Two days after a 19 year-old woman, identified by the pseudonym Sara Gordon, gave birth to a baby girl, the state of Massachusetts swept in and took the baby away, placing her in foster care in a case of legalized kidnapping. And now the state is at odds with the Federal government, which is demanding that the baby be returned to her mother.
Sara Gordon has a developmental disability, which is described as a "mild intellectual disability." It is hard for Sara Gordon to read and to follow verbal direction, Instead, she requires hands-on instruction with repetitive frequency to learn new things, such as how to feed or diaper a baby.
Because of her mild developmental disability, the state of Massachusetts child welfare officials immediately declared that the young mother could not properly care for the baby, and are insisting that they are acting in the best interest of the child.
The federal government disagrees and says that the state actually violated the civil rights of Sara Gordon -- the state, they say, discriminated against Gordon because of her disability.
In effect, without ever giving the mother the chance, the state of Massachusetts legally kidnapped Sara Gordon's newborn baby.
The Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a report on the matter, saying that the state -- which has already moved to terminate the parental rights of Sara Gordon -- not only needs to give the new mother a chance to prove that she can care for her baby, but that they also need to compensate her or else they could face a federal lawsuit.
The National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that advises the White House and Congress, says that the case of Sara Gordon highlights the growing problem of states taking custody of the children of parents with disabilities. Attorney for the council, Robyn Powell, sums up the concerning situation.
"Parents with disabilities are suffering significant discrimination. What happened to this mother is very common...States are moving these children for the sole reason of their parents having a disability."
Sara Gordon, as she is identified in the federal report, is now 21 -- her baby was legally kidnapped by the state as she was still recovering from childbirth in November of 2012.
The two federal agencies that have conducted a joint civil rights investigation into the case say that the state of Massachusetts "assumed that Ms. Gordon was unable to learn how to safely care for her daughter because of her disability, and, therefore, denied her the opportunity to receive meaningful assistance."
The report goes on to say that Massachusetts should provide Sara Gordon with services and support in order to give her a chance at regaining custody of her daughter, pay damages to the family, and completely withdraw their current petition to terminate the mother's parental rights.
The report calls for broader reform, as well, claiming that Sara Gordon is an example of "systemic failures by DCF to ensure social workers follow appropriate policies and procedures and have necessary training to perform their duties without discriminating on the basis of disability."
There are several other ongoing cases similar to that of Gordon's in the U.S. The National Council on Disability has documented, for example, a case in Kansas City, Missouri, where a couple had their daughter taken into state custody because they were both blind. Another case in Chicago involved a quadriplegic mother who was forced to wage a lengthy legal battle in order to keep her son in her care.
State child welfare officials have always defended the decision to place the children of disabled parents into foster care, citing grave concerns for the well-being of the children.
DFC spokeswoman Cayenne Isaksen said the agency will respond to the federal government's report on Sara Gordon but also maintained the idea that there has been no intentional wrong-doing.
"DCF believes it acted in the best interest of the child."
Sara Gordon and her family have declined to make any direct comments about the case. But through their lawyer, it is known that local community service providers approve of the family's plan on how to best care for the little girl who was taken from her mother, now aged 2. The grandparents of the little girl want to become the child's legal guardians and will, they say, continue to help their daughter, who lives with them.
"This mother has good supports. There are no issues of substance abuse or domestic violence," said Mark Watkins, Sara Gordon's lawyer.
He added that the mother is working to complete her high school degree and that she has not given up on hope of gaining custody of her daughter. She visits the child regularly and has taken courses on parenting skills. Her lawyer praised her perseverance.
"She has been resilient. She's been disappointed at nearly every turn by the court and the department. But she has never stopped trying. She never quit. A lesser person would have given up by now."
Many refer to the actions of the state taking a child away from his or her mother for no justifiable reason as "legal kidnapping." Click here to read about the mom whose child was taken away because of her dietary habits, and here to read about the "medical" kidnapping of two sisters.
[Image via womensctr.org]