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

James Moynihan jamesmoynihan at kc.rr.com
Mon Jul 26 04:44:53 UTC 2010

Gary and Friends,

I just want to give a littel personal prospective on this.  Some while 
before Jim and i were married I happened to talk with a woman from another 
state.  As I recall the story, her husband had died.  They had a little boy 
about four years old.  She knew as a single mother she needed to return to 
college so she could get a job which would allow her to raise her son 
comfortably and with dignity.  A supposedly well-meaning neighbor felt that 
trying to raise a child and attend college was beyond the ability of a blind 
person and reported her to that state's version of family services.  When 
the worker came to her home, dispite the fact that the child and the home 
were clean, the worker immediately took the child into custody because the 
woman's blindness, in her opinion, placed the child in imminent danger.  Due 
to the long delay in getting a hearing, the child was in foster care several 
months.  As I understood the story, when the case came to hearing the judge 
threw it out and chastized the state agency for having taken the child with 
no valid reason.  The woman got her child back, but he had several 
psychological problems after this tromatic experience.

I also knew of a blind couple here in Kansas city who, many years ago, had a 
similar experience.  However, it resulted from the mother swatting her child 
for misbehaving in a store.  Someone reported it and DFS got involved.  I 
don't remember whether the couple's children were placed in DFS custody or 
not, but the family was followed for several months.  Yes, Virginia and 
John, it can happen to you.

About a year before I married, I went to work for Office for Civil Rights. 
I worked for the Health and social Services unit.  One of our assigned 
duties was to investigate state social service agencies such as DFS.  This 
included child custody cases, so for the time I worked there, I learned 
something about their investigations and handling of parents and children in 
situations where children were removed from parental custody.  I never 
handled a case like the present one.  With only a couple of exceptions, I 
found DFS totally justified in removing children from homes where they were 
being physically abused, were living in filth, or where the parents were 
drug or alcohol abusers who could not properly protect and care for their 
children.  Still, even these parents were given opportunities to maintain 
their family structure.  Sometimes they were given second chances to 
straighten up their child rearing practices.  On other occasions, they were 
required to attend parenting classes or to attend alcohol and drug abuse 
programs if they wanted their children back.  This couple in our present 
case wasn't given such chances.  In my opinion, being a blind person married 
to another blind person and having successfully raised two children, I 
cannot understand why, if DFS were that concerned, they didn't offer the 
parents training through the Services for the Blind, or did not leave the 
child in parental care with follow up for a month or two.  Of course, this 
still was not really necessary from what we have heard of the situation, but 
it would have been a somewhat more caring and helpful approach.

I can tell all of you that having our children taken from us by DFS was one 
of my great fears while raising them. I never so much as raised my voice to 
them in public and the most I would do if they acted up out of the home was 
to sweetly wisper to them when they were old enough to understand that they 
would get their punishment when we got home and they could think about it 
until then.   I cannot tell you how relieved I was when Jeanene, our 
youngest, reached 17 and I knew DFS could no longer snatch her from us for 
little or no reason.


Jana Moynihan

----- 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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