(www.JoseesVoice.com) – As the nation gears up to celebrate the holidays, moms like me who survived domestic violence only to have their abusers use family court to terrorize them, know the pain of the holidays. Our children know, too.
When asked what she is thankful for in school, Josee said, “I am thankful that I have a mother.”
If you are just learning of our story, YOU HAVE NO IDEA how hard some people are working to keep Josee and me apart, but she does. Josee is hyper-aware of how hard I am fighting for her. She is aware how hard some of our advocates are fighting, too. Her statement might not be true if THOUSANDS of you had not called Mayor de Blasio, the courthouse and to the White House. We were apart on Thanksgiving but we are still a family because of God’s grace and people like Jo Natha Stock, Dr. Erich Z, journalist Tom Hays, photographer Babeto, Chris Pringle, Katrina Walker and many strangers who know our story.
Children like Josee are being used as pawns, wrongly placed in foster care and illegally kept there as punishment for moms who speak out and fight for their children’s rights. I had recently decided to be silent, but something happened that made me know that I cannot sit back and allow injustice to continue to cause hell for my child, myself and other families.
Last week, I was invited to an upscale dinner where about 20 or so other “bloggers, journalists and social influencers” met a dynamic woman named Katrina Walker, a domestic violence survivor whose story is so touching and profound that Rev. Sharpton hosted the dinner. I usually go out of my way to avoid political situations, but this dinner felt different so I agreed to attend. I am so glad that I did. Here’s why:
When I read that Katrina Walker would be the guest of honor at the dinner, I almost didn’t go. Domestic Violence is a tough topic for me and I didn’t want to spend the night dwelling on it. I also believe New York City is guilty of extreme domestic violence fraud – getting grants for us victims that we never see. We rarely get the help the grants intend for us to get.
The number one cause of homelessness for women and children is domestic violence, yet we certainly rarely see the housing support or social services, at least not in NYC. In fact, New York City LEADS THE NATION in removing children from their parents for domestic violence. They say moms who are victims FAIL TO PROTECT their children and remove them, force adoptions and demand moms engage in mental health services that most don’t need to parent their child.
Katrina Walker knows all about this. Her story is remarkable and exactly what I needed to hear. I felt my spirit soar when she declared, “I am not ashamed. I am not embarassed to tell my truth.” It was an affirmation that I thought would never come.
Katrina Walker knows how it feels to try to protect the ones you love only to have others blame you for not doing enough or picking the wrong person. I shared with her my concerns – echoed by so many other moms – that child welfare is a broken system for domestic violence victims and their children. I shared with her how NYC ACS snatches kids from otherwise good parents and making them engage in – and pay for – mental health and other services that they cannot afford.
When the moms do engage – even if the therapists say they don’t need it – it is usually to no end because NYC’s embattled child welfare agency, ACS, “uses mental health to strengthen weak cases, keep kids in foster care and receive millions in grants,” according to NAMI an organization that won a class action lawsuit against ACS for mental health fraud.
If moms speak out and tell their stories, ACS says they are “combative, intimidating” and refuse to return their children. The judges – according to a five year study – rubber stamp the cases with 98% of all cases sided in ACS’ favor. The kids don’t stand a chance of due process or fairness.
When my photo ran in 35+ newspapers including Miami Herald, Washington Times, San Fran Chronicle and was featured as “Photo of the Day” in Yahoo! in July 2015, I wasn’t prepared for the immediate backlash that I would experience from ACS. When the Amsterdam News did a follow up a few weeks later, the fallout was swift. When hundreds of people called the courthouse, mayor and others on my behalf to stop an October 1, 2015 hearing that would have illegally ended my parental rights, ACS was so upset that they refused to allow my child to call me or even see me. I HAVE NOT SEEN MY CHILD SINCE!!!
I was about to give up and stop fighting, shut down the website and stop speaking out when I was invited to the Katrina Walker dinner. Ironically, when I met her for some reason I ended up briefly sharing my story with her. But it was Rev. Sharpton’s words that made me realize I could not give up. His zingers like: “Don’t eat if you ain’t gonna tweet” were funny, but he jolted me to reality when he said, “GOD CAN’T GET THE GLORY IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY.” It was meant for me to hear that.
When my child was legally kidnapped, I started a blog called Falsely Accused Moms. Since then, FalselyAccusedMoms.com serves as a clearinghouse for birth parents, domestic violence victims, advocates and others who are trying to free a child wrongly placed in foster care. ACS has filed many, many motions to try to get the website shutdown. While it’s no longer just my story, FalselyAccusedMoms is so needed because most people’s children are removed after FALSE REPORTS to the child hotline.
According to Gladys Carrion, the commissioner of ACS, a whopping SIXTY PERCENT of ALL calls to the hotline are false and malicious and deemed unfounded YET the agency’s “when in doubt pull them out” mentality means children like Josee are ripped from their families and kept in foster care…usually for the money! ACS has a $3 BILLION budget with an annual surplus!
NYC leads the nation in keeping kids in foster care for 54 months, which is 4 and a half years! That is twice the national average! According to a federal class action filed in July 2015 by NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, inspired by Josee’s story, NYC’s “ACS abuses the emergency removal process. More than 50% of all children removed are done so on an emergency basis when they are not in danger.” The law requires that ACS go to court PRIOR to removing kids unless they are in danger of death or dismemberment. ACS uses emergency removals – like they did with Josee – when the parent is about to hire an attorney, fights back or knows their rights. ACS knows that 98% of all judges rubber stamp their cases so when they legally kidnap a child, the court always backs them up.
The mistakes in my case are so egregious that the nation has been standing up for us and demanding justice and that Josee go home. The judge ordered that, too, but ACS ignored the order. Flat out ignored it and had the judge removed from the case. A child support referee replaced a veteran judge in my case and it has been a nightmare ever since!
The ref issued multiple orders to have me IN CONTEMPT OF COURT and INCARCERATED if I spoke to my attorney more than once per week! The ref issued orders saying I would be INCARCERATED if I filed any motions in my own case! The ref’s actions have the legal community buzzing! When I complained, she illegally turned my LIBERAL, UNSUPERVISED VISITS into supervised visits and only one time per week!
When advocate Jo Natha Stock complained to the court because she felt my case was largely illegally handled, that my child was being severely damaged and treated like a pawn, the court tried to get her fired.
On October 1, 2015, Ms. Stock attempted to testify orally but the ref refused. Thankfully, Ms. Stock had written her testimony out in a four page document and had it notarized and faxed to the court before the hearing. The court was livid. Jessica Page, an attorney for ACS has committed fraud and other crimes against Ms. Stock including witness tampering, intimidation, etc. by trying to get Ms. Stock’s supervisor fired and trying to bully Ms. Stock into retracting her testimony which stated “there is nothing in this case that makes Josee’s mom unfit.” She says, “I think Josee’s mom is a great mom. Wouldn’t you want your mom to fight for you?” She goes on to outline the harassment and intimidation that she has personally experienced just because she sought to help Josee and me.
Rev. Sharpton is right. Katrina Walker is right. I CANNOT be silent. I cannot be afraid. My baby needs me and I need her. God is in control now, so this is gonna have to be my Daniel and the Lion’s Den story because I cannot stop until we are successful. We must #BringJoseeHome.