[Nfbmo] Setting the record straight about Baby Mikaela and her parents

Gary Wunder gwunder at earthlink.net
Mon Jul 26 20:37:08 UTC 2010

Jana, this is all most interesting. I can't say I ever felt the fear you
describe, but probably that has more to do with arrogance than taking a
realistic look at just how likely it was that it could have happened to me.

I can't resist making the observation that, a social worker reading what
you've said, might conclude you were gentle to your children in public and
then took out all your rage once you were home-smile.

I think you should tell a few of the stories about your children I find so
funny. I think people would especially enjoy the one where Jim starts
contacting many of his friends who are braille readers inquiring as to
whether the quality of their magazines had recently degraded appreciably. It
turns out that there were holes in his magazines such that every position on
any given page had distorted braille. Inspection of one of the boxes in
which his magazines came revealed round little pellets rolling around on the
bottom, and those pellets were BBs. It seems that the young man who is now
an engineer once got an air rifle for Christmas, and not being content to
wait until spring, made his own targets. He knew better than to shoot at an
unprotected wall, and certainly, he reasoned,  the boxes with all that thick
paper would prevent any permanent damage.

Another story? Sure! Right beside me I have one of the original Sharp clocks
which so many of us bought with relish when they came on the scene in the
1980s. Once while visiting your house, I observed that you had one, and told
you what a wonderful clock I thought it was. You said that unfortunately you
had a lemon and that as nice as it was it just wouldn't keep time. I said it
would be unfortunate to throw such a museum piece away, and you very kindly
gave it to me.

I brought it home, put batteries in it, and waited for it to fail. I've had
it now for more than 15 years, it's spending most of its life in my office
at the University of Missouri. Never once has it lost a minute of time. I
told this story in your son's presence on the way to a funeral, and he began
to laugh hysterically. You see, though he never would tell you, he always
found your clock a convenient source for AA batteries when he needed them,
and of course, after using and returning them, your clock reset to 12 AM. I
love that boy! He has been responsible for me leaving work on time for
almost 2 decades.

I have other stories, but they'll have to wait. You folks did a splendid job
of raising your children, and you have a right to be very very proud of who
they are and what they do.


-----Original Message-----
From: nfbmo-bounces at nfbnet.org [mailto:nfbmo-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf
Of James Moynihan
Sent: Sunday, July 25, 2010 11:45 PM
To: NFB of Missouri Mailing List
Subject: Re: [Nfbmo] Setting the record straight about Baby Mikaela

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
> 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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