By LaQuana Chappelle
When my youngest son was 7 weeks old, I noticed a peppermint-sized lump on the right side of his head. There was no bruising, only swelling. I called my mother, frantic. As an infant, my sister had had a lump on her head that turned out to be a tumor.
I took my son to the doctor, and the doctor told me to go to the hospital. He did not appear to be in pain. He was looking around, acting like himself. But I felt like a wreck, lonely, sad and worried.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
When he had to be X-rayed, I had to strip my little baby to put him in the cold machine. I wanted to cry. He looked so flustered in his little onesie. By the time it was over, he was all worked up.
The X-ray showed that he had a skull fracture. A big part of me was relieved—it wasn’t a tumor. But how did my baby get a fracture? Would this cause long-term damage? What would happen next?
When I phoned my kids’ godfather, he began cursing me out. “You need to pay attention to what’s going on! Take a break from school! Focus on your kids! You’d better come up with an explanation,” he told me. “This looks very bad.”
My mind bounced all over. I didn’t have a lot of help with my kids and slept very little. Had my older kids hurt him? What had happened?
Around 1 a.m., the first set of CPS workers came to question me. Then they visited my home and gave a good report. The house was a little messy but the kids had plenty of food, toys, clothes and they were fine.
A WORKER FROM HELL
The next day, I met with the hospital social worker, child abuse specialist, a detective, and another CPS worker (a CPS worker from hell!). This time, the tone was different. The child abuse specialist told me, “You had better find out what happened.” It was painful to have to leave my baby and go with the CPS worker to do another home visit.
At my apartment, the worker made snide remarks about all my belongings (I’m a savvy shoper) and asked how I could afford designer clothes for the baby.
The next step was a visit from the police detective. He made me feel comfortable. He asked me if I fell asleep holding the baby, if I had left the kids unattended with him. He pulled out all the details that led up to the moment I discovered the lump on my son’s head. I said that I accepted full responsibility but did not have an answer.
Later, the worker scolded me for not giving her all the information that I gave the cop. But the cop was better at his job; he helped me think. I thought, “If you were more concerned about the investigation than my Gucci shoes, you could have covered more ground.”
I’ve always been a lioness when it comes to my children. I know what it’s like to feel powerless. After my mother placed me in foster care at age 12, I felt like I had no control over my life.
As a teenager, I promised myself that I would be productive. I believe financial stress is one of the reasons my mother put me in care. My drive propelled me through college and into graduate school, and kept me motivated even when my relationships fell apart and I found myself raising my children mostly alone.
I vowed never to allow my children to go into foster care. That vow was broken on April 26, 2012. CPS decided to take my baby from the hospital, and my three older children. I cried hysterically. I nearly fainted. I didn’t know how to react.
SAD, EMPTY, OUTRAGED
My children stayed in foster care for 7 weeks. In the first month, I spiraled into a deep depression. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to go outside. I just wanted my kids.
Visits were the most tormenting. My older son kept asking why he couldn’t come home.
I was also terrified about the baby, because I truly did not understand what had happened to him. (It wasn’t until weeks later that a friend who had babysat my children stepped forward to confess that he had accidentally dropped him.)
When I wasn’t sad and angry with myself, I was outraged. I wanted to fight, scream, throw a few blows to the face of the worker. But I knew I couldn’t express my depression or anger because the system uses everything against you. Growing up in care gave me an edge; I knew I needed to maintain my composure.
Then, during a visit four weeks after my children were removed, I sang to my boys, and that somehow helped me shake my hopelessness.
That day I took a long look in the mirror and said to my reflection, “They will not win.” I can regain my self. My anger and hurt can fuel me.
I cried one final time. After that, I called my lawyer and requested a 1028 hearing. That’s a chance to present evidence and request that children in foster care immediately return home. By then, my friend had stepped forward and taken responsibility for his actions. The hospital’s senior doctor had written a letter ruling out abuse.
I knew I had a case. I went and got a suit cleaned for court.
After 7 weeks, the writer’s children were returned to her. The writer sued the city child welfare agency for wrongful removal and won a settlement.