THE THREE MOST POWERFUL TOOLS TO FIGHT CHILDREN'S SERVICES
This case of harassment by social workers is one of the best ever documented with audio and video tape. As you read this story, click on each blue underlined link to hear the actual telephone conversation between the mom and the social workers involved. When you reach the part of the story where the police visit her home, the blue links will show you the video clips of those visits. By the time you finish reading this true story, you will never be afraid of social workers again!
The facts: Mom is reported to Children's Services for drinking two or three glasses of wine a week during her pregnancy. There is no law prohibiting such action, and no medical evidence that small amounts of alcohol causes any harm to the unborn baby. Social workers enter mom's home, order her to appear at their main office, perform a urine test, and complete an assessment. Mom is then ordered to attend costly treatment programs. The Family Defense Network of Ohio then comes to her aid. Mom realizes that she is not required under law to comply with any of the orders given by the social workers, and refuses to cooperate any further. The social workers then step up their intimidation, and threaten to take court action to take her children from her. They also "substantiate" the allegations of neglect against her and enter her name in the Central Registry of Chid Abuse and Neglect.
One of the most revealing statements is made by the social worker to the mom on March 31st. When the mom tries to tell the social worker that she has rights under the Constitution, the social worker replies, "You know what? You are so caught up into what your rights are!" This is classic social worker arrogance!
THE REAL STORY
2/1/05 - Joyce Cartwright, a single mom, finds a brochure on her front door from the Cuyahoga County Department of Children & Family Services. At the bottom of the form are two names along with telephone numbers. The first name is Lakeesha Harper with the title of "My Assigned Social Worker." The second name is Kathleen Johnson, with the title of "My Social Worker's Supervisor." Joyce has no idea why the brochure has been placed on her door.
2/18/05 - A social worker shows up at Joyce's front door, and identifies herself as Lakeesha Harper. The social worker explains that she is investigating several complaints, one of which is a "complaint about loud music." Joyce replies, "You've got to be kidding!" The social worker assures Joyce that she is serious, and demands to come in the house and see the baby and talk with Joyce's eight-year-old boy. Joyce advises the social worker that she is taking the boy to school, and she did not have time right now. The social worker threatens Joyce that she will go to the boy's school to interview him unless she lets her into the home. Joyce agrees to allow the social worker into to the home the following week.
2/23/05 - Social worker Lakeesha Harper shows up again at Joyce's home and demands to be allowed into the home. Lakeesha interviews Joyce's eight-year-old son and inspects the baby. Joyce is advised that because she consumed wine during her pregnancy, she is required to appear for a drug and alcohol assessment on February 24th at 8:00 AM at the DCFS in downtown Cleveland. Although the social worker produces no summons or court order, Joyce is advised that she "has no choice." The social worker gives Joyce directions to the DCFS and leaves the home.
2/24/05 - Joyce drives into Cleveland and arrives for the drug and alcohol assessment. She is required to take a number and wait until she is called. Her number is finally called, and she enters an office with Roger Schaffer, an "Assessment Counselor." Joyce is asked numerous questions, and then is then taken into another room, where she is ordered to urinate in a jar. Roger advises Joyce that she is required to enroll in "intensive outpatient treatment" for alcohol abuse. Joyce begins crying, and tells the assessor again that she only drank a few glasses of wine. Roger then introduces Joyce to social worker Caroline Davis. This social worker advises Joyce that she must begin Intensive Outpatient Treatment at a location at East 31st and Euclid. Joyce states that she is not going to that neighborhood for treatment. Joyce is told by the social workers that she "has no choice in the matter." At that point, another social worker is summoned into the office. Social worker Lakeesha Harper discusses insurance coverage with the others, and suggests to Joyce that she make an appointment with Oakview in Middleburg Heights, a suburb of Cleveland.
3/2/05 - Joyce makes an appointment with Oakview. She arrives at Oakview and is required to fill out more paperwork. Joyce discovers that the treatment cost is in the thousands, and tells the staff that she cannot afford it if her insurance doesn't cover it. One of the staff, Debbie Rogers, tells Joyce, "Just go with the program or they will make your life a living hell!" After realizing that Joyce's insurance doesn't cover the treatment, the staff gives Joyce the name of another facility that will only charge her $795.00 for the treatment, plus another $175.00 for another assessment. She is given an appointment at the McIntyre Center. Joyce speaks with one of the staff of the McIntyre Center and is advised that she must pay the $970.00 "up front," before she starts her treatment.
Joyce receives a telephone call at home from social worker Kathleen Johnson. This time, Joyce records the conversation using the speaker-phone and a tape recorder. Miss Johnson states to Joyce, "Any time we have a child drug exposed, we have to do a staffing. It goes a lot smoother if you cooperate." The social worker asks Joyce, "Are you tape recording these calls? I cannot discuss anything with you if you are tape recording, I just heard a beep." (The beep Johnson heard was certainly not from any tape recorder.) Joyce tells the social worker that she is holding her baby, and that she is on speaker-phone. The social worker seems to be satisfied, and continues.
Johnson continues, "When we become aware that even a legal substance is used pre-nataly, that is concern for our agency. You have been recommended for treatment, and that requires a staffing where we can sit down and discuss how we can help you to be a good parent." The social worker then tells Joyce that she is being referred to the START unit. The social worker also informs Joyce that her assessment states that she requires "intensive outpatient treatment." The social worker then sternly tells Joyce to come to the staffing scheduled for Monday, March 7th. She states, "It is imperative that you come to this meeting Miss Cartwright, imperative!"
Joyce continues to try to determine why she is required to comply with the social worker's demands. Johnson then states, "Once you have come to the attention of our agency, it is my mandate to make sure that those children are safe." Johnson tells Joyce more about her department's policy. She states, "Our agency's policy states that if any child is exposed to legal or illegal substances, ... it is an automatic staffing and you will be referred to our START unit."
At this point, Joyce's resistance is beginning to wear down. She is being bombarded with information designed to intimidate her into compliance with the demands of the social worker. Johnson continues the assault of words. "That is our agency's policy and is protocol," she says, "and I have to follow that." Johnson then implies that if Joyce doesn't cooperate, things might get hard for her. Johnson states, "And it will be much easier if you come to the staffing, bring a support person who will agree to come in and check on you and the baby." Joyce tries one last attempt to convince the social worker that she has done nothing wrong, and does not need treatment for any type of alcohol abuse. She indicates to social worker Johnson that she does not believe she has done anything wrong. Johnson replies, "Whenever a parent is recommended for intensive outpatient treatment, and then they sit there and tell us that they are not going to participate, and you have a two-month-old in your household, that is of grave concern to us!"
This tactic is used often during interrogations of crime suspects. Joyce's resistance has reached its lowest point since the conversation began. Social worker Johnson continues with her intimidating conversation. She states, "We will have our START unit there, which is our chemical dependency unit..." Joyce interrupts and asks Johnson who has diagnosed her as being chemically dependent. Johnson states that she is looking at her "assessment," which recommends "intensive outpatient treatment." This is the elusive "assessment" that Joyce cannot get a copy of from Children Services.
Social worker Johnson continues to convince Joyce that she has no choice but to attend the staffing. Johnson states, "We have a mom who is chemically dependent..." Joyce interrupts and again asks, "And who has diagnosed me as being chemically dependent?" The social worker again refers to the assessment. She states, "You were recommended for intensive outpatient treatment due to your alcohol abuse." Joyce objects again and asks, "And who said that I have abused alcohol?" Johnson again tells Joyce that she was recommended for intensive outpatient treatment because of her assessment.
Any normal parent at this stage would be intimidated. Unsure of what her rights are, Joyce becomes quiet on the telephone. The social worker then makes a veiled threat in a last attempt to get Joyce to cooperate. Johnson states, "Miss Cartwright, if you do not show up for this staffing, there are going to be..." Joyce interrupts one last time to ask if the social worker is threatening her. Johnson replies that she is simply stating the policy of her agency. Because Joyce is unsure of what Johnson will do to her and her family, Joyce reluctantly agrees to appear for the staffing.
3/6/05 - Four days later, Joyce Cartwright talks with Robert R. Surgenor Sr. of the Family Defense Network of Ohio. After speaking with Joyce in length, it was determined that the DCFS had never provided Joyce with any court order or summons for her to comply with any of the requests made by the social workers. Up to this point, Joyce was jumping through all of these hoops when she didn't have to. She was complying out of fear that the DCFS would cause further turmoil within her family, and she was afraid of losing her two children.
Surgenor suggested several things to Joyce. It was suggested that she continue to tape record her telephone conversations, and to have a video camera ready near the front door. She was advised to ask the social workers what the charges were against her. Social workers are required to comply with Ohio Bill 185, which states that the parent being investigated must be informed of the charge. Joyce had never been told what the charge was against her, only that she had consumed alcohol during her pregnancy. Joyce was also advised to collect as much information as possible on identifying the person who was giving the orders that she had been made to believe she was obligated to obey. Joyce was supplied with information from the FDNO regarding her rights as a parent and the limitations placed on social workers who are investigating reports of child abuse or neglect.
Joyce is now armed with the knowledge needed to confidently question the authority of the social workers that have been ordering her around. Now that she knows she has broken no laws, and that the social workers have absolutely no legal authority over her, she has renewed strength to stand up to the social workers. She does not appear for the "staffing" on Monday, March 7th, and waits to see what the social workers will do.
3/9/05 - Joyce receives a phone call from a social worker who identifies herself as Charlene Willingham, of the DCFS "START unit." The social worker advises Joyce that she is her "START Family Advocate," and asks when they can "get together." Willingham reminds Joyce that she did not show up for the staffing, where she would have been introduced as Joyce's new social worker. She states, "That was when you were to be introduce to me and my partner, and to find out our involvement in your case." Willingham then advises Joyce that she has been assigned as her on-going social worker. Joyce begins to question the social worker about her authority, and asks who is giving the orders to make her comply with the program. Willingham tells Joyce that her case is classified as a "substance abuse" case. Joyce then points out to the social worker, "O.K., but there is no case of substance abuse." Joyce then explains that she consumed a few glasses of wine, which is not against the law. The social worker replies, "You are not processing what I am saying to you. The case came through as a result of substance abuse that you used during your pregnancy. That is how it came to the attention of the Department of Children and Family Services. I'm calling you to follow up." Willingham reminds Joyce that she failed to show up for the "staffing" that had been scheduled.
Joyce then begins the task of finding out what the actual crime is that she is being accused of by the social workers. In order for a social worker to have any authority at all, Joyce would have had to commit a crime, which has an actual statute or ordinance number. Joyce then asks Willingham. "You need to make it clear to me what the specific complaint is." Willingham replies, "That you used alcohol throughout the course of your pregnancy." Joyce than asks, "What Ohio law does that violate?" Willingham replies, "I'm going to tell you. You are not willing to listen. You want to throw me questions but you don't want to listen and receive what I'm saying to you." Joyce states, "You are not answering the question!" Willingham replies, "I'm trying to! It's the Ohio Revised Code that deals with abused and neglected children. Do you want to know the exact number?" It's obvious here that Willingham doesn't know what law she is enforcing.
Joyce then tries to obtain the names of all of the social workers involved in her case. She questions Willingham about the names of the workers she has encountered, beginning with the worker who came to her home during the initial visit. Joyce states, "I need to know the names of the workers, and how I got to you specifically." When Joyce states, "You should have record of that," Willingham stutters, "I, I, I, I..."
Joyce then advises Willingham that she has elected to refuse to follow the instructions she has been given by the Department of Children's Services. Willingham replies, "O.K., that's fine, and I will document that! My partner will get in touch with you in terms of the legal aspects. If you are refusing to..." Joyce interrupts and states, "I haven't broken any laws!" Willingham replies, "We are not going anywhere. This is really a futile conversation." Joyce states, "You have still not given me the specific complaint." Willingham replies, "I told you it was about substance abuse during pregnancy." Joyce then asks, "You tell me what law that violates." Willingham answers, "You don't think there's a law that violates the child's rights?" Joyce asks again, "I am asking you what Ohio law that violates?" Willingham answers, "I will absolutely get you that information." Joyce then advises Willingham to fax her the information, and ends the conversation.
3/29/05 - Joyce leaves the house for a short time and when she returns, she finds a letter on her front door from the DCFS. The letter states:
Dear Mrs. J. Cartwright: I came to visit you today, but did not find you home. I would like to arrange a time for another visit. This letter is a request for you to do a random urine screen. Please go to CAAA within 24 hours of this request. Failure to comply with this request will be documented as a no show. Documentation of no shows may have negative consequences on your case plan. All START clients are to drop urine screens upon request. Please remember to also go a minimum of three 12-step meetings per week. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this matter, please contact your START team at the numbers listed below.
The letter is signed by "Social Worker," Rebecca Botchway, and "Family Advocate," Charlene Willingham.
Here is another common tactic used by social workers to obtain compliance from uncooperative parents. This letter implies that something bad will happen to Joyce if she does not follow the instructions in the letter. It states that "failure to comply," will have "negative consequences." Jenny is referred to as a "client," and told that she is required to give urine samples "upon request." She is also told to attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings three days per week. If the Family Defense Network of Ohio had not advised Joyce of her rights, she probably would have been intimidated into complying with the orders by the social workers. Instead, Joyce puts a fresh tape in her tape recorder and prepares to document more conversations with social worker Willingham.
3/31/05 - Joyce calls the DCFS and asks for Charlene Willingham. The social worker acts as though she is unaware of the reason for Joyce's call. She asks, "How may I help you?" Joyce replies, "I don't know, you were at my house, you tell me!" Joyce asks why she left the letter on her front door. Willingham replies, "I was calling for a follow-up." Joyce asks, "A follow-up to what?" The social worker replies, "You have an open case, and I was following up to see which way we can assist you in getting started with services." It is apparent at this point that the social worker is not going to give up. It is also apparent that the term, "open case," is one used frequently by social workers. Joyce asks, "What are the consequences going to be if I don't?" Willingham states, "For non-compliance, we will continue to attempt to service you. We would then do individual protocol in the event you were non-compliant. And then we take it from there!"
Joyce then states, "You still haven't told me what law I've broken." Willingham answers, "Mrs. Cartwright, I'm not going to play word games with you. I'm not going to keep pursuing...." Joyce interrupts and states, "Well obviously you are, Miss Willingham. I asked you to leave me alone, and your department! You are still pursuing me! Joyce tells Willingham, "I have broken no laws! I have asked you and your department to leave me alone!" Obviously not swayed by Joyces words, Willingham replies, "That's OK, but we still have a job to do." It appears by this statement that Willingham makes a practice of pursuing parents who have done nothing wrong because it is her "job" to do so.
Joyce tries to impress upon Willingham that there is a constitution, and that unless the social worker has evidence that she has committed a crime, Joyce does not have to cooperate with her. Joyce states, "I have the right to exercise my rights without reprisal." Willingham states, "Jesus! It's... this is too tiring!" Joyce states, "It's too tiring? Willingham answers, "Absolutely, because we're not getting anywhere! We are the START unit. Our cases come as a result of a mother using alcohol or drugs during a pregnancy." Joyce then asks, "Answer me the question. What law have I violated?" Willingham answers, "The fact that you self-reported...." Joyce interrupts and asks, "What law is that?" Willingham replies, "It is futile for us to continue this conversation." Judging from Willingham's comments, Joyce has "self-reported" her case to the Department of Children's Services, and somehow, has asked them to harass her.
Joyce takes this opportunity to pound away again with the question regarding the law she has allegedly broken. She tells Willingham that she is insisting to be told what law she has broken. Willingham answers, "I'm not going to barter with you in this way." Joyce states again, "You still haven't told me what law I've broken." Willingham replies with what is now the standard answer, "You have an open case with the county," and then continues on with the "self-reported" angle.
Joyce again asks the social worker for the name of the department personnel who is "telling you to do this." Willingham states, "We would never give you that information, it's confidential." Joyce replies, "What do you mean that's confidential. That's part of my file. I have a right to know." Willingham replies, "You know what? You are so caught up into what your rights are!" Joyce exclaims, "Well absolutely I'm so caught up in what my rights are!"
Since Joyce was "assessed" by the DCFS downtown, she has repeatedly asked for a copy of that assessment in order to see what the assessor recorded. She has been denied access to the assessment, and repeated requests for a copy have been denied. This time, Joyce again asks Willingham for a copy of her assessment. Willingham advises Joyce that she needs to call "customer service" to try to get a copy. Joyce asks why Willingham can't send her a copy, since she has a copy in the file. Willingham replies, "I'm trying to explain to you that you need to call customer service Ma'am!" Joyce is obviously upset with the tone in Willingham's voice, and replies, "And I'm just trying to explain to you Ma'am," in the same tone of voice. Willingham exclaims, "Oh, you just want to over-talk and not listen. It's amazing!"
Joyce makes another attempt to identify the social workers that are involved in her case. She tries to obtain the identity of the person giving the orders to Willingham and the others to call her and to continue to harass her. She asks, "You can't tell me whose authority you are ordering me to do these things?" Willingham answers, "I did! And you don't listen! You don't hear! You don't want to accept it!" The answer to this question has now changed from "I can't tell you, it's confidential," to "I already told you!" If those of you reading this account are confused, you can imagine how Joyce feels at this point.
Joyce then requests to talk with Willingham's supervisor, Dawnia Flannoy. The supervisor introduces herself and then asks Joyce, "What's the issue?" Joyce asks Flannoy why her workers keep calling her. Flannoy states, "We are a child protective agency, and we have laws that we have to abide by that are formed by the state and federal government. You had an assessment, you admitted to drinking. That poses risk to your child." Flannoy then explains the "procedure" for dealing with a parent who refuses to cooperate. She states, "There are certain procedures and protocol that we have to follow in the event that we have a client that we consider that is non-compliant."
Joyce then asks, "What I still don't understand, is what law have I violated? Nobody has been able to answer that question!" Flannoy answers (after laughing under her breath), "Under the Ohio Revised Code, you will actually have to look on the Internet yourself, because I don't know the actual Revised Code itself." Here is a supervisor of the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, accusing a parent of a crime, who has no idea what the crime is! Flannoy then explains to Joyce her department's attitude on any amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. She states, "When you use any type of mood-altering substance, alcohol or any type of drug during your pregnancy, you cause a risk. You are exposing your child to potential fetal alcohol syndrome."
Joyce then asks. "Who is diagnosing me as abusing anything?" Flannoy answers, "Mam, you completed an assessment. He is a certified chemical dependency assessor. It stated that you were recommended for Intensive Outpatient Treatment based off of your diagnosis." Flannoy then answers Joyce's question about getting a copy of her assessment. She states, "I don't know if you actually have to subpoena your assessment." Joyce then asks, "Why would I have to do that?" Flannoy replies, "Because we can not actually give you the assessment." It appears now that Joyce is going to have to go to court and obtain a subpoena to get a copy of her own assessment.
Joyce then informs social worker Flannoy that she is "refusing" to cooperate any further with the Cuyahoga County Department of Children & Family Services. She asks the supervisor and everyone else in the department to leave her alone. She advises Flannoy to cease calling her and coming to her home. Flannoy advises Joyce that if she needs any more information about her assessment, that she should call the customer service department.
4/1/05 - Joyce calls the customer service department to request a copy of her assessment. She is directed to the legal department, where she talks with Linda Boxer. Joyce is advised that the file is confidential, and she cannot have a copy.
4/20/05 - Joyce hears someone pounding on her front door. She opens the door and sees a local police officer and two female social workers on her front porch. Joyce asks, "Can I help you?" One of the social workers identifies herself. "I'm Rebecca Botchway from the Department of Children's Services. I am here because I need to meet with you and see the baby." Joyce replies, "No you don't!" Social worker Botchway replies, "Yes ma'am, I do! You have an open case with our agency, ma'am!" Joyce states to Botchway, "I understand that." The social worker replies, "Then I need to check on the children!"
Joyce then produces the form distributed by the Family Defense Network of Ohio titled, "UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT RULES AGAINST OHIO SOCIAL WORKERS AND POLICE OFFICERS. DECISION NOW MAKES OFFICERS OF THE COURT LIABLE FOR LAWSUITS DURING CHILD ABUSE OR NEGLECT INVESTIGATIONS." Joyce asks the police officer and social worker, "Have you read this? Do you have a warrant to enter my home?" Botchway replies, "No ma'am, I don't have a warrant to enter your home." Joyce then replies, "Then you don't need to be here!" I've asked your department to leave me alone, haven't I?" The social worker replies, "We need to check on the welfare of the children!" Joyce states, "No you don't!" Botchway replies, "Yes we do!"
At this point, Joyce states, "When you have a warrant, then you can come and see me. Have a nice day." Joyce then slams her front door. Joyce then observes the police officer and social workers talking in her driveway. They all leave shortly thereafter.
It's obvious at this point that the social workers have decided to ignore Joyce's request to leave her alone. It is fortunate that Joyce is now an informed parent. She is aware of her rights under the constitution, and the inability of the police and social workers to enter her home without a warrant. Most parents in this country would have been intimidated in this situation and probably would have allowed these workers into their home. This video has demonstrated how a visit at the front door by social workers should always be handled.
04/28/05 - Joyce is again visited by social worker Rebecca Botchway, along with a second social worker Charlene Willingham, and another local police officer. This time, they come to Joyce's side door inside the garage. Joyce answers the door with her baby in her arms. Under the baby, Joyce is holding her video camera. This time, Joyce immediately asks if the officer has a warrant. The officer replies that he is not asking permission to enter the home.
It appears that the police officer is aware of his limitations and the rights of Joyce as the homeowner. Social worker Charlene Willingham says to Joyce, "Hi Joyce, how are you?" Her tone in front of the police officer is quite different than the tone used during the telephone conversations with Joyce. The police officer states, "There's been a complaint about alcohol abuse during pregnancy. Children's Services was contacted and their job is to come here and make sure the baby is OK. So what we are asking for is permission...." At this point Joyce interrupts. "I am not giving you permission." The officer replies, "OK."
Social worker Willingham then says (in a tone obviously to impress the police officer), "This is our job sweetie, and we don't like it any more than you do, but we have to respond accordingly." Joyce then states, "And I have told you, and your department, we're done!" Willingham states, "We appreciate it but we still have to come out." The police officer then asks Joyce if she has received telephone calls from Children's Services. Joyce replies, "Unbelievable!" Willingham adds, "We have to come out weekly"
Joyce then states to the police officer, "This is the second time they've wasted your time, because they are not coming in without a warrant!" Willingham says, "Well, we just want to see the kids!" Joyce then shows her the baby and says, "Well, here he is!" Willingham adds, "We just want to make sure the children are safe."
The police officer then asks the social worker, "What exactly are you trying to accomplish? What is your objective?" Both social workers Botchway and Willingham reply, "She has an open case with our agency!" The officer then asks, "How do you close the case, for the sake of argument?" Willingham then goes into a dissertation on Joyce's so-called responsibilities. "There were services she was required to participate in," Willingham states, "and an alcohol assessment she completed that made a recommendation for her to do a form of treatment and she has declined doing that."
The police officer then asks Willingham, "Are there legal consequences on your end for her not doing whatever you say that she is supposed to do?" Willingham replies, "There could be!" (This is a flat-out lie. What social worker Willingham doesn't realize, is that there could be legal consequences because she won't STOP what she's doing.) Botchway states, "The main thing is the safety of the children, and we cannot ascertain if they're safe, due to the fact we cannot get into the home. That is an issue for us!" The police officer then looks at Joyce's baby and states, "He looks good to me!" Joyce advises the officer and social workers that she is "done," and closes the door. The three then leave the property.
05/02/05 - At this point, it was decided that the Family Defense Network of Ohio should become actively involved in Joyce's case. A letter is sent to Supervisor Dawnia Flannoy from Robert R. Surgenor Sr. The letter states:
"We are presently working with Joyce Cartwright. In early February, a less than reliable referrent reported to you that Ms. Cartwright had consumed some alcohol during her pregnancy. There is no prohibition on such action in the Ohio Revised Code, nor is there any evidence that occasional alcohol in moderation is harmful to the pregnancy. Nevertheless, since the referral, you have demanded entry into her home, ordered her to appear at your office, ordered her to obtain testing and treatment for substance abuse at her own expense, and appeared twice at her home with the local police. Additionally, despite her requests, you have failed to provide Ms. Cartwright with a description of the specific allegations against her and the Revised Code statute of the crime she has allegedly committed, even though Ohio House Bill 185 requires that you do so!"
"In addition to failing to provide the required notices and information, we believe your investigation is also unlawful due to significant violations of Joyce Cartwright's constitutional rights. Consequently we demand, on behalf of Ms. Cartwright, that your agency cease any further action or communication involving her, other than the notice of the disposition as “unsubstantiated”. Further action will be considered unlawful harassment and an additional deprivation of Ms. Cartwright's constitutional rights, and will be further grounds for legal action against your agency and the individual investigator."
05/05/05 - Joyce receives a letter in the mail from Children's Services via certified mail. The letter states:
"Dear Ms. Cartwright: Please be informed that a custody placement staffing has been scheduled on Wednesday, May 11th at 1PM. The staffing will be held at Quincy Place, located at 8111 Quincy Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44104. The purpose of this staffing is to discuss possible court intervention due to your evasiveness and lack of cooperation and participation of services. Your attendance would afford you the opportunity to fully discuss your objections to our agency's involvement in your family's life."
The letter is signed by social worker Rebecca Botchway and supervisor Dawnia Flannoy.
This letter demonstrates the arrogance of the social workers working on this case. The letter implies that the Cuyahoga County Department of Children's Services is going to attempt to take custody of Joyce's two children. This is another common tactic used by social workers to force compliance from a frightened parent. At this point, Joyce has committed no crime. All of the social workers in her case have been unable to uncover any wrongdoing on Joyce's part that would give them even the slightest amount of probable caused to charge her with a crime or take her children from her. Again, it is fortunate that Joyce is well informed and willing to fight for her rights.
Joyce calls social worker Rebecca Botchway and asks her if she sent her the letter. Botchway states, "I sent you a letter? Yes Ma'am, I did." Joyce asks Botchway what a "custody placement staffing" is. Botchway replies, "That is where we would discuss the possibility of court involvement." When Joyce asks the reason for the hearing, Botchway replies with the answer Joyce has heard one hundred times before, "You still have an open case with our agency." Joyce then tries to demonstrate to social worker Botchway why her case should be closed. Joyce states, "I've already had one social worker in my home to make sure my home is an adequate place for my children to be raised." Joyce continues, "And you saw my child!" Botchway replies, "However, you still have an open case."
Joyce again tries to determine what the staffing is going to involve. She asks Botchway again to explain what a custody placement staffing consists of. Botchway answers again, "To discuss court involvement with regards to your children." You can understand the concern that Joyce is feeling at this point. Botchway is implying that the Department of Children's Services is going to court to obtain custody of Joyce's two children. When Joyce attempts to determine if Botchway is trying to take her children from her, Botchway asks Joyce, "Ma'am, is this conversation being recorded?" Joyce ignores this question and continues to ask Botchway about the staffing. Botchway repeats her question, "Is this conversation being recorded?" Botchway adds, "Because you are doing so without my consent!" Either Botchway is unaware of Ohio law that permits Joyce to record this conversation, or Botchway is trying to convince Joyce that she is committing some sort of criminal offense.
Joyce then pursues a line of questioning regarding the alleged crime she has committed. She explains to Botchway that although she has repeatedly asked for a copy of the charge against her, she has never received any paperwork describing the actual alleged crime. Joyce tells Botchway, "Miss Willingham was supposed to fax me over, on the ninth of March, what law I violated. And she said she would absolutely get me that information, that I still haven't received on the ninth of March." Joyce then asks Botchway about the charges against her. She asks Botchway, "And you still haven't told me what Ohio criminal statute I've violated, have you?" Botchway obviously doesn't have that information. She replies, "Ma'am, ....uh..." and doesn't answer.
Botchway then advises Joyce that a letter was supposedly sent to her on March 17, 2005, detailing the charge against her and the fact that the allegations against Joyce were "substantiated." Botchway also advises Joyce that her name has been entered into the Central Registry as a Child Neglector. Joyce tells Botchway that she never received the letter. Botchway states, "Well, I can send you a copy of this letter."
Joyce tries to obtain the actual Ohio Revised Code section that the DCFS has "substantiated" she has violated. She asks Botchway, "I need to know what law you are trying to uphold." She continues, "It's not a hard question, Rebecca, it's not hard! It should be black and white, with a number attached to it! What law is it that I have broken?" Joyce then asks Botchway, "Is it not your job to help uphold the law?"
The answer that Joyce receives to that question demonstrates the mindset of the average social worker. When asked if it was Botchway' job to uphold the law, she replies, "No. My job is too assure that the children are safe." Can you imagine anyone in the area of social services, when asked if they are required to uphold the law, to answer with a "No?" It is apparent by this reply that Botchway believes she can break the law in order to do her job. There is no law enforcement agency in this country that is protected using such tactics!
Joyce continues to pound away, questioning Botchway about the law she has allegedly violated. She continues to ask, "What Ohio law does that violate? What law have I broken, can you tell me that? What specific law have I broken?" Here comes the same evasive response that Joyce has been getting for months. Botchway replies, "Ma'am, again, we can talk about this at the staffing." Joyce gives up, and ends the conversation with social worker Botchway.
The paperwork is faxed to Joyce by Botchway. In this paperwork is a letter, dated 03/17/2005. This letter states:
"Dear Joyce Cartwright and family: Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services received a complaint on 02/01/2005 alleging that your child was neglected because you were drinking alcohol while you were pregnant."
"Section 2151.421 of the Ohio Revised Code requires the agency to investigate all complaints of child abuse and neglect. We are required to share our findings with the local police department and the State of Ohio Central Registry for Child Abuse and Neglect. We may find that the allegations are unsubstantiated (no evidence), indicated (circumstantial or other isolated indicators of child abuse or neglect, or substantiated (confirmed evidence). The investigation was completed on 03/17/2005. Our investigation determined that the allegations of neglect was substantiated."
"Because we have concerns about future risk to your child(ren), the agency will continue to work with your family to provide services in an effort to lower that risk."
The letter is signed by social worker Lakeesha Harper and Kathleen Johnson.
The Family Defense Network of Ohio immediately retained the services of an attorney specializing in the area of civil rights. The attorney sent a letter to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office requesting an Appeals Hearing with the DCFS, which is provided under Ohio law. The attorney requested that a court reporter be present, and that the evidence be available that the social workers used to conclude that Joyce Cartwright was a "substantiated" child neglector.
07/11/05 - The attorney received a letter from the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office. An assistant prosecutor explained in the letter how the appeals officer had just returned from vacation, and a review had been made of the Cartwright case. The prosecutor wrote, "Based upon the review, the agency had decided to change its disposition to 'unsubstantiated.'"
In other words, Joyce was now cleared of any wrongdoing. But what about the nightmare that Joyce has experienced for the past five months?
A civil rights lawsuit was filed against the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services on behalf of Joyce Cartwright. Unfortunately, the Family Defense Network of Ohio was unable to raise the funds necessary to maintain the exorbitant costs involved in the civil rights lawsuit, and the deadline for pursuing the case expired.
This time these social workers got away with creating a nightmare for this parent. Joyce was unable to eat or sleep during her ordeal. She is still afraid of being watched by social workers, and has even worn a wig and sunglasses to disguise herself. Her life will never be the same. Unfortunately in this case, there was no penalty for the social workers who caused the chaos in Joyce's life.