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, 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.


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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: