[Nfbmo] Fw: [Missouri-l] Infant is returned to blind couple after state placesher in protective custody
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Wed Jul 21 12:57:05 UTC 2010
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From: Chip Hailey
To: MCB Listserve
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 7:47 AM
Subject: [Missouri-l] Infant is returned to blind couple after state placesher in protective custody
Posted on Wed, Jul. 21, 2010 12:15 AM
Infant is returned to blind couple after state places her in protective custody
By LEE HILL KAVANAUGH
The Kansas City Star
Fifty-seven days after she was born, Mikaela Sinnett was home for the first time Tuesday with her parents, Erika Johnson and Blake Sinnett of Independence. State officials had worried they were unable to care for her.
DAVID EULITT | The Kansas City Sta
Fifty-seven days after she was born, Mikaela Sinnett was home for the first time
Tuesday with her parents, Erika Johnson and Blake Sinnett of Independence. State
officials had worried they were unable to care for her.
A folding cane used by Blake Sinnett rested in the baby carrier used to carry home his daughter.
On Tuesday, Blake Sinnett, guided by his mother, Jenne Sinnett, carried his 2-month-old daughter, Mikaela Sinnett. Behind them was Mikaela's mother, Erika Johnson.
Erika Johnson will never be able to see her baby, Mikaela.
But for 57 days she couldn't keep her newborn close, smell her baby's breath, feel
her downy hair.
The state took away her 2-day-old infant into protective custody - because Johnson
and Mikaela's father are both blind.
No allegations of abuse, just a fear that the new parents would be unable to care
for the child.
On Tuesday, Johnson still couldn't stop crying, although Mikaela was back in her
"We never got the chance to be parents," she said. "We had to prove that we could."
Tuesday, she and Blake Sinnett knew their baby was finally coming home to their Independence
apartment, but an adjudication hearing was scheduled for the afternoon on whether
the state would stay involved in the rearing of the baby. Then from a morning phone
call to their attorney, they learned that the state was dismissing their case.
"Every minute that has passed that this family wasn't together is a tragedy. A legal
tragedy and a moral one, too," said Amy Coopman, their attorney. "How do you get
57 days back?"
Arleasha Mays, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Social Services, said
privacy laws prohibited her from speaking about specific cases. But she added, "The
only time we recommend a child be removed is if it's in imminent danger."
Johnson said she knew the system eventually would realize its horrible mistake, but
she often was consumed with sadness. Sinnett tried his best to keep Johnson hopeful.
For almost two months she and Sinnett could visit their baby only two or three times
a week, for just an hour at a time, with a foster parent monitoring.
"I'm a forgiving person," Johnson said, but she's resentful that people assumed she
"Disability does not equal inability," she said.
Representatives of the sightless community agreed that people were well-meaning but
blinded by ignorance.
Mikaela was born May 21 at Centerpoint Medical Center of Independence. The doctors
let Sinnett "see" her birth by feeling the crowning of her head.
For Johnson, hearing Mikaela's whimpers was a thrill. The little human inside her
all these months, the one who hiccupped and burped, who kicked and moved, especially
at night, was now a real person whom she loved more than anything else she'd ever
In her overnight bag was Mikaela's special homecoming outfit, a green romper from
Johnson's mother, with matching bottoms and a baby bow.
Questions arose within hours of Mikaela's birth, after Johnson's clumsy first attempts
at breast-feeding - something many new mothers experience.
A lactation nurse noticed that Mikaela's nostrils were covered by Johnson's breast.
Johnson felt that something was wrong and switched her baby to her other side, but
not before Mikaela turned blue.
That's when the concerned nurse wrote on a chart: "The child is without proper custody,
support or care due to both of parents being blind and they do not have specialized
training to assist them."
Her words set into motion the state mechanisms intended to protect children from
physical or sexual abuse, unsanitary conditions, neglect or absence of basic needs
Centerpoint said it could not comment because of patient privacy laws, but spokeswoman
Gene Hallinan said, "We put the welfare of our patients as our top priority."
A social worker from the state came by Johnson's hospital room and asked her questions:
How could she take her baby's temperature? Johnson answered: with our talking thermometer.
How will you take her to a doctor if she gets sick? Johnson's reply: If it were an
emergency, they'd call an ambulance. For a regular doctor's appointment, they'd call
a cab or ride a bus.
But it wasn't enough for the social worker, who told Johnson she would need 24-hour
care by a sighted person at their apartment.
Johnson said they couldn't afford it, didn't need it.
"I needed help as a new parent, but not as a blind parent," Johnson said.
She recalled the social worker saying: " 'Look, because you guys are blind, I don't
feel like you can adequately take care of her.' And she left."
The day of Johnson's discharge, another social worker delivered the news to the couple
that Mikaela was not going home with them. The parents returned the next day to visit
Mikaela before she left the hospital, but they were barred from holding her.
"All we could do was touch her arm or leg," Johnson said.
The couple began making calls. Gary Wunder, president of the National Federation
of the Blind of Missouri, had trouble believing it at first.
"I needed to verify their whole story," he recalled. "We had to do due diligence.
. I found the couple to be intelligent and responsible.
"We knew this was an outrage that had taken place."
He notified Kansas City chapter president Shelia Wright, who visited the 24-year-olds.
Hearing about the empty crib, the baby clothes, Wright recalled, "I felt as helpless
as I've ever felt in my life.
"I hurt so bad for them. This is unforgivable."
They rallied other associations for the blind nationwide. More than 100 people at
a national convention in Dallas volunteered to travel to Kansas City to protest and
testify, both as blind parents and as the sighted children of blind parents. (Mikaela
has normal sight.)
They also hired Coopman, who watched the young couple with their baby girl on Tuesday.
"I'm sorry," she said, wiping tears. "But this should not have happened."
Johnson kept a journal that Coopman is keeping closed for now. She indicates that
legal action will be taken.
"Whether a couple is visually impaired or deaf or in a wheelchair, the state should
not keep them from their children," she said.
Now breast-feeding is a lost option. And the beautiful newborn clothes hanging in
the closet went unworn, because their baby was growing bigger in the arms of someone
The couple said they had tried to prove themselves to the sighted community since
their early years. Sinnett rode his bicycle on the street with the help of a safety
gadget. Johnson graduated from high school with honors. But all the challenges they've
endured over the years shrink compared to the responsibility of caring for 10 pounds
of squirming baby girl.
Johnson cuddled Mikaela. Gave her a bottle. Patted her back until she burped. Mikaela
gave a tiny smile.
In their 24 years, the couple said, they've both endured prejudice from others. They
don't want any other blind parent to suffer the same obstacle they did.
Fifty-seven days are too precious to lose.
The Star's Laura Bauer contributed to this report. To reach Lee Hill Kavanaugh, call
816-234-4420 or send e-mail to
lkavanaugh at kcstar.com
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