[Nfbmo] Setting the record straight about Baby Mikaela and herparents

Susan Ford johnsusanford at earthlink.net
Sun Jul 25 11:38:41 UTC 2010


You have done a tremendous job of stating the NFB position on this position. 
As a member of the state Board I support the position you have reiterated 
and what we still must do about it.  What was done is nothing less than a 
threat to every blind couple who has or plans to have children or to adopt 
them.  We must insist that our civil rights are not violated.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Gary Wunder" <gwunder at earthlink.net>
To: "'NFB Chapter Presidents discussion list'" 
<chapter-presidents at nfbnet.org>; "nfbmo list" <nfbmo at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Saturday, July 24, 2010 9:29 PM
Subject: [Nfbmo] Setting the record straight about Baby Mikaela and 

> Hello folks. I've been off the list for a couple of days, and I have to 
> tell
> you that I'm somewhat disheartened by some of the messages. It's almost 
> like
> the facts have gotten lost here. Let me see if I can put some of them 
> down.
> When Erika first attempted to feed her baby, she was not given instruction
> as to how to do it. She was the one who reported a problem, and that 
> problem
> was resolved simply by repositioning the baby and showing Erika how to
> ensure that the baby's nose was free for breathing. The hospital records 
> do
> not reflect anything to indicate there was a code blue or that anyone
> besides the nurse had to become involved in the incident.
> Now we come to what happened afterward. You can certainly make the 
> argument
> that the nurse, if there was any kind of question, thought of herself as a
> mandated reporter and took the safe road by calling the Children's 
> Services
> Division. For me the biggest problem is what happened after the Children's
> Services Division became involved. Erika reports that she was asked how 
> she
> would bathe her baby, diaper it, know where it was, and take its
> temperature. These questions she answered. That should have been 
> sufficient.
> When we heard about this incident, we started by contacting Rehabilitation
> Services for the Blind, which, like the Children's Services Division, is a
> part of the Missouri Department of Social Services. They were certainly
> upset by the situation, offered services,  but told the judge they were in 
> a
> difficult position because, while they had offered their services to 
> educate
> The Children's Services Division about issues of blindness, they were in 
> no
> position to see that their offer was accepted.
> We contacted the Children's Services Division both through in formal
> channels and through legal counsel. They were not interested in learning
> about blindness. They were not interested in talking with us.
> When we were involved in what was the second hearing regarding this case,
> the judge (actually she is called a commissioner) was quite concerned 
> about
> the actions of the agency and let it be known. She observed that this most
> certainly was not the first blind couple to raise a child, and that she
> would be very surprised if the hospital in question had not seen blind
> parents before. She indicated that while she was on vacation, an attempt
> should be made to increase the number of visits which Blake and Eric got
> with Mikaela, that some of those visits should be unsupervised, and that
> there should be some overnight visits in the mix. This did not find its 
> way
> into her written decision, however, and with the exception of one
> unsupervised visit, which took place on the Friday before Mikaela was
> returned, I know of only one unsupervised visit in the fifty-seven days in
> which Erika and Blake were prevented from caring for their child. There 
> were
> no overnight visits, unsupervised or otherwise.
> Some have observed here that the Children's Services Division actually did
> the right thing by coming to its senses. May I politely respond hogwash! 
> The
> Children's Services Division started negotiations on the day before the
> evidentiary hearing was to take place. They delivered Mikaela to her home 
> at
> 9 AM, produced papers for our lawyer at 11 AM, and all to avoid the 
> hearing
> which was scheduled for 3 PM. They did not benevolently relent. They 
> waited
> as long as they possibly could before having to defend their actions with
> Blake, Erika, and the national Federation of the blind being represented 
> by
> counsel.
> There has been a lot of discussion about whether the actions we are now
> going to take are vengeful or punitive. The religions which many of us 
> share
> give us no right to be vengeful. Let me ask you to consider whether we
> should let Blake and Erika's case rest now that they have custody of their
> child, or whether we should use it, as we have used so many others in the
> past, to establish some meaningful precedent. I, for one, am not satisfied
> to let the prevailing legal wisdom be that you can take a child from blind
> parents and, if you decide you've made a mistake after 57 days, can return
> them with no consequences. I respect the work that children's services
> workers do. I want children protected from abuse. I want children removed
> from homes where drug use makes the parents irresponsible. I want children
> removed from homes where they are clearly neglected. I do not wish to make
> the lives of hard-working public servants more difficult than they already
> are. Nevertheless, I don't think those of us in the National Federation of
> the Blind should be happy or comfortable with settling for anything less
> than a systemic change. What was done was against the law. The Federal
> Office for Civil Rights is extremely interested in the case. There are at
> least three motions we are prepared to file in the court system where the
> legal and constitutional rights of blind people have been violated.
> One of the most troubling experiences I had at the national convention 
> this
> year was talking with young people who almost begged me to convince them
> they were hearing it wrong. Some came to talk with me and started our
> conversation by asking whether this was some urban legend which had gotten
> started on the Internet with which my name had been associated. I had to
> tell them that it was no urban legend and that its association with my 
> name
> was no accident. Others came to ask me whether this was a past event which
> somehow had resurfaced. What they wanted to know was how long ago this had
> happened. No matter the questions with which they came, all of them left
> badly shaken. Many remarked that they were newly engaged and were planning
> to have children. Others reported being newly married and that a child was
> on the way. All of them were concerned, because they thought all of these
> issues about child custody and blindness had long since been resolved by 
> the
> National Federation of the Blind.
> Sometimes government bashing takes second place only to the World Series 
> and
> the Super Bowl in terms of a public past time, and I don't want to be a 
> part
> of that. What I do want to see the Federation be a part of is exposing 
> this
> behavior for exactly what it is, and for saying to everyone who has ears,
> whether they work in a social service agency, a hospital, a newspaper, or 
> in
> some small factory down the road, that blindness is no reason to take a
> child from its parents. Should we educate? Of course we should, and no 
> doubt
> one of the things we will be asking that the court address is education 
> for
> the entities that are the targets of our actions.
> I understand, as do we all, that blindness is a terribly misunderstood
> disability, and whenever I can, I try to be compassionate about the way I
> address the issue. Even so, there is a difference between being
> compassionate and understanding about people who are ignorant when it 
> comes
> to what we need and what we can do, and concluding that because there is
> widespread misunderstanding, we really have no right to complain or do
> anything about it. I think we have to make a firm statement. That firm
> statement has to be "You will not take our children. If you do, there will
> be consequences and they will be severe. If you will let us teach you
> through our public outreach and our seminars, will be glad to have you, 
> but
> if you make us, we will teach you in the commissions and courts charged 
> with
> defending the civil rights of America's citizens."
> As a final note, let me suggest that Missouri happens to be the state
> receiving attention now, but Missouri is no different from many other 
> states
> when it comes to their knowledge of blind people and the speed with which
> they address issues such as this. One person several weeks ago wrote to
> inquire in what small backward town this took place, only to learn the 
> small
> town was not a small town at all but Kansas City. Geography offers us 
> little
> protection. We must all be vigilant and guard against the idea that this
> could never happen to us because we live in a more progressive community.
> Gary
> P.S. We have some reason to believe this will receive national coverage on
> CBS on Monday morning.
> GW
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