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?
Saturday, November 15, 2008
It will be the sisters' 458th day separated from each other, since the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) gave "Molly," 7, to the father she had accused when she was 3 of playing "sausage games" while her mother was at work and her sister at school. She had drawn a picture of him ejaculating and she re-enacted male masturbation.
DCYF's first line of responders did exactly as they should. DCYF notified local police to remove the father from the home. A child protective investigator interviewed Molly. Based on the child's words, demeanor and re-enactment, DCYF issued a finding of molestation against the father. A DCYF social worker referred Molly and Sara to counselors trained in child sex abuse at Day One.
Then came a series of legal maneuvers that DCYF contractors, lawyers, and supervisors call "Family Reunification." As we analyze the documents in this case, we recognize the strategy of their father's criminal defense attorney, Lise Gescheidt, who succeeded in getting DCYF to overturn its original finding of sexual molestation against her client.
When Ms. Gescheidt and the father appealed that finding in 2004, DCYF assigned attorney Norbara Octeau to serve as hearing officer. Ms. Octeau's online essays have shown her bias against mothers and her outreach to fathers to hire her as their divorce attorney. DCYF gave Ms. Octeau no reports whatsoever to document their investigators' original finding against this father.
Gescheidt attended that hearing in October 2004 with her client, the girls' father. But DCYF never informed the girls' mother or her attorney of the hearing. Ms. Octeau never met or questioned the mother before condemning her solely on hearsay and rendering a decision in favor of the father in December 2004.
Gescheidt's friend, attorney Lise Iwon, served as guardian ad litem. Her bills total nearly $50,000, and reveal her vigorous search for clinicians to blame the mother--contrary to evidence provided by scores of others, including neighbors, colleagues, and counselors.
After Octeau had overturned the finding against the father, Gescheidt and Iwon, with a team of attorneys and clinicians added to the confusion.
By December 2007, Gescheidt, Iwon, and their team had succeeded in delaying the matter for three years since Octeau's decision. That was the time limit needed to expunge the father's record at DCYF. The agency had already given "Molly" to him four months earlier and had sent "Sara" to a foster home.
DCYF had to do something with the girls, who were living in a state shelter at a base-cost to taxpayers of $60,000 a year. Unable to prove their mother was mentally unfit, DCYF finally said she had neglected her children.
But did she? When neighbors asked the Parenting Project to investigate the case in 2006, we visited the home. We saw thousands of photographs their mother had taken of "Sara" and "Molly," invariably grinning together at countless activities indoors and out. We found an extraordinary, child-friendly home, as Phil West's photographs document:
The side entrance welcomes guests with a yellow triangular warning in a child’s script.
Bright with sunlight, the traditional “mud room” is entirely devoted to crafts:
Worktables hold paper, paints, crayons, clay, yarns, beads, seashells--an endless variety of objects, textures, and tools. Hand-made mobiles hang from the ceiling. Walls display collages, posters, and children’s vibrant paintings.
Crates overflow with their creations.
Mother and children worked together on their own dollhouse, with tiny furnishings created from spools.
We found no television there, except a small one in the mother's bedroom. "They never asked for one," their mother said. "They had no time for it."
The furniture throughout the home is a positive blend of adult and child-sizes--a futon low to the floor, a full-sized rocking chair, bookshelves with hundreds of books and games for children and adults to share.
A piano where their mother once gave them lessons:
The girls’ zest and humor have left their mark everywhere: "Hi Mommy!" says the window, and "Switzerland is cool!" in the language they grew up speaking, which DCYF forbids them to use during their two-hour-a-week visits with each other and their mother--for fear they will use it to criticize their father.
The last thing the children did at home was to prepare this cage for a new tenant. Their mother had promised to take them to the pet shop to buy a hamster after school on April 7, 2006.
Instead, Lise Iwon brought an emergency motion to Judge Mutter to remove the children from their mother and home "temporarily" for psychiatric tests. Police went to their schools with a DCYF social worker.
Their mother asked where they were taking her children. The officer said, "I don't know." The girls were only 5 and 9 years old.
They have not seen their home, their art projects, piano, rocking chair, books and games since then--966 days and nights ago this Thanksgiving.
Who will spend time on Thanksgiving thinking about "Molly," "Sara," and the other children that Rhode Island holds hostage?
If we do not know about them, it is because we do not want to know.
Which of our legislators will examine this case and others like it? They are the ones responsible to oversee the courts and agencies that our General Assembly established to handle such cases.
Which organizations committed to better government or to child welfare will consider the hidden plight of children like these? Who will dare to question attorneys like Lise Gescheidt, Lise Iwon, Norbara Octeau, Deborah Tate, and the lawyers of DCYF?
Their legal stratagem is not unique to Rhode Island. Do Rhode Islanders have it in us to stop the state from removing these children?
To hear about the same thing happening to children elsewhere, watch this video:
Sunday, May 11, 2008
As of today, Mother’s Day 2008, the State of Rhode Island has held "Molly," 7, and "Sara," 11, (not their real names) in custody for 766 days and nights, nearly eleven months longer than Iranian militants held Americans hostage during a tense standoff from 1979 to 1981. Should we compare these two events and the political agendas they represent?
In one, 52 adults were held together under armed threat for 444 days before being released and returned to their loved ones. In the second, two young sisters have been removed from their mother and life-long home, and then isolated from each other for 766 days and nights. They have not yet been released or returned to their home and loved ones.
Today is their third Mother's Day without the mother that both adore. You decide if Molly and Sara are "hostages" to a political agenda that violently assaults their freedom and rights as Americans.
Police removed the girls from their schools on April 7, 2006, when they were 5 and 9 years old—at a time in life when one week at summer camp can be traumatic. Given no other explanation, the older girl wrote that a foster mother told them their mother had "mental problems." It was a lie, and the children knew it.
More than two years later, the girls, who once did everything together, are permitted to see each other and their mother for only two hours a week at the DCYF office. While voices of wisdom plead for parents to listen to their children, Rhode Island has made it impossible for these sisters to have any meaningful contact with their mother or with each other.
Why? How did it happen?
To their neighbors, friends, and especially their mother, these days, weeks, months, and years have brought a sense of horror that such a thing could occur anywhere in the United States.
Their mother is neither abusive nor neglectful. Quite the contrary, she is an extraordinary parent who wrote and illustrated whimsical journals for each girl since birth, a series that grew into more than ten handwritten books.
She wrote mostly in Swiss-German, the birth language that state authorities now forbid the girls to speak, for fear they will speak against their father. She recorded their adventures . . .
and ordinary things like gardening and handcrafts, the things they noticed in nature, the comments they made, and early childhood experiences they might otherwise forget.
Their life changed in 2003 when Molly, at the age of three, began to protest the "sausage games" that she said her father insisted on playing when her mother was at work and her sister at school. She drew graphic pictures of him, and reenacted male masturbation so convincingly that DCYF investigated and issued a finding of sexual molestation against the father.
This was not the first time his family faced allegations of child sexual abuse. On June 17, 1981, the District Court in Winterthur, Switzerland, convicted his own father at age 55 of molesting three boys, two of them in foster care and mentally handicapped, and one a deaf mute.
The Swiss newspaper, Landbote (June 18, 1981), said the defendant was a psychoanalyst and served as part-time caretaker for one of the boys. He professed his shame and remorse, insisting that the boys were not seriously handicapped and he only meant to help them. He considered himself a "frustrated rebel" with self-destructive tendencies and possibly split personality. The court found that he had abused a position of trust and sentenced him to eighteen months in prison plus five years on probation.
He left prison and soon offended again, facing charges of child sex abuse and child pornography. His family hid incriminating photographs and helped him escape, but he was arrested in France and returned to prison. He now lives as an admitted pedophile in the Philippines, where poor families have few alternatives to accepting money from those who molest their children.
After his granddaughters were born in Rhode Island, the aging pederast came to visit. Eventually his status as a convicted sex offender barred him from entering the United States. Rhode Island records show that the grandfather had molested other children--not only unrelated boys in Switzerland, but also his own sons. His family apparently never reported this to Swiss authorities.
One of his sons is now a leading divorce lawyer in Zurich, where websites quote him as an advocate for fathers. He complains of the hysteria of mothers using sex abuse allegations to keep children from fathers. Society’s fear of pedophiles is too extreme, he says, and the Swiss courts' failure to assure joint custody for fathers "almost invites you to play blackmail."
Erpressungsspielen is the German word the brother used for blackmail, and it may have begun in earnest in 2003, when he gave his brother in Rhode Island a Swiss article about American psychiatrist Richard Gardner’s success accusing mothers of "alienating" their children against their fathers.
According to the girls' mother, her husband threw the page at her, saying, "This article describes you exactly," as she and the girls were leaving home on the morning of March 3, 2003, for their drive to Providence.
That summer the girls and their mother flew to Zurich to visit her elderly parents, who eagerly welcomed their only grandchildren. Their mother documented the trip in a special journal.
Now in their late 80's and too frail to travel, the couple have not seen their grandchildren since that visit in 2003.
Back in Rhode Island, an angry father met his wife and daughters at the airport. His wife remembers him saying: "You’ll pay for this." By Christmastime their younger daughter complained of the sausage games, and early in 2004, DCYF issued its finding of sexual molestation against him.
Yet he was never criminally prosecuted. His brother, the Zurich lawyer, came to Rhode Island to fight the finding against him. They met with police, DCYF staff, and others.
The brothers' earliest defense strategy was to use photos of their father with Molly to suggest that he could have molested her. In the Philippines, the grandfather insisted he had not done this, for he is solely interested in boys.
Molly never wavered from insisting that it was her own father who played the sausage game. She re-enacted and drew it emphatically.
More than two years have passed since neighbors began to bring this case to the attention of Rhode Island officials. Why was the case never prosecuted? Why are the girls now deprived of each other, their mother, and their home?
Molly and Sara are not the only children suffering in a system that offers ample opportunity for blackmail. How can we discern the whole truth in a system of adversarial litigation that lawyers and clinicians pump for billable hours? The process itself, functioning under the cloak of confidentiality and virtually devoid of rules, splinters cases down to meaningless motions for years on end. Working together, lawyers for the defense and for DCYF keep judges from grasping the entire story in its fullest context.
Which Rhode Island officials will use their subpoena power to investigate and find out which side has waged the campaign of misinformation that still travels like a virus through this case?
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at email@example.com
"Sara" and "Molly" had eagerly prepared the hamster cage for a new tenant. On April 7, 2006, they waited excitedly for school to end and their mother to drive them to the pet shop.
Instead the guardian ad litem produced an emergency motion to remove the girls from their mother for psychiatric evaluation. Police went to their schools and took them into state custody. They were 5 and 9 years old.
At a foster home, they met their foster mother, Alice. Always an organizer, Sara worked out a plan. She would write messages to Mami (which means and sounds like "mommy") in her notebook. She would ask Mami to bring another notebook just like it when she visits, so they could write to each other all week long and exchange notebooks (secretly if necessary) to read what the other had written, then write some more.
"Mami, I asked Alice why I am a foster child," Sara writes. "She said that the father is 'not guilty.' Then she said that you have 'mental problems.' I can’t believe it."
Sara signs her name with an arrow pointing to a drawing of herself crying.
Mami writes to reassure Sara:
"Alice has never seen me, has never talked to me, she has no idea what happened in our family. Forget about what she said, don't worry."
Mami decorates her message with hearts, a smiling sun and flower:
"I am normal. I am simpler, more fun to be around than most people. If I were sick in my head, I wouldn't have so many friends, and all those friends would have noticed a long time ago."
Molly and Sara will be allowed to see their mother under strict supervision in a DCYF office building for two hours each week. Mami brings music, food, flowers, games, crafts a day ahead to be thoroughly searched.
Molly makes a drawing of them all smiling, with their cheerful Swiss balloon floating nearby. Under the circumstances, it is a happy time just being together: "I am having a wonderful Mami-visit," writes Molly.
"I can't wait till I see you again next week," writes Sara, "till I can stay overnight. Until I can live with you again. Alice said that she doesn't believe [Molly], that the father has done the sausage game with her. Then I asked, 'How could a child make something up like that?'
"Then Alice said, 'They do it all the time!'"
Is this what DCYF staff told the foster mother? Other staff later reveal that they, too, are being told false information about Molly "recanting."
Mami reassures Sara: "Believe what you have seen and heard. Be honest & true to yourself."
"I stand by [Molly]," writes their mother. "She has a rough time. She needs you and needs your trust, [Sara]. You are strong together . . . .
"My life is broken," writes Sara, "and I can't stand it anymore. . . . [Molly] doesn't seem to eat much."
"[Sara], you are never alone," writes her mother. "Pray, pray, pray. God has a plan for you, and for [Molly], and for everyone."
"Be strong and full of confidence that everything will work out in the end. I can’t wait till both of you are with me again."
"I think of you all the time: What are you doing? How are you doing? I am looking so forward till you are here with me. I love you. Tell [Molly] many hugs and kisses. Your Mami."
"Good night, Mami. You are the best! See you tomorrow in my diary. You are the best Mami in the world."
They are strictly forbidden to speak Swiss-German, which their father calls their "mother tongue." His lawyers say Mami uses Swiss-German to tell them bad things about him. They are moved from one foster home to another, and finally into a shelter before school starts.
By Christmas Eve, they have been in custody for 262 days. They are not allowed to sing Christmas carols with Mami, because they only know them in Swiss-German. But Mami brings a Christmas tree, candles, food and gifts anyway.
The Children's Museum receives federal funds to provide free supervised visits for parents and children under the government's "reunification" policy. But DCYF does not approve the girls and Mami for the Families Together program. Instead they intend to remove Molly and Sara from their mother and to "reunify" them--or at least Molly--with her father.
If Mami wants extra visits, she can hire the Families Together director as a private contractor at $75 an hour, including travel time for her girls and the director. Mami will also need to pay their cab fare from the shelter--about $24. Less than a two-hour visit could easily cost $200. There is no way Mami can afford it.
Sometimes people take the girls for a weekend away from the shelter. But always, they bring them back. Molly draws this picture of herself and Sara waving goodbye to the people who are leaving them behind. It is a nightmare they cannot escape.
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org
By August 6, 2007, the girls' 487th day in custody, ten-year-old Sara struggles to remember the home she had lived in all her life. She draws it from memory and creates an enormous diagram, detailing each room with a numbered key listing furniture, doors and windows.
Her drawings are straight, but her handwriting runs downhill, a common sign of depression.
Her kitchen diagram is accurate, but it longs for the human dimension and nourishment that her mother had drawn in their journals:
To keep her spirits up, Sara makes a list of THINGS TO DO ON OUR FIRST DAY HOME.
Her dream-activities contrast to life in the shelter, where staff use television for rewards and punishment, profanity is a constant, and strangers say her mother has mental problems. The first item on Sara's list is "Wash clothes so they smell good." Here is the list:
Wash clothes so they smell good
run around in back yard
play piano together
play a game
do arts & crafts
flop on our bed
go for a walk @ the beach
go to Home Depot to get stuff to build clubhouse
plant in garden
Sara's 11th birthday arrives before that month ends. After more than 500 days in state custody, DCYF moves the sisters out of the shelter. They give Molly to her father in another state, and they send Sara to yet another foster home.
DCYF seems intent on breaking Sara's spirit, convincing her that her mother has mental problems, forcing her to visit her father. Why?
From now on the sisters will see each other during their mother's visits at the DCYF office for two hours a week.
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at email@example.com
Later they read my op-ed about the damage being done to children through allegations of parental alienation and asked if I would look into this case. "Family Court Devastation: Discredited 'Parental Alienation Syndrome'," (The Providence Journal, June 27, 2006) is online at http://www.projo.com/opinion/contributors/content/projo_20060627_ctgrant.184a360.html
During years spent researching custody cases at no charge, I developed a procedure to identify those parents who are genuinely protective. Before I agree to investigate a case, I request documents, photographs, school papers, police and medical records, whatever will help me understand the history of this family. Although agency staffers are forbidden to disclose their own information, any parent is free to share their documents with me. Psychological evaluations are not confidential when prepared for court.
This is a test. When litigation is underway, it becomes impossible to speak to both parents. Will I be given only those documents favorable to one of them? Or will I also get those that affirm the other parent? Will either one's demeanor suggest a motive of self-aggrandizement, revenge, or a desire to use children for retribution?
This mother passed the test. She immediately provided the full range of documents. She was eager to do anything to protect her children. I interviewed people who knew the family. We photographed their home. I felt confident from all the information that the mother is not just a good parent, but an outstanding one. She loves her work as a neuroscientist, but places her first priority on her children.
I organized these documents chronologically with others from the court file and tracked the mention of "parental alienation" and the build-up of a defense strategy. One trail led from the Zurich lawyer to his brother in Rhode Island, who hired a criminal defense attorney, who hired a private investigator, who reached out to an elderly home child care provider, whose biased opinions got seeded into the court record through an array of reports that included those of the private investigator, the DCYF hearing officer, the guardian ad litem, and the clinical psychologist.
Ethical standards should assure that there are no conflicts of interest, but adversarial litigation is fraught with conflicts due to the extensive use of privately hired contractors who, especially in a small state, have personal and professional relationships with each other. They may hesitate to challenge errors and ethical lapses that occurred earlier in the process.
In this case, as in many I have researched, credentialed "experts" not only overlooked mistakes in the record; some repeated and even amplified hearsay and misleading opinions as if they were true. The lack of objective information and evidentiary integrity in these documents would be ludicrous if it were not so devastating to vulnerable children.
LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST #1
For example, on September 15, 2004, a court-ordered licensed clinical psychologist speaks on the phone with the child care provider, who describes the girls' mother as "a very odd person" and says the mother was "at times jealous that [Molly] was closer to her father."
Three pages later in his January 2005 report, the psychologist repeats this from the report of the private investigator: "[Child care provider] says that [mother] was resentful and jealous of the fact that [Molly] was much closer to her father than to her mother."
The psychologist repeats it again on the next page, quoting the DCYF hearing officer's report, who appears to be quoting another report: "The child's daycare provider was interviewed and stated that [mother] was jealous of the loving and warm relationship between [father] and his children."
Later, similar words come from the father, himself, who tells the psychologist: "[My wife] was just jealous of me and resentful that [Molly] was close to me. She was also envious that I made more money than her and got to present workshops all over the world."
The psychologist does not seem to pick up the fact that the father's exact words, "jealous" and "resentful," are those used by the child care provider and repeated in other reports. He does not question whether the father is "coaching" the elderly woman.
Providence is a small city, and it was not hard for me to locate members of this woman's family who also knew Molly's family. Seeking an independent reality-check, I met with them separately and showed each the quotes attributed to their relative. Each one stated that the woman probably said those words, but that the quotes do not accurately describe Molly, Sara, or the girls' reactions to their parents.
Each relative told me that the girls relied emotionally on their mother and avoided their father. They credited the mother with these girls' extraordinary brightness and creativity. One of the relatives wept openly when I told him that Molly and Sara were in a state shelter.
"That's unbelievable!" he said repeatedly, affirming that the girls' mother is "unusual," but "she is a very good mother." The relatives each told me that the girls' father constantly visits this woman, whose unsubstantiated opinion became critical to the case. In the end, the father’s defense team may have realized her testimony could not hold up in court, for they never called her as a witness.
But the harm was done. The psychologist not only believed her, but placed her support for the father at the top of his list of reasons for concluding: "To a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, [the father] did not sexually or physically abuse" [Molly and Sara] and that [their mother] "coached the children to make negative and false statements against their father."
Amazingly, the psychologist assigns greater credibility to this simple phone conversation than to the detailed reports of trained therapists who met with the girls for dozens of sessions at Day One, the Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center. He notes that these therapists "are firmly convinced that [Molly] was sexually assaulted by her father and that [Sara] was physically abused. They do not feel that [the mother] coached the children."
The psychologist stops these therapists from working with the girls during his evaluation, even though he admits a possibility that Molly’s paternal grandfather may have molested her. He reports that both girls told him disturbing things that he later discounts, as when "Molly," 4, says: "My dad bumped my head on the floor because he don't love me." Here are more quotes from his report:
When [Molly] was asked why her father does not live with her, she made the following statement: 'He made bad stuff to us like sausage game, and I did not like it at all'.
[Molly] was asked to draw a picture of the sausage game, and she drew a 4-inch long oval shape. In the middle of the oval, she drew scribbling lines. She described the oval as a sausage and the scribbling lines as the hand of her father, but refused to elaborate.
When [Molly] was asked if she had bad dreams, she replied, 'About the sausage game'.
The psychologist asks Molly to show the sausage game on an anatomically correct drawing of a male figure, and she marks the penis. When he asks her to show the sausage game on a female figure, she is "not responsive" and soon complains that he is asking her "too many questions."
In Molly's last session, the psychologist asks her again about the sausage game, and she says: "My dad does the sausage game and he touches." The psychologist continues: "As she made this statement, she touched her vagina and the vagina of a doll. She laughed and giggled and showed no sign of alarm, but refused to discuss the issue further."
The psychologist fails to recognize the giggle and laughter as a likely sign of embarrassment for a 4-year-old girl to say these things when she is alone with a grown man who may have a sausage of his own. Instead he discounts all her disclosures, because [Molly] "never seemed frightened or upset. She always smiled and was positive."
The clinician describes Sara the same way: "She told me she had never had a positive experience with her father, but said this with a smile on her face. She did not appear to be distressed, anxious, or concerned."
He does not seem to grasp what the girls, themselves, know. A year later, Sara tries to help her troubled little sister by pretending she is her teacher. She gives Molly an assignment from a workbook about feelings. She asks Molly to draw feelings that she sometimes hides under a mask.
Molly understands the assignment. She identifies the feelings she does not like to show: scared, mad, and worried. She sees herself replacing them with these masks: happy, normal, silly. Like a good teacher, her big sister affirms her work with an A+. It does not require a PhD in psychology to comprehend these things.
Yet, this clinical psychologist is a leading evaluator of sexual molestation cases for the Rhode Island Family Court.
DCYF HEARING OFFICER
A cauldron of misinformation was bubbling as the psychologist prepared his report during the same months that the DCYF hearing officer wrote her decision late in 2004. Explanations diverged from one report to the other.
For example, both reports mention the father and daughter bathing together as more significant than just parental concern for cleanliness. The psychologist reports that the father told him Molly had asked twice to join him in the bathtub before he let her. Meanwhile, the DCYF hearing officer reports that the father said he bathed with Molly "because he wanted to be close to his young daughter."
The hearing officer wrote that the father blamed the mother for "influences of what he termed Parental Alienation Syndrome." The hearing officer knew about the father's own father, who has a criminal record as a pedophile; about his brother's work as a lawyer specializing in cases like this; about the opinions of the elderly child care provider. She knew there was other evidence. She could have insisted on seeing it, but she did not.
DCYF gave her no exhibits, not even its original report indicating the father for sexual molestation. She heard from no other witnesses except the father and the child protective investigator, whom she chastised for failing to translate the mother's journals. She never met the mother, who did not realize this hearing was being held.
The hearing officer flipped the case from a finding of sexual molestation against the father to a charge of "parental alienation" against the mother, which is neither a crime, nor a provable allegation.
Without meeting the mother, the DCYF hearing officer labeled her "behavior and conduct … highly unorthodox and rather suspicious." She stated: "This maternal behavior casts a shadow over the reliability of the child’s statements . . . ."
Clinicians and court officers, including the guardian ad litem, repeated her assertions to the judge in their own reports, as if these were findings of fact.
DCYF had never considered the children in any danger with their mother. Molly and Sara stayed with her for sixteen more months while the father's legal team built his case to remove them.
The hearing officer's unusual name appeared online in April 2007, when she published an essay, apparently to attract fathers to her private law practice, and her bias against mothers became clearer than ever:
It is amazing 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."
LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
As the legal process subjected the children to constant interviews with clinicians, they began to express frustration and anger.
Children in this situation get asked the same questions by so many different adults that they begin to sound rehearsed, giving rise to allegations that the mother is quizzing and coaching them. They fret over their answers afterward, especially when they begin to hear their own words thrown back at them as evidence against their mothers.
The guardian ad litem contacted and worked closely with a licensed clinical social worker who used the silent treatment to enforce her authority. She would sit in silence with the girls and their mother, until the mother finally asked why they were there. The social worker remained silent, as if to taunt them: You are nothing. I cannot even hear you.
Sara distrusted her, and the clinician's report suggests the feeling was mutual.
DCYF contracted with this clinician to "reunite" the younger girl with her father. The social worker writes, "it does not seem possible . . . to make a determination of whether and/or how there was sexual abuse . . . ."
Nevertheless, she takes Molly, by then five years old, into a room alone with her father. The girl is horrified. She turns her back on him and screams "for 20 or 30 minutes." Exhausted, the child accepts a glass of water from the social worker, who soothes her feverish face with a wet cloth and begins talking quietly. She gets the child to enter a conversation about "small topics" with her father. Exactly the same procedure might be used to "groom" a child for molestation.
Molly's drawings show the effect this had on her. After one of her forced visits with her father, she portrays herself as handless, helpless, and bereft.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM (LAW GUARDIAN)
My earliest clue that this case might be a custody scam came from the guardian ad litem's 2005 report, a short and paltry document that failed to meet the most basic standards in the manual she helped to write and teach, Guardian ad Litem Practice in Rhode Island Family Court. It included no interviews of neighbors in the community where the girls had spent their entire lives; it strung together cheap beads of innuendo and hearsay as if they were facts.
At $200 an hour the guardian ad litem charged $1,000 for her home visit, including $400 for travel alone. She barely mentions the home, except for these strange remarks that make her report resemble petty gossip:
In [mother's] study/office, two things jumped out. The first was that this is the only room that there was adult-sized furniture. The second thing was that almost all of the books were in German or French. Two books that stood out written in English were entitled something to the effect of, 'How to win your divorce case' and 'How to win your child in a custody battle.'
She makes only one further reference to the home: "The children share a small bedroom. [Their father's] opinion is that it would have been impossible to enter their room without awakening both children."
Perhaps the guardian felt a need to comment on the bedroom, since the DCYF hearing officer's decision favoring the father noted his comment that the bedroom was too small for him to enter at night without waking the older girl.
But their bedroom is not small. Moreover, the question of entering it at night is pointless, since Molly protested "sausage games" during the day in several areas of the house, when her mother and sister were gone. This is the type of irrelevant information that occupied hundreds of costly hours by countless professionals.
The guardian ad litem never mentions the sunny handcraft room, the walls full of vibrant children's paintings, the shelves of art books and games, the piano, or the absence of a TV. (The mother kept one in her bedroom, but said that the girls had neither interest nor time for television.)
Contrary to her description, the furniture throughout the home is a family-friendly blend of adult and child-sizes--a futon low to the floor, full-sized rocking chair and piano.
Bookshelves hold hundreds of books in English, art books for an abundantly artistic family, and academic books of a scientist who speaks five languages.
The girls' creativity, zest and humor have left their mark everywhere.
"Hi Mommy!" says the window. "Switzerland is cool!"
But the guardian ad litem's bias seemed to infect even the state's Child Advocate, who knew little about this case when I inquired, but clearly had been told, and seemed to accept the view, that this mother had "coached" her daughter to lie. I could see that the Advocate faced more pressing concerns, for her budget had been slashed, she was being forced to move her office, and she had just initiated a major class action suit against DCYF for failure to protect 3,000 children in their care.
Having approached every imagineable official with no results, I began putting my research about the case online at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/ and urged legislators to examine it. The DCYF lawyer secured a strangely-worded court order to suppress the blog, though they knew and later admitted that Family Court has no authority over me.
The father's attorneys subpoenaed me to bring my documents to court. This gave me a unique opportunity to enter the closed courtroom and observe how the father's defense team huddled around him, including not only his civil and criminal lawyers, but also the DCYF attorney, and the guardian ad litem, who sat deep in his corner, as far from the mother as possible. By then, the father had paid the guardian about $12,000. She considered herself part of his team, and she threatened the mother with prison if the mother could not pay her thousands more.
The guardian was someone I had once respected as a champion of progressive causes. But she used her enormous influence with little regard for these children or for the truth. When I sought an attorney to argue my right to produce the blog, a prominent one agreed to help, until (as he apologetically explained) the guardian warned him not to get involved.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union refused my request for help. I knew the guardian volunteered with them, along with many of her friends. Ironically, the ACLU website reports that its Massachusetts affiliate's support for the pro-pedophile group, North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), was based on a "robust freedom of speech for everyone."
CHILD PROTECTION PROGRAM PHYSICIAN
The Child Protection Program at Hasbro Children's Hospital reports evidence of sexual assault on children, but too often, in our experience, misses the far greater prevalence of adults forcing children to participate in masturbation. Since this leaves no physical signs, it can only be detected through the child's words, behavior, and emotional preoccupation.
But it has become dangerous for mothers to report such evidence, for a range of gullible clinicians and court personnel may yield to persuasive attorneys and blame these mothers for "alienation." The mothers' increasingly frantic behavior appears bizarre and self-incriminating.
This happened in Molly's case, where the CPP doctor was an intern who stepped far beyond her medical role (which she summarized in less than a page of narration). She went on to devote nearly a dozen dense pages to something like the parlor game of "Telephone," piling up hearsay and opinions that other clinicians told her on the phone. The outcome is garbled, unintelligible and completely unscientific.
She repeatedly spells out concerns expressed to her by the guardian ad litem, the social worker, and psychologist #1, who is of the "opinion that there is 'parental alienation' by the mother and that the mother 'blatantly went out of her way to accuse this man of molesting her daughters.'"
The CPP intern draws a strong conclusion:
It is our opinion that BOTH . . . children need protection. Their current environment is quite likely not conducive to mental health, growth, and development.
. . . it appears that this mother is having a toxic effect on the children. She should be required to have a thorough psychiatric evaluation. Her actions are not benign or protective. Even if the children were originally abused by the father, it would be impossible to protect them because of the mother's erratic and bizarre behavior leading to the impression that she has fabricated these allegations and manipulated the children.
The CPP doctor sends her report directly to the guardian ad litem, on Wednesday, April 5, 2006, without it being reviewed by her CPP supervisor. On Thursday, the guardian takes the report to court to secure an emergency motion. On Friday, police go to their schools and take the girls into custody.
LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST #2
The guardian had removed clinicians from the case who strongly disagreed with her blame of the mother. After a long search (described in her itemized bill), she recruits more support from Boston, where a clinical psychologist writes that the guardian has suggested "parental alienation" to her. This clinician proceeds to list in her report the "eight primary symptoms" set forth by Richard Gardner. She clearly does not know that his theory has been discredited as junk science and is considered legally inadmissible under nationally recognized rules of evidence.
STRONG CLINICAL WARNINGS IGNORED
In spreading the virus of parental alienation, the guardian ad litem ignored strong warnings from three clinicians who disagreed with her and also from two who served her purposes overall. Their warnings are significant.
For example, even psychologist #1 (mentioned above) urges that the girls' father should "for the foreseeable future . . . not have unsupervised visits with his children for the protection of all concerned."
The licensed clinical social worker warns:
The emotional complexities of this situation are so overwhelming as to be crushing. Each person involved will be dramatically impaired if progress through this is not achieved. The youngest participant will be the most damaged. Every effort should be made to support her staying connected with her relationships in a way which will insure her own safety . . . .The guardian ad litem and DCYF ignore both of these warnings and use only those comments that support their plan to give the younger girl to her father.
Weaving their arguments together, these lawyers and clinicians adapt the logic of psychiatrist Richard Gardner, the creator of "Parental Alienation Syndrome," who committed suicide in 2003, the same year that the girls' father began to accuse their mother of "alienating" them from him.
But Richard Gardner listed numerous standards that would have validated this case as a "genuine" instance of child sex abuse, not one that had been fabricated. For example, Gardner wrote that children who actually experience sexual abuse have these characteristics, among others, as Molly does:
have a fairly clear visual image of the experience
will usually provide specific details, and they will be consistently the same on subsequent interviews.
will describe settings that are. . . likely and reasonable
provide a credible description of the ejaculate . . . .
fearful of the perpetrator. . . . This fear may result in the child's making every attempt to be away from home as much as possible, especially when alone with the offender
prefer more a fantasy world that is safe and free from the traumas of their real life.
Gardner's description of fathers of children who are actually abused also resembled Molly's father in these areas among others:
tendency to regress in stressful situations, especially heterosexual disappointment. They then regress to sexuality with a child—the less threatening sexual experience
Sexually abusing fathers are more likely to be social isolates.
rigid and controlling
Gardner depicts characteristics in the drawings of sexually abused children that closely resemble both Molly and Sara's drawings, such as
shading in or covering sexual parts
drawing attenuated hands and fingers that may relate to the manual fondling that these children have been exposed to
Compare Gardner's description to these drawings of their father by Molly:
and by Sara:
Gardner considered one sign to be a strong indicator of genuine sexual abuse, and this was true of Molly and Sara: their father and his siblings had all been molested by their own father, who was twice imprisoned for sexual abuse of other children. This fact was known and admitted by the hearing officer, the guardian ad litem, and clinicians, who nevertheless reported the father "did not present with the profile of a sexual offender." Was this because he sometimes fantasized himself as a woman? But that, too, was a red flag for Gardner.
I began to see how "parental alienation" custody scams use only those parts of Richard Gardner's analysis that blame mothers. Then they adopt Gardner's strategy, removing these children from their mothers and giving them to their fathers.
Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org
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: