Rhode Island taxpayers have contributed an enormous sum to wage a war that most of us know nothing about. The systems our state established to protect children have instead subjected many to danger and trauma that will profoundly shape the rest of their lives. Who will help to build public awareness and political consensus to protect children from those who prey on them or who profit from their abuse? How should government respond in ways that are transparent and accountable?

Sunday, May 11, 2008


"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 parentingproject@cox.net


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About the Author & Purpose

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service provided since 1996 by Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. The coordinator, Anne Grant, is a retired United Methodist minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter and service agency for battered women and their children. We research and write about official actions that endanger children and the parents who are trying to protect them. Our goal is to reform this area of government and to establish an effective, transparent and accountable child protective system.

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.

Comments and corrections may be sent in an email with no attachments to parenting project @ verizon.net

About "Parental Alienation"

If you are not familiar with Richard Gardner's theory of "parental alienation" and how it is being used in custody courts, scroll down to the earliest posting, "Junk Science in Custody Courts." For more scholarly research, visit  http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/1.html

For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: