WHEN THE SYSTEM BREAKS DOWN
In June of 1996, Rachelle and Lee Henry had their life turned upside down by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Mr. and Mrs. Henry are foster parents and one of their eight foster children was taken from them; the rest were taken in November. All of these children were born addicted to drugs and with medical conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to mental retardation to AIDS.
How and why did this occur? Early in 1996, the Henrys who are grandparents and whose four birth children are grown up and out of the house, moved from Pomona to Lancaster. At their new home they were assigned a new DCFS social worker for their youngest child, a three year old drug-addicted baby who is HIV positive.
Earlier in June, the three year old was taken to the Emergency Room at Antelope Valley Hospital where she was treated by a pediatrician named Gerard G. Edralin. According to Juvenile Court records, the child was hospitalized as a result of her alleged adverse reaction "to ingestion of psychotropic drugs Phenothiazine, Haldol, and Tegritol."
Obviously, if a woman is poisoning her children with psychotropic drugs, removing the children from her home followed by criminal prosecution for attempted murder or at the very least battery would be appropriate. The problem here is that Dr. Edralin can't understand how the Juvenile Court could reach the above conclusion when according to his letter to the Court he informed DCFS that the three year old he treated showed no evidence of ingesting any medication whatsoever. His letter stated in part: "You can't imagine how utterly appalled and disturbed I was when I received a copy of the Juvenile Court petition which stated in effect that the child was taken away from the home of her legal guardian, Rachelle A. Henry, because it was thought that she had ingested [drugs]. This is an utter falsehood, and whoever made these irresponsible statements is either a complete idiot, or else is trying desperately to damage the name and reputation of Mrs. Henry."
Mrs. Henry acknowledged that when they moved from Pomona to Lancaster in 1995 she did not get along very well with the new DCFS social worker who was assigned to their young child. Mrs. Henry admits there was a personality conflict, yet somehow this has led to a bench officer removing these children from the only loving, caring home they have ever known. The Henrys have spent the last year and a half attempting to regain custody of their foster children. Previous DCFS social workers and medical practitioners who worked with the Henrys over the last twelve years have rallied to their support. On the medical front, there are letters from Dr. Joseph A. Church and Dr. Ronald M. Ferdman of Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, who both indicated that Rachelle Henry has been a responsible, caring parent. One DCFS social worker who had previously worked with the Henrys, speaking on condition of anonymity, describes the atmosphere in the Henry home as one in which the children were given the utmost treatment and love. Another DCFS social worker who had overseen the Henry children for almost ten years was absolutely amazed at the fact that these children were being ripped out of the Henry household as he stated, "Mrs. Henry loved those kids a lot and I didn't have [any] problems with that lady. The Judge never subpoenaed me. They took the case from me and put another worker on it." A supervising social worker whose task it was to accompany law enforcement in the gathering up of the Henry foster children, couldn't figure out what she was doing there. While acknowledging her visit to the Henry home was a brief one, she stated as follows: "We have to make quick assessments in a short amount of time, and I didn't perceive wrong there...I didn't see any neglect. It seemed to me she was taking real good care of them."
What has made the regaining of their foster children so difficult for the Henrys is that a Court-appointed psychologist has "diagnosed" the foster mother as having something known as the "Good Mother Syndrome" also known as Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. This somewhat controversial diagnosis within the psychological community was first put forth in 1977 by a British pediatrician who defined this situation as one in which a mother intentionally harms her child to gain attention for herself.
Why has this allegation been made against Mrs. Henry if it is not true? Tom Ryan, considered the leading legal expert in this area, looks at the Henry situation with disbelief. He says that "allegations of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy arise 'when a mother with a chronically ill child advocates for her child.' It's an effective way to get rid of a mother. ...[T]he diagnosis is becoming more common and it is often used in response to charges of medical malpractice or in custody battles." Ryan analogizes this to the old "Twinkie Defense," which fortunately hasn't been seen in this State for many years.
All of the medical professionals who have reviewed this file feel that whether or not Rachelle Henry has significant problems rests on the quality of the Court-ordered psychological evaluation which must include extensive objective psychological testing along with numerous interviews. In this case, the evaluation of Mrs. Henry consisted of an interview by the Court-ordered psychologist that lasted less than two hours!
This matter is now set for trial in January; however, the Henrys don't believe that they will have their day in court anytime soon. Since the children were removed from the Henry home, the Henrys have retained their legal guardianship of the children, no criminal or civil charges have been filed against them, and while the Court has permitted visitation, Rachelle Henry indicates that they have only been able to find one of the eight children claiming: "DCFS threw up obstacles so we couldn't see or find the children."
More from attorney Tom Ryan: "It would seem this is about as bone-headed a case as it comes. There has got to be another issue as to why the County took these children that they are not willing to admit."
Amazing, simply amazing. A mother and father who raised four birth children on their own and subsequently took on eight more children who are truly society's outcasts has them taken away due to a Juvenile Court record reflecting hospitalization for a reason that the treating physician indicated isn't true. Why? Apparently because of a personality conflict between the DCFS social worker and Rachelle Henry. As was stated by San Francisco psychiatrist, Mark Levy: "What's complicated here is that things that are medical are being mixed with bad politics [in the report]." Amazing, absolutely amazing.