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DCFS ATTORNEY CONTRADICTS PARENTS AND WITNESS
by Sharon Rondeau
(Mar. 12, 2013) — The outcome of a contested hearing on March 8 regarding the current placement of seven children in foster care appears to have been reversed by parties not yet identified. Also reversed is the case plan outlined on March 5, 2013, between the parents, DCFS social worker, and several others to allegedly reunify the family.
Six of the seven children were placed in foster homes after Erica and Jeffrey Henderson were falsely arrested and jailed in May 2011. A seventh child born after they were released and all criminal charges dropped was seized at the age of five weeks on August 31, 2012. The baby and his older brother are being cared for by two women who very much want to adopt them and have petitioned an agency working on their behalf to assist them in adopting the toddler. The baby has not been in foster care long enough to be considered adoptable, although Judge Marguerite Downing has indicated at various times that she will place the elder six children in that category and terminate the parents’ rights.
Jeffrey and Erica Henderson are “confused and disappointed” that visitation has returned to “monitored” after two unmonitored visits went smoothly on Wednesday and Sunday, respectively. Mrs. Henderson has been making preparations to eventually regain custody of the children, with a mystery donor recently sending a new set of china for the family.
One week ago, the parents attended a “TDM” meeting with a DCFS social worker which was attended by an eyewitness for the Hendersons and other agency personnel. The Hendersons were told that “no attorneys” could attend the meeting. Erica told The Post & Email that she took “copious notes” during the meeting. The social worker reportedly told Erica and Jeffrey that visits with their children would be unmonitored going forward and further liberalized if all went well. Jeffrey was specifically told that he could reside with his wife after maintaining separate residences for nearly three years.
Mr. Henderson had contacted the social worker on Monday and Tuesday of this week to obtain clarification on whether or not he was allowed to live with his wife after Judge Downing stated during court that she did not believe that Jeffrey had been instructed to move into the home where his wife is living.
Earlier today, Erica received a message from the social worker indicating that “visits were back to ‘monitored.'” Mrs. Henderson called the worker back and said, “It was confirmed during court that they are unmonitored and that they have permission to liberalize further” and was then told by the social worker, “Well, that’s not the case; that’s not what the judge ordered, so you have to go back to ‘monitored.'” “They said that as soon as I finished setting up the beds, I was going to “overnight,” even possibly this weekend,” Mrs. Henderson told us, which “was discussed in the TDM meeting last Tuesday.”
Without having a copy of the order, Mrs. Henderson said she could not speculate on what occurred between Friday and today. She told The Post & Email that she called her attorney, who told her, “That’s not what happened; that can’t be the case.” The attorney said he was “really busy right now” but that he would “try to deal with it” on Wednesday.
Mrs. Henderson said that the attorneys representing parents do not normally interact with DCFS social workers. “I called him out of sheer frustration,” she said.
Mr. Henderson had advised us last Friday following the hearing that Downing had said “off the record” that if he left the home, Erica would have a better chance of regaining custody of the children. DCFS has told The Post & Email that “reunification” is the agency’s primary, secondary and tertiary goals.
In a letter mailed on Saturday, The Post & Email asked supervising Judge Michael Nash for a copy of the hearing transcript.
Mrs. Henderson explained Downing’s “off-the-record” comment this way:
As we were leaving the courtroom, she made a comment to my attorney that if I wanted to file a “388,” which is “Change of Petition,” I would need to become a “single woman,” or something of that nature. So that’s something that we have to work on. He [Jeffrey] wasn’t at the visit on Sunday. It was confirmed that he and I both had “unmonitored” [visitation], but she didn’t make it clear if we could have the “unmonitored” together. I wanted to be extra careful, so I made sure that he wasn’t here. So it’s a real disappointment.
We were really frustrated at the ruling, and there are a lot of “whys.” There’s so much misinformation that was perpetuated by the judge herself. She even made a statement at one point that my visits had gone from unmonitored to monitored because I had let Jeffrey come to one of my visits, which is totally untrue. My visits went from unmonitored to monitored when they took the baby, and she made that order herself. So it was really frustrating to hear falsehoods come out of her mouth.
Another instance was about my leaving the shelter where I had been for seven months. It was her opinion that I had left because Jeffrey had told me to….so on and on with it. She doesn’t like my husband; that’s for sure. I didn’t know what to think when I got out of there, and our attorneys were telling us, “Look, she has a real big one for your husband. He has excellent reports; he’s consistent, but it’s not enough for her.”
During the hearing, she flat-out said that she did not believe that the department gave us unmonitored visits. While I was on the stand testifying, she asked me the purpose of the TDM, which I didn’t call. When I went in there, the department said its position was “the return of the children to the mother’s home, and that’s what we’re here to discuss: how the department can make that possible.” We had copious notes; it’s all been recorded; we had an eyewitness there. But the judge said she did not believe it, and the attorney for DCFS said, “Oh, no, that was not said at the meeting.” So I was made out to be a liar!
The Post & Email asked, “Was the DCFS attorney at the TDM meeting?” to which Mrs. Henderson responded, “No, they said that no attorneys were allowed to be there.”
“But she is saying that liberalization and reunification were not discussed?”
“Yes, she is saying that that was not what the meeting was for and that I should have never allowed Jeffrey to come home and the department never would have said that. I just sat there in disbelief,” Mrs. Henderson said. “The really interesting part about the TDM meeting is that there was a facilitator, the social worker, the social worker’s supervisor, and then another gentleman there who identified himself as part of the department, and he said that it was his job to attend the meetings, but we can’t find his name or information on any of the paperwork. So I’m thinking that he was maybe some kind of legal representative and they get around it by saying, ‘He wasn’t an attorney.'”
Mrs. Henderson said she is “willing to do whatever it takes” to regain custody of her children. “We’re going to try to get to the bottom of it this week and get it settled. I don’t know what’s going to come of it, but I’ll give it my all,” she said. Mrs. Henderson said that Jeffrey’s visitation must be “reinstated,” so “We’re not even sure there will be a visit tomorrow.”