Reunite the Brico Babies With Their Mama

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My daughters, ages 5 and 6, were taken from me by the Florida Department of Children and Families without appropriate cause on April 13, 2018. Since then my rights have been terminated and they have been adopted to their paternal grandparents.

These little girls beg to come home to their mama every day.
They never experienced any neglect or abuse--a fact that was admitted under oath by the Broward County Sheriff's child maltreatment investigator who first investigated the allegations and filed the initial shelter petition. Before filing that petition, she had never seen me interact with my children, and made no attempt to contact me. She based her decision on the fact that, while pregnant with my eldest daughter, I had been prescribed methadone, an evidence-based treatment for opioid addiction. At the time of the DCF proceedings, my counselor from my Seattle-based  mental health and addiction treatment program confirmed I was in remission from addiction, which I had been diligently and voluntarily treating. DCF claimed my PTSD and addiction were untreated. In fact, we had only been in Florida for one month, and I was simply waiting for my insurance benefits to change from Washington to Florida before enrolling in therapy, which I had been engaged in back  home, to support my ongoing recovery and remission from PTSD and OUD that were the result of physical and sexual abuse as a teenager.

Movement for Family Power initially hosted my first petition seeking the immediate reversal of the termination and adoption/return of my daughters, and/or an independent third-party review of the case. It has gathered 434 signatures. The petition is now being transferred to this platform in hopes of gaining more attention; those 434 signatures will be combined with those here when the petition is submitted. (If you signed the original petition, I am asking that you please do NOT sign this petition at this time, to prevent overlap/double-counting. But thank you; your signature *will* be counted and please do share this new petition!)

More case details are available at the original petition -- https://forms.gle/cPqcqHzu9js7wtpT6

Basic points:

--I was never convicted of the initial allegations of abandonment; they were proven to be unfounded

--No actual instances of neglect were ever even alleged, yet I was charged with neglect and imminent risk of harm.
This is part of the trial transcript, an inquiry between one of the parent attorneys (Q) and the BSO investigator (A):

Q: You had the opportunity to evaluate --strike that-- to observe the children on the April 13th shelter hearing Officer R----, didn't you?
A: Yes.
Q: That was the second time you've seen them?
A: Correct.
Q: They were appropriately dressed?
A: They were.
Q: Well-mannered?
A: Yes.
Q: And seemed loving and bonded with the family. Is that true?
A: Yes.
Q: Once again, there were no signs of maltreatment, neglect, or harm?
A: No.
Q: And would you say that after looking at the children on that day that there was substantial imminent risk of harm to the children or actual threat of injury?
A: No.

When the judge charged me with neglect and imminent risk of harm anyway, she did not cite any occasions of harm or actual safety threats, but instead my "poor coping skills" as evidenced by a three-day trip to Miami while the girls stayed with their grandparents, and a conversation about marijuana. She also noted my "skill with language" (I am a professional writer with graduate and undergraduate degrees in writing) as indicative of my poor character. These were her reasons for taking my children.

--The agency barred me from engaging in court-mandated services for over six months, even though it is their duty according to federal and state law to make "reasonable efforts" toward reunification, including supporting the completion of services. Some services were significantly delayed; others were never provided, including parenting classes, family therapy, housing and income assistance. Although I secured housing and income on my own, my income was never counted due to staff turnover and poor communication that led to my documents never being accepted. They also never evaluated my home, but made (incorrect) remarks about its size in the termination petition. The basis of the termination was only that I did not complete these services, and not any actual neglect, harm, or risk of harm to my daughters.

--The grandfather, who is now their adoptive parent, has been fully incapacitated since approximately three months post-trial. He cannot move, speak, or swallow on his own. His wife, their other adoptive parent, is his full-time caregiver. 

--My daughters beg everyday to come home. They try to create potions and enchantments that will allow them to travel through the phone screen into my apartment. They want to live with their mama and their dog, like any child. They want to be normal, and live with mommy and visit grandma (their words).Their intense, highly vocalized desire to live with me was never appropriately communicated by the guardian ad litem. The GAL was biased in favor of their grandmother, her Facebook friend, whom she continues to bestow gifts upon, including keepsakes from her mother who recently passed away.

--ChildNet--the community agency that handles court-involved DCF cases in Broward County invoked the timeline set by the Adoption and Safe Families Act as their reason for terminating my rights, but that timeline does not apply to relative caregivers. They did not have to terminate my rights. They chose to, because they didn't like me. Enacting overly harsh measures upon women who speak up, advocate for themselves, refuse to admit to false allegations and are generally perceived as "non-compliant" is a pattern of behavior perpetrated by child services workers. CPS is not intended to be a service that enforces patriarchal gender norms, normative ideas of "motherhood," or even an evaluator of one's parenting--it is supposed to keep children safe when faced with abuse, abandonment, neglect, or imminent risk of maltreatment; all of which the only person who directly investigated this case stated were not at play.

--I was coerced into signing a voluntary termination of parental rights agreement. More details on that and other aspects of the case can be found here -- https://bit.ly/BRICOELIZABETH -- but to illustrate the point I will mention here that my attorney (who was new to the case) made it clear she was uninterested in pursuing my defense, was explicitly aware that my signature was an act of perjury, and so arranged to have me sign via notary outside of court and file with the judge without me, because she knew I would not maintain the lie in open court. She did not provide me with the termination notice within the timeframe of appeal; however, I still wish to appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel, and need help doing so.

Per this petition I am requesting:

--a full reinstatement of my parental rights, a reversal of the invalid adoption to their paternal grandparents, and my daughters' immediate return to my legal and physical custody as per their desires and mine.

----A full review of the DCF process of removal and adjudication, including judges’ ability to change the valid results of drug tests in case records, the lack of judicial oversight, the low evidentiary standard, the lack of the choice to have a jury trial, and the lack of robust legal representation for low-income parents.

Should their immediate return not be possible, I would accept instead: 

--A reversal of the termination and adoption pending an independent third party review of the entire case, and appropriate correctional action taken including outright dismissal of the case OR a retrial with a new judge and counsel and which is determined fairly by a jury of my peers OR application of the least-restrictive options that were never taken (such as restoration of my physical custody, appropriate service mandates and timely/evidence-based referrals that are able to be completed while my children are in my home)

In addition to these petition demands, I am seeking:

--An attorney willing to take on an appeal and/or lawsuit pro bono and dedicate time and resources to an adequate defense

--A harm-reduction oriented journalist associated with a prominent media outlet, who engages in evidence-based reporting, to shine a spotlight on the injustices perpetrated by Florida DCF/ChildNet/Judge Gamm against my family -- and/or a high traffic media outlet willing to publish my own account of this travesty of justice. Examples of past writing that has covered parts of this case:           https://undark.org/2018/09/20/new-algorithms-perpetuate-old-biases-in-child-welfare-cases/
    https://www.ourprism.org/1947737/
    https://talkpoverty.org/2018/11/16/poverty-neglect-state-took-children/
    https://www.thefix.com/florida-versus-evidence-how-i-lost-my-children-because-past-drug-use
    https://talkpoverty.org/2019/07/16/child-protective-services-trap-parents/
    https://filtermag.org/six-months-since-my-daughters-were-taken-heres-how-the-system-punishes-past-drug-use/
    https://theappeal.org/how-child-services-punishes-mothers-with-substance-use-disorder-and-their-children/

UPDATE: Youth Today included coverage of my case in their recent article!! Check it out here: https://youthtoday.org/2020/06/child-protective-services-target-minority-poor-women-report-says/
TruthOut included coverage of my case as well: https://truthout.org/articles/the-foster-system-is-a-battleground-for-the-racist-war-on-drugs/?fbclid=IwAR0pY_by-SQ5v0Wpvs-GeDE9vMLIb59qCXFSsoa6HQ-985nIaEueJSVO1Ug
Filter Mag published my account of the termination: https://filtermag.org/motherhood-legally-terminated/
Movement for Family Power included me in their panel about CPS' role in the Drug War: https://www.facebook.com/MovementForFamilyPower/videos/2676803652642459
Narcotica hosted me on their podcast speaking about my case: https://narcocast.com/episode-48-moms-and-methadone/

I continue to seek coverage, and thank those who have helped get the word out!

By signing this, you are showing support of these demands and my journey to reunite with my children. Your name will be sent attached to this email

I also appreciate you sharing this petition on your social media platforms as a show of support and to help gather more signatories and/or counsel/media attention. If it suits you, please consider sharing with the hashtags #ReturntheBricoGirls #SendNellyHome #SendBellyHome #defundCPS #abolishCPS #LegalizeMotherhood #ElizabethBrico

It won't be until those with privilege stand up and say "NO MORE" that those of us without privilege will finally be allowed to enjoy basic human dignities, like loving our own babies.

All I want to do is love my babies.

Elizabeth Sparenberg-Brico