Braille Monitor                                                                              August-September 1986

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Legalized Kidnapping: State Takes Child Away from Blind Mother

In Denver, Colorado, a situation has been occurring for the past several months which shocks the conscience and defies belief. The social services agency has taken a thirteen-month-old baby away from its mother and refuses to give it back. The baby's regular doctor says there are no grounds for the action, but apparently this doesn't matter. Hard as it is to accept, the latest wrinkle in the case is the statement by the social services agency that they will not return the child because the mother is stubborn--she insists on holding the baby on her lap to feed her instead of using a highchair. When many of us were children, our families did not even own highchairs, but surely this is not justification for the state to take babies from their parents. The question is not whether the mother has the morals or the dress code or the religious beliefs or the social manners which are approved by the state. It is whether a sighted mother similarly situated would have had her baby taken. The circumstances in the case are set forth in the article which appeared in the May 20, 1986, issue of the Denver Post. Let those who are troubled by the fact that some of our opponents call us aggressive and militant read and ponder:

City Takes Underweight Tot from Blind Mom

By Ted Delaney
Denver Post Staff Writer

Kristi Chase must make a long bus trip from Denver to Commerce City just to visit her 13-month-old daughter, Holly.

It is an especially difficult journey, because Kristi Chase is blind.

She has been making the trip to a foster home since January, when in one swift and startling move, Denver's Social Services Department took Holly away.

"It shows you how one person with power can just yank your child away from you," Chase said.

Holly was taken after a department doctor said the child's below-average weight was evidence of health-threatening malnourishment. Since then, two doctors have disputed that.

Even so, Chase continues to struggle through a maze of bureaucracy. The department says her blindness is not a factor. But she is beginning to think that her handicap is the only explanation for why Holly still is not home.

A Social Services spokeswoman said the agency won't give Holly back until Chase proves she can feed her properly. The department says its primary responsibility is to make sure the child's health is not in danger.

"It's been traumatic for both of us," Chase said. "They ask me to do something, I go along with it to get the baby back, then they say I have to do something else. This isn't my fault, but it's turning into harassment." To try to get Holly back, Chase, who is single and lives on disability payments, has attended a parenting class recommended by the city. The instructor said she's been attentive, enthusiastic, "a delight."

Chase has said she would agree to put the child in day care if the city deems it appropriate. She has agreed to allow an appointed worker to make regular visits to her home if she can have the baby with her full time.

But she still can't bring Holly home. The problems began Jan. 30. Chase took her 5-year-old son to a Social Services doctor for a checkup. The boy was scheduled for the follow-up visit because of previous family problems involving his father, whom Chase since divorced. Holly went along merely for the ride.

But in the visit, Dr. Henny Cantwell noticed Holly. Cantwell said the girl was severely underweight and ordered her taken from Chase on the spot. "She was just snatched away," Chase said.

Baby was underweight

Cantwell said she believed the child's health was in danger.

But two other doctors--the baby's regular doctor and another physician brought in by the foster mother--say that while Holly was below normal weight for her age, she was not malnourished. The baby's primary physician, Bobbette Ranney, called the Social Services' move "Gestapo-like."

Both Ranney and the other doctor, Wallace White, said Cantwell is a skilled and experienced doctor --but say she made the wrong call this time. Holly weighed just less than 14 pounds on Jan. 30, doctors said. Average weight for a 10-month-old girl is about 18 pounds. Holly also was far below the normal height for her age.

After three months in a foster home she has gained 3 pounds, with her weight remaining below average by nearly the same proportion.

Cantwell said the decision to return Holly is out of her hands. Now come hearings, observations, reports.

A Social Services administrator, Jeannette Williamson, said Chase had the right to appeal the case early on, but didn't. Chase's lawyer, Nancy Gormley, said they have tried to cooperate but the agency has them going in circles. The major point of contention now is that Social Services caseworkers say there is a problem in how the baby is fed.

Chase says she prefers to hold Holly in her lap during spoon feeding. Chase says Social Services workers insist the child be fed in a highchair. Williamson, an agency spokeswoman, said Cantwell and caseworkers want Holly to be allowed to feed herself, and a highchair is the logical place. She said Chase stubbornly refuses "because it is too messy."

Half-hour feedings

The current Social Services plan is for Chase to make a twice-weekly trip to Commerce City, then bring Holly home for half-hour feedings. They would be observed by a city-appointed volunteer to determine Chase's ability to feed Holly. Chase also may be allowed to have the baby overnight on weekends.

But, Dr. Wallace White, the pediatrician brought in by the foster mother, says the twice-weekly bus rides and shifting of locations would hurt more than it would help.

"It would be stressful for both mother and child--maybe more for Mom," he says. "I have offered to see the child weekly if the child is relinquished to Kristi full time."

Chase believes her blindness has led to extra difficulties in getting her child returned to her.

'Skin and bones'

That is not the problem, said Cantwell. Rather it's her over-zealous ness in breast-feeding.

Chase is a former member of the La Leche League and subscribes to its philosphy that breast-feeding can be the primary nutritional source for babies to a year old and beyond.

But when Holly was taken, Chase says she already was supplementing breast milk with fruit and vegetables. "The La Leche League has gone overboard," Cantwell said. "The child was incredibly hungry. She was skin and bones."

Ranney, who was the child's primary pediatrician, said that two weeks before Holly was taken, she advised Chase that the child needed to gain weight. Ranney said that by the time Holly was taken, she had gained about a half-pound--a significant amount.

A hearing has been scheduled to review the case--but not until July. "Holly's fine, Holly's thriving," Ranney said. "Why can't Holly go home?" The answer from Social Services administrator Williamson: "We need to have more observation to be sure of it."