Instead, ACS tore us apart.
For months before I caught my case with child protective services, I was dealing with my daughter Brianna’s behavioral issues. She was a bubbly little gymnast who liked to do cartwheels all over the place. But she was also very destructive, breaking things, hurting herself and stealing. She was 6.
At the time, Brianna and her twin sister had only been living with me again for a few months. I also have an older daughter, who was in kinship care until June 2019.
Before that, my twin daughters lived with my older brother and his wife for three years. I’d reached out to my brother because I was struggling. I had been working for the Parks Department through HRA but I was terminated because I didn’t have child care on Saturdays. Then the program that was paying my rent was cut by the city. I was very depressed.
I wanted help until I could get back on my feet. But after a year, when I asked my brother to return my daughters, he wouldn’t. Finally, when my girls were 6, his wife caught a CPS case and sent them home.
PROBLEMS IN SCHOOL
The twins were OK for a while. But then they began fighting and were very disrespectful.
I was looking into family counseling because of the trauma of our separation. I thought some of the issues might also be developmental. Brianna, especially, was always very mischievous and didn’t hit all her developmental marks. But I was having difficulty finding a program to meet our needs.
A few days before the school called in the case, I met with Brianna’s teacher, parent coordinator, and guidance counselor. They told me that Brianna was interrupting class, sliding across the floor, being rude to teachers and stealing other students’ snacks.
I knew that Brianna had developmental challenges, but I didn’t know her behavior was going this far. I was shocked, and mad at my daughter.
Two days after the meeting I spanked Brianna because she started throwing things after I asked her to clean off her bed. I didn’t normally spank my children. But I was so fed up with her behavior. And I didn’t know what else to do.
I hit her about 10 times with a child’s belt. It left some marks because she was moving around. But she also had marks on her back and face because she and her twin had a fight that same weekend and scratched each other.
On December 21, 2015, the school social worker called in the case. That started a 5-year ordeal with ACS that tore my family apart and us caused many new problems.
I was arrested. My children were placed in foster care. I wasn’t allowed to see them until after Christmas. I was devastated.
IN CARE: THE PROBLEMS CONTINUE
Still, my foster care worker assured me that she wanted to see my kids back home. I said to myself, “Self, you have to do what you have to do to get your kids back.” I worked hard, and each court date my visits changed, from supervised to unsupervised to weekend visits to four days a week.
My children, on the other hand, were fighting a lot, and Brianna was acting all the way out. She was taken to the hospital twice because she was being destructive and harming herself.
My girls were in two different families in three and a half months.
THE THREATS CONTINUE
I won my 1028 hearing and the girls came home, but I was still under ACS supervision and completing my service plan. During the trial for child abuse charges (which took place after they came home), ACS and my daughters’ lawyer said negative things about me, and the judge determined that I had abused Brianna. I was heartbroken. I still am. I don’t believe that spanking my child one time makes me a child abuser.
We managed OK from April to December 2016, though Brianna used the threat of ACS against me whenever I tried to set boundaries. We had family therapy through preventive services, but Brianna’s individual therapist and I had scheduling conflicts and she canceled often.
In June, I took Brianna to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with ADHD and prescribed meds. I worried about the side effects, though, so I didn’t put her on them. The doctor told me it was my decision and I thought her learning environment needed to be addressed first. In the fall, twice I asked the school to give her an Individualized Education Plan so she could get services, but they denied the requests.
Then right before Christmas 2016, the ACS caseworker and the preventive worker scheduled a joint visit. I had such terrible back pain from all the stress that it was hard to clean, and the shelter room was a mess. The caseworker reported that to her supervisor. She also kept asking why Brianna wasn’t on her meds. I felt attacked and intimidated.
They wanted to remove the kids. I begged them to let me call a crisis nursery that provided respite care. The nursery agreed to take them that day. But the next day at the child safety conference, ACS still requested a remand to foster care. Christmas Eve, exactly one year after my girls were first taken, I was in court all day. But this year my devastation ended with joy. The judge said, “It’s Christmastime and these kids do not need to be in foster care.”
He told me I had to do better with therapy. But he also had the caseworker put in an emergency request for a homemaker and an order for me to move to a larger shelter space. He told her to help me get IEP evaluations for the twins.
Shortly after, CPS put in another request for a remand. Again the judge denied it.
In January, at another psychiatric evaluation, Brianna said she was hearing voices and having hallucinations. Later, Brianna’s therapist told me she thought Brianna was just seeking attention. But the psychiatrist diagnosed her with ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder and unspecified schizophrenia. She went from taking one medication to five medications. I was shocked. But I also was still getting to know my daughter so I thought it was possible that she had a serious mental illness.
The drugs had a devastating effect on Brianna and she didn’t like being on them. She seemed totally out of it. But I was too afraid of ACS to take her off of them.
Then one Sunday in April, my girls were arguing when Brianna attempted to climb out the window and onto the fire escape. I pulled her back inside and called 911. I didn’t let her go until the EMTs arrived.
Then I went with her to the ER, called her therapist and stayed with her in the hospital for five days. We had a good time together and showed each other love. After that, the doctors said Brianna wasn’t in danger and could come home.
But right after, ACS again requested remand to foster care; again the judge said no.
The supervisor didn’t seem to care what the judge said. Over one weekend when the regular ACS investigator was away, she sent a different investigator to pop up on me.
I was walking out the door to take my girls to therapy, and I told the investigator that I didn’t have time for a visit then. I’m sure that made the supervisor mad. So on Sunday, June 4, a different investigator showed up, this time with police officers, and they threatened and harassed me, and then removed my children on an emergency basis.
It was so traumatic. Maybe the worst part was the reason they gave for removing my children: They said that a bed that no one slept in under a window was a safety hazard. That made no sense! Brianna had moved the bed AWAY from the window the time she climbed out of it. I could not believe that they were taking my children again.
I hoped the judge would send my children home, but this time he didn’t. I’m not sure why.
10 MONTHS, 5 HOMES
This time, my children were in care for 10 months and five homes and were separated from each other for part of the time. Things were really bad.
The first agency worker wouldn’t return my calls and avoided me at the agency. She also canceled my visits without telling me and lied in court. I talked to the agency CEO and eventually that worker was let go. But she did a lot of damage to my family.
My daughters suffered a lot.
One of my daughters caught a rash in her private area at the ACS Children’s Center and was accused of masturbating when she was just really itchy. In their first foster home, my children’s beautiful curly hair was ruined by a perm done without my permission. They were moved from that home when the foster mother slammed a door in my daughter’s face.
Finally, my mom and aunt agreed to take them, but after a few months, my mom asked to have Brianna removed because she couldn’t deal with her behavior. The agency decided to move both girls.
SO MUCH TRAUMA
Finally, on March 31, 2018, my twin daughters were released to me.
It hasn’t been an easy homecoming. Because the shelters were overcrowded, we ended up living in a hotel.
And Brianna’s behavior is still a big problem. Still, I believe that she is getting better.
The one good thing that happened while she was in foster care was that Brianna was taken off most of the medications. Now she is off medication entirely. I also got connected to a behavioral/crisis management team.
Luckily Brianna’s twin, Adrianna, is more of an introvert. She has received awards at school for reading and science and is a future track star who loves to run. Still, she is angry about some of the things that have happened. We all are.
Our family needed support, but instead we went through a whole lot of trauma.
ACS has the power to connect families to services to help families thrive. They should not use their power to tear families apart.