Friday, September 16, 2011

ARE WENDI G.'S CHILDREN PRISONERS? - PART 2

In Part 1 of this post, I described a letter I had received indicating that Wendi G.’s daughter, “Caleigh”, who is ten years old, is in great distress from having been cut off from all contact with her mother. The writer, who is a parent with a child at Caleigh’s school, told of hearing and seeing signs that Caleigh is feeling unsafe at home and feeling afraid to tell people what she is experiencing and feeling. Important concerns were raised by the reports that the parent was hearing from her daughter about Caleigh’s statements to her.

Around the same time, I received a letter that caused me worry for the well-being of Caleigh’s older brother, whom I will call “Monte.” This letter was written by another parent at Monte’s school, Skyview Middle School in Colorado Springs. I will call that mother "Natalie," and her daughter “Isabel”; Isabel is a friend of Monte’s. Natalie wrote me that Isabel has told her of the following conversations with Monte:

• Monte said that his father showed him and his sister court papers related to the father’s legal efforts to have Wendi’s parental rights terminated, and that his father told them they will never see their mother again “because she took them away from him and what she did was very wrong.”

• Monte told Isabel that he was not allowed to talk to her because her parents are bad, and they are saying back things about Monte’s father, and if his father found out that Monte was talking to Isabel or to Natalie, he would be in a lot of trouble.

• Monte told Isabel that his father informed him that he had people from the church watching the house of Isabel’s family while Wendy and the children were in hiding because he believed that Isabel’s family was harboring them.

Isabel also described Monte as “not the same person he was when he left for the summer to be with Wendi.” She said he won’t talk about “anything with anyone,” and that he said he won’t tell any adult about the abuse he and his sister have suffered in their father’s home “because he doesn’t believe it will really help.”

[All quotations are from Natalie’s letter, reporting what her daughter told her.]

What’s going on in cases like these? When people report these cries of distress by children, why aren’t child protective services and family court running in to perform sophisticated, unbiased investigations to find out whether the children are making these statements, and if so, why?

The sad truth is that the reasons are so many that I can only give a few. Beginning with the family law arena, we are dealing with a system where there are no juries; single judges make all the decisions, and as a result they have extraordinary power and no oversight. Few mothers haver the money to appeal judicial rulings – appeals are very expense – and appeals courts often don’t want to be bothered to look closely at abuse cases, which they tend to lump into the category of “custody disputes.” To make matters worse, family law attorneys, judges, and evaluators tend to all know each other and to work together on case after case, with the result that objectivity vanishes. In towns or cities where a network of influential and interconnected people have the real power, whether through the government or through the churches or through a combination of the two, it can be impossible for a mother to be taken seriously when she reveals that her children are describing abuse.

Child protective services are dramatically underfunded, and since workers are given little pay for highly stressful work, they don’t tend to stick around long. The result is that CPS line staff tend to be inexperienced and highly subject to pressure from their superiors. The whole business of child protection is, regrettably, governed by few concrete rules, so that workers and supervisors can make decisions largely based on their own preferences and prejudices.

We are, thus, dealing with two systems that need to be overhauled from top to bottom. In the mean time, the people who are suffering the most from the actions of these broken systems are people of color, poor people, and those mothers who need to protect their children from an abusive father.

In the Wendi G. case, we have reason to believe that the fact that the father is a pastor at a local church is one of the reasons why bias is governing the actions of officials, rather than proper careful concern for the well-being of the children.

While we struggle to bring systemic changes about, we need to publicize the ways in which cases are being mishandled and children are being left in captivity. Wendi G.’s case calls urgently for careful investigation by professionals who are not tied to either of the families or to their churches, and who will be free from influence and pressure. Based on what I’ve read about this case so far, there is very good reason to believe that these two children may be facing grave harm.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Email news station KOAA in Colorado Springs. Tell them that you are writing them about the "Wendi G." case, and that you read about it on a national blog. Then tell them why you are concerned about the case, and ask them to do a story on it right away.

To email: Go to the stations's website, at www.koaa.com/contact-us/, then look down the left side of the page, and under the "Contact Us" list click on "Assignment Desk", which will take you to a form for emailing them.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

ARE WENDI G.'S CHILDREN PRISONERS? - PART I

What happens when children are blocked from telling what is happening to them at home? What happens when they are forbidden to even describe what they are feeling? The latest developments in Wendi G.'s case raise these questions in poignant ways.

Wendi's children are currently living with their father in Colorado. Wendi reports that she has been permitted no contact with the children -- not even telephone conversations -- for over three weeks. Given that Wendi was the children's primary caregiver through most of their lives, we have to assume that a period that long of being completely cut off from her would be deeply distressing to them.

But it appear that we don't just have to assume. Friday I received two worrisome letters from parents who have children in school with Wendi G.'s children. The first is from a mother who has a daughter who knows Wendi's daughter. To protect people's privacy and safety, I need to assign fictitious names to the mother, "Virginia," her daughter, "Amanda," and Wendy's daughter, "Caleigh". Virginia's letter raised the following concerns:

* "A week ago I was called to come to the school during lunch time as my daughter Amanda was very upset. I arrived and Amanda told me that Caleigh's father had discovered a letter that Caleigh had from her mother, in which Wendi said to Caleigh that Amanda's mom was a safe person for Caleigh to turn towards and confide in. According to what Caleigh told Amanda, her father made threats to [make Caleigh tell] who Amanda was, and Caleigh told Amanda that she and I were in danger. The clear implication to Amanda was that Caleigh's father was going to hurt us. "

* Virginia reports that in this same conversation with her daughter, Amanda told her that a few weeks ago Caleigh had told her that she was being sexually abused by her father. Amanda had kept this secret but now told her mother.

* Virginia goes on to explain that she chose not to report to school personnel what Amanda had told her about Caleigh's disclosure, because she had raised concerns about boundary violations toward Caleigh several months ago, and the school had not taken action. Specifically, Virginia had heard rumors that Caleigh's father was going into Caleigh's room and hugging her while he was naked. "I immediately called the school thinking that they would be concerned as well... While the school nurse was very concerned, the administration was not... I am unsure if the school ever made a report - but I did call DHS child abuse hotline. Nothing every came of it."

* So instead of attempting to involve the school this time, Virginia decided to go directly to law enforcement. "This time, armed with what Caleigh said to Amanda, I called the police to file a report. Within a few hours of going to the police station a police officer who works under Sgt. Taylor called and interviewed me. He said he would be checking with Crimes Against Children and the Sexual Crimes departments and then interviewing Caleigh. Thus far I do not believe this has happened."

Virginia's letter mostly speaks for itself, but I do want to add a few comments. First of all, sexual abuse of children is typically preceded by a pattern of boundary violations that increase in intensity, as the perpetrator attempts to accustom the child to being abused. So in cases where there are reports of milder inappropriate behavior followed by more outright violations, law enforcement authorities and family court personnel have particular reason to take the allegations seriously and make sure that they are investigated carefully and objectively.

Second, the literature on child sexual abuse is full or references to the ways in which perpetrators enforce secrecy and make their victims afraid to talk to other people about the violations -- or even afraid to talk to other people about anything. (For an overview, see chapter 4 of my book, The Batterer as Parent. ) So any indications that the children are being told to stay away from speaking to certain individuals, or to anyone, would be serious warning signs given the other worrisome reports on this case. And such indications do exist, as I will be discussing in my next entry.

Last, I am deeply concerned about the way in which professionals seem to shy away from properly examining the potential risks to Wendi G.'s children. As I will be reviewing, there have been a number of opportunities to find out what level of risk these children are living with, and professionals have either moved extremely slowly -- which is not appropriate where there are signs that children may be suffering harm -- or have dropped the ball altogether. The pattern of professional error in this case creates an impression of backroom deals and pressure from within the church; I hope that this is just an impression, and not the dynamic that it appears to be.

In my next entry I will discuss the second letter I received, which gives me good reason to worry for Wendi's son. This is clearly a case with an urgent need for responses from law enforcement, child protection, and school personnel that are considerably more unbiased, diligent, thorough, and prompt than they have been so far.


WHAT YOU CAN DO:

It is important for professionals to see that there is growing public awareness about this case and that concerned people want to see this case properly handled, with appropriate steps taken to assess and protect the keep the children safe.

Email:

Loretta Branham
Executive Assistant for the Board of Education
District 49, Colorado Springs
lbranham@d49.org

Describe your concerns about Wendi G.'s case, and say that it involves Ridgeview Elementary and Skyview Middle School (Ms. Branham will not recognize the case without Wendi's last name, which we are not giving, but personnel at the schools will, so ask Ms. Branham to pass your concerns onto the schools.)

Call:

Crimes Against Children Unit, Colorado Springs,CO
(719) 444-7540
Say that you are calling about case # 11-16865, then express your concerns.

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