Mrs. And Mr. James’ daughter, Amber, was five years old when ACS came one night and removed her from their home.
At birth, Amber had seizure that led to a stroke. Mrs. James noticed shaking of her left hand and leg. The doctor told Mrs. James that the seizure led to the stroke. Born in N.C. on Oct. 10, 2001, Amber stayed in the hospital until Oct. 14. Ever since, the child suffered from problems with her eyes and skin rashes, according to Mrs. James. “I did not suspect malpractice until a couple of weeks later, said Mrs. James. “If my child had a stroke, should I leave the hospital with the baby? I got no answer.”
Although both worked, the James’ did not have health coverage for five years. Married 25 years, Mr. James said they are a working family. “No welfare.”
While in intensive care, the hospital had the baby under hot lights. There was no family history of health problems; no problems during the pregnancy. The James’ have a healthy 24 year old son. They say they were given no medical diagnosis for their daughter.
Amber never had a seizure again. She began to have chest pains in 2006. They took her to Parkway Hospital in Queens. The James’ were told to take their daughter home and observe her.
Amber’s eyes would itch and hurt. “Allergy medications never worked,” said Mrs. James. They would give daughter vitamins and “feed her properly.” Without medical coverage, the James’ would take daughter to a clinic referred by HHS. Mrs. James said daughter’s practitioner was “one year out of medical school.” After a second visit, the James’ were given a prescription that was in Mrs. James’, not Amber’s, name. According to Mrs.James, when she put it in Amber’s eyes, “she started screaming.” She called the doctor and asked what the medication was for. “At 12:05, midnight, ACS was at my door.” Amber was removed form their home, despite a report said the child was well cared for.
Mr. James, a case manager for mentally ill, chemically dependent patients, said he thinks “the doctor had a with a Black couple questioning her authority.” Later, the doctor sent Mr. James an email stating, ” she didn’t want the child to be removed from the home.”
“Family court demonized my wife,” said Mr. James. “They would give me my daughter if I kicked my wife out of the house and got an order of protection. It’s divide and conquer.”
In April 2008, Mrs. James was arrested and put in Elmhurst Hospital Psych Ward. “They lied,” said Mrs. James, “and said I knocked a big woman down, scared my daughter, and threatened the foster mother. Unbeknownst the them, all our visits were taped.” The wife’s visitation was suspended for a year, although there is no police report for the alleged assault.
The James’ said while in foster care, Amber was hospitalized three times for pneumonia. Amber was placed in three foster homes in 4 months.
When Amber claimed she was touched improperly while in foster care, the child was placed in Kings County psych ward and at midnight was left there by the social worker. “A five year old in a teen psych ward,” said Mrs. James. “She was thrown around like a sack of potatoes.”
Mr. James gave his assessment: “There are 17,000 children in ACS care. Poverty was their only crime. The children equal money; disabled children are worth more. Traumatize a child, then provide medication. It is nothing but modern day slavery.”
The last time the James’ saw their Amber, they took her to the Michael Jackson celebration in Prospect Park. They say their daughter is not the same.
Lauren Raysor has heard stories like this, and many more. An attorney who specializes in custody, visitation, and child support cases, Raysor says she has issues with “the way people of color are treated” in NYC Family Court. “The system is twisted, Family Court should assist in family re-unification.” Instead, said Raysor, “Children are a great commodity for the city. The foster care system has to get paid. There is great incentive to remove the child from the home.”
Raysor gave general examples of situations she has seen. A common scenario occurs when a child reaches adolescence and exhibits developmentally normal rebellious behavior. That behavior – staying out all night, getting into trouble, risking their own safety – does not conform with the Black value system. Raynor says, if the parents attempts to discipline the child, that discipline opens the door for all manner of disruptions.
“Corporal punishment is out of the question,” Raysor said, but if a parent seeks to restrict the child from hanging out all night, risking danger to him or herself, the child can make a complaint against the parent. That parent then becomes becomes the focus of an investigation, not the child’s behavior.
Raysor described a situation in which a parent took a child’s cell phone away, because the child refused to do school work. The child complained to a teacher. An investigation of the parent was initiated. Raysor said removing an iPod or cell phone from a child is “withholding,” a form of child abuse under the law. “The parent has no ability to assist their children.”
According to Raysor, an investigation of the parent is initiated when a parent makes a PINS request, seeking help with an out of control child. Ultimately, the child’s legal representative advocates for the child’s wishes, even though the child makes demands that are against their own best interests. “If you don’t want parents to have control over the child,” said Raynor, “then allow the child, age 16 and older, to be emancipated. As it stands, parents are in a Catch 22 situation: the parent is responsible if the child is hurt, yet has no control over guidance.”
There are other common scenarios, according to Raysor. When removed from the home, too often, the system “puts children up for adoption, rather than give the children to their grandmother. That is not our way.” Raynor added, “Foster care is no joke, either. Children are abused in foster care.” Raysor is also concerned about the application of child support.
Attorney Raysor has several legislative proposals that might remedy some situations: 1) emancipation, 2) mandatory, not statutory child support, and 3) child support tax deductions.
“Family court, as it is now set up,” said Raysor, “obliterates families.”