additional 51A reports for infractions that were frivolous at best. The agenda had been set, and the narrative was being put in place to take Tabitha again. By this programs own admission, in their IFSP dated December 17, 2014, they stated that they were not equipped to offer one on one support, and they did not have any idea how to deal with the disability of either Sarah or Tabitha. It has been stated in a more recent foster care review, however, that the staff of the program had taken a course in how to deal with Tabitha’s cerebral palsy. This was in spite of the fact that they claimed Sarah needed the training as well, but it was never offered to her.
It was again determined that Sarah had not made any progress towards reunification and they still intended to terminate her rights, regardless of the fact that Sarah kept in compliance with their service plans the entire time. She actually graduated high school, and was looking into starting college.
Sarah became pregnant with her second child, and because of the problems she had during her first pregnancy, she made sure to be seen by all of her doctors right away. These included her regular OB, a high risk pregnancy specialist, a hematologist and her primary care physician. She made every appointment, took every medication and did everything to ensure a healthy baby. Sadly her body is simply not able to carry a baby full term and on November 23, 2015 she delivered her son David prematurely as well.
David, was born at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence Rhode Island, where he still remains in the NICU. The hospital staff has absolutely no concerns about Sarah’s abilities to care for him, but by law they were required to notify DCF of his birth. They said it is just a formality and they have no intention of filing any complaints.
On December 3, 2015, MA DCF sought and was granted emergency temporary custody of David despite the fact that he has never left the hospital in Rhode Island. The hospital has provided letters to the court stating they have no concerns about Sarah’s abilities to care for him, and there is no pending discharge plan for him.
In their affidavit to the court, they state that because of Sarah’s learning disabilities they have concerns about her ability to provide for his needs after discharge. This is in direct conflict with ADA protections, which were the focus of the recent DOJ case, formally known as the Gordon case. In the Gordon case, a 2-day old infant was taken by Massachusetts’ DCF, and two years later the state was moving to forcefully adopt that baby away from her family. In this case, the mother and grandmother fought for Tabitha for 3 years. In the Gordon case, the mother and grandmother’s two year battle for custody of the baby ended upon the DOJ’s completion of their investigation. At that time they issued a finding that Massachusetts had wrongfully taken the Gordon baby and was to return her to the family with reimbursement of expenses. That, and only that, i.e., the DOJ stepping in, is what prevented that child from being forcefully adopted away from her mother and all other family – – – forever.
None of the accommodations, provisions, or even the law were followed in Sarah’s case, and the state even flouted MA DCF’s own rules to now take two children from Sarah.
With the initial case involving Tabitha, there has been no evidence to have allowed the case to get this far, but with David there simply is NO evidence, period. This case is solely based on DCF’s perception of Sarah’s limitations in clear violation of her rights as a disabled person, and the subject of the DOJ ruling. They have now scared and bullied Sarah into agreeing to enter another program in order to get custody of her son, but what difference would that make? Look what the last 3 years have yielded in getting her child back or having anything remotely close to the stable, supportive home environment Sarah could have, and should have had. A once normal teenager is now a depressed and anxious 20 year old that suffers with horrible nightmares of DCF taking both of her children away, never to be seen again, despite the fact that she has done NOTHING wrong.
Tabitha was never harmed in her care, and David, a newborn, hasn’t even left the hospital. DCF has already requested a letter from the hospital outlining David’s special needs where none have been identified. This indicates they are aware of how Tabitha’s case was mishandled because they never requested such a letter from Tabitha’s doctors although she already had the cerebral palsy diagnosis.
In March of 2015, a complaint on Sarah’s behalf was filed with the Department of Health and Human Services. She just received a response to the March complaint in January of 2016. They state there is not enough evidence for them to investigate. They have not seen all the evidence, and time is running out. The trial to terminate Sarah’s parental rights is set for January 28, 2016. DCF has already made it clear that they will not allow the grandmother to obtain custody despite her qualifications, never mind its her granddaughter. Help and/or direction is desperately needed, and will be greatly appreciated.