After being forcibly separated from her grandson on dubious grounds, the author began a legal battle against the Department of Social Services in the United States. Here’s an account of the case.
My grandson’s birth was a complete surprise. My daughter had started mild contractions and actually fallen asleep while we waited for them to get harder before leaving for hospital. Suddenly she woke, and the baby’s head was crowning! One push and my grandson was out—delivered by me! I didn’t even have a car seat as yet and ordered one right away. The unexpected home birth was later used against me as denying my grandson medical care.
After the delivery my daughter refused to go to the hospital for a check-up. She was scared of being forcibly hospitalised by DSS (Department of Social Services) again. I could not force her and later this was used against me as denying her medical care even though I was in touch over the phone with doctors about any follow up she might need. They suggested some urine and blood tests, which I had done. I also called a paediatrician and said I would bring the baby along as soon as the car seat arrived. They told me to come when I could but the delay in taking the baby to the paediatrician was also used
After the birth my daughter started showing signs of mental confusion again. Her thinking became irrational and I had to take over primary care and supervision of the baby while at the same time enabling as much involvement as possible with my daughter. In her disoriented state my daughter felt that I was trying to keep the baby from her. When I had to postpone the first appointment with the paediatrician by two days, my daughter got agitated and called the paediatrician saying that if I did not bring the baby over the next day, they should call Social Services. The DSS came to my door with a police officer the next day. To this day my daughter regrets that call, but I believe her confusion was brought on by post-natal hormonal changes exacerbating her already fragile state from protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal.
This began another round of inspections and conflict with DSS. DSS would turn up unannounced, panicking my daughter who refused to speak to them, though I begged her to. We left town for a few days to get a break from their constant harassment and they later accused us of “not co-operating” with them even though we returned home voluntarily after our break. They never explained what was expected of us and I even have in writing from the caseworker that I was “taking good care” of my grandson. DSS never explained why they continued to be involved after it was shown that my grandson was not sick or harmed in any way. They later accused me of denying my grandson medical care even though I did in fact take him to the paediatrician who reported him each time to be fine.
From my daughter’s history, DSS were aware that she would make panicked calls when she was not herself. But DSS used this later to say that my daughter did not want me to care for her child—ignoring numerous other occasions when my daughter did ask for me to do so before them. From my studies in public health, I was aware of some concerns about vaccine damage in infants. So when taking my grandson to the paediatrician’s I had asked if we could hold off the vaccinations until I did a little research and perhaps went with an altered schedule. The paediatrician said, “Several of my parents have requested that and all I ask is that they sign a waiver.” I agreed. DSS later used this in court to make out that I was “adamantly opposed to vaccines”, which I am not.
The episode with the DSS motivated my daughter to see a well-known traumatic brain injury (TBI) specialist, the former President of the Brain Injury Association of America, who had given a preliminary finding of TBI based on her records. Being much in demand, he could only give us an appointment two months later. I took care of my grandson and hoped that things would improve with my daughter once we saw him.
But we were never able to keep that appointment. DSS got an ex-parte order to forcibly commit my daughter a second time to hospital. She was put through a psyche evaluation at which her request and right to have me present was denied. I later learnt that my daughter was drugged that day with Haldol and Congentin. These are drugs given to Gitmo detainees before they are interrogated. While my daughter was on those drugs two DSS caseworkers came in and interrogated her. She says she has no memory of what she said. I was allowed to see her for a few moments after the interrogation. She looked like she had been sleeping and signed a power of attorney in my favour asking me to care for the baby in her absence.
Later that day DSS filed a petition to take over custody of my grandson citing my daughter’s mental condition, accusing me of refusing to accept her diagnosis of “mental illness”, of being “adamantly opposed to vaccines” and alleging that my daughter had claimed I had bruised her and held her hostage. This, even though my daughter had signed a power of attorney in my favour after the interrogation and the State Social Service Manual states that not taking children for well visits, not vaccinating them at all, or not forcing them to take behavioural modification medications is not, in itself, neglect. Based on these phony claims they got an unlawful ex-parte order without even alleging the required immediate need for removal from an out-of-town judge known for easily granting DSS custody over children. They came to my home and took my three-month-old grandson from my arms that very day.
I was not even named as a party to the DSS’s custody petition. This itself was illegal because I had been the child’s caretaker from birth, and with my daughter in hospital, I was its custodian.
A custody hearing was held two days later. As I was not joined as a party to the proceeding I had to sit in the spectator’s section. I could barely hear what was being said. When the hearing was apparently coming to a close, I raised my hand and very meekly asked if I could speak. The judge did not even look up. He flicked his hand as though he were shooing away a fly and kept my grandson in foster care.
DSS now began to go through the motions of “reunifying” my daughter with my grandson. Under the law, they are obliged to attempt to reunite parents and children, but in my daughter’s case they did it in a way that was doomed to failure. For one thing, so long as my daughter was in a fragile mental state, she needed my help to properly care for the baby, but I had been cut out by DSS. As they had done before, DSS tried to alienate my daughter from me. They got her to repudiate the power of attorney she had given me. They told her I was wrong about her needing to see a brain injury specialist. They made her believe that if she would just “take her meds” and do what they said, she would get her son back. They put her back on benzodiazepines.
They also barred my daughter from living with me. They sent her to a badly run group home where almost all her rights were violated. My daughter tried hard to please the caseworkers. But they criticised her every move.
Finally DSS joined me as a party accusing me of “serious neglect”, based on claims that all had an innocent explanation, such as the unexpected home birth of the baby, the delay in taking him to the paediatrician, my asking about vaccines, my disagreement over the use of drugs on my daughter without taking into account her TBI and so on. They added a completely false allegation of “failure to provide remedial care” to my grandson, which made no sense as it was on record that he was in good health. They used my special concern about chemical sensitivities and use of homeopathy and food supplements to portray me as a crank who was “inappropriate” to care for the baby and had “no insight” into my daughter’s condition.
Before the case could go to trial DSS coerced me into signing a document called a “stipulation” that effectively had me admitting that my grandson was neglected while in my and my daughter’s care. I was uneasy but signed as at the time my state-appointed lawyer persuaded me that reunification was on the cards if I did so. My state-appointed lawyer had not explained the consequences of the stipulation to me, or even shown me the full document in writing ahead of time. He told me in writing that all my rights were intact if I should later decide to appeal to court. But this was wrong.
I later learnt that this is a routine DSS strategy: to allege serious neglect and then push the family to agree to a stipulation that accepts a lower charge of neglect. This is technically different from “serious neglect”, which allows DSS to avoid having to prove its allegations in a trial, while at the same time justifying its removal of the child. The bait given to the family is that agreeing to a stipulation of neglect will put the family on the path to reunification, instead of being left to the uncertainties of a trial.
After the stipulation, the court removed me as a party on DSS’s application saying that I had no remaining rights in the matter as I had agreed to the stipulation of neglect and was not claiming custody of the child, but agreeing to his reunification with his mother. None of us realised that the clock was now ticking on us. Under the law, if the reunification efforts failed, the baby could be given up in forced adoption.
With me out of the picture, DSS began to pile the pressure on my daughter. Their involvement resulted in her being, again, abruptly cut off of the benzodiazepines which they were responsible for putting her on in the first place. This brought on another episode of acute benzodiazepine withdrawal. My daughter deteriorated and was unable to continue the supervised visitations with her baby. Now certain that her disability was the result of abrupt benzo withdrawal, I found a doctor to get her treated and back on the drug for a slow safer taper, knowing my daughter could not recover and meet DSS demands otherwise. I tried to explain to the DSS, sending them the doctor’s report, but they ignored it. The father had already given up his rights, and when I filed a motion to intervene so I could explain my daughter’s medical condition, I was sanctioned $5000.
DSS now claimed that my daughter had willingly stopped visiting her child. They went ahead and obtained a decree for the adoption of my grandson by his foster carers, even while I was in the process of trying to get the court to consider me for custody and adoption. I lost in the Court of Appeals which said that the case was moot with my grandson having been adopted already.
But I am not giving up my legal battle. DSS had no right to take my grandson when there was no abuse, neglect or emergency. I was never given a meaningful chance to be heard in court. I plan to appeal to the US Supreme Court.
To spread awareness about this issue, I have tied up with a national art project called “Inside Out” for which I am asking victims of child protection services to send me their photographs with a list of violations committed against them.
I will leave the reader with this excerpt from the North Carolina state social services manual to demonstrate how far is the practice of child protection services from how they are supposed to act:
“We believe that the family is the fundamental resource for the nurturing of children and that children have a right to their own families… We support and require the involvement of children and families throughout their involvement with child welfare… It is our job to instil hope because even families who feel hopeless can grow and change. This means… that the family’s ideas and resources are given the same legitimacy as those proposed by professionals, and that mutual agreement in decision making is a primary goal.”
The author is a grandmother, artist and award-winning writer from North Carolina, USA
The Global Child Rights and Wrongs series is published in collaboration with www.saveyourchildren.in, lawyer Suranya Aiyar’s website critiquing the role of governments and NGOs in child-related policy