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?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Similarities between the Roman Catholic Church and Family Court

Father Lawrence Murphy, a predator priest, groomed children for sex at a Roman Catholic school for the deaf in Milwaukee. After five of those boys came to grips with this in adulthood, they started a movement that forced the church to release documents that showed how top Vatican officials had covered up for priests who targeted children. Some monsignors minimized sexual aggression as normal behavior in all-male enclaves.

The Church upheld omertà, a code of silence. Ironically, pedophile priests groomed and assaulted deaf children around the world precisely because their victims could not speak. And yet, the eloquence of these five men telling their stories in vivid sign language launched a resounding battle that helped force Pope Benedict to resign this year, the first Pope to do so in 600 years.

I watched the powerful HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God while I was writing “Gift of the Mommies, A True Story” that shows the generational fallout from a pedophile priest. Suddenly the connection between the two provided another insight to what is happening to children abused in family court.

For more than two decades, I have followed custody cases in Rhode Island, the most Roman Catholic state in the nation. I’ve wondered what kind of culture could have given rise to obvious abuses of power. Why did judges, like clergy, often fail to accept the simple truth spoken by children protesting abuse?

I saw how the judiciary resembles the Church, with its all-powerful, black-robed judges, using inscrutable Latin words and assuming divine authority, “So help you God!” while people sit silently in pews awaiting judgments that seal their fate and their children’s.

The case of “Molly and Sara” described in this blog had a different twist. The girls’ father and his brothers had grown up in a sexually aggressive culture. The boys’ own father abused them with impunity and later went to prison for molesting two mentally disabled children who were his psychotherapy patients.

Molly and Sara’s father hated the Church and said it was “dumb” – an ironic term when contemplating “silence in the House of God.” Molly had pleaded with him to let their mother take her and Sara to church on Christmas Eve.

After Molly disclosed sexual abuse, police removed their father from the house while the state investigated and lodged a finding against him. Once he was out of the house, the children and their mother eagerly went to church, where they met a remarkable group of townsfolk who supported them for years afterward: writing letters, holding meetings, raising money for a lawyer, pacing the marble corridor outside the courtroom as they prayed the rosary, while the father fought and won sole custody of the girls. The court-appointed guardian ad litem, Lise Iwon, who was close friends with the father’s defense attorney, had orchestrated the children’s removal from their mother. Iwon also hated the Church.

The family’s church friends contacted the Parenting Project and asked us to investigate this case. One of the important lessons we learned is that we cannot judge others on their creeds or their credentials, but only on the integrity of their character.

You can see:
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God  

“Gift of the Mommies, A True Story”

Lise Iwon’s role in Molly and Sara’s case:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Even in France, "Sara" and "Molly" remember that today is their Mami's birthday

The shocking failure of Rhode Island's Attorney General, DCYF, and Family Court to believe "Sara" and "Molly" when they reported their father's sexual abuse and domestic violence, makes it all the more important to join EVAWI and the Start By Believing campaign.



Monday, April 8, 2013

Lise Iwon could help to right a great wrong

Seven years ago, Lise Iwon was the guardian ad litem who oversaw the removal of "Molly," then age 5, and "Sara," age 9, from their lifelong home. She did it through a marathon search to hire mental health experts who maligned the children's mother, accusing her of neglect, though other experts found her fine and fully attentive to her children's needs. Scores of neighbors and teachers wrote letters attesting to the close and healthy bond between mother and daughters. 

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"

Eventually their mother ran out of money and could not pay the many thousands of dollars that Iwon and others demanded.  

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. 

Iwon recently testified at the State House about her late partner's encouragement for her to take pro bono cases at their law office. Perhaps she will recognize the suffering this case has inflicted and will devote herself to pro bono work challenging Family Court's abuse of psychotherapy in custody litigation.  

APRA Request 

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:

1. What are the qualifications for mental health experts who serve in Family Court?

2. What training, if any, is required in the areas of domestic violence, child sexual abuse, trauma, dissociation, personality disorders, and addiction?

3. What psychological tests are experts permitted to use?
            3a. How is the relevance of these tests established?
            3b. How is the reliability of these tests established?

4. What forms of treatment are permitted by court-ordered experts?
            4a. How is the efficacy of this treatment established?
            4b. How is this treatment monitored
            4c. How is this treatment evaluated

5. What professional supervision does the Family Court require for professionals serving in these capacities?

6. What is the relationship of court-ordered experts to private therapists?
            6a. Are they required to consult with a subject's private therapist? 
            6b. Are they permitted to displace a subject's private therapist? 

7. Does the Family Court set limits on 
            7a. the fees these experts may charge?
            7b. the duration of their services?
            7c. the number of experts the court may impose on each subject?

8. How are these reports submitted to the court?
            8a. What format is specified for these reports? 
            8b. How are reports disclosed to the subjects or to their parents? 

9. What is the Court's process for monitoring and evaluating experts?
            9a. Who at Family Court is responsible for doing this?
            9b. How is feedback secured from subjects and parents?

10. What process has the Family Court established for subjects or outside professionals to file complaints regarding the performance of experts? 

APRA Response

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.  

Thus Family Court has no written policies and procedures regulating the work of independent mental health experts hired to advise judges in custody cases. 

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. 

It also calls into question the practice of medical insurers that reimburse these expenses without requiring proper adherence to medical standards. The Court's abuse of psychotherapy for assessments of questionable value reduces the number of sessions available to insurance clients for genuine therapeutic services. 

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. 

Lise Iwon cannot give back the lives taken from these girls and their mother. I am not in touch with them, but a friend of their family told me the girls remained in state custody from April 7, 2006, for well over a year, until DCYF gave the younger girl to their father. Some time later, DCYF gave the older girl to him as well. Family Court allowed him to move out of the country with them. This picture was taken six years ago during a supervised visit with their mother while the girls were still in state custody.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How Government Agencies Perpetuate the Incest Problem

The Atlantic has published an important article, "America Has an Incest Problem," by Mia Fontaine: 
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.*

In Rhode Island, the Parenting Project has been researching the systemic ways in which DCYF and Family Court allow and sometimes encourage this abuse to continue by refusing to believe children who protest sex abuse in the home and even giving these children to the sole custody of parents who have been indicated as perpetrators. 

We are focusing specifically on the ways defense lawyers, guardians ad litem, and judges have enabled a small pool of clinicians to produce biased "evaluations" that vilify good parents and assign custody to parents who litigate aggressively, some of whom have been indicated as abusers. This occurred in the case of "Molly" and "Sara" at http://LittleHostages.blogspot.com, where significant evidence was never considered, including the sisters' graphic drawings of erect and ejaculating penises, scores of letters from neighbors, teachers and others attesting to the mother's excellent parenting, and official reports riddled with bias. 

These are some of the areas that we are investigating in Rhode Island's practice of assigning unqualified clinicians to evaluate child custody cases (whether or not there are allegations of child sex abuse) and the methods these clinicians employ: 
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? 
Those who wish to share relevant information may write confidentially to the Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, at parenting project@ verizon.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: