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

966 Days & Nights

As you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, please remember that this will be "Molly" and "Sara's" third Thanksgiving away from their lifelong home and community. Thanksgiving will be their 966th day and night separated by the State of Rhode Island from their mother.

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:


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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: