Rhode Island's Little Hostages
Rhode Island taxpayers have contributed an enormous sum to wage a war that most of us know nothing about. The systems our state established to protect children have instead subjected many to danger and trauma that will profoundly shape the rest of their lives. Who will help to build public awareness and political consensus to protect children from those who prey on them or who profit from their abuse? How should government respond in ways that are transparent and accountable?
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Father Lawrence Murphy, a predator priest, groomed children for sex at a Roman Catholic school for the deaf in Milwaukee. After five of those boys came to grips with this in adulthood, they started a movement that forced the church to release documents that showed how top Vatican officials had covered up for priests who targeted children. Some monsignors minimized sexual aggression as normal behavior in all-male enclaves.
Monday, May 27, 2013
Monday, April 8, 2013
The girls' graphic allegations of abuse by their father, whose defense lawyer was Iwon's friend, led to a long and protracted legal case, described in posts below and elsewhere.
|"Molly's" drawing of her father's "sausage games"|
For Iwon to use government this way to separate children from an excellent parent is cruel and ironic, for she knows that government bias does enormous harm to loving homes and relationships. She and I are both committed to winning marriage equality for same-sex couples, whose children need the stability that legal marriage can provide.
The Parenting Project filed a request under Rhode Island's Access to Public Records Act (APRA) and found that Family Court has no written policies and procedures regulating the work of independent mental health experts who advise judges in custody cases.
Specifically, we asked:
In response to Questions 1 and 2, above, the Court provided a one-page Vacancy Notice from 2012 (Reference Position Number 2729-10000-#0444, "Pending Availability of Funds") for:
an Assistant Intake Supervisor who performs screening, evaluation and assessments for juveniles as part of the Family Court's Juvenile Mental Health Clinic.In response to Questions 3, 5, and 8, the Court replied:
the Family Court is currently in the process of updating its Policy and Procedure Manual for the Juvenile Mental Health Clinic which may contain information responsive to this request.In response to Questions 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10, the Court replied:
There are no documents responsive to this request.
The first two responses apply only to the Court's Juvenile Clinic, and not to independent experts hired by litigants.
This raises significant questions about the liability of the handful of mental health practitioners who report to the Court without adhering to their own profession's ethical standards.
When I met with representatives of Rhode Island Blue Cross / Blue Shield in 2010, they assured me that they did not reimburse court-ordered sessions that were not in fact therapeutic. The evidence suggests otherwise. When the insurance company fails to examine conditions under which their clients are being "treated" for court purposes, this lack of oversight subjects their clients to psychological harassment and harm.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Last year offered plenty of moments to have a sustained national conversation about child sexual abuse: the Jerry Sandusky verdict, the BBC's Jimmy Savile, Horace Mann's faculty members, and a slew of slightly less publicized incidents. President Obama missed the opportunity to put this issue on his second-term agenda in his inaugural speech.
Child sexual abuse impacts more Americans annually than cancer, AIDS, gun violence, LGBT inequality, and the mortgage crisis combined—subjects that Obama did cover.
Had he mentioned this issue, he would have been the first president to acknowledge the abuse that occurs in the institution that predates all others: the family. Incest was the first form of institutional abuse, and it remains by far the most widespread.*
1. What are the clinical presenting symptoms and how are these documented?
2. What is the diagnosis and the science behind that diagnosis?
3. What is the prescribed treatment and the science behind that treatment?
4. Who have been primary providers apart from the court's involvement? Have court-ordered clinicians consulted with them?
5. Do court-ordered clinicians have relevant training in trauma, domestic violence, child sexual abuse, etc.?
6. How is the court-ordered treatment paid for, and does this deplete insurance coverage for more appropriate treatment by primary providers?
7. What new symptoms appear during and after court-ordered treatment and how are these documented?
8. What kinds of coercion and penalties have been imposed related to the involvement of court-ordered clinicians?
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
When the girls refused to visit their father, he blamed his wife. She had never wanted a divorce until the girls said how much they feared him. Now that DCYF has given the girls to him in another state -- and washed their hands of it -- I wonder if he allows the children to see their mother at all. Or has she returned to Switzerland to make the "torture" (her children's word for it) less painful for them?
In my years of working with battered women, I have seen many good mothers lose children to abusive ex-spouses. Some mothers went on to accomplish important things--though that was no substitute for raising their own children. Two such stories are told in these books by Dr. Jerri Nielsen at the South Pole:
and by the Peacekeeping Whistleblower Kathryn Bolkovac:
Someday we will learn Mami's story as well.
Today's Providence Journal has this to say (click once to enlarge):
If the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) is willing to evaluate its own performance in the case of Molly and Sara -- and many other children -- the state must provide a way for us to question this agency with the evidence of abuse by its own staff. We need a genuine process of Truth and Reconciliation to evaluate the way DCYF has abused its power in the past if we are to trust it with such an important job as protecting vulnerable children.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
To visit Donna Jenson's website, "What She Knows," and to hear counselors at the Stetson School for Boys tell of the importance of helping children talk about incest, click on the title above, or paste this link in your browser: http://www.timetotell.org/Time_To_Tell.org/Film_Clips.html
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
"Molly" and "Sara's" supporters, who convened a community-wide meeting in 2006, wrote scores of letters, and met with the Child Advocate to protest DCYF's handling of this case, never succeeded in bringing the girls back home.
But that case prompted the Parenting Project to meet with DCYF and work with legislators to require the Department to get accredited with the Council on Accreditation (COA). We are delighted to learn that DCYF's director, Dr. Janice DeFrances, will speak at COA's National Conference in August.
COA's mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.
For more about COA, go to their website at
Free training webinars are available at
To read the announcement about Dr. DeFrances, click on the title above, or paste this in your browser:
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
|Norbara Octeau and her mother celebrate Summer Solstice in 2013, nine years after her 2004 decision as administrative hearing officer for DCYF set the stage for Molly and Sara to be taken from their mother into state custody in 2006, kept in foster homes and a state shelter, and eventually turned over to their father's sole custody, despite the girls' graphic drawings and protests against his "sausage games."|
|DCYF headquarters at Friendship Street, Providence.|
Octeau said that she based her decision primarily on evidence presented by Molly's father:
1. printouts of three e-mails and a letter he had written in February 2004;
2. the affidavit of a private investigator he had hired to interview his associates;
3. his testimony; and
4. testimony of DCYF's child protective investigator (CPI) Ann Murphy.
Since the father was the "Petitioner" in this appeal against DCYF, the mother was not considered a party. She and her attorney did not even know of the administrative hearing held on October 12, 2004. Octeau had never seen the woman she vilified in her Decision.
The father and his defense attorney, Lise Gescheidt, attended the hearing, but only one person appears to have represented DCYF:
Child Protective Investigator (CPI) Ann Murphy appeared on behalf of the Department; investigative report #375756 was prepared by CPI Murphy, and references by her in giving testimony at this hearing, but was not offered by the Department as an exhibit. . . . No exhibits were presented by the Department. (Decision, pp. 2-3)
Why did DCYF have no lawyer representing it? And why did DCYF accept Molly's father's emails, letter, and private investigator's report "as full exhibits without objection"--the only exhibits introduced at the hearing?
At this time, DCYF's chief legal counsel, Kevin Aucoin, was responsible to "Enhance communication and problem solving initiatives between the Family Court and DCYF" according to DCYF's "Child and Family Service Plan" (November 2005, p. 52). Parents who turn to DCYF and Family Court to protect their children from abuse complain especially about the role of DCYF's legal department.
(Click on photos to enlarge; click "escape" to return to text.)
Norbara Octeau claimed that this hearing "was held in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act, R.I.G.L. 42-35-1 Et. Seq. and the Rules and Regulations of the Department for Children Youth and Families" (sic) (Decision, p. 2).
With no one to object, Octeau's Decision set forth fifteen pages of errors, hearsay, and speculation as "Facts" that gained a life of their own. For example, Octeau describes the hotline call that opened the investigation "on or about January 2, 2004" (apparently by a nurse practitioner--though Octeau leaves the caller's identity unclear):
The hotline caller disclosed that the child had been brought to her pediatrician by her mother. . . and while there, the mother had told a nurse practitioner that [her daughter] relayed accounts that the Petitioner came into the child's room at night and exposed himself. (Decision, p. 3)
When I interviewed the mother in 2006, she said she had never reported this to the nurse practitioner or anyone else. The child was always consistent that her father played his "sausage games" during the day when they were home alone, her mother at work and her sister at school, and that these experiences were very upsetting to the child and sometimes physically painful.
So it was irrelevant that the father "denied ever having entered his daughter's room at night to masturbate" or that he "explained that the girls share a very small bedroom and that it would have been impossible for him to have encountered [her] while she was asleep while not also waking his older daughter" (Decision, p. 11).
Octeau's Decision includes warning signs that should have alerted any hearing officer with minimal training in sexual molestation. The father acknowledges to CPI Murphy that he "had been sexually abused by his own father in his native country of Switzerland, and the Petitioner's father had been incarcerated as a result" (p. 3).
(This, too, is inaccurate. The father acknowledged that he and his brothers had been sexually abused by their father. But their father went to prison for abusing disabled boys who were his psychotherapy patients--not for abusing his sons--which apparently remained a family secret. Their father's prison sentence was reported on June 18, 1981.)
In another warning sign that Octeau ignored, CPI Murphy says:
. . . the child had described events with her father using phrases such as "we took a bath together and washed each other all up", "I was in my room playing and Papa came in naked and played with his sausage", "I told him that is not a toy, stop it" and "juice came out of the sausage". [The child] also told the investigator that [she] had complained that "Papa hurt her back and belly and she yelled for her Mom". (p. 4)
Octeau wrote that Murphy "described the child's mimicking of the masturbation act as not something she could have performed unless she had actually witnessed it" (p. 10).
Octeau wrote that the father said he and his daughter "did take a bath together because he wanted to be close to his young daughter" (p. 5, italics added). And that, on the advice of his brother, a lawyer specializing in child sexual abuse, he introduced the concept of "Parental Alienation Syndrome [that] could have accounted for his daughter's disclosure" (p. 14, italics added).
Molly's father had, at first, suggested that either his brother or their father might have molested Molly. The brother, a survivor, and now, a defense lawyer for those accused of sexually abusing children, came to the U.S. to defend his brother. Together they suggested that their father might have molested Molly. Their next line of defense was to blame Molly's mother.
Four years earlier, in 2003, the brother had given Molly's father this article describing the theory of "parental alienation" that blames mothers for coaching their children to accuse fathers of sexual abuse:
Octeau recognizes the Petitioner is on a campaign to find information in his defense on the Internet. She writes that the two brothers' arguments did not persuade the DCYF investigator, the police, or the pediatrician. But she finds them credible.
She focuses on hearsay and speculation that Molly's father presented about his wife and the journals she kept for her children--which the police had examined but did not consider significant.
Nevertheless, without ever seeing the journals herself, Octeau writes:
The journals were apparently a record of information meticulously gathered by the mother about the alleged abuse during the time frame of the investigation. (p. 19, italics added)
The mother had kept journals for each daughter from birth--not to record abuse, but to remind them of good memories.
Instead of insisting on seeing those journals and questioning the wife directly, which Octeau could have done, the hearing officer merely overturned the investigator's finding and made her own remarkable "finding:"
This Hearing Officer finds [the mother's] behavior and conduct . . . to be highly unorthodox and rather suspicious given the marital discontent existing at the time. This maternal behavior casts a shadow over the reliability of the child's statements and, therefore, closer scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding the child's disclosure should have been pursued. (p. 20)
Octeau's Decision offers information that appears ironic in light of the ongoing strategy to vilify Molly's mother. For example, Octeau writes: "CPI Murphy further noted that this multilingual child was hard to converse with because during speech she continually mixed together various languages" (p. 5).
It is easy to comprehend that a traumatized child without even the terminology to describe upsetting sexual behavior would struggle for words. But this, too, became a basis for DCYF staff later to punish Molly's mother whenever she responded to her children in Swiss-German. By then, the entire Department had fallen into line behind Norbara Octeau and seemed to accept the father's defense strategy that his wife used Swiss-German to "coach" the girls against him.
Who is Norbara Octeau? I kept googling her name. In April 2007, I found her online article, "Are the Rhode Island Family Courts against Fathers?"--apparently published to attract fathers to hire her as their divorce attorney
With not even a pretense of judicial restraint, Octeau sarcastically mocks the “pedestal of holy motherhood.” In another article, she writes that mothers’ “traditional roles . . . elevate their argument to a pedestal which still elicits a knee-jerk reaction to the hallowed image of mother and child.”
I sent a copy of her article with a letter to DCYF director Patricia Martinez on April 20, 2007. Nearly five months later, Director Martinez responded. She ignored the question of Octeau's clear bias, offered no evidence of special training, and defended the hearing officer as “a seasoned attorney” who has conducted more than one hundred administrative hearings for the Department.
According to online state payroll records, attorney Norbara Octeau still works as a hearing officer for DCYF. (The average amount paid to 34 DCYF contractors on December 12th, 2011, was $1,387, but Norbara Octeau received $15,437, by far the largest check of all.)
In 2007, Kevin Aucoin responded to the Parenting Project's Access to Public Records request:
DCYF Administrative Hearing Officer Stephen Morris has not sent any further data from his review of the administrative hearing files. The numbers Aucoin provided do not include findings that were expunged from their records after three years. This rule allowed "Molly's" father to win custody of her in 2007.
Reporting on this, the Parenting Project noted that DCYF:
1. fails to track cases of credible sexual molestation;
2. fails to assure that its hearing officers perform their duties in an objective and neutral manner;
3. uses a nationally discredited, unscientific “theory” called “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) to overturn credible charges of molestation; and
4. works as a team with privately paid contractors (lawyers, assisted by clinicians) who rely on secrecy, delay, and misinformation to win family court custody cases for their clients in ways that harm children.
The Parenting Project's 2007 "Press Advisory" is posted online here:
(Paste this in your browser.)
Monday, February 6, 2012
This is exactly what happened in the administrative review process at the Department of Children, Youth and Families when DCYF hearing officer Norbara Octeau overturned the finding against "Molly" and "Sara's" father. (An outline of that case appears at the January 12, 2012, post below, "Eight years ago," with detailed information in prior posts.)
Tim White's story is here (click on the title above, or paste this in your browser):
I will post additional documents regarding Norbara Octeau and the bias she revealed.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The total cost to Orange County of a case in which a jury found that two social workers lied to take away a woman’s daughters is $10.6 million, according to a new audit.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to hear the county’s challenge to a 2007 jury award of $4.9 million to the Seal Beach woman, Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick. With interest on that amount plus her attorney fees, the total payout by the county was $9.6 million. In addition, the county incurred another $1 million of its own legal costs in the case.
Photo of Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick
For more on the County's response to this award, go to
Thursday, January 12, 2012
In 2004, DCYF's frontline staff properly helped Molly and Sara by referring them to counselors at Day One.
When DCYF indicated their father for sexual molestation, his defense attorney appealed. The father first blamed his own father, a psychiatrist and convicted pedophile who had sexually abused his own children. But Molly insisted the offender was her father.
Next, he blamed his wife for "alienating" the girls against him--which did not explain how Molly could re-enact male masturbation and draw a graphic portrait of her father.
A year after Molly's complaint, DCYF's legal department flipped the case at an administrative hearing where the father was the plaintiff, and DCYF was the defendant. Since the girls' mother was not a party to this proceeding, DCYF never informed her of it. She was not present when DCYF's administrative hearing officer ruled that the father was credible, while the mother (whom the officer had neither met nor questioned) was not.
She ruled that the mother's alleged demeanor made Molly's complaint unbelievable. (Over a year later, the hearing officer revealed her own strongly worded bias against mothers on the Internet, where she was seeking men as divorce clients.)
The father's defense attorney's friend became guardian ad litem, who orchestrated the case at Family Court, searching for clinicians who would blame the mother in order to remove the girls from her and their lifelong home in 2006. DCYF sent the girls to a foster mother who told them their mother had mental problems, which was completely untrue.
Distraught there, the girls went to their next foster home and then to a state shelter in another city at enormous expense to tax payers.
The father's defense team needed time--three years until his indication for sexual molestation could be expunged. Finally the Court turned the girls over to their father in another state and limited all contact with their mother.
The DCYF legal department's fear of lawsuits has led the agency to fail many other children. Family Court gives enormous authority to guardians ad litem who have close ties to defense attorneys and judges. The Court's confidence in unreliable psychiatric "evaluations" and its use of gag orders to intimidate protective parents has vastly increased the damage, so that the truth is rarely found within this costly system.
As DCYF begins its process toward accreditation, the General Assembly and Family Court are grappling with entrenched problems throughout Rhode Island's child-protective system.
For more about this, paste this link in your browser:
While we honor the leaders who are working on these issues, we also must praise the three-year-old who would not be quiet about the behavior that made her feel so angry and frightened.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Click on the title above or paste this in your browser:
Friday, May 27, 2011
Today is the 54th birthday of "Molly" and "Sarah's" beloved Mami (which is pronounced the same as Mommy). Although I am not in touch with her, I hope this blog will assure their mother that we will never forget or stop writing about what this country and state did to her and her children.
Today, I want to show a page from the picture book Spontaneous! that includes an entry from Mami's journal and photos of the cakes she made to celebrate her daughters' birthdays. (You can enlarge the page by clicking once on it.)
Lise Iwon has been for many years a close friend of Lise Gescheidt, who was hired by the girls' father to be his criminal defense lawyer--if only Attorney General Patrick Lynch had been doing his job when three-year-old Molly angrily protested her father's "sausage games" in 2003.
The two lawyer friends had no qualms about Iwon serving as Guardian ad litem (GAL) on the case, gouging the boundaries of a role that is supposed to remain neutral. Iwon made direct contact with numerous clinicians and many others, including the Child Advocate. Iwon made no secret of her valued role on the father's defense "team." (Iwon is now president of the Rhode Island Bar Association, and Gescheidt chairs the Rhode Island Supreme Court's Ethics Advisory Panel.)
At one point, Iwon and other women lawyers publicly honored Judge Haiganush Bedrosian with an award as a "role model for women," knowing that she was expected to take over this case if Judge John Mutter recused. (Judge Bedrosian is now Chief Judge of Family Court.)
Iwon oversaw the girls' removal from their mother, home and schools more than five years ago. They were forced to live in foster care and a state shelter and forbidden to communicate with their mother.
I do not know where their mother is today, but I know she is profoundly bereaved. I want to honor her on her birthday by telling her daughters what she often told me before Judge Mutter imposed a gag order on her over three years ago.
She said how amazed she was to hear people complain about their children, because her children were always her greatest joy, and they never gave her any problem at all.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
The following year, Family Court Judge John Mutter imposed a gag order, threatening further harm to the children if their mother spoke about them or mentioned anything about this custody case-- including its criminal aspects. Consequently, their mother is unable to communicate with me, and I do not know if she and the children are even able to have court-ordered visits.
To date, no one in law enforcement or in the legal community has held anyone accountable for what was done to these children.
Here are two articles that tell part of the history of how that happened:
More is written about the case in this blog and elsewhere.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Now that Rhode Island's new governor plans to close the state children's shelters and expand foster care, we have been remembering what Sara wrote about her first foster mother, Alice, and how Sara and her little sister were taken into state care at taxpayer expense when they had an outstanding mother, home, friends, and schools.
Some of that true story is in the older posts that appear below.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
"Sara," 9, did her homework. "Molly," 5, planted flower seeds in orange peels.
None of them knew it would be the children's last night at home.
The appalling performance of DCYF in this case and in countless others led to public pressure demanding that this powerful, wasteful, and secretive agency must get accredited. It is long overdue for DCYF to be held to professional standards and public accountability.
Eli H. Newberger, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, is a pediatrician with 39 years' experience in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of child abuse and neglect. He organized the first child protection team at Children's Hospital Boston, in 1970. He has written:
...the poor performance of some supervisory level staff at the [Rhode Island] Department of Children, Youth and Families is a cause for great concern. In specific cases, I have observed the agency's rigid posture, its ignorance of the standards of professional practice in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse, and its punitive, rather than protective, stance. These rise to a level of intransigence and incompetence unparalleled in all my years of experience in this field . . . .
High, exacting, professional standards do exist in this field. They are attainable by any state that seeks them.
Learn more about the Council on Accreditation at www.coanet.org . Urge your legislators’ support and follow the progress of this important legislation (H 7133, S 2346) at www.rilin.state.ri.us .
As always, you may send your family's DCYF experiences to me confidentially at parenting project@ veerizon.net
About the Author & Purpose
We first reported on this case at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/
To read the blog more easily, please reduce the width of your column. Some of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking once on them.
About "Parental Alienation"
For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: