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?
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
Friday, January 1, 2010
Whether she did this for cash, cabal, creed, or all three, one thing is certain: A system that sacrifices children so cavalierly will not be reformed without the best efforts of us all, progressives and conservatives alike. All of us must work together to stop the legal stratagems that hurt vulnerable children at DCYF and Rhode Island’s Family Court.
The Parenting Project’s goals for 2010 include these:
1. to require Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to become publicly accountable under accepted professional standards established by the Council on Accreditation (COA);
2. to persuade the Rhode Island Supreme Court to take steps that assure appropriate standards for lawyers, clinicians, and other professionals involved in custody cases, especially where there have been indications of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and coercive control;
3. to prohibit the use of “parental alienation” and other unscientific forms of forensic psychology in making child custody decisions.
Friday, December 25, 2009
The October 2003 issue of The Rhode Island Monthly featured three guardians ad litem (“at law”) in an article called “The Guardians.”
Guardians ad litem often enter a custody case when both parents request a neutral person to represent their children’s “best interests.” But neutrality is rare when a small circle of Family Court lawyers and clinicians rely on friendships and referrals within this closed shop. Free of competition, lax in their rules, and often shielded by confidentiality, they can charge astounding fees in a pay-to-play system that becomes more profitable if it can be stretched out until a child’s 18th birthday.
Since 1996, I have coordinated the Parenting Project, an entirely volunteer effort to research and respond to these disturbing custody cases. We interview people, observe hearings, and study documents from courts, clinicians, children, parents, and the larger community. We analyze how the system works and what reforms are needed. Our goal is to repair a failing government system that traumatizes many families, especially children.
In summer 2006, an op-ed I wrote on the so-called “Parental Alienation Syndrome”  brought phone calls from a small town where two young sisters had disappeared amid charges that their mother had “alienated” them against their father. Neighbors denied this allegation and asked the Parenting Project to investigate the case.
By that time, Lise Iwon (above right) had been appointed guardian ad litem even though her close friend Lise Gescheidt was the criminal defense attorney for the girls’ father, who had been indicated by a DCYF investigator for allegedly molesting 3-year-old “Molly” in 2003.
The father’s earliest defense strategy came with photos suggesting that his own father might have molested Molly, for the grandfather had sexually abused his three children. After he became a psychotherapist, he went to prison twice for sex crimes against young patients.
Molly allegedly insisted it was not her grandfather, but her father who molested her. She drew, described, and acted out her complaints about the days when they were home alone.
Her father’s next line of defense was to blame his wife for “alienating” the children against him. Gescheidt brought in private investigator Patricia Azarian to find people who would agree with the father that his wife was “jealous” and “resentful” of him, hoping to sway the administrative hearing officer at DCYF who would rule on the father’s appeal.
DCYF had contracted with private attorney Norbara Octeau to serve as administrative hearing officer though she lacked credentials to rule on child sex abuse cases. In her December 2004 decision exonerating him, Octeau agreed with the father’s theory that his wife had caused “what he termed Parental Alienation Syndrome.”
Though Octeau never met or questioned the man’s wife, she found the woman “highly unorthodox and rather suspicious.” Octeau concluded: “This maternal behavior casts a shadow over the reliability of the child’s statements.”
Psychologist John Parsons examined the family from June to September 2004. But he waited for Octeau’s December 2004 decision, which he used with other reports to complete his January 2005 evaluation, incorporating the same multiple levels of hearsay that Octeau had repeated from the father’s private investigator. Parsons harmonized his views with those and dismissed many troubling comments he had quoted from the girls and their father. Considering the way his conclusions relied on other people’s reports, it seemed ironic that Parsons stopped the girls from seeing their therapists for fear that might contaminate his results.
Lise Iwon entered the case as guardian ad litem in March 2005. Though her role should have been neutral, she made no secret of her teamwork with the defense. Throughout the case, Iwon huddled with the father, his lawyers and DCYF staff, poring over documents in courthouse alcoves.
Attorney Lise Gescheidt defended not only her client, the father, but also her friend, Lise Iwon. Gescheidt accused the mother of introducing motions that “slander the professional reputation of a unbiased guardian ad litem who has consistently acted in the best interest of the children without meaningful compensation….”
When I began researching the case from court files in 2006, the mother provided complete access to family documents and photos. In 2007, my testimony on the case before legislative committees prompted the judge to seal both the divorce and DCYF files, shrouding the case in a gag order.
By then, we had secured all the documents cited here. These show a court record riddled with hearsay and conflicts of interest. From what I could see, the father’s lawyers, DCYF lawyers, and the guardian ad litem appeared to be working in concert to distract attention from Molly’s original complaints against her father and to focus on her father’s campaign of vilification against his wife.
Lise Iwon is a shrewd lawyer, in line to become president of the Rhode Island Bar Association. Before researching this case, I had admired her, in part because I thought she was a progressive.
One early accomplishment of hers occurred on December 4, 1991, when she cross-examined the Family Court’s best known “gun-for-hire,” a term lawyers use for psychotherapists willing to testify in custody courts on behalf of whichever parent pays them.
Psychologist Brian Hayden had reported using Barry Bricklin’s “Perceptual Scale,” to test a five-year-old’s “perceptions of each parent’s skill as a parent.”
Iwon’s questions extracted Hayden’s admission that Bricklin’s test was never scientifically proven to be either valid or reliable and that 75% of the time it favored the “same parent who hired the doctor to administer the test.”
Iwon had skillfully exposed the absurd overreaching of much “forensic psychology” and its recent popularity in custody courts. Ironically that’s the tool she used fifteen years later to remove Molly and Sara from their home and mother on April 7, 2006, when they were 5 and 9 years old, under the pretext that this would be a “temporary” removal for a brief psychiatric evaluation.
Police and DCYF staff went to their schools and took the girls to the first of their foster homes that eventually led to a state shelter where the sisters could not eat together or share the same room.
By separating Molly from her mother and older sister, DCYF attempted to force Molly to recant her accusations against her father in order to “reunite” the child with him. Indeed, Tom Dwyer, then associate director of child welfare at DCYF, informed me that Molly “wants to be with him”--just before they delivered the 7-year-old to her father in August 2007.
The sisters’ year in a state shelter easily cost taxpayers $60,000 in addition to Sara’s two and a half years in foster homes and thousands of hours wasted by state employees and contractors who had been told that the mother had “mental problems.” It was a lie.
Why did Lise Iwon do it?
We may never know why Lise Iwon handled her responsibilities this way. But I suspect it may have been the same three reasons that run like a virus through many domestic violence custody cases: cash, cabal, and creed. Those who examine custody cases should be attuned to all three.
Iwon’s October 26, 2005, guardian ad litem report on Molly and Sara was slapdash and full of hearsay. She appears to have made no pretense at fulfilling the standards set forth in the training manual, Guardian ad Litem Practice in Rhode Island, that she had helped to write and teach in 2004.
She charged $200 an hour in this case: $1,000 for her single visit to the family’s home, including $400 for time in her car sporting the vanity plate I WON. By April 2006, the girls’ father had paid her over $7,300. Iwon demanded nearly $5,000 more from their mother, who could not pay.
Three days later, Iwon went to court to remove the girls, even trying to prevent their mother from saying good-bye. For that day alone, Iwon added $1,200 to her bill.
Eventually Iwon’s bill would be about $50,000—much of it for time spent seeking and instructing clinicians in a legal stratagem called “parental alienation.”
New Jersey psychiatrist Richard Gardner developed "Parental Alienation Syndrome" around 1985. He advised that sex between adults and children is natural and lobbied against mandatory reporting of child sex abuse.  He advanced his ideas through self-publishing and courtroom testimony in hundreds of child custody cases until his suicide in 2003.
Psychologist Barry Bricklin, whose “Perceptual Scale” had embarrassed Brian Hayden under Iwon’s questioning in 1991, became an avid promoter of Gardner’s “parental alienation.”
When DCYF subpoenaed me to testify in the closed courtroom on September 7, 2007, Iwon sat with the father’s defense team in the farthest possible seat from the girls’ mother. Not even pretending to be neutral, Iwon identified herself in itemized invoices as a member of what she called the “team,” which she took to its next level by searching for clinicians who would deliver the products that the team needed in court.
She charged $2,400 for her work with licensed clinical social worker Haven Miles, who reported in horrifying detail how she had forcibly “reunited” Molly with her father, even though Miles acknowledged she could not be certain whether he had actually molested the child.
Iwon sought out psychologist Brian Hayden, who met with the older sister for several months. Instead of reinforcing Iwon’s theory, he rejected it unequivocally. Hayden insisted there was nothing sinister about this mother. In fact he praised her as “cooperative, polite,” “articulate, caring,” and “witty.” His report showed this daughter had genuine fear of her father, and Hayden concluded: “I could discern no intent or actions of her mother to influence” the daughter.
Iwon stopped Hayden’s work on the case and turned to Nancy Harper, MD, a Fellow at the Child Protection Program of Hasbro Hospital. From March 27th to April 7th, 2006, Iwon added $1,750 to her bill in a marathon effort to produce yet another lengthy derivative document maligning the mother, repeating the same hearsay from Iwon, Azarian, Octeau, Parsons, Miles, and others while ignoring actual records of the 5-year-old doing and saying things that caused concern to nurses and teachers. Harper accused the mother of “having a toxic effect on the children” and rushed her report to Iwon without getting her supervisor’s signature.
In Iwon’s hands, Harper’s report succeeded in removing the girls from their mother. The process of “reuniting” them with their father would take longer. DCYF could not expunge its original sexual molestation finding against him for three years—late in 2007.
For that, Lise Iwon went to Boston. DCYF director Patricia Martinez told me she had authorized “up to $30,000” (half to be paid by each parent) for a psychiatric analysis of the family. In Boston, Iwon instructed Bernice Kelly, PsyD, MS, RN, at the Law and Psychiatry service of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. In each of her reports, the psychotherapist wrote that Iwon had raised the question “about the possibility of parental alienation.”
Bernice Kelly proceeded to list the “eight primary symptoms” set forth by Gardner, never realizing that the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges had warned half a year before that this theory does not meet evidentiary standards and should be “ruled inadmissible and/or stricken from the evaluation report.”
Kelly’s colleague, psychiatrist James Beck interviewed each of the girls’ parents and found no evidence of mental disorder in either. He noted that the mother’s “narrative about the alleged sexual abuse is filled with the kind of facts that, in other cases, I have tended to accept as evidence that what is claimed did occur. I have found it difficult in the past to believe that people are able to make up this much concrete detail.” He even acknowledged that “psychiatrists … have no special expertise in detecting lying.”
But Beck accused the mother of a “highly idealized” view of her own childhood while concluding that the father had “compensated well” for his early abuse. The doctor was not as troubled by the father’s “history of gender dysphoria” as he was by his impression that the mother who had lost custody of her children was “a woman on a mission.” Evading the question at the heart of it all, the psychiatrist concluded that he was “glad that others with access to the children, as well as to the parents, have made a determination of the allegations in this case.”
The ease with which Iwon persuaded clinicians to overlook their uncertainties and affirm her hypothesis would seem ludicrous if the court were not so reliant on these “expert” opinions. One judge assured me that the role of the expert is essential in custody cases, for judges have no special training in these matters.
Bernice Kelly’s promotion of “parental alienation” and James Beck’s accommodation to it appear at odds with directors of the Children and the Law Program in Massachusetts General Hospital’s psychiatry department. Andrew Clark, MD, Medical Director, and Robin M. Deutsch, PhD, Director of Forensic Services, have joined other national leaders in opposition to adding Richard Gardner’s hypothesis to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 
By promoting the discredited theory of “parental alienation,” Lise Iwon allied herself with the most radical advocates for fathers’ supremacy. I wondered if she might merely be sympathetic with the girl’s father, a childhood victim of incest who had gender-identity struggles.
As chair of the former Women’s Resource Center of South County, Iwon presided over its name-change to the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, underscoring the agency’s services to male victims of intimate abuse.
But notions of “parental alienation” and concern about gender issues may have been less compelling for Iwon than the umbrage she takes at Roman Catholicism.
After the initial DCYF finding of sexual molestation forced the girls’ father to leave home in January 2004, the children and their mother began attending church—something he had abhorred. The Catholic Church in their rural town has a group of conservative activists who instantly embraced the mother and daughters. When DCYF and the Family Court removed the girls from their mother 26 months later, these friends started the first wave of letter-writing and fundraising. They convened a community meeting and flew in Richard Ducote, a lawyer who had defended children in dozens of other states. They sought help from the Parenting Project.
During months of drawn-out Family Court hearings, these neighbors faithfully traveled to court with the mother. They paced the marble corridors praying their rosaries like groups have done in demonstrations against Planned Parenthood and gay rights. The similarity would not have been lost on Iwon.
Just six days after “Molly” and “Sara” were taken from their mother, Lise Iwon faced her own bereavement when her good friend Julie Pell died of cancer. Both had been active in causes that I, too, strongly support.
At Pell’s memorial service, Iwon recalled those struggles and recounted their first meeting in 1986:
It was one of the first years the gay rights bill was introduced. We entered the Statehouse where we were all testifying. It was like being at some horrible camp or prison. We were stuck in this hot, cramped place for a really long time subject to intense questions and testimony. We were surrounded by really strange, scary people. And time just dragged on and on. There were bad, really bad, backroom deals going on. And our consciences were shocked. We were personally attacked. It was an intense bonding experience.
Iwon went on to tell of the 1994 "riot" in the Statehouse rotunda:
We were surrounded by anti-gay religious zealots with huge, offensive signs. Julie signaled the riot by setting off a bullhorn. We all followed by blowing whistles and the noise was absolutely deafening. The troopers stormed in, the Christians fled, and I think Julie got stomped on by a state trooper. . . . But we weren’t leaving. No way. We were resolved. 
While I value Iwon’s candor in relating that tumultuous encounter, her passion shows one of the reasons she may have lacked the objectivity essential in a guardian ad litem committed to protecting children.
A related sentiment showed up in the online essays of Attorney Norbara Octeau, the administrative hearing officer contracted by DCYF who had overturned the finding against the girls’ father in 2004. In 2007, I found two online essays Octeau had written appealing to fathers to hire her as their divorce attorney. She derided stereotypes of motherhood by evoking an image that Catholics will recognize as their veneration of the Holy Mother:
“It is amazing,” Octeau wrote:
...in today’s modern society that many women revert to touting their traditional roles of cooking, cleaning, laundry and being the tender hands of motherhood to elevate their argument to a pedestal of holy motherhood.In a later article she mocked “the pedestal which still elicits a knee-jerk reaction to the hallowed image of mother and child.”
Breaking through stereotypes, seeking justice
Iwon’s apparent bias, her piling up of hearsay to vilify the mother, her inaccurate portrayal of their home, her failure to interview scores of people who had firsthand knowledge of the family, her deliberate dismissal of experts who disagreed with her—I believe this evidence illustrates severe shortcomings in Rhode Island’s system of child protection.
The reversals of Lise Iwon and Brian Hayden in this case marked a new awareness for me. Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, along with their advocates, can no longer claim that an “old boys’ club” at Family Court ridicules the concerns of protective mothers. Many professional women have joined that club and are building their careers as domestic violence deniers.
As a retired pastor and former executive director of Rhode Island’s largest and oldest shelter for battered women and their children, I have worked closely with scores of mothers—some good, some bad, and many in the middle. The mother in this case is extraordinarily good. The drumbeat of vilification against her focuses full attention on the worst failures in our system.
I have written more about the case in other places, most recently a little picture book called, Spontaneous!
As always, if I have made any errors in this account, I welcome corrections at parentingproject@ verizon.net
 M.E.Reilly-McGreen, “The Guardians,” The Rhode Island Monthly (Oct. 2003), 54 ff., photo by Dana Smith.
 Anne Grant, “Family Court Devastation: Discredited ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’,”
Providence Journal (June 27, 2006) B5.
 Norbara L . Octeau, “Decision,” DCYF Administrative Hearing AH/04-55 (stamped Dec. 20, 2004) 14.
 Octeau, 20.
 Lise M. Iwon, “Guardian ad Litem’s First Report,” October 26, 2005: 3.
 John P. Parsons, PhD, “Psychological Assessment/Sexual Offender Evaluation,” January 8, 2005 (incorrectly marked 2004).
 Lise J. Gescheidt, “Objection to Mother’s Motion to Allow Further Evaluations of Minor Children,” Juvenile Case No 2006-0882-01, 2006-0882-02, April 13, 2007: 4.
 Brian Hayden, PhD, “Psychotherapy Summary,” (F.C. File No. W88-0590), Oct. 28, 1991: 2.
 Partial Transcript (F.C. No. W88-0590), Dec. 4, 1991: 53.
 Stephanie J. Dallam, “Dr. Richard Gardner, A Review of His Theories and Opinions on Atypical Sexuality, Pedophilia, and Treatment Issues,” (2005). http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/res/dallam/2.html
Joan S. Meier, “Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: Research Reviews,” Applied Research Forum (Jan. 2009) http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/docs/VAWnet.pdf
The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, “Overview of Dr. Richard Gardner’s Opinions on Pedophilia and Child Sexual Abuse” (2005). http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/RAG.html
 On December 1, 2009, the Federal Trade Commission promulgated new rules to stop the “false, misleading and unsubstantiated claims” that Bricklin and others were making for the mail-order “Rotation Diet” he had developed in 1985--a year after his “Perceptual Scale,” and at the same time that Gardner was perfecting his “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”
 Haven Miles, MSW, LICSW, “Summary of Contacts, Parent-Child Assessment,” Nov.
28, 2005: 4-5.
 Brian Hayden, PhD, “Psychological Evaluation,” Jan. 5, 2006: 1.
 Hayden 3-4.
 Nancy S. Harper, MD, Fellow, Child Protection Program, 1676-86-32 AC 000110906231, April 5, 2006: 13.
 Bernice Kelly, PsyD, MS, RN, “Status Report” (N20040106),” Oct. 22, 2006: 2. Kelly noted Iwon’s concern about “parental alienation” in her subsequent reports on Jan. 11, 2007: 2 and March 6, 2007: 2.
 Bernice Kelly, “Status Report” (N20040106),” January 11, 2007: 6.
 National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Navigating Custody & Visitation Evaluations in Cases with Domestic Violence: A Judge’s Guide, 2006: 24. NCJFCJ's spiral book with laminated "bench cards" to assist judges describes the same process I believe Iwon used in this case, even highlighting the term in their Guide: “One common flaw in reports prepared by custody evaluators…is 'confirmatory bias'…. When the evaluator develops a hypothesis—forms an opinion about some issue in the case—early in his or her process, finds data to support it, confirms the hypothesis, and then stops testing it against new or different data…,” 25. These cautions are repeated in NCJFCJ's A Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases (2009), available online at
 James Beck, MD, as cited by Bernice Kelly, PsyD, MS, RN, “Status Report,” March 6, 2007: 4-5.
 Beck, cited by Kelly: 5.
 Janet R. Johnston, PhD, and Joan B. Kelly, PhD, et al, letter to Daniel Pine, MD, Chairman of the Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence Work Group for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, October 12, 2009.
 Quoted from “Gay Rights Leader Julie Pell Remembered” by Peter Cassels, Edge Boston, Thursday Apr 20, 2006: http://www.edgeboston.com/index.php?ci=108&ch=news&sc=glbt&sc2=news&sc3=&id=11760
 Norbara L . Octeau & Christopher A . Pearsall, Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Tips for
You–Are the Rhode Island Family Courts against Fathers? http://www .rhodeislanddivorce-
tips .com/2007/02/rhode_islanddi_12 .html . Mr. Pearsall’s name was later removed from this posting, and another article by Octeau was substituted. Both articles reveal similar hostility to mothers.
 Norbara L . Octeau, “DCYF Children Abuse/Are the Rhode Island Family Courts against fathers?”
(Feb . 20, 2007), http://rhodeislanddivorcetips .typepad .com/dcyf_children_abuse/2007/02/
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About the Author & Purpose
We first reported on this case at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/
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About "Parental Alienation"
For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: