Friday, August 13, 2010
Foster care in Mississippi: Is stealing poor people’s children business-as-usual?
[UPDATE, JAN 6, 2011: FOR REASONS DISCUSSED IN THE POST BELOW, THE ORIGINAL COMPLAINT IN THIS LAWSUIT WAS CENSORED AS A RESULT OF A GAG ORDER ISSUED BY A MISSISSIPPI COURT. THE GAG ORDER HAS BEEN LIFTED, YOU CAN NOW READ THE FULL, UNCENSORED DOCUMENT ON THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER'S WEBSITE HERE.]
The Southern Poverty Law Center today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Cirila Baltazar Cruz, the undocumented immigrant mother in Mississippi whose child was confiscated at birth because Ms. Cruz doesn't speak English. The lawsuit alleges that the state child welfare agency, a judge and affluent white foster parents (lawyers who frequently practice before the judge who approved the removal) conspired to "steal" – and that's SPLC's word – Ms. Cruz's newborn daughter, Ruby, so the foster parents could adopt her.
News accounts about the suit are available from the Associated Press and the Jackson Ms. Clarion-Ledger. SPLC's website has links to the lawsuit complaint and to what may be an even more revealing document: a two-and-a-half page letter from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to the Mississippi Department of Human Services summarizing the findings of their own investigation.
The letter is scathing. It found repeated violations of federal law and regulations – most notably the agency's failure to lift a finger to help ameliorate problems of poverty that supposedly contributed to the removal. But even more important, according to the letter, Mississippi child welfare authorities "did not see these issues as problematic. This leads us to conclude that this may be how business is conducted and that this is not an isolated incident."
HHS asked Mississippi "to provide information regarding how the Agency will address these compliance issues and future issues of this nature by October 30, 2009." There is nothing in the documents made public today indicating how Mississippi responded.
The injustices don't end there.
I've often said child welfare systems are more secret than the CIA. If you doubt it, check out the public version of SPLC's complaint. They had to black out paragraph after paragraph, sometimes an entire page. Why? Because the juvenile court (called the Youth Court in Mississippi) issued a sweeping gag order, which Ms. Cruz is appealing, one that still applies, even though the child has been returned to her mother, and both are living in Mexico. I can't wait for the advocates of confidentiality to explain why that is necessary to protect the child. [UPDATE, JAN 6, 2011: THE GAG ORDER HAS BEEN LIFTED, YOU CAN NOW READ THE FULL, UNCENSORED DOCUMENT ON SPLC's WEBSITE HERE.]
And then there's the group that gagged itself – that great big purveyor of child welfare McLawsuits that usually loves to talk, but somehow has stood silent throughout Ruby's ordeal – even though it has settled a class-action suit against the child welfare system in Mississippi. It's the same group that apparently never noticed the fact that the wrongful removal of Ruby may well represent a systemic failure in Mississippi, and has shown no evidence of lifting a finger to do anything about it.
I am referring, of course, to the group that so arrogantly calls itself "Children's Rights" – while showing no evidence that it gives a damn about the rights of one little girl named Ruby.
More on Monday.