By Mary Alice Miller
Imagine: A mother has a visitation session with her 5-year-old son. She takes off his hat, and then notices a liquid-filled swelling on his head. She attempts to pick him up for a hug, he screams out in pain. The mother notices swelling on child’s left collarbone and inquires about the child’s pain. She is threatened with suspension of visitation.
This happened January 11, 2007 to Sandra Allen, Jamaican-born mother of then 4-year-old Stephen Allen who is under the supervision of Mercy First Foster Care Agency.
Not satisfied with the lack of an explanation of her son’s injuries, the next day Allen went to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital to obtain copies of Stephen’s medical reports. Allen spoke to the doctor who had attended to Stephen, who told Allen he was concerned and suggested Allen report suspected abuse.
Allen left the hospital and went straight to the 105
th Precinct. She was told Mercy First was not in their jurisdiction and was sent to the 100th Precinct, where she submitted a police report. Detective Burket called Mercy First to go see the child, but Mercy First did not reveal the location of Stephen. The case was referred to the Child Abuse Squad.
On Jan. 18, Tasha, Stephen’s 16-year-old sister at the time, attempted to visit Stephen but was told he was in the hospital. Allen called Mercy First to inquire about Stephen’s condition, but was given no response. Later that day, Det. Beans in the Child Abuse Squad called Allen and informed her that Stephen was in Cornell Hospital with a skull fracture.
Tasha went to Cornell on Jan. 20 to visit Stephen, but was told no visitors were allowed because a nurse was told the family had injured Stephen. Tasha attempted to visit Stephen at Mercy First on Jan. 23
rd and 30th, but Stephen was not brought to the agency on either date. The agency gave no explanation for Stephen’s injuries. Over the next few months, Allen would show up for visitation, but Stephen was not produced. No explanation was provided.
Allen did not learn the full extent of Stephen’s injuries under Mercy First’s supervision until she was billed for his injuries and medical treatment under her private medical coverage.
Dr. Paula Brill of Jamaica Hospital Medical Center billed Allen’s GHI insurance on March 19, 2007 for a Radiology report dated Jan. 19 that found “Non-displace fracture involving the middle third at the left clavicle.” Another Radiology report of a head injury clinical statement found “Left temporal occipital skull fracture, Extra-axial fluid in the left occipital parietal region appears more compatible with late subacute to chronic hemorrhage.” Stephen was found to have “Cranial and intracranial injuries” and was transferred to Cornell University.
Billings of Stephen’s injuries also state “According to Miss Reynolds ( a staff member at Mercy First), pt (patient) is not to have any contact with mother at all, she is not allowed to visit or call and no information should be given to her over the phone.”
It was in the medical billings that Allen also became aware that Stephen had been in three foster homes up to that point. According to the billing records: “As per Dr. Borne, the medical director at Mercy First (foster care agency), patient was removed from the first foster home for a deliberate injury to his forehead with a belt buckle. He was removed from the second home because medical attention was not sought in a timely fashion following a fall with a large swelling on his head and complaints
of arm pain. When the patient was transferred to the most recent home, the new foster mother was given a prescription for a skull and clavicle x-ray. This was not presented to the new mother as an urgent need and was not completed immediately. When he complained of arm pain and the mother noticed a lump over his left clavicle, she brought him to the ED for further evaluation.”
The billing records also state “During assessment patient pointed to his genital area, complaining of pain in the region, but not able to articulate nature of pain or if anything happened to him. Written note states ‘walked w/ limp’.”
Another document with letterheads from Mercy First and Angel Guardian, signed by Medical Director of Mercy First James Horne, D.O., stated “Stephen was brought to the health office escorted by his foster mother for an evaluation of an injury to his forehead the day before yesterday. Foster mother had reported to the caseworker that the injury occurred when another foster child in the home, an infant, threw the belt hitting Stephen in the forehead.” Yet, “No suspicions of child abuse indicated based on evaluation.”
Armed with Stephen’s billing records, Allen sought to obtain information regarding Stephen’s medical condition and care from Mercy First, ACS, and Family Court Judge Linda Tally. According to Allen, none have been forthcoming.
Since Stephen’s multiple injuries under the supervision of Mercy First, Allen’s visitations with her son had been successively decreased until they were terminated in 2010. Visitations with Stephen’s sister, grandmother, father, and other relatives were also curtailed. Allen’s parental rights were terminated in July 2012. Allen believes th
e more she fought for her son, the more Family Court, ACS, and Mercy First sought to take him away from her family.
There has been no explanation why the Court’s goals were changed from Family Reunification to Termination of Parental Rights. Allen continues to fight to regain custody of her son.