I am a 35 year old female American born in Portland, Oregon to married American parents. I am also a hard working single mother to 3 American children now 18, 11, and 8 years old.
CAUSE: In November 2008, my two youngest girls, then 7 and 4, were unconstitutionally removed from my care by child welfare (DHS). The single founded allegation was that I had been subjected to domestic violence in the presence of one of my children. This finding was made in contradiction to state and federal law and agency policy and re-victimized my children and me.
The purpose of this petition is regarding the youngest of my 3 girls. In March 2011, after a nearly 2.5 year forced separation and battle to regain rightful custody, against my wishes, DHS secured a passport for my 7 year old daughter, escorted her out of the united states, and then abandoned her in a foreign country with her father. This action was approved by the court against my will and despite the fact that I retain parental rights and legal custody of my child. Upon return from the international trip, DHS requested an expedited hearing in which they announced it was illegal to manage an international case and requested immediate dismissal. The court authorized the request and the agency refuses to communicate with me regarding the whereabouts of my daughter or any other questions regarding the case. Her father promptly moved to an unknown location in Mexico and the court closed the case in November 2011, without ensuring parenting time or sibling contact. It has been a year and five months since I last heard from my baby and I have been unsuccessful in my significant efforts to identify anyone who will help.
CASE BACKGROUND: I began a new relationship in late 2007 and it quickly became unhealthy. In early 2008, I had enough and I filed for and received a restraining order (RO) and later authorized authorities to use forceful entry to gain access into my home to serve this order. My ex was arrested for domestic violence (DV) at this time and I planned a move to nearby Washington state while he was detained. Unfortunately, he was released early. At a later date, I had him arrested for violating the RO, however, a clerical error was verified claiming the previous arresting officer failed to document that the RO had been served and the order was then vacated. In Washington state, he became aggressive in the presence of my daughter and I called the police and filed a report of DV. He was later arrested and convicted for this incident. He served approximately 4 months during which time I tried to relocate but was financially prohibited. I learned of a federal grant to help victims of DV and their children seek safety and applied, however, I was inappropriately denied because the worker claimed there was no immediate danger due to his current incarceration.
I had always enjoyed a sense of pride in the fact that I was able to financially support my children without the assistance of welfare and was hesitant to apply for these funds, however, a reminder that I was asking for nothing more than I had already given combined with the true financial hardship I was facing made this choice easier. When my request was denied, it felt like a slap in the face but it did not hinder my resolve.
My ex was released in the summer of 2008. I allowed my lease to expire and in October 2008, I fled with my two youngest girls and we secured placement in a family shelter on or around November 1, 2008. My oldest, almost 15 at the time, was beginning her first year of high school and my mom agreed to help provide stability/care for her.
In mid November 2008, my ex found out where we were staying. In an effort to ensure safety, I again applied for the DV Grant and unfortunately we were denied a second time for services we qualified for. I filed verbal and written complaints against this worker and in retaliation, she contacted child welfare and made a false report that I intended on returning to an abusive relationship with my children.
Child welfare followed up and I agreed to present my children for verification of well being but resisted their interest in a "voluntary agreement" that allowed my children to remain in my care but restricted my parental rights and authorized the agency to provide unnecessary services to my family. Unfortunately, I learned I had no choice and my children were forcefully removed from my care and placed in a foster home. The case worker later documented that I refused to engage in services so my children were removed. This violates federal law requiring minimum standards of imminent danger.
LEGAL: On Oct. 26, 2004, the New York Court of Appeals unanimously held that a mother’s inability to protect a child from witnessing abuse does not constitute neglect, and therefore cannot be the sole basis for removal, and that only in the rarest of instances should this decision be made without judicial approval. On Nov. 29, 2004, almost exactly 4 years before my children were removed, the (Federal Court) Second Circuit issued a decree in Nicholson v. Williams under the terms set forth in the New York Court of Appeals decision.
My children were not removed under judicial approval, rather by approval of a "Referee" of the court. Immediately upon being made aware of my right to appeal this action, I directed counsel to appeal and despite an email following up our conversation that provides documentation of this direction, the court appointed lawyer failed to appeal as directed. The court denied my request for an extension of the appeal deadline due to incompetent counsel. This was just the beginning of a series of illegal, unconstitutional and inhumane actions taken against us.
CREED AND MENTALITY: In May 2009, I received a letter from my lawyer (a lawyer I hired and paid for) that reads in part:
"The only way you can regain custody of her is if DHS (OR state child welfare) allows you to have her back. Make no mistake, DHS is in charge here and they can either permanently take your child away or give her back depending on their mood and how much they like you. It is not an objectively fair system, kindness matters on your end as much as anything else. DHS will not give you your children back under any circumstances unless they like you and believe they can trust you with the children. By fighting them and filing complaints with DHS you are not telling them what they need to hear in order to return your kids.
I am writing this because, during our last conversion in my office on Thursday, May 7, I told you in order to get your children back you needed to tell your DHS worker that their concerns were warranted and that you want to accept their help. Your response was that you were not willing to tell them that you were wrong and they were right.
What I hear from you is that you would rather prove to them that they wronged you than get your children back. I want you to know, you are not the first person to be wronged by DHS and you are not the first person to go in with this unwillingness to admit you were wrong. Also, you will not be the first person to lose your children permanently with this attitude. You need to decide whether your own pride is more important than your children, because you cannot fight DHS and get your children back, that's just not the way the agency works, and the agency has ultimate authority here."
Unfortunately, the creed and mentality largely illustrated in this letter, proved more powerful than my ability to defend our civil and human rights.
STATUS OF MY OLDEST DAUGHTER: In the summer of 2009, I was advised that DHS had no authority over my ability to care for my oldest daughter and she immediately moved back into my care. She remained in my care throughout the life of the case and still resides with me today.With the exception of the approximately 1 year in my mom's care, mostly attributed to this case, I have been the sole care and financial provider throughout her life. Despite the life altering chaos this case has created in all our lives, my oldest daughter has thrived in my care. She graduated high school this year with a 3.8 GPA and is leaving my nest for college in the fall. She is interested in becoming a Profiler for the FBI and I support her in this pursuit. I am very proud of my daughter's accomplishments and I believe we would not be celebrating such successes had DHS taken her into custody as well.
STATUS OF MY SECOND DAUGHTER: In March 2009, DHS and the court continued to fail to protect my daughters and caused additional harm by forcing them to be split up. DHS recommended and the court approved action that violated federal interstate law by placing my middle daughter with her absent father out of the state. She currently resides near San Diego, CA and as a result of the financial hardship caused by this case, our visits are only once a year. Her father recently shared an interest in returning full custody to my care and my daughter and I are eager to accomplish this in the most timely manner possible, however, both her father and I are financially unable to secure counsel. For her well being, interest in ensuring a safe transfer of custody without interference of child welfare or the court is a high priority and I hope to have the funds to secure counsel soon!
INNOCENT/RE-VICTIMIZED: I have never been convicted of a crime nor did the court find was an unfit parent.
~I voluntarily enlisted in and conducted 4 months of random UA's to prove I did not struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction - all resulted clean with no drug or alcohol substance.
~I voluntarily conducted a mental health evaluation - resulted in no diagnosis and no recommended services.
~I voluntarily completed a domestic violence evaluation - the Doctor concluded I took significant and appropriate action when subjected to domestic violence and I am able to protect my children in that regard. This evaluator also noted in his report "it appears DHS is distorting facts in this case".
~The DHS case worker committed a felony crime against me and this criminal action was "founded" through an investigation by the governor's advocacy office, however, the police officer failed to timely submit the police report I filed and the DA failed to take action.
The best I can tell, the cause for the continued case was due to 1) my resistance of a court order to attend a support group for victims of dv, although I did eventually adhere to this unconstitutional order of the court, at a great emotional expense and in hopes of regaining custody. 2) A standing but unfounded allegation by child welfare that I have an inability to control my impulses because I interrupted others while speaking.
My belief that it is my duty to stand up for what I believe in and my interest to teach this to my children through example have contributed to a profound sense of failure and guilt.
I have tried to enlist assistance from local and national media. I have contacted many of the talk shows. I have attempted to contact Lifetime television network, ACLU, DV advocacy groups, The Attorney General, lawyers, legal aid, church services, etc. I have not been successful and as a result of the trauma, I am suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and major depression. I have nightmares every night. I am constantly pulling my thoughts back in and trying to concentrate. Every subject on television lends to a potential theory of resolve. Shame and guilt prevent me from enjoying the company of life long friends and family. The solitude has contributed to my depression. My need to cope is forced to engage in battles with my equally tenacious desire for resolve. Every unsuccessful plea for help takes something from my soul. I cannot live without my children and I cannot fight this alone. I know advocacy will give me the empowerment I need to keep fighting for my babies, so I ask you to please, please take the time to sign this petition and demand the state of Oregon take responsibility in ensuring an immediate reunification of my family. From one mother to another and from one American family to yours, I know I would sign if the role was reversed!
Lonely mother of 3.