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by Sharon Rondeau
(Oct. 1, 2012) — On September 30, 2012, The Post & Email has interviewed Erica Henderson, the mother of seven children who are currently in foster care through the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The Hendersons claim that they have never abused their children and that a neighbor with whom they had had a disagreement had called in a false claim of child abuse in May 2010, beginning a chain of events which sent the parents to jail and the children to three different foster homes over a 180-mile area of southern California.
On August 31, 2012, Mrs. Henderson’s new baby was seized by Los Angeles police and a DCFS social worker after Mrs. Henderson had refused to sign a Voluntary Care Plan which she said incriminated her as possibly having abused her child when she had not. The Hendersons do not believe in childhood vaccinations and were homeschooling two of their children when all of the children were taken.
Mrs. Henderson has confirmed the allegation that one of her children has been abused in her foster home, and The Post & Email has communicated the specifics in writing to Armand Montiel, Public Affairs Director at DCFS. Montiel had previously stated that he would “ensure that the concerns are closely reviewed.”
No one at DCFS or the Los Angeles Board of County Supervisors has responded to our phone calls and emails other than one assistant who called us back once. We have not heard from her since then.
A source close to the Henderson family stated that retaliation against the parents appears to have occurred as a result of their wishing to represent themselves rather than work with a court-appointed attorney and after they “started hearing from people.”
Prior to our interview on Sunday with Mrs. Henderson, we had provided a brief report to Montiel, who responded:
All of this happening on one case would really be quite unusual, and a social worker would never allow a child to stay in a home in this situation. In fact, a foster home would not be used when there is a serious allegation pending an investigation. As mentioned before, children are assigned attorneys as are the parents. Any of the attorneys could ask for an expedited hearing to remove the child if a social worker does not take action. But, I cannot imagine a circumstance when a social worker would not quickly replace a child who is molested in foster home. We would also report the abuse to law enforcement.
While not confirming or denying any family we serve, I will forward your concerns to the managers who could review this, but first please let me know the name of the child. Thank you.
DCFS Public Affairs Director
We then sent a more detailed report after speaking with Mrs. Henderson on September 30, after which Montiel stated that he had forwarded the information to the appropriate people within the agency “for review and investigation.”
After receiving our email with detailed information this morning, Montiel responded:
When we asked Mrs. Henderson about what was done about the report of abuse, she responded, “We of course reported everything that we knew to the department, and we requested that he/she be removed from the home immediately and that an investigation be done. We started by telling our worker that. What we found out a couple days later is that she never reported it. We just told her and that was the end of it. We actually had to call the 1-800 abuse line to report it, and only then was it technically reported,” Mrs. Henderson said. “What we found out was somebody had called and said, ‘There’s no report of this; what are you talking about?’ So they had made no record of it in their system at all.”
In the following paragraphs, the sex of the child has been camouflaged to protect the child’s identity, but the remainder of the text is exactly what Mrs. Henderson said. With Mrs. Henderson’s permission, we audio-recorded both interviews with her.
Mrs. Henderson said that “five or six” friends and family called the hotline “so that it would definitely be recorded at that point,” after which they were told that “an internal investigation” would be done. “At the conclusion of it, they said that they didn’t think that it was ‘that big of a deal’ because the alleged perpetrator was a minor as well and a next-door neighbor. So I was livid; his/her father was livid, and they put it into the court record that it was ‘unfounded.’ So we were very angry, and we requested of the courts in multiple brief filings that the child be removed from the home and at the very least, that the boy who did this to him/her not be allowed into the home. That’s happened time and time again since. He’s been allowed to go over there because he’s a neighbor boy.”
Two of the other Henderson children are in the same foster home, and at least one of them has reportedly been influenced by the alleged perpetrator, who Mrs. Henderson described as “between 10 and 13.” “What I think is that someone is hurting this boy, and that there needs to be something done. But they pooh-poohed the whole thing; they said ‘It’s not a big deal; it’s a child. We checked it out. We think your son/daughter is telling the truth, but we don’t think it’s as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be.’ They said it was like kids playing. We’re not talking about two-year-olds; we’re talking about a 12-year-old boy and my ten-year-old son/daughter,” Mrs. Henderson said.
She said that the incident occurred “8-9 months ago.”
“We also asked for the department to fund an investigation from an outside source so that we could get an unbiased look at what really happened, and they of course refused all of that. So we were told that we were making a mountain out of a molehill; he touched him/her and it was a one-time thing. They’ve taken no precautions for his/her safety at this point. They told us to back off, to stop bringing this up,” Mrs. Henderson said. She continued:
The problem with that home is that there are three other foster children there, and there are two older children who have been adopted. From what two of my children tell me, there are three houses on the property. So you have kids and neighbors and family and friends all coming and going, I’m sure, at all times. I’ve had a lot of problems with my children there. My daughter had a bruise the size of a softball on her side. A couple of weeks ago, she took a bath, and I took her towel in to her, and I saw this huge bruise on her leg, and I thought the worst. XXXX is the 13-year-old foster girl that she shares a room with, and this isn’t the first time that she’s had bruising on her from this girl. I reported that, and they told me, “Oh, it was just two girls fighting.” Well, I’m sick of hearing that. I said, “Take my daughter out of her room; she’s going to continue to physically assault her.” And they do nothing, nothing. They said, “Well, kids will fight.” This isn’t “kids,” again. It’s an older foster child who’s been through a lot…
Out of that house, we also have a lot of religious and cultural sensitivity issues. They refuse to let my sons wear their tzitzits, which is a fringe that we wear on the corners of our garments, like long white tassels, and their kippahs, which is the headgear, and their talitts, which are their prayer shawls. The parents there use these items as disciplinary measures. We still have issues with the kosher food as well in that home. We have a lot of problems in that home which have never been solved.
The Post & Email asked, “Have you told all of these things to the social worker?” to which Mrs. Henderson replied, “Yes, all of them.”
Mrs. Henderson also related that the older three children are often bullied at school. “There are fights at school and things have been stolen there. Whenever I report anything like that, they said, ‘Well, it’s at school, so there’s nothing we can do.’ Where is ‘zero tolerance?'” she asked.
The Post & Email asked Mrs. Henderson how her son who received the stitches close to his eye is faring. She responded:
My concern with him now that I know about the injury – on the head you always want to be careful – is that I found out second- or third-hand. I had to call the foster mother three times before I actually spoke with her days later. I couldn’t get any information. Again, this reminds me of this whole thing, “It wasn’t really a big deal.” But my question is, “Why didn’t you call me?” When I finally did talk to her, I kept asking her, “How did this happen? and she said, “He was dancing.” And I said, “OK, what happened, and she said, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” I had to pull all the information out of her. I said, “Is it his eye?” and she said, “His eye, his eye…” and I said, “Oh, geez.” Her English is not good. She communicates with my boys in Spanish, which they’re learning rapidly.
A social worker from the Santa Clarita DCFS office said to me, “They should have called me immediately.” I didn’t know that until today. I have not lost my parental rights, which means that if there’s a medical emergency, I could have gone to the hospital to comfort him, to talk to the doctors if he needed some type of plastic surgery or something and make sure he wasn’t getting something that we didn’t want…There are all kinds of things that could have happened from that. What if it had been more serious such as a traumatic head injury…his mother should be there to comfort him. So I was upset by that. I know that kids fall and get hurt; I have enough of them. But I need to know about it from this point on.
The Post & Email asked if it were true that five of her seven children are with Spanish-speaking homes, and she said:
The homes that they’re in are definitely ESL homes. The home that my middle two are in, one of whom is the one who just got hurt – her English is…not very good. I don’t know…When I brought it up and the concerns about, “OK, you can’t find Jewish homes for my kids, I guess I understand that. And you say that they have to be in homes where English is the second language, but at least don’t take them to Catholic church and insist that they celebrate Christmas.” And they said, “Look, there’s really nothing we can do.” That’s their answer: “It’s our best effort.” It’s legal terminology. “We don’t have money to do any better than we are.”
Again and again, what I get is this huge “passing the buck” thing. “Well, it was the foster mom’s fault, and the foster mom says, “Well, no…” and on and on. And the judge says, “Well, look at Social Services; they’ll tell you what to do, and then Social Services says, “Oh, no, no, it’s the judge who has to make that call.” So on and on, they push us back and forth. They don’t take responsibility for the actions that happened to my children. I just find it incredibly ironic that they removed my children from my care for nothing, and then when my children are seriously abused and injured, it’s the old “You’re making a big deal about it, mom.” It makes me very angry.
The Post & Email asked, “Do you think it’s the money?” to which Mrs. Henderson replied:
Of course it’s the money. I think to them, the children are a commodity. As soon as my infant son went into foster care, they cut the check for the whole year…$40,000! So there is an incentive to remove children. They are able to do that because they know that once they’re in the system, they’re going to be in the system for at least 6-12 months. So they just go ahead and fork it over. That’s one person’s salary. So I think the incentive is the love of money. It’s $40,000 per child per year, and we’re in our second year with six of them. It’s almost half a million dollars at this point. It’s ransom.
And the taxpayers are footing the bill?
Mrs. Henderson said that she believes that soon, “the dam is going to break.” She told us, “There is just too much that’s happened. So we really need you to continue to write about this, and someone, somewhere will take a look at it with an unbiased, objective eye and help our family.”