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CAN VISITATION BE LIBERALIZED?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 18, 2013) — The Post & Email recently interviewed Erica Henderson, the mother of seven children who, with her husband, is seeking to reunite the family after almost two years’ separation. The children have been divided into several foster homes by the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) since May 2011, when the parents were falsely arrested and jailed by the Los Angeles Police Department. All criminal charges were dropped, but the children remained in foster care.
As of a week ago, Wednesday and Sunday visits had been suspended. The monitors for the Wednesday visit were inexplicably unavailable, and a new monitor for the Sunday visits is being sought. The last Sunday visit was on January 13.
Mrs. Henderson reported that she and her husband Jeffrey were able to visit last Wednesday with all of the children for two hours. When we asked if new monitors had been assigned, she responded, “It was the old monitors; they had gone on vacation for a couple of weeks, but that was not explained to us.”
For Sunday visits, a prospective monitor has been preliminarily screened but not approved as of Friday. Mrs. Henderson reported making multiple calls to the social worker, Godwin Milner, but had not received a return call as of late Friday afternoon. “We haven’t heard anything from the monitor, either,” she told us.
Mrs. Henderson has been seeing a therapist weekly, as outlined in the court-ordered case plan, and she reported that the therapist offered to advocate for restoring regular visitation with the children. The therapist called Milner and told Mrs. Henderson that Milner reported that “everything is fine, and everything is being worked out; we’re doing our best…”
“That left me really frustrated, because I know that the background information on the new monitor has come back now, because last time it took 3-4 days. This is the fifth week in a row now. So on Sunday, it will be 14 missed visits that they are supposed to make up.”
The Post & Email asked, “Are missed visits tallied and ordered to be made up at some point?” to which Mrs. Henderson responded, “The judge ordered two months ago that the department make up the missed visits. When I leave messages for the social worker, I say, ‘We want to make up these visits; the court said the department should make them up.” So it’s been very frustrating. I got my hopes up for this week because I thought we would have a visit, but…”
This coming Thursday, a hearing will be held which may determine whether or not the Hendersons’ parental rights will be terminated and the children placed with other families for adoption. In November, such a decision had been expected, but the matter was continued to December and now this week.
Jeffrey is also in counseling to comply with the case plan.
Last week, The Post & Email had communicated to Armand Montiel, Public Affairs Director for DCFS, that visits between the Henderson parents and children had been suspended because of a lack of available monitors. At the same time, we asked him for comment on the incriminating confidential report apparently leaked to The Los Angeles Times regarding alleged negligence on the part of the department for 16 child deaths over an 18-month period.
Mrs. Henderson indicated that the latest DCFS newsletter published online indicated that new software, “Dragon,” a voice-recognition program, is being purchased as well as a phone upgrade to IPhones. “LA’s budget is $19 billion a year, and that’s a lot of money. There has to be a lot of corruption within a bureaucracy that large,” she told us.
Regarding the children’s well-being, Mrs. Henderson reported that “they’re always hungry in foster care” and expounded:
The three eldest are the most vocal about it. For a long time, we were having big issues with their not eating kosher food. We have not held the county to really strict standards; we just said, “Don’t feed them pork and shellfish. Just keep these certain things out of their diet.’ It should be easy to do. If they had allergies, they would have to do it. We couldn’t get them to do that for the longest time, and of course the kids were eating it. My daughter has been feeling really bad about it. I’ve said to her, “You’re a kid; don’t worry about it; let Momma deal with it. Just eat and I’ll try to fix it.”
According to Hebraic law, you’re not considered an adult until a certain age, so technically they’re OK. It’s the parents’ responsibility to train them up according to the Hebrew ways, but they’re not in my care, so what am I going to do? But they were being punished for not eating the meals that were put in front of them. They were saying, “We don’t eat that” and then being told, “Well, if you don’t eat, then you’re not going to get anything, and you can go to bed.” So we dealt with that, and it got better.
The other day, I was talking to the children on the phone, and they had just finished eating dinner. I said, “Oh, what did you have?” and one of them said, “I’m hungry! I want more!” so I said, “Well, go get some more dinner” and he said, “Well, there isn’t any more; they said I can’t have any more.” So I said, “OK, son.” I had to call back for some reason, and when I called back, A. said that they got into trouble. I said, “What for?” and A. said, “I can’t talk about it right now.” So then when we talked again, the children said that the foster parents tell them not to tell us things: “Just don’t tell your parents.” This is a horrible thing to me: that they put that psychological and spiritual burden on those children’s hearts. I don’t care a flying flip about being lied to by stupid foster parents; I expect that. The thing that I don’t like is my babies being caught up in that and feeling torn. That’s unnatural and not right. I was really mad about that.
The Post & Email asked, “Did you call the social worker about it?” to which she responded:
Again, I’ve called him half a dozen times, and it’s one of the things I would talk to him about if I could. We did bring the issue up when we met with him when he asked about our concerns for our kids, and we said, “We still have concerns about their diet. I gave them all their tzitzits (with the fringes) and their kippah, which is the little hat, but I asked that they bring them back to me so I can wash them, because you can’t machine-wash them; they’ll be ruined. You have to hand-wash them. But they stopped bringing them and they stopped wearing them. They said, “We’re not allowed to wear them.” We dealt with this before, but I guess the kids haven’t said anything because A. doesn’t want to get in trouble with the foster mom because she doesn’t want me to feel bad. I told her, “Don’t worry about it. You can tell me anything and I’ll never feel bad. I don’t care; you can tell me anything in the world and I won’t be upset.” So that made them feel better, I hope. Those are some of the things we’ve been dealing with all along.
The Hendersons have previously told The Post & Email that the children’s Jewish garments were confiscated as a form of punishment.
When one of the monitors for our Wednesday visit heard about the clothing, she was very upset. W. was talking to his poppa. I didn’t know the monitor was upset because she didn’t say anything. However, when she came back in from getting the kids in the cars after the visit, she said, “He will wear his kippah now,” and we said, “What?” She said, ” I told that foster woman, I told her…they have to wear that, and why isn’t he wearing it?” and the foster mother told her, “They’re not allowed to at school,” and the monitor said, “…And I told her that’s not right. Any school is going to let any child wear a kippah; that’s not right.” So the foster mother said, “OK.” Then she said, “I just didn’t want him to lose them,” and we said, “Look, we have a hundred of those things. They’re not fancy, and they don’t cost much.” So that helped.
The monitors are great; I have a great therapist; I have people in my corner. It’s not even so much getting the social worker to talk to them; it’s the court; it’s how the judge sees the whole thing. That’s the really hard part.
“I imagine the judge can’t know about all of these interactions.”
She doesn’t know, but I have to have an attorney who is willing to make it known. That’s why we were so adamant about being vocal in court, because who is going to say these things? Certainly not these attorneys.
“When you’ve tried to say something, the judge has thrown you out.”
She has told us, “Look, you can’t talk; this is a special kind of courtroom and you don’t have any rights here. You can’t talk. You don’t have the right to an attorney or not; you don’t have the right to represent yourself. Any court of law that tells you that due process is a “flexible concept” is not a constitutional court.
The Hendersons’ social worker had told the parents that after 2-3 weeks of smooth visits, he would move to “liberalize” visitation. After having just reached that point, the monitors for Wednesday were not available. “They had gone out of town but we didn’t hear about it. We hear second- or third-hand and were told, ‘You don’t get your visit,'” Mrs. Henderson said.
Regarding her expectations of Thursday’s hearing, Mrs. Henderson stated:
I’m hoping that the judge doesn’t terminate services, that she keeps it going and liberalizes our visitation herself. I can ask my attorney to request that; whether or not he will, I don’t know. If he doesn’t, I certainly can ask myself, which doesn’t go over very well. We’re planning on testifying and talking about the changes we’ve made as parents through this whole experience. We’re thinking about talking about the idea that we have changed and grown in this past year-and-a-half as parents and as people. We really love our kids and we’re willing to do whatever they want us to do to put our family back together.
I can’t say that we did anything wrong, but that’s not saying that I’m not willing to grow and that I haven’t made mistakes. Those are the types of things that we’re going to try to talk about.
“We can always grow as parents and grandparents.”
My sentiments are very sincere. What we have been wanting to avoid is telling an untruth in any way, in any direction. We’ve been pretty rigid about it, and it hasn’t worked out too well.
Thursday’s hearing is open to the public, although seating is limited. “I think it’s really neat to be able fill up the two little benches they have in there,” Mrs. Henderson said. “The people are watching, and that’s an important part of what is going on.”
The Hendersons are optimistic about the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) which Jeffrey completed last week. Mrs. Henderson said she believes the results will be available in early March.
The Post & Email asked, “Is it possible that on Thursday, the judge could say to you, ‘It’s been recommended to me that the children be returned to you’ even if it’s on a trial basis?”
Well, Sharon, I believe in God, so yes. All things are possible! It’s possible, but it’s not probable. I’m hoping that I can really get her to address the visitation issue. Leaving the monitor out of the whole situation is a really easy way to do it.
“You were unmonitored before.”
I sure was. I didn’t do anything to lose the lack of supervision; it was sort-of a punitive action by the judge. What she had said in court was that the accusations were that I was uncooperative, and the social worker at the time said he didn’t feel that I would cooperate with their coming to the house if my visits were unmonitored. So she said that as a precaution, she was going to order monitoring, which is ridiculous, because they’ve always come in at the visits. Once you have a case with them, they can come in at any time. But with the baby, there was no case. Because I had a baby doesn’t mean that you can come into my house at any time, because I didn’t have a case.
“Were they correct when they said because you had an open case, the baby was included in it?”
No. That’s not in policy; it’s not in case law. The opposite is true. Having a case with other children does not set a precedent for a case with another child; that’s in the book. We’ve pointed that out, but nobody listened.
Mrs. Henderson said that she is hopeful about being able to remain in the home where she has been staying, even though her housemate is moving shortly to the East Coast. She must raise money to pay the first month’s living expenses and is expecting to start a job in March. “We’re going to do an online fundraiser,” she told us. Out of an abundance of caution so as not to defy the court, Jeffrey is still residing elsewhere. “Until I get an all-clear from the court, I’m not going to make any changes,” Mrs. Henderson said.
The hearing will take place at the Edmund C. Edelman Children’s Court, 201 Centre Plaza Dr., Monterey Park, CA 91754. Parking is $5.00 for the day.
Update, February 19, 2013: The following comment from Jeffrey Henderson was posted on the Facebook support page for the Hendersons:
today is tuesday. tomorrow is visit with the babies day. thursday is court day. I ask the children of G-d to pray that His will is done in our life.