Four-year-old Arianah Cruickshank was allowed by her foster mother to run in the park unsupervised with a New Year’s horn in her mouth last Jan. 1, 2012. She fell. The horn punctured the back of Arianah’s throat. Doctors at the treating hospital told Marvell that the horn could have resulted in the loss of her vocal cords or death. Yet, no one with the foster agency informed her of her child’s injuries.
How did Arianah find herself in foster care? Her 14-year-old sister Deonna thought she was grown and wanted to run the streets. Her mother, Marvell Cruickshank, was providing a religious upbringing and would not allow it. Deonna got the bright idea to call child protective services, thinking that once she was removed from under her mother’s supervision, she would be able to do what she wanted.
Sometime in October 2011, ACS called at 9am requesting Marvell bring her children in for an emergency meeting that day. The children were already at school and Marvell did not receive the message until 1:30pm. By that time, the agency determined it was necessary to conduct an emergency removal and obtained Marvell’s children – Deonna, Tyonna and Arianah – from school.
Since the removal, Deonna has been in at least two different foster homes. According to Marvell, she has been suspended from school, received a “promotion in doubt” letter, and has been chronically late and absent from school.
Marvell alleges the foster care agency that has her children – the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services – has not offered family reunification services. Of her own initiative, Marvell sought out and completed two parenting skills programs and two anger management programs. In January 2012, she enrolled herself to receive mental health services. On April 6, 2012, Marvell provided the foster agency with the original certificates from the parenting and anger management programs. Yet on April 17, the agency presented documentation to the court that they never received any proof validating Marvell’s attendance or completion of any of the programs.
Marvell stated she asked Mr. Vladimir Carvajal, a director with the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services, what the agency was doing regarding the reunification of her family. According to Marvell, Mr. Carvajal’s response was: “Ms. Cruickshank, you are the reason your children remain in force together longer than necessary.”
Arianah’s pre-K graduation took place on June 6. No one informed Marvell that her daughter was graduating, nor did anyone invite her to the ceremony. Marvell states, “Although my children are in foster care, that does not give anyone the right to exclude me from sharing special moments with my children. I had a right to be informed of this event”, Marvell added, “What disturbs me the most is that no one felt it was necessary to notify Arianah’s parents.”
According to Marvell, on June 28, 2012, agency Assistant Director Darving Irrizzary notified her that one of her daughters attorneys reported that one of her daughter’s is afraid of her. This allegation came as a shock to Marvell, since she just had a supervised visit with her children on June 23. During the visit, Marvell’s daughters were happy to see her and gave her drawings, letters, and poems expressing love for their mother. The family took pictures during the visit, yet agency personnel refused to acknowledge obvious indications of family love. Marvell believes the agency is trying to manufacture dysfunction where there is none.
But on June 27, 2012, Michael Somma, attorney for 10-year-old Tyonna, petitioned the court to hear from the children directly, as they very much want to go home to their mother. Somma requested that the court “authorize the return of Tyonna, or at least a trial discharge very quickly”.
After a happy family visitation at the agency on July 11 in which Marvell took pictures, read a book to her children and brought journals so that her children could draw their feelings. The children’s godmother, Jean Grant, informed Marvell that the agency ordered that the children were no longer allowed to call their mother. Grant also indicated that if Grant takes the children to church and Marvell is in attendance, the children are not allowed to interact with her. Agency personnel told Grant if she does not follow their rules she would be in violation of the agency’s policies that could result in removing the children from her care.
To this day, Marvell doesn’t know who her children’s foster parent is and who is responsible for her children’s day-to-day care.
When her children were originally picked up from school by ACS, Marvell expressed that she wanted them placed in a home that would respect her family’s religious and dietary tenets. Marvell suggested her children’s godmother, Jean Grant, who had stood with them when they were baptized. In February, god mother Grant became responsible for supervising informal visits at the family church on Friday evenings and Sunday worship services, separate from official visits at the agency. Jean Grant expressed to Marvell that she did not have room in her home for the children, but her friend Joan Powell lives around the corner and had space for them. Though Marvell is not sure, apparently, Joan Powell takes the children to school and Jean Grant takes them to church. In July, Jean Grant wrote a notarized statement in which she called Joan Powell “the other foster parent”.
Official documentation from the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services states that the children are in kinship foster care. The oldest daughter Deonna is residing in the home of her maternal aunt. Arianah and Tyonna are in the home of Ms. Powell, who is not a family member. Marvell didn’t know of Joan Powell who is Grant’s friend until Grant suggested Powell had space in her home.
During supervised visitations, Marvell noticed her children were underdressed for the weather, wearing dirty clothing, shoes were too small. The children’s hair was dirty, and when asked, the children said no one washes their hair.
In July, Marvell’s great-aunt (Deonna’s foster parent) observed serious 2
nd -degree burns on Arianah, and called the State Central Registry child abuse hotline to report. The foster agency did not notify Marvell of the injury. Instead, Marvell found out about the burns when State Registry personnel contacted her to investigate. Marvell is wondering why she received a document updating her of the investigation that states Jean Grant’s address as Joan Powell’s address.
Foster care agency personnel conducted a home visit on October 24, 2012. Marvell showed them the children’s beds and installed window guards. They tested the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. They saw that her kitchen was stocked with food and her apartment was sanitary. When they asked to see her bedroom, Marvell declined, citing religious modesty. The agency personnel reported to the court that they were concerned Marvell was hiding something in her bedroom. The agency also accused Marvell of forging or coercing handwritten statements from her children expressing their wish to come home.
During a November 15, 2012 Permanency Hearing, Christopher Keating (law guardian to five-year-old Arianah Cruickshank) raised a series of allegations not based in any fact related to Arianah’s foster parent Joan Powell. Keating asked if Marvell was aware Arianah was not in school that day. Marvell responded ‘no.” after the hearing, Marvell promptly called Arianah’s school and confirmed she was in attendance.
Keating asked if Marvell had been calling Powell’s home at 2am and 5am. Since Marvell did not have Powell’s phone number, the answer was no. Keating asked if Marvell slashed Powell’s tires. Marvell doesn’t know Powell’s home address or what vehicle she drives. Keating then asked if Marvell ever undressed her daughter in front of people at the foster care agency, but Marvell observes her religious tenets, which includes staying covered, especially in public.
Marvell believes Keating’s intent was to portray her in a negative light before the court, instead of representing her daughters’ expressed wishes to be returned home to her mother.
Carlos, Marvell’s husband, has visitations separate from Marvell. “When the children were taken from Marvell, they never consulted with me about taking my children. I have been fighting to get my children to be returned to my wife. But nobody is listening to us. It is like we are nothing,” said Carlos. “My wife did everything – parenting classes, anger management and everything. I am wondering why they still keep saying she is not worthy of taking care of her own children. Since they have our children, what they are missing is love.”
“When my wife had the children, nothing ever happened to them,” said Carlos. “But they keep saying my wife is not worthy enough. What do you mean she’s not worthy enough to take care of our own children? They told us in court our children are going to be put up for adoption. How are our children going up for adoption? I don’t agree with my children being put up for adoption. I told them.”
Sekai Adebante has taught both Arianah and Tyonna. “Ariana was very bright. She was the head of the class. She was alert. She not only answered questions, she asked questions. She was very inquisitive, good at math and strong as a prereader. I knew she was going to do very well for the whole school year. I was very disappointed when she left because she was leading the class. Little kids inspire each other.” Ms. Adebante said, “Ms. Cruickshank was the only parent to come in and volunteer at that time of the year.” According to Ms. Adebante, Marvell was very supportive and came to all the school meetings, parent-teacher conferences. “She was serious about her children’s education,” said Ms. Adebante, who has been teaching since 1981.
As a mandated reporter/teacher, Ms. Adebante said she did not see any signs of abuse – no marks, no walking in pain, Arianah did not cower in fear, nothing. She was very well-adjusted, very eager to learn, motivated, and a leader. She got along with her peers. When she left the class was devastated. They were asking every day “Where is Arianah?” she was very socially solid. She came with very good grounding. The kids missed her.”
“This is not an easy thing to go through,” said Ms. Adebante. “Ms. Cruickshank is very strong.”