By now, most if not all of America has heard about the plight of Justina Pelletier. If you haven’t heard about her yet or don’t know the facts behind her case then please take time to read my article, “Justice for Justina: Was the State Right in Taking Her?” before it’s too late.
You will learn from reading the article about the involvement in her case of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) and their subsequent removal of Justina from her parents’ care once the hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, filed a report with DCF alleging “medical child abuse” by Justina’s parents. To date, Justina has not been allowed to return to the custody and care of her family but remains under the control of the hospital and DCF.
I wanted to learn more about DCF so I began delving into their reputation. What I discovered was not what I expected to find. I was also not expecting to be outraged!
In 2010, Children’s Rights, a New York based non-profit organization, advocating for the rights of children, filed a class-action lawsuit against DCF. Children’s Rights alleges that thousands of children in DCF’s care suffered neglect, abuse, and even death in some instances.
More specifically, in the class-action lawsuit of Connor B. vs. Patrick, Children’s Rights represents 8,500 children who were allegedly abused or neglected while in DCF’s care.
“Charges the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) with violating the constitutional rights of children by routinely placing them in dangerous and unstable situations once removed from their parents’ care and failing to take necessary actions to meet the legal obligation of the state-run child welfare system to ensure the safety and well-being of children in its custody.”
The plaintiffs in the Connor B. case raised “concerns about the workload of social workers, .., and the safety, care, and well-being of foster care children and youth.” The case is still moving through the judicial system as of this date.
I also discovered that 95 children have died since 2001 while under the care of DCF. However, it is believed that the number is actually much higher because the State did not report numbers of deaths between the years of 2011 to 2013.
The tragic reports of the children who suffered are heart wrenching. Repeated warnings to DCF about child abuse fell on deaf ears in some instances. Another incident concludes that a child was killed after DCF failed to take the appropriate actions, and yet another report states that a child under DCF’s care is still missing.
A report in 2010 showed that over all, children receiving services under the care of DCF social workers were about six times as likely as the general population of Bay State children to die from maltreatment, according to the state’s own records. DCF was quick to point out that this was no surprise, however, since they serviced those populations where the children were at a higher risk to die from abuse or neglect. Doesn’t that describe the population that a child protective agency serves in general? What if all child protective agencies felt the same way as DCF about their statistics?
I also discovered a report by an attorney who wrote an article in 2012 about Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) and DCF with eerily similar facts to those of Justina Pelletier’s case. It appears that the attorney represented several parents that had children with “serious but controversial diagnoses” who were in BCH and wound up being investigated by the hospital’s Child Protection Team and DCF.
He cites one instance in which the parents brought their child to the hospital just to be tested for mitochondria. The child had not been under the care of a doctor for an extended period of time as in Justina’s case and the parents were merely trying to rule out mitochondria. Justina had been under a doctor’s care at Tuft’s Medical Center for approximately 1 ½ years and he was treating her for mitochondrial disease.
Due to an internal battle within the hospital team, the attorney’s client’s case was turned over to the hospital’s Child Protective Team and the mother was accused of Munchausen by Proxy. In other words, they were claiming that the child was not really ill but that the mother was making him ill in order to garner attention from others.
Although the case was turned over to DCF, the outcome was better than what has occurred thus far in Justina’s case. Fortunately, for the family, the attorney happened to know the social worker well and had worked with her in the past on other cases. Over several weeks, the child began to improve on antibiotics and was subsequently released to the parents’ custody.
I also discovered that a new lawsuit has recently been filed in January 2014 against DCF for the wrongful death of a toddler. In that case, the plaintiff alleges that DCF ignored her warnings of abuse of her great-nephew by his mother. Although, DCF had temporarily removed the child from his mother’s custody, he was subsequently returned to her. As a result, he died from blunt-force trauma. He further suffered from contusions of the liver, stomach, and colon, as well as internal bleeding.
It would appear that DCF has a number of issues within its organization that deserve close scrutiny. Perhaps their governor will become involved to determine what is actually happening within the walls of DCH. In the meantime, if you or someone you know believes that DCF has failed in their responsibilities to care for children that have been removed from the parents/guardians and placed within DCF’s custody, a complaint can be filed by contacting www.mhlac.org.
Perhaps Mr. Pelletier, Justina’s father will want to look into reporting DCF to this agency and filing a complaint on Justina’s behalf.
Note: Susan Knowles is an author, psychotherapist and former practicing attorney. Her latest book, a political fiction, is entitled, “Freedom’s Fight: A Call to Remember” available on Amazon.com. Her website is www.susanknowles.com.
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