Newborn Baby Seized by Department of Human Resources with No Court Order, No Trial, and No Evidence*
Social workers at the DHR office (Department of Human Resources – Alabama’s Child Protective Services) handed Haly a disturbing letter on Monday, August 8, in which the department attempts to justify keeping her baby Avyonna in their custody. The letter contains a number of problematic points, which indicate a couple of things:
- The conclusions reached by the department reveal a flawed investigation process, and
- If the conclusions reached are allowed to stand, this shows that DHR has a truly frightening amount of power over the lives of the citizens of the state of Alabama, and their ability to abuse this power must immediately be reigned in by the government.
To summarize the background of why Haly’s baby was taken, Haly and her siblings were taken from their grandparents’ home when she was 12 years old after her twin brother Haydn popped her bra strap. DHR became involved. The situation was allegedly quickly twisted and Haydn was accused of all kinds of things that everyone in the family says he didn’t do. There was absolutely no evidence for the allegations, but a confession was allegedly illegally coerced out of a scared little boy who was locked in a room and interrogated for almost 5 hours. Based on that confession, Haly and all of her siblings were removed from their grandparents’ custody. She allegedly left kicking and screaming.
All of the other children eventually returned to their grandparents’ home, but Haly became pregnant in foster care. She suffered abuse and was shifted from placement to placement, separated from the rest of her family. She had 2 babies while in foster care. Even so, she graduated high school on time.
Her foster mother died suddenly, and her children were placed in another home, where they were abused in state custody. The babies were born while Haly was a foster child, so the state kept custody of the children. Her rights were terminated in December 2015. She was told that the children had been in custody so long that she wasn’t getting them back.
Thus, when she gave birth to another baby in May, DHR came into her hospital room and took the new baby. As appears to be a common practice with Shelby County DHR, social workers removed her baby without a court order or warrant. She, her husband Anthony, and her family have been fighting ever since to get baby Avyonna back. It appears that Shelby County DHR needed no other reason than the fact that they had already taken her other children.
The Letter: One Social Worker Determines Fate of Child
The letter that Haly received states that the preliminary decision is that they believe that child abuse/neglect is “indicated” or true. According to DHR:
“An “indicated” finding is used when there is more credible evidence than not, based on the professional judgment of the social worker, that child abuse or neglect has occurred.”
Parents often complain to Health Impact News that criminals have more rights than parents do, and from the above statement, that would appear to be the case. One person, who may or may not like the accused, is permitted to make a judgment as to the guilt or innocence of a parent. There is no jury of peers or opportunity to present exonerating evidence. There is no opportunity to face one’s accusers. Apparently, guilt or innocence may be decided by a social worker, begging the question: where is due process?
DHR Social Workers Make Unfounded Psychological Diagnoses
The letter reports that Haly is being accused of having the following diagnoses:
“You were diagnoses (sic) with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Depressive Disorder, NOS and Borderline Intellectual Functioning.”
Haly and her grandparents report that she has never been diagnosed with these things, and they wonder where these diagnoses come from. In all of the paperwork that the family has over the years, there has never been any mention of these things.
Admittedly, there has been trauma in her life from DHR taking her away from her family when she was 12 years old. She suffered abuse in foster care, and she has now had 3 children seized from her. There was certainly trauma, but since she has been back with her family for the past 2 years, she is learning to be victorious and overcome the traumatic things that have happened to her. Oftentimes, Post-Traumatic Stress is not a “disorder” but a NORMAL response to an ABNORMAL situation. That may well be the case with Haly. It is apparent to those around her that she is an overcomer.
Depressive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) is a condition in which a person has symptoms of depression, but not enough to qualify for a clinical diagnosis (and therefore drugs to treat it). The NOS designation appears to allow doctors to have a diagnosis in order to prescribe medications for people in a mild or temporary, situational depressive state. Despite the depressing reality of having 3 children taken from her, Haly has never been diagnosed with depression.
The allegation of Borderline Intellectual Functioning is something that Haly finds, frankly, to be insulting. Her record speaks for itself. Despite having 2 babies and suffering abuse in foster care, she still managed to graduate from high school on time with mostly A’s and B’s, with the occasional C in higher math. She took regular classes, never special ed. She is a hard worker with a quick wit. She has worked in her current job since March, and was recently promoted to a managerial position. This is not something that she would have accomplished if she had “Borderline Intellectual Functioning,” which is a term which has replaced the term “mental retardation.”
Shouldn’t she be applauded, and not insulted?
DHR Accuses Mother to Have “Characteristics” of a Child Abuser
The next statement in the letter from DHR states that:
“You have an increased risk of physical child abuse and personal interpersonal characteristics that are similar to characteristics of known physical child abuser. (sic)”
So now Child Protective Services can take away someone’s children because they have traits that are similar to someone who has abused a child? What if someone has some traits in common with a thief or murderer? Are we going to lock them up because those traits mean they might commit a crime? And how does anyone defend themselves against such an accusation? Where does individual choice and responsibility fit into this?
It used to be that when someone grew up in difficult circumstances and they made choices to overcome their background, we praised such accomplishments. Hollywood and the Olympics are full of stories of triumphant people who share characteristics with people who don’t do so well in life.
Did Haly lose the ability to rise above her circumstances simply because DHR is involved? Her family and friends do not think so, and they report that she has come a long way in the 2 years that she has been back with her family and church.
False “Sex Abuser” Accusation Still Being Used by DHR
The department asserts that:
“In addition, you currently live in the home with a sexual offender.”
No, she doesn’t.
A simple investigation into the facts show this to be patently false. This statement is presumably referring to Haly’s twin brother – the one who popped her bra strap when they were 12. The whole ordeal is explained in detail here, and a document from 2011 clearly states:
“He is not charged with a juvenile criminal sex offense and was therefore not assigned a risk of re-offense level.”
Numerous documents over the years have stated that DHR has not believed him to be a threat.
Health Impact News searched sex offender databases and no one in Haly’s family comes up in the search.
Finally, on that point, even if this were truly a concern, it wouldn’t apply to Haly anyway. She doesn’t live at her grandparents’ home any more. She and her husband Anthony live in their own apartment. Neither of them have ever been accused of being any kind of sexual offender.
Does Child Protective Services Own All Subsequent Children Born to a Previous Foster Child?
Many parents around the nation have reported to Health Impact News that Child Protective Services workers often operate under the assumption that they have the right to any subsequent children borne by a mother who has ever had any child taken by the system. Apparently, Shelby County DHR follows this philosophy as well, as their letter to Haly indicates:
“Further, your rights have been terminated on your older children.”
The family continues to maintain that there was never a valid reason for the state to keep her older children in their custody. Haly’s appeal of the TPR was denied in July, but she still hopes to appeal to a higher court.
Dee Prince, Haly’s grandmother, has said many times to Health Impact News that DHR never gave Haly the opportunity to be a mother to her children.
Potential Future Adverse Events Used to Keep Baby: Could be Applied to ANY Family
In perhaps the most ironic statement in the entire letter, DHR reasons that, because harm COULD occur in the parents’ custody, they have the right to remove the child from her family. This statement shows an apparent blindness to the documented governmental statistics that a child in Child Protective Custody is at least 6 times more likely to suffer abuse, rape, molestation, or even death while in foster care than they would if they had been left in their own home, even if that home is less than ideal.
The letter states:
“Serious harm has not yet occurred, but a child has been place in a situation that can result in significant physical injury; sexual abuse; severe impairment in the child’s behavioural and/or cognitive functioning; permanent disability or disfigurement; or death.”
Even though nothing has happened to Haly’s children in her care, DHR social workers believe that something might happen in the future, so the state feels justified in keeping her baby.
If DHR has the power to do this to Haly, what is to stop them from saying this to any other family in the state?
Further, harm has, in fact, happened to Haly’s older children in foster care, who have suffered abuse while in foster care. Her nephew, baby Braelon, allegedly almost died a few weeks ago because the foster carers did not listen to Braelon’s mother and get him care when he was sick until it was almost too late. (See story.)
Haly and her siblings suffered abuse while they were in foster care. Is it somehow more acceptable to have a risk of abuse at the state’s hands than it is at the parents’ hands?
How can a parent defend against an accusation that they MIGHT do something in the future? How can there be evidence either for or against such an allegation?
Guilty without Trial
According to DHR, the allegations outlined in the letter have resulted in an “indicated disposition for Other Risk or Serious Harm” being applied to the accusations. This will apparently not be the subject of a court hearing, as the letter states that she has 10 days in which to request a review, to be conducted by a panel of other DHR employees not involved with the case.
Shelby County DHR Furious that they are Exposed via the Alternative Media
From what Health Impact News has gathered from various sources, none of the court hearings involving Haly, the twins, or baby Braelon have actually addressed the accusations against the family or the lack of a court order or warrant to seize the children. Instead, we are told that the judge and DHR continue to be very upset that this story is in the media. Because they are busy addressing their desire to make this go away in the media, they apparently are not focusing on issues involving the children.
If negative press is what the officials in Shelby County want to avoid, the solution is simple – follow the law and the Constitution, and do the right thing. Honour the family’s due process rights, and return any children who should not have been removed from their family. This should not be about anyone’s ego; it should be about the children.
Foster Children Represent Big Money for the State
Mounds of evidence show that children need their families, and that children thrive best in environments where they are loved. There is a biological, psychological, and spiritual need for children to be with their families.
The harsh reality is that children taken by the Child Protective System represent huge amounts of money to the state, and decisions are not made based upon what is best for the child, but upon how best to maximize the funding the state can get for taking a child. Corruption within the system is rampant.
The task of media, according to the Founding Fathers, is to hold government officials accountable. Indeed, the Supreme Court emphatically upheld that role of the press in a 1971 case of the New York Times Co. vs United States:
“In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”
Perhaps it is time for the Shelby County Court and DHR to stop focusing on media exposure of their deeds, and instead focus on how they can make things right for Haly Boothe, the 14 year old twins, the Prince family, and the rest of the constituency that they serve.
How You Can Help
Senator Cam Ward is the Senator for their district. He may be reached at 334-242-7873, or contacted here.
Representative April Weaver represents their district. She may be reached at 334-242-7731, or contacted here.
According to the Alabama Family Rights Association, ALFRA:
Alabama has a nine-member task force created to examine the work of the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR). If you have issues or concerns about DHR services, your best plan of action is to contact the following legislators/lawmakers and committee members:
Mac McCutcheon, State Representative, Task Force chair / 334-242-7705 / 256-655-3764 / email here
Chris England, State Representative / 334-242-7703 / 205-535-4859 / email here
Greg Reed, State Senator / 334-242-7894
The complete list of committee Members can be found here: Executive Order Number 11
Shelby County DHS Director Kim Mashego may be reached at (205) 669-3000, or contacted here.