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FAMILY REUNIFICATION WAS IN SIGHT…BUT NOW?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 6, 2013) — Since last September, The Post & Email has been reporting on a case in California whereby seven children have remained in foster homes for almost two years despite no signs of abuse or neglect on the part of the parents, who desperately desire family reunification.
One month ago, the situation appeared to have improved after the case was assigned to a new social worker in a different office. The worker had promised to “liberalize” visitation if all progressed well over the following 2-3 weeks, but several setbacks have occurred to thwart reunification efforts.
There have been no Sunday visits since January 9 because the monitor experienced a death in the family. On Wednesday, the mother of the seven children, Erica Henderson, told The Post & Email that three people contacted the social worker indicating that they were willing to monitor the visits after going through a routine background check, which includes fingerprinting. However, until very recently, none of them received a response. One of them has since been contacted but was reportedly told that the screening process could not be commenced until February 8, which means that there will be no visit on February 10 because there will be no monitor. While Mrs. Henderson followed up with her own phone call to provide the names and information of the three prospective volunteers, the social worker communicated to her that he had not received the information. “I don’t know if he’s not getting the messages or just not taking them down,” Mrs. Henderson said.
After the case was transferred, the Department of Children and Family Services was slow to provide the Hendersons with the name of their new social worker.
The Hendersons were expecting to visit their children today for their regular weekly visit but received a call from a social worker on Tuesday evening stating that there would be no visit. The previous Wednesday, the regular monitors had not shown up but the visit had taken place with two different monitors. Mrs. Henderson reported systemic trouble reaching the social worker assigned to her family’s case, stating that she has left several messages but received no return calls.
No explanation was given for why the monitors did not appear last week and no one was apparently available to supervise a visit today.
“It’s really frustrating because we’re getting close to court,” Mrs. Henderson said, referring to a February 21 hearing scheduled at the Edmund C. Edelman Children’s Court to determine whether or not her six older children should be adopted by other parents. Mrs. Henderson compared the upcoming session to a trial, although it is a civil rather than a criminal case, termed a “contested hearing.”
Mrs. Henderson said the CDFS reports regarding recent family visits have been positive.
“We are trying to address any problems that we can foresee for the trial with our attorneys,” Mrs. Henderson told us. “My hope is that they’ll call some of the witnesses that I’ve requested. We’ll prepare a question list that we’d like our attorneys to use, although we have no control over whether or not they actually use them or ask those questions.”
On Monday, the Hendersons will file an “Affidavit of Truth” which she described as an “answer to the court” pertaining to the hearing which took place on November 19. Judge Marguerite Downing had been expected to order the adoption of the children during the hearing but refrained and dismissed the session after only a few minutes because it had been determined that the father, Jeffrey Henderson, has not been notified properly. Supporters of the family have attended subsequent hearings since that time, with some not able to remain in the courtroom because of very limited seating.
On October 31, 2012, The Post & Email wrote to supervising Judge Michael Nash about the Henderson case. Nash responded by stating that we could ask for permission to review the Henderson file, which we did on December 5. As of this writing, a response has not been received.
The Post & Email asked if the children are expected to attend the hearing on the 21st, to which Mrs. Henderson responded that the children were ordered to be at the last three hearings but did not appear. She said that her older children have told her that they were aware of the hearings because the foster parents would tell them that they would be missing school on those days, but the children were ultimately not brought to the hearings. “I’m not sure what the issue is there. They’re supposedly going to be there on the 21st, but I don’t know if they will be,” Mrs. Henderson said.
“Our goal right now is to get the attorneys to call the witnesses that we want to be there. Their opinion seems to be that if they just call the social worker who wrote the report, that’s enough. But we don’t think that’s enough,” she said. “We’ve also requested that the supervisor of the old social worker, Mr. Lorber, be there; we have quite a few questions for her.”
The foster parents caring for the Hendersons’ two youngest children have lodged several complaints against Mrs. Henderson following Sunday visits which she contests. “All of the issues that we’ve had surrounding the “lack of supervision” issue come from them. “They’ll report a mark on the child; they’ll take the child to the doctor; they’ll report it to the abuse line, and we go through the whole process. They’ve done that three times now. So I would like to have them in there as well,” Mrs. Henderson told us.
“The complaints are always from the same people. Because it’s a pattern, I think it needs to be addressed in front of the court,” Mrs. Henderson said, and added that the two women caring for her two youngest children have applied to adopt them and “have completed the adoption study on their end.” The youngest, a six-month-old baby, is not eligible to be adopted yet, but the two-and-a-half-year-old could begin the process “as soon as the court gives the word.”
The Post & Email asked if the foster mothers know that she and her husband wish to reunite with the children, she said, “Yes, they do.” We asked, “Do you speak with them face-to-face?” to which Mrs. Henderson answered, “I do. They have a very different demeanor with me, especially over the past couple of months. They are colder and more distant. They’ve lost any sort of…manners, even.”
Mrs. Henderson said that the foster parents caring for her remaining five children ask for her input when her children are ill or in other stressful situations, but those caring for the two youngest do not.
Mrs. Henderson said that when she and her husband reviewed part of their case file, they discovered a report which described them as “high-risk for future abuse of the children.” She said they then found the most recent evaluation which reported that they had been doing “well” and that they expected to reunite the family before March 3, 2013. “We have the reports, and the same person, Eric Lorber, wrote them,” she said. “The funny thing about the truth is that there has to be some of it in a document. There has to be truth in it. We run into trouble when people start to tell half-truths or lies, or not give information or give information that they’re not supposed to give,” she said. “Pretty-much every court report I’ve read – mine and others as well – is a mixture of all of that. If they wrote down the truth, all of it, then we wouldn’t have such an epidemic of child abuse in this country. If we didn’t have such an epidemic of child abuse, it wouldn’t be such a concern for the central government. It’s job security.”
The Post & Email asked Mrs. Henderson the status of the 42 USC 1983 case she and her husband filed in federal court, to which she responded, “We have to refile it, and we have a year to do that. Jeffrey takes the LSAT on Monday. He’s been preparing for that so that he’ll get a good score and a good stipend. Right after that, we have court. As soon as those things are straightened out, we’ll be working on the lawsuit again. We’ve reduced it to about 65 pages. We’d like to make it better, so we decided to edit it again.”
Update, February 9, 2013: A blog post describing the Hendersons’ current situation is here.