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SIX CHILDREN TO BE ADOPTED DESPITE MOTHER’S STRUGGLE TO REGAIN CUSTODY AT ALL COSTS
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 9, 2014) — For nearly two years, The Post & Email has followed the story of the Henderson children, who were taken from their parents’ custody in May 2011, sent to three different foster homes, and are now scheduled to be adopted.
Parents Jeffrey and Erica Henderson were falsely jailed, after which the children were taken into the custody of the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Although exonerated of all criminal charges, the children were not returned to them and are now experiencing a variety of physical and emotional problems.
The family’s troubles began when a neighbor with whom the Henderson parents had had a disagreement called in a false report that Jeffrey had abused his daughter. Following that, the Pasadena Police Department went to their home and demanded access to the home and the children without a warrant. When Jeffrey and Erica refused them entry unless they procured a warrant, the police returned with a battering ram, broke down the door of their rented house, then forced the children to remove their clothing for inspection, terrifying them.
No signs of physical abuse were noted by the police.
In a saga which culminated in dozens of court hearings, constitutional violations, obfuscation on the part of the juvenile court, and ultimately the parents’ separation and now-impending divorce, the children are noted by DCFS social workers to be emotionally unstable and unhappy. Several have had medical issues which might themselves, if the roles were reversed, be grounds for an investigation of abuse or neglect.
Both parents attended every court hearing of which they were made aware, court-ordered parenting classes and counseling, and eagerly anticipated all visits with their children, some of which they discovered had been canceled without notice after they arrived for visitation. There were numerous hearings held without their knowledge, and early on, two “mothers” made it clear that they wished to adopt the then-youngest Henderson boy.
Several false allegations were made against Erica by the foster mothers following supervised visits with the apparent intent of casting her in a negative light, furthering the cause of adoption, for which generous federal funds are available to all states.
Five of the children were placed in a home which spoke only Spanish, although the Hendersons are English-speaking. At the time, Erica had told The Post & Email, “My children are learning Spanish rapidly.”
In one home, the children were disciplined by the foster parents’ absconding of their Jewish shawls, or tzitzits, which have great religious significance to Orthodox Jews.
In an interview with the public affairs director for DCFS, The Post & Email was told that “reunification” is the agency’s “primary goal” as long as the child’s safety was ascertained first. Dozens of children known to DCFS have died either in foster care or when reunited with high-risk parents as reported in a a study published by The Los Angeles Times.
Many children placed in foster care become runaways or victims to cruel and unfit foster parents. After the May 2013 death of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, whose case had been known to Los Angeles DCFS social workers and whose abuse had been reported multiple times, a “Blue Ribbon Commission” was established to determine ways to reform the agency.
Gabriel had lived with his grandparents until he was returned to his mother and her boyfriend, allegedly without a court order. Within five months, Gabriel was tortured and beaten and died of his injuries. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the grandparents against the child welfare agency.
Of the circumstances of Gabriel’s horrendous death, DCFS Director Philip Browning told the media “It keeps me up at night.”
Gabriel’s mother and her boyfriend were charged with capital murder.
After approximately six months during which Erica Henderson chose not to speak to the press in the event that it would jeopardize her chances of reuniting with her children, she informed The Post & Email last week that the Department has ceased all reunification services and is now in the process of reducing her visitation as the adoption process of her six elder children moves forward.
After the six children were taken, Erica gave birth to two more children successively, both of whom were taken into custody by the department as infants while Mrs. Henderson was breastfeeding.
Last week, Erica told The Post & Email that a juvenile court judge “ordered” her to divorce Jeffrey, but despite having filed the necessary paperwork, the children’s adoptions are still in process.
Jeffrey left the West Coast in early January to attend law school and has successfully completed his first semester. Having worked as a website builder prior to the state’s absconding of his children, Jeffrey told us that he had never considered becoming an attorney but felt compelled to follow that path so that he could identify ways to prevent the same fate for other families with loving parents.
“They’ve destroyed my whole family,” Jeffrey told us in an interview in December.
In a May 5, 2014, a document identified as a “388” was filed by a social worker for the children, who asked that Erica’s visitation be reduced and eliminated completely for one child. Erica had been unaware of the filing, which followed the termination of “reunification services.” “That means that the department no longer has to help me; they only have to provide permanency planning for the children,” Mrs. Henderson said.
In March 2013, reunification of the family appeared promising after the children spent two long overnight weekends successfully with their mother during the Jewish holidays. However, unexpected disaster struck shortly thereafter.
“It basically works on a time clock. They changed the laws so that you’re working against the clock, and it’s 18 months. After 12 months, they can terminate reunification services, which is what they did for me. We had made substantial progress, and the department was recommending return about a year ago. Then we had some issues with some accusations and the department filing a 388 then, and everything just fell to pieces after that,” Mrs. Henderson said.
When we asked what had interfered with the family’s reunification, Mrs. Henderson told us:
There were two or three issues that happened all at once. There was a group that came together which posted that they were making it a personal goal to make sure that I would never have my children again, and they were actively participating in letters and emails to the department, even though I’ve never met those people. Most of them live in other states. There was an active campaign for a while. They had sent some letters that the children’s father was “dangerous” and that he was a gun user and probably would kill people and that that made him a great danger to his children.
Erica said that Jeffrey has no record of illegal gun possession or violence with firearms, but the “gun” complaint appears in the 388. She continued:
It really took a downturn after that. I gave birth to a baby girl last August. She’s ten months now. She’s beautiful. I had her, and then when she was about five or six weeks old, a TDM meeting was called – that’s short for “Team Decision-Making” – and I went with my daughter and had three friends go with me. During that meeting, they said that they wanted to remove the child from my care because I might have contact with the father. I told them that I hadn’t had contact with the father since before she was born and that I would continue not to have contact with him. They said, “Well, we don’t feel that that’s enough of a safety protection.” We talked about my changing the locks at the house, those sorts of preventive measures, and they said, “That’s not enough for us; we want you to be in a protective environment.” So they said I would have to enter a domestic violence shelter for women and children, and I said, “OK, fine, I’ll go home and pack up my things and get into one tomorrow,” but they said, “No, you have to go from here to the shelter or we’ll take your baby.” I said, “Fine, I’ll do that.” I sat with my friends in the office; it took us about two or three hours to finally get into one. My friends drove me to a pickup point and I went directly into the shelter with my baby.
I was there maybe a week and a half to two weeks, and at that time, they came and removed her from my care anyway.
“Did they have proper paperwork?” The Post & Email asked.
They had a warrant, which, of course, they carefully reviewed. It was signed by a judge at the Children’s Court. It was a warrant for removal. The only reason it stated – I don’t have it in front me, but I remember it pretty well; I’ve looked at it many times – it said that “Mother could not provide a safe environment for child.”
“And that was supposedly because you might have contact with your husband because there were allegations that he might have a gun?”
Yes. They removed the child. I went to court. I almost half-expected the judge to return her to me immediately because they were saying, “Mother could not provide a safe environment,” but yet I had been in a shelter for two weeks. So I thought, “That will just cancel that out; the judge will see that I’m in a shelter and she’ll give the baby back.” But she did not do that. We contested it and went from there, but they still have not returned her.
I spent four months in a domestic violence shelter even after they removed my daughter. I stayed because I wanted to show the courts that I was very serious about having my daughter returned to me. During that time, I was able to pump for her, and she had a diet completely of breast milk until she was seven months old.
Initially the judge ordered me to have visitation every day with my daughter, which everybody told me is unheard-of. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the judge certainly did order it. We were really having issues with the caregivers and the department providing me with that visitation, so I was only getting about four days a week visitation. It was ordered daily, even weekends, and the department filed a 388 which said to the judge, “It’s impossible for us to keep up with daily visitation; we want to make it three days a week.” In the order, they also asked that I not be able to give breast milk to my daughter because they said that it was “unsafe.”
I went to court on that, and the judge did reduce my visitation to nine hours a week, three times three, but she told the Department that it was ridiculous – that I would be allowed to continue to give my daughter pumped milk, which was really great. But what ended up happening was that when they reduced my visitation time, my milk slowly started drying up, and by six or seven months, it was almost completely gone. But I was able to provide it for that long, and that brought me some peace.
So she is a happy, healthy baby; she’s already walking and talking. I miss her very much, but I still continue to do everything that I can.
At this point I have a termination hearing on July 9 for my older six children. It’s a “2-6” hearing, or termination of parental rights. It’s very serious. What’s going to happen is that I’m going to contest, which means to set it for trial. So I’ll go and it’ll be postponed. I don’t know if the judge will also continue the 388 or hear it that day. So I’ve been starting to prepare for that hearing, going through the document line by line.
When I saw my son Elijah Tuesday last, he was telling me that his back was itching and hurting. I pulled up his shirt, took pictures, and I found the worst warts and open sores. I was shocked, and I couldn’t believe it. I asked the monitor who was monitoring the visit, “What is this?” and she said, “It’s genital warts.” I was so upset…I didn’t know what to say. I said, “How does a four-year-old child have genital warts on his back?”
“Was the monitor upset?” we asked.
She said, “Well, it’s herpes. He has herpes,” and I said, “How does he have herpes? Did he go to the doctor? What did the doctor say? How is it being treated?” and she had no answers for me. She told me that he probably got it because of my stance on not vaccinating my children. But even if I did vaccinate them, there isn’t one for herpes.
“Elijah’s caregiver reports there is an outbreak of measles where he lives. The caregiver is requesting the Measles shot for Elijah,” the 388 reads. Because the Henderson family lives in southern California, they could be in close proximity to illegal aliens who the Obama regime has “dropped off” in various communities and could be carrying contagious diseases.
Over a decade ago, writer Frosty Wooldridge reported that contagious diseases were being spread by the arrival of approximately 800,000 illegal aliens each year. According to an ABC News affiliate in McAllen, TX, where a majority of a flood of illegal aliens is crossing the border, “U.S. Border Patrol agents are worried that what’s coming over into the U.S. could harm everyone…Agents are worrying about a viral outbreak…agents are seeing illegal immigrants come over with contagious infections.”
An alert from the National Border Patrol Council dated July 4, 2014 states that at least one Border Patrol agent has been diagnosed with scabies after treating illegal aliens who were allowed to cross the border.
She said that they weren’t really willing to give me any more information anyway because they believed Elijah was going to be adopted and they weren’t really concerned with providing me accurate information anymore. One of the things that they are asking for in this 388 is that Elijah be vaccinated for measles. That’s one of the requests. They’re also going to try to completely stop my visitation with him. It says that “Elijah has verbally told DCFS that he does not want to visit his parents, but would rather attend school. Elijah is forced to visit weekly even though he has refused numerous times and has an emotional visit before each visit.” And they said something about his ability to be adopted.
“Does he look unhappy to see you when he comes for a visit?”
No, he does not. I think Elijah’s going through a lot, and he’s not the same kid he was a year ago. The interesting part about the whole thing is that when we’re done with a visit, he doesn’t want to leave. Even still, when I put him in the car, he cries.
One of the statements of the social worker in the 388 form is that “The boys are matched to pre-adoptive placement homes and are having difficulty stabalizing [sic] their emotions/behaviors due to the twice a week visits. The boys are likely to be at risk of losing these placements, if they are unable to stabilize their emotional states.”
After they removed my baby daughter, I took another parenting class which I believe is my fifth one. I took another course and received another certificate for a 13-week class for children with special needs. I spoke with the instructor, who said that she believes that kids in foster care do have special needs, and I agree. I’ve also continued my therapy, so I’m in complete compliance with the court orders.
“Why do you think the department decided to terminate parental rights? Was it a question of ‘running out the clock’ factor and the allegation about the gun?”
Yes, that’s how I feel about it. There’s no way of really knowing. That’s pretty-much what happened. In April and May of last year, we had overnights…It was just a real shock when that happened…It was very hard for me to deal with, but I did. They changed departments, so we have a completely new judge. At first I thought that was going to be a really great thing, because we had a lot of issues with the prior judge. Our attorneys told us that it would be a good move, that we’d have a fresh start. But now what seems to be happening is that the department will throw in stuff that didn’t happen but they say happened, and the judge really has no idea. That’s been a new difficulty, plus the gun thing. They said, “Well, yeah, they had overnight visitations, but then the father threatened to kill a bunch of people.”
“Did they check to see if there was a police report?”
My attorney will object and say, “Look, we had a hearing almost a year later on that 388 and it was unsubstantiated,” but the judge isn’t hearing that. That makes it difficult. The other thing is that the same judge has ordered me to get a divorce, which up until that point was more of a suggestion. During the TDM meeting, they said, “If you don’t file for divorce, we’ll take your daughter,” so I agreed. I actually filed already.
I want everybody to understand how important my children are to me, and that I will do anything short of death to make sure that I am in complete compliance. I thought at first that it might make a difference, because up until one point I had been more vocal about the department’s feelings and the court’s feelings. It was suggested to me by some people that maybe that was why I was having such difficulties. But I haven’t found it to be any different in the past year since I changed my approach. There’s no change. But it’s neither here nor there; I will still continue on this current path.
Another thing is that the 388 requests the judge to reduce my elder daughter’s visits reduced to one four-hour visit once a month instead of 16, and on another page of the document it says that she agrees. She is currently with a relative, and I spoke to both the relative and my daughter, and they said not only is it not true, but they’ve told the department the opposite: that my daughter wants more time with her mom. So the relative is going to write a letter – I don’t know if it’ll be read or not – nonetheless stating the inaccuracy of that.
“Why would a social worker supposedly working on behalf of the child lie in an official document?”
The hard part about this thing is even if you take a microscope and closely examine families’ lives, of course you’re going to find some things that somebody wouldn’t agree with, but you’re also going to find a lot of things that make them a pretty normal family. I think that what happens is when they’re held to the scrutiny and test of the law, they have to lie. Otherwise, you’re not going to find a bunch of abused and neglected children. So it’s almost part of their job description, and I think that’s part of what they’re trained to do.
“Would you say that the goal is to keep the children in the system and eventually adopt them out to other people?
“Why do you think that’s what they’re trying to do?”
Obviously, there’s a huge monetary incentive. A lot of government bureaucracies have to continue to make themselves business so that they can keep their department alive. I certainly see a case here, especially when the federal government in other areas has said, “We’re going to put restrictions on large block grants of money.” They don’t do that in the case of children, because everybody wants to protect children. Los Angeles County gets $20 billion a year, carte blanche. So they have to protect that funding by making sure that they have well-documented cases of child abuse and neglect in Los Angeles.
I think there are other reasons, too. I went back to school last semester as a Political Science major. One of the classes I took was “International Relations,” and we studied the United Nations exclusively. One of their agendas is population control. They feel that there is a real threat to the world and that people are having way too many babies and that that needs to be stopped. I think there’s definitely an idea that you should have only a couple of kids, and I think there are people who haven’t been blessed as much as I have with such beautiful children and that there’s a lot of reappropriation that goes on there.
Regarding the visits with her children, Mrs. Henderson told us, “For the most part, sometimes when I get them, they’re hungry or they’re tired, and there’s an adjustment there. Most of the time, we have really beautiful visits, and it’s hard for us on both sides to say goodbye to each other. Recently I’ve started having more difficulties with my four middle boys, because they are being transitioned into adoptive homes – actually, they already have been – so what they’re telling the kids is, “You’re already adopted, and you’re not going to be able to see your mom again, and your mom’s a bad mom. They don’t understand that, because they’re kids; all they hear is that they’re not going to see their mom anymore and that their mom’s bad. It’s hard for them, and they’re just kids who have been through a lot, and they just want their family back. So they get very angry with me about why they can’t come home right now, and I’ll say, “Because the court says this or that…” and they say, “Well, I don’t care,” and I’ve had quite a few major tantrums with that. I have to soothe them as best as I can and hold them and love them, tell them I love them and God loves them…That’s really all I can do.”
“Who is telling the children that you’re a bad mom: the social worker or the adoptive parents?”
It’s the social workers. It’s part of their agenda right now because they’re planning for permanency and they can’t tell the adoptive parents, “Oh, yeah, these are pretty decent people…” They have to have a story to go with it. It’s hard on my children. I’m a big woman and I’ve been through quite a bit, and I’ve got a strong foundation, but the little ones – they don’t understand…
“And you’ve never been accused of neglect or abuse, have you?”
I’ve been accused of what’s called ‘failure to protect,’ which is actually both abuse and neglect, according to the department.
“Would you agree with that accusation?”
No. With my last two children, the allegations are “emotional abuse,” which is caused, according to the department, by my continued contact with the father up until about a year ago. Even though that doesn’t exist anymore and it didn’t exist in the case of my youngest, they’re still using that. That’s what I’m accused of, Sharon: emotionally abusing my children.
“You’re probably heard of the case of Justina Pelletier.”
I have; I’ve been following it carefully, and I was very pleased to see recently that she was returned to her parents.
“She lives in my home town of West Hartford, CT, and I covered the case, although I never got to speak to the parents directly. Mike Huckabee covered her case extensively. I tried to get your story to Huckabee and others, including Liberty Counsel, and I’ll continue to do so. There was a lie circulated that Connecticut DCF had a file open on Justina’s parents, which they apparently never did.”
The issue legally is not whether or not parents abuse or neglect their children; the issue is: what standards do we use to basically convict parents, although they say it’s not a “conviction.” What standards do we use to measure parents in the courts? As it stands right now in the entire country and every state, all that needs to be done is to issue a negative report from an agency like DCFS. That’s all that it takes. So what that means is that people can say whatever they want, and the court uses that as fact. It’s not that there aren’t kids who are abused and neglected, and there shouldn’t be. But I am a firm believer that this should be a criminal process; this should be in the criminal courts. Put me in front of a jury; let’s look at the evidence and the facts before we do this to parents.
Editor’s Note: When The Post & Email contacted Liberty Counsel about the Henderson case, its media contact told us that in the aftermath of Liberty Counsel’s involvement in reuniting Justina Pelletier with her parents, the non-profit organization had been “bombarded” with calls from parents across the country whose children had been unjustly taken away by child protective services. “It’s become a national epidemic,” she told us.