Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Right to Parent, Even If You Are Poor (In These Times, July 16, 2014)

 

In These Times

WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL…

BY SARAH JAFFE

Carolyn Hill speaks at a June 15, 2012 protest at the Philadelphia Department of Human Services.

Carolyn Hill speaks at a June 15, 2012 protest at the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. (Every Mother is a Working Mother Network)

Carolyn Hill still remembers the night, two years ago, when the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) came to take her nieces away. The girls, ages 1 and 2, had been placed with her about a year earlier, after being removed from their mother’s custody due to her mental health issues. Hill thought she’d begun the process of adopting the girls: She’d taken parenting classes at the request of the agency and had begun paperwork so that she could go forward with adoption.

But on Tuesday April 3, 2012, Hill got a call from the Lutheran Children and Family Service (LCFS), a nonprofit that had taken over her case the previous fall (Philadelphia’s DHS farms out its caretaking services to a number of nonprofits). The caller said that she needed to speak with Hill that day. The social worker who had called Hill arrived at her home after 5pm and, without prior warning, took Hill’s nieces away. “She didn’t even let them finish eating—I had stopped to get them some food, but she just took them right on out,” Hill tells In These Times. (LCFS did not return a request for comment.) Continue reading

Press Release: Dec 9 Carolyn Hill adoption hearing before Superior Court of PA

WHEN: December 9, 2014 at 1pm
WHAT: Carolyn Hill adoption hearing before Superior Court of PA
WHERE:  Superior Court 530 Walnut St Philadelphia
CONTACT:  Phoebe Jones, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network 215-848-1120  (on Dec 9: 610-505-4944) philly@allwomencount.net   www.everymothernetwork.org

Press release…..Press release…..Press release….

On December 9, a high profile adoption case comes before the PA Superior Court which will decide whether “the best interest of the child” is to return two girls to their loving but low-income aunt, or uphold an Adoption Court decision placing them with more distant but better off relatives.

This is the last chance for the return to Carolyn Hill of her two nieces who were abruptly and traumatically removed from her home by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services in 2012.  Their excuses were false accusations and one truth: that she did not have a GED!  After Ms Hill’s two-year campaign for justice, the Superior Court will determine whether this family will be reunited or whether those with slender means have less right to family life than those with higher incomes.

Local and national groups have weighed in on this important test case with an Amici Curiae Brief filed in support of Ms Hill’s petition for adoption.  In addition to the Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, signers include University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Dorothy E. Roberts, the Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP), the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN).  Even after the Brief was filed others have asked to sign, including RISE Magazine and child welfare author and expert David Tobis.

The Brief raises critical issues at stake in the case:

  • biases of the child welfare system against low-income Black families, and those with less formal education (Black children: 13% of the Pennsylvania population yet 49% of those taken into care)
  • bogus, biased and non-independent parent capacity evaluations used in case after case to remove children
  • absence of legal help for kinship caregivers who may never be informed of their rights, making it impossible for them to defend themselves against injustices
  • devaluing one-on-one care and bonding, including with one’s extended family
  • agency and institutional abuse of power with little or no disinterested oversight
  • access to wealth and educational level as criteria for “best interest of the child,” so that those who have less of either are excluded from consideration as parents 
  • lack of court oversight and refusal to hear key witnesses.

This decision cannot be allowed to stand, not only for the sake of these two girls who lost their loving aunt, extended family, church and neighborhood communities when DHS engaged in social engineering,” says Phoebe Jones of EMWM, “but for the sake of all children who are removed from homes where poverty, not abuse or neglect, is the ‘crime’.  Philadelphia removes children at the highest rate in the country for a city of its size and 1/3 of children would be home tomorrow if decent housing was made available to their parents.

U Penn Law Professor and author of Shattered Bonds – The Color of Child Welfare Dorothy Roberts wrote: “The psych evaluation provides a surreptitious way of keeping custody of children because of poverty without saying it. …Child protective authorities could justify detaining children because of this psychological weakness instead of poverty itself.

SPAN wrote, “We are particularly interested in the outcome of this litigation as this case has national implications for families at risk of losing their children due to poverty, discrimination, and the misinterpretation and misapplication of statutes and policy.”

About the case: Carolyn Hill is an aunt and a low-income Black single mother who was caring for her nieces at the urging of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services after her sister lost parental rights.  All were doing well for a year when DHS abruptly and possibly illegally removed the children who had bonded with her and who she was in the process of adopting on grounds that, in addition to false accusations about cognitive skills and mental health issues, Ms Hill did not have a GED.  The children, now four and five, were placed with the wife of a more distant relative at the request of the family as a temporary measure so the children would not have to be fostered with strangers until Ms Hill could regain custody.  DHS supported in the adoption proceedings this ”temporary” couple,  who have a higher income but who have separated the children from their family, church and community– all of whom fully support Ms Hill in her struggle to get them back.

Twelve witnesses took time off of work and other obligations to come to court on June 11, 2014 to testify on her behalf, including her children and other family members, friends, her pastor, neighbors, and others who know Ms Hill well.  Yet the only one allowed to testify was the psychologist who conducted an independent parenting capacity evaluation.  His evaluation dismissed the findings of a bogus and biased evaluation done by a psychologist contracted with DHS which had concluded that Ms Hill was not able to care for the children.  If Ms Hill’s witnesses had been allowed to testify, false and misleading allegations against her character made in court could have been countered and the court given accurate information with which to make their decision.

Attorney Samuel Stretton, who agreed to take on Ms Hill’s case pro bono when he heard of the injustices she and the children faced, will argue in Superior Court that it is in the children’s best interest to be returned to the home of Ms Hill where they would grow up rooted in a loving and close-knit family and community sharing birthdays and holidays and special times together.

For more info about Carolyn Hill’s case, see The Right to Parent, Even if You Are Poor by Sarah Jaffe, In These Times, July 16, 2014.