by Michelle D. Chan
It was 3:30 in the afternoon on May 23, 2019. Melinda Garret’s cell phone rang. It was her 10-year-old daughter, whom she hasn’t seen since January 2018. Melinda’s daughter could hardly stop crying and was mumbling her words. Melinda could hardly understand her daughter but felt her pain through the telephone as if it was her own pain, as if pain and trauma and fear could travel across counties and through radio waves and could prick the heart of another like a thousand little pins.
“Mom, please come pick me up.” Hearing the desperation in her daughter’s voice, Melinda’s heart stopped in her chest, she felt short of breath, could hardly think straight, could hardly focus. Melinda dropped everything, pulled herself together, got in her car and drove out to Brentwood to bring her daughter to safety. On the 90-minute drive out from San Francisco to Brentwood, her daughter sent one frantic text after another counting down the battery life on her cell phone:
“Mom are you coming? I have 3 percent battery life left.” “Mom are you coming? I have 2 percent battery life left,” and so forth.
It all felt surreal to Melinda, pulling up to Caboose Park in Contra Costa County. When her daughter opened the door to her car, all Melinda wanted to do was to embrace her and protect her. Her daughter said that the other kids in the house made fun of her, bullied her, messed with her food, embarrassed her. The bottom line was that Melinda’s daughter didn’t feel loved or safe in her adoptive home.
At home that night, Melinda set a spiritual bath for her daughter consisting of salt and ricewater, chamomile, lavender and rose petals. They ate Chinese food and watched television. And Melinda prayed together with her daughter, prayed for her daughter’s safety and security, prayed that things would get better.
The next day the Amber alert went out and six SFPD officers surrounded Melinda’s home. No kidnapping charges were pressed, but her daughter was whisked back to the very place she was running from.
In the best interest of children or medical kidnap?
Melinda has had a hard life. After being sexually and physically abused as a child, she ran away from home and was sex trafficked as a minor. Melinda struggled with her demons and suffered from mental health issues as a young adult. Getting pregnant was perhaps the one good thing that ever happened to her.
She was never given the chance to parent her daughter. At birth, her daughter was removed from her for domestic violence, low birth weight and because Melinda tested positive for marijuana. Except, there were countless contradictions in her case.
Firstly, Melinda had been the victim of domestic violence. Secondly, Melinda’s obstetrician had written a letter recommending the use of marijuana to treat Melinda’s nausea and poor appetite and the labor was induced, which were the factors that contributed to the low birth weight.
Medical kidnapping refers to the phenomenon of children being removed from parental custody based solely on the opinion of a medical professional even in the face of contradicting evidence. It is Melinda’s strong belief that San Francisco Child Protective Services targeted her because they knew her history and as such did not believe that she could safely parent a child due to the trauma she had been through.
Read Melinda’s full story here: https://sfbayview.com/2017/05/parents-against-cps-corruption-fights-medical-kidnap/.
Trauma is a double-edged sword
Kinship care is when children who are wards of the state are placed with family rather than in the foster care homes of strangers. Child welfare and foster care reform advocates widely view kinship placement as the optimal permanency option for children.
Research shows that kinship care minimizes trauma, improves child well-being, and increases permanency and behavioral and mental health outcomes. Moreover, an emphasis on placing children with family could possibly de-incentivize child removals and adoptions, which child welfare reform advocates have widely criticized over the past few years.
In this case, San Francisco Child Protective Services did the right thing and placed Melinda’s daughter with Melinda’s sister. However, the agency failed to properly investigate the sister’s past and to provide services to the family to ensure that the child was in a safe environment.
Melinda’s sister had allegedly endured the same trauma that Melinda herself endured as a child. According to Melinda, both she and her sister had been physically and sexually abused as children and both she and her sister had run away from home as a reaction to this alleged abuse.
Melinda alleges that five years ago family members informed her that her sister, now the adoptive mother of Melinda’s daughter, hosted sex parties in the home. These alleged sex parties involved inviting people over to the home and charging them at the door to engage in group sex. In addition to the alleged reports and text messages from family members, Melinda also alleges that she confronted her sister about these parties and that her sister admitted to them and defended the parties as being perfectly legal.
How do we fix this broken system?
America’s child welfare system is, without doubt, one of the country’s most troubled systems. It is charged with protecting the best interests of children that have either been abused and neglected or are at risk of being abused and neglected. On the one hand, the system is charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect. On the other hand, the system is charged with protecting child and family well-being and representing the best interests of children, which often means to reduce unnecessary trauma by reducing child removals as much as possible.
These are difficult cases and the decisions made in these cases forever impact that lives of children and families. Bad decisions lead to poor outcomes into adulthood and beyond.
But we as a society must continue to push child welfare agencies and juvenile courts to continue to improve their practices and to apply all the right methods and policies in each and every case. Social workers, foster care providers (both nonrelative and kinship), lawyers and judges must always have good intentions. Being well-intentioned can be a difficult posture to maintain, what with the demands and daily traumas of this industry.
Consider Melinda’s case. Someone, somewhere along the way decided that she was a poor fit to parent a child and based on those assumptions, Melinda was never given the chance to parent her child. But have steps been taken to ensure that the child was properly cared for? Does it appear that the child has had the best possible outcomes since being removed from Melinda’s care?
Although these are difficult cases, in no way should we ever “give up” on these children. Please call your local, state and federal politicians to urge them to prioritize child welfare and foster care reform initiatives.
Michelle D. Chan is co-founder and president of Parents Against CPS Corruption. To find out about protests and marches or for peer support and advocacy, please contact MichelleChan2019@gmail.com or visit ParentsAgainstCPSCorruption.com.