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Back in the USSR
June 28, 2008 permalink
Denver Post columnist Susan Greene reports on a boy, Josh Raykin, torn from his family without cause. The parents fled the USSR to live in freedom.
A county's fumbling, a family's nightmare
Josh Raykin had never spent even a night away from his parents.
That is, until Arapahoe County snatched the 8-year-old from his home after an abuse allegation that social workers dragged their feet investigating.
The ordeal began while Josh was playing outside one day before dinner in April. A neighbor knocked on the door to tell his dad that police had come to take Josh away.
The strawberry-blond kid with pale blue eyes was born in 1999 after Michael and Melanie Raykin tried for 15 years to conceive. Michael, a courier, and Melanie, a hairstylist, work extra hours to send Josh to Denver's Montclair Academy and give their boy advantages they never had as kids in the former U.S.S.R.
"He means everything to us," Michael says.
But on the sidewalk late that day in April, deputies wouldn't let him go near the son whom the county suspected Raykin of molesting in ways too intimate to be described in these pages. Deputies said the allegations came from Michael's young nieces — girls the couple hadn't seen since they went into foster care months earlier because of abuse allegations in their immediate family. The girls also had pointed the finger at their grandfather, but charges were dropped.
"They blew my mind. I didn't know what to say," says Michael, whose most serious brushes with the law had come with a few speeding tickets.
Mother, father and son were forced to sit on their curb as neighbors watched and whispered, and deputies waited for a case worker to arrive. Josh, complaining he was hungry and cold, started hyperventilating.
Once the social worker came two hours later, he wouldn't release the boy to his aunt nearby, nor tell the Raykins where he was taking Josh. Instead, he told Melanie to pack a bag for the boy she had never once left once with a sitter.
Josh screamed, "Leave them alone. They're the best parents in the world," as the case worker prodded him into his car.
He spent a week with an Aurora foster family that required the Jewish kid to pray to Jehovah at each meal. They took away the Pokemon toothbrush and stuffed toys that his mom had packed for him. They shut off his shower after five minutes. And most days, he says, they made him wash toilets with a washcloth.
For one sleepless week, the Raykins made phone calls, met with lawyers and sat in Josh's room "taking turns breaking down." Human Services refused to allow them even one phone call to tell their only child they loved him, were fighting for him and would come for him soon.
Melanie says social workers kept pushing her to say her husband molested their son, insinuating that such an admission would set Josh free. They suggested that Josh having once kissed his cousins on the lips — as is the norm in his parents' culture — was a sign that he had been molested. As social workers saw it, Michael's habit of buying his son toys and taking him to the movies was "grooming" to cover up sexual abuse.
Though counties normally interview kids before yanking them from their homes, it took Arapahoe County a week after removing Josh for that interview to take place.
"And now, because of that interview, he knows about things that I don't want him to know at 8 years old," says Michael, crying.
Michael passed a lie-detector test. His innocence claim was buoyed by a sheriff's investigator who rallied to his side until a judge released Josh, finding "there is not reason to believe any inappropriate sexual activity" took place.
Human Services cited confidentiality laws when asked about its fumbling of the case.
"We only remove the child from the home when we believe or know to be true that staying in the home is not in the best interest of the child," said county spokeswoman Nichole Parmelly.
Two months later, Josh has nightmares and trouble falling asleep.
"We live, we work, we're quiet, we pay taxes. We came from such a hard world to be free in a country where, just like this," says his mom, snapping her fingers, "they can grab your kid away from you right off your street."
Susan Greene writes Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Reach her at 303-954-1989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Denver Post