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May 4, 2010 permalink
Philadelphia DHS bullied a teenaged mother to have an abortion. She was threatened with removal of her older child or her newborn at birth if she did not consent.
While a public debate rages over the propriety of abortion initiated by the mother, abortion by force is never discussed. Based on our interviews with parents in child protection cases, forced abortion is not rare.
How did Philadelphia DHS respond to the publication of the story? The next day they removed all of the children from the home of the foster mother who spoke up, putting her out of business. They also threatened her with ruinous litigation. DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose issued a statement: "It is unfortunate that the Daily News decided to print an inflammatory story riddled with inaccuracies. The DHS caseworker involved in this case did nothing wrong, in fact she followed departmental policy and procedure. DHS workers remain neutral in medical situations of this nature and would not coerce or force a child to do something that she does not want to do." In this she followed the social work tradition of making a public statement that is the exact opposite of actions taken in private.
Did DHS pressure teen to get abortion?
A DEPARTMENT OF Human Services caseworker pressured a pregnant Mayfair teenager to undergo a late-term abortion by threatening to take away either her toddler or her unborn baby if she had the child, according to the teen's foster mother.
The alleged strong-arm tactic happened one day after DHS learned of the pregnancy, when the girl was about 22 weeks pregnant, according to her foster mother and the girl's social worker, Marisol Rivera.
The foster mother did not want to be identified in order to protect the girl's identity.
The Daily News also learned that:
- DHS got a Family Court judge's order allowing it to take the girl for an abortion, after the girl's birth mother refused to approve the procedure.
- By the time DHS arranged for the abortion - in March - the girl was 24 weeks pregnant. She had to undergo the procedure in New Jersey because abortions in Pennsylvania are illegal at 24 weeks.
- Although it is DHS policy that a DHS worker accompany any minor who has a court-ordered medical procedure, this did not happen on the girl's first attempt to have the abortion. That attempt failed when the clinic wouldn't accept her Medicaid card and wanted cash, according to the foster mother. A DHS worker did accompany the girl on a later, successful, attempt.
- Rivera, the girl's social worker, said that she was fired by Concilio, which subcontracted with DHS to provide care, after she initially refused to accompany the teen for the abortion.
"They hired me to work in child protection, not to kill children," Rivera told the Daily News.
DHS officials said that they could not discuss the case because of medical-privacy laws. Attempts to talk to the teenager were unsuccessful.
But a source familiar with the case insisted that the girl was not coerced and that her foster mother, whose first language is Spanish, did not understand the conversation between the girl and the DHS worker, Cynthia Brown.
Brown declined to comment.
Abortions are a little-known aspect of DHS's oversight of children in its custody.
Donald F. Schwarz, the city's deputy mayor for Health and Opportunity, who oversees DHS, said that the agency "is supposed to take a neutral position and not supposed to be involved in the decision making" regarding an abortion.
Between September 2006 and March 31, Schwarz said, 335 minors under DHS care became pregnant. Of those, 119 resulted in abortions. Of those abortions, 54 were done by judge's order.
Eight of the abortions were performed out of state, Schwarz said.
Although federal and state law forbid the use of federal or state money for abortions, and DHS is a recipient of state and federal aid, that money is not used to pay for abortions, Schwarz said.
He said that money only from the city budget is used to pay for the procedures.
Art Caplan, director of the Center of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said that if the foster mother's allegations are true, the DHS worker was acting unethically.
"You can't or shouldn't be threatening to break up a family depending upon whether somebody gets an abortion or not," Caplan said. "That is . . . unethical practice, it's not even common sense."
Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said: "If DHS's behavior is as described, it is shameful and inexcusable. . . . Sadly, this is not surprising . . . . This kind of bungling, this is not unusual in child-welfare systems. Especially in Philadelphia."
The pregnant teen was excited about having the baby, her foster mother said. She learned that she was carrying a boy and told her 1-year-old daughter that she was going to have a little brother. She even talked about a name for the baby.
The teen's birth mother, who wanted to be identified only as Deborah M., also said that her daughter was excited to have a baby.
"Someone who went to go get an ultrasound, [found] out it's a boy, they give the boy a name, that's somebody who wants to have that baby," Deborah M. said. "But the next thing I know, she's going for the abortion."
The teen's foster mother - who is fluent in Spanish and understands basic English - said that she was present when DHS worker Brown discussed the pregnancy with the teen in the living room of her home.
The conversation occurred the day after the girl's ultrasound, the foster mother said.
She said that Brown told the pregnant teenager that DHS would separate her children if she had the second child.
"She said that if she decided to have the infant she wasn't going to let her have both babies, that I know [despite the language barrier]," the foster mother said. "They wouldn't be together."
During the conversation, Brown was "upset" and "agitated," the foster mother said, and the teen began to cry.
In an interview conducted in Spanish, the foster mother said that she had been listening to the two from the top of the stairs, but rushed down when the teen began crying.
She asked Brown, "Is there a problem?"
"Of course, there is a problem," the foster mother said Brown told her. "This girl is 16 years old, she's in school, she already has a baby. Yes, there is a problem."
By the next day, the teen was determined to get an abortion, the foster mother said.
Rivera, the girl's social worker, said, "Ever since DHS went there [to the foster home], the only alternative that she saw was abortion."
Deborah M., the girl's birth mother, said that she believed the foster mother's allegations because she'd witnessed Brown bullying her daughter once before.
Brown had discovered that the teen had not been taking her child to day care.
Brown, she said, rushed up close to the teen's face and said, "If you don't put your baby in day care, I'm gonna take your baby."
Deborah M. said that she then ordered Brown out of her home, and that she left.
Caring for pregnancies
Schwarz said that when DHS is alerted to a child's pregnancy, "the youth and her caseworker discuss the [youth's] plans regarding her pregnancy."
DHS offers counseling, family planning and other pregnancy-related services such as prenatal care, abortion and adoption, he said.
Rivera said that when she telephoned Brown with news that the teen was pregnant, the DHS worker was "shocked."
"Oh, my God, but that girl has to study," Rivera recalled Brown saying.
The teen's birth mother and the foster mother said that they separately heard conversations between Brown and the teen where the word "abortion" was mentioned.
Both said that they heard no mention of other alternatives, they told the Daily News.
Rivera said that after the teen's confrontation with Brown, she counseled the girl about her pregnancy, including alternatives such as adoption.
Rivera said that she and Concilio's Family Services Supervisor, Zenaida Maravi, told the teen that she could keep both children if she carried the pregnancy to term.
The teen remained silent to their comments, Rivera said.
Getting the abortion
On March 10, the day after DHS secured the court order for the abortion, Concilio supervisor Maravi told the teen's foster mother that she must take the girl to an abortion clinic. The foster mother, who arranged for a relative to drive them, said that she was reluctant to go, believing that the girl was too far along for the procedure.
But when they arrived at the clinic, which the foster mother could not identify, it would not accept the teen's Medicaid card as payment, the foster mother said.
Six days later, on March 16, Brown, the DHS caseworker, took the teen to the Cherry Hill Women's Center without alerting the pregnant teen's foster mother or Rivera, the women said.
Rivera and the foster mother believed the clinic performed an abortion. A common procedure for late-term abortions is dilation and extraction. The procedure usually takes two or three days. On the first day, doctors inject a substance into the fetus to stop its heart as well and begin the dilation process. The woman typically goes home and returns the next day so that the fetus can be extracted.
The pregnant teen had left for school late that morning, out of character for the girl, the foster mother said. By 7 p.m., the teenager hadn't arrived home and the foster mother called Rivera in a panic. The social worker told her to call police by 10 p.m. if she wasn't home by then.
The girl arrived home around 8:30 p.m.
"What happened?" the foster mother asked her.
"The baby is dead," the teen answered. The teen told her that Brown had taken her out of school to get an abortion in New Jersey.
The next day, Concilio provided a van to take the girl back to the clinic for the second day of the procedure, according to Rivera.
Rivera initially refused to accompany the teen, but when she learned that the first step of the procedure had already been performed, she relented.
"That baby had to be taken out of her," Rivera said. "It couldn't stay in there much longer. It was against my will, but I had no other option. Instead of one dying, two were going to die [if the procedure was not completed]."
Rivera is fired
Rivera said that when she initially refused to take the teen to the clinic, Maravi, her supervisor,threatened to fire her for insubordination.
Rivera wrote a memo to Concilio's human-relations director complaining about the threat.
She was fired on April 14 for "deficiencies in your job performance" in a letter signed by Joanna Otero-Cruz, Concilio's executive director.
Rivera says she believes that she was fired for complaining about her supervisor's threat.
"The decision to terminate the life of the child had been made by another, I had nothing to do with it," Rivera told the Daily News. "I told [Maravi] that my religious beliefs, my moral beliefs would not allow me to participate in an action like this one. And at no moment when Concilio hired me did they tell me that I would participate in that."
Rivera and other Concilio employees said that the agency seemed wary of involvement in the teen's late-term abortion.
At a March 12 meeting of Concilio's foster-care staff, Maravi told the group, "Concilio will not become involved in that situation. DHS will resolve it," Rivera said.
But the following week, two Concilio employees and a Concilio van were used to take the teen to the abortion clinic.
Maravi said she could not discuss the case. Otero-Cruz did not return a phone call.
Source: Philadelphia Daily News
4 children taken from foster mom who spoke up
The Department of Human Services, through its provider agency Concilio, yesterday removed four foster children from the home of a woman who alleged that DHS had coerced one of the children into having a late-term abortion.
About 3:30 p.m., two Concilio employees came to the house, armed with notice of the children's removal.
"As of 5/3/10 your home has been closed as a foster facility due to the incompliance of Concilio's Foster Parent Agency Agreement," read the letter signed by foster-care coordinator Jheovannie Williams, one of the employees who came to the house.
This reporter was on the scene when DHS began removing the foster children. The Mayfair teen who had the abortion; her 1-year-old daughter; another minor, 17; and her son, 1, were packed inside a black van and driven away.
Williams warned the foster mother, whose identity the Daily News is withholding, that trouble was in her future, she said.
"He told me, 'Find yourself lots of money because you're not going to come out from this one very well,' " the foster mother said.
Williams also said that "they were going to sue me," she said. "He said I had to find a lawyer."
The foster mother previously told the Daily News that she had overheard DHS worker Cynthia Brown tell her 16-year-old foster charge, whose name is being withheld because she is a minor, that she would separate the toddler and the unborn child if she went to term.
DHS later obtained a judge's order to allow the teen to get an abortion. Brown drove the teen, who was 24 weeks pregnant, to have an abortion in New Jersey for the first day of the two-day procedure. Abortions in Pennsylvania are illegal once a pregnancy reaches 24 weeks.
DHS paid for the procedure and then requested that two Concilio employees, social worker Marisol Rivera, who has since been fired, and Williams accompany the teen on the second day, Rivera and the foster mother said. Williams drove the Concilio van to the Cherry Hill Women's Center, Rivera and the foster mother said.
Williams refused to comment yesterday when asked about the removal, deferring all calls to Concilio's executive director, Joanna Otero-Cruz.
Calls were not answered at Concilio yesterday afternoon.
Donald F. Schwarz, the city's deputy mayor for health and opportunity, explained in a statement why the four minors had been removed from the house.
"It's now become clear that the foster mother has violated Pennsylvania state law regarding confidentiality [by discussing the teen's case with the newspaper], therefore potentially compromising the safety and well-being of the children in her care," Schwarz's statement read.
DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose issued a statement late yesterday:
"It is unfortunate that the Daily News decided to print an inflammatory story riddled with inaccuracies. The DHS caseworker involved in this case did nothing wrong, in fact she followed departmental policy and procedure. DHS workers remain neutral in medical situations of this nature and would not coerce or force a child to do something that she does not want to do."
Robin Banister, the teen's child advocate, also issued a statement late yesterday: /
"My client was not coerced by DHS or anyone else. . . . She is upset with the false representations reported about her case and she is upset that professionals have violated her right to privacy."
But the foster mother is sticking to her words.
"Me? I'm going to say the truth," she said. "I told [Williams] I'm going to tell the truth."
She and the teen's birth mother, who identified herself as Deborah M., maintained that the girl was excited about having her second child. She discussed a name and told her daughter that she was going to have a little brother, but her tone changed after she talked with Brown, the foster mother said.
The 17-year-old foster child, who had no connection to the case that was reported yesterday, was weeping when she learned she was to be removed from the home, the foster mother said.
The teen at the center of the case came home from school upset at her foster mother because the teen knew that she had talked with the Daily News.
"She already knew she was being removed."
Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Addendum: Following publication of the above story, the sub-contractor Concilio rewrote its contracts with all remaining foster parents, and intimidated them with the false claim that the whistleblower was going to jail.
Sources: Social-service manager falsely claiming whistle-blowers are going to jail
A MANAGER of a Latino social-service agency has been falsely telling the agency's foster parents that two women who spoke out to the Daily News about a foster child's abortion are headed to jail, according to several sources.
The agency, Concilio, also has updated its confidentiality policies since the People Paper published allegations that the Department of Human Services coerced the 16-year-old into having a late-term abortion.
Concilio began to hold small group meetings on May 21 for its 30 or so foster parents to discuss confidentiality rules and to have them sign the new contracts.
A source said that during a June 5 meeting, a woman read a letter in English said to be from DHS commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose that was interpreted into Spanish by Concilio's foster-care coordinator, Jheovannie Williams.
"Lawyers for the city and for Concilio will sue the newspaper and the social worker and the person who was a foster [parent]," Williams told the foster parents, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "The sentence could be five to 10 years in jail."
When informed of the letter, DHS spokeswoman Alicia Taylor said: "The commissioner did not write a letter like this. She knows nothing about it."
Repeated calls and e-mails from the Daily News seeking comment were not returned by Concilio executive director Joanna Otero-Cruz or board president Tony Valdes.
"What this sounds like is a massive campaign of fear and intimidation by an agency [Concilio] that has shown itself to have failed miserably," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
"Being forced to sign gag orders while allegedly being told that somebody who spoke out is going to jail - if that's what they're saying - that's a scare tactic," Wexler said.
City spokesman Douglas Oliver said that the foster mother had violated HIPAA by revealing confidential information about her charge.
Several attorneys familiar with HIPAA, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law regarding the privacy of medical records, said that a violation could be pursued only by the feds and that the women who spoke with the paper would never see a day behind bars in this case.
"Criminal sanctions? I doubt it very much," said a lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Who's going to prosecute that? They are not going to get a U.S. attorney to prosecute that."
The alleged scare tactics began May 3 when the People Paper published claims made by former foster mother Luz Navarro, 50. Navarro said that she overheard a DHS caseworker tell the teen, already a mother and at least six months' pregnant, that she would be separated from her toddler and the unborn child if she went to term.
The teen's social worker, Marisol Rivera, 51, was later fired. Rivera believes that she was dismissed because she had at first refused to accompany the teen to her abortion procedure based on religious beliefs.
The teen, her child and two other minors were removed from Navarro's home by Concilio the day her allegations appeared in the paper.
The new 24-page contract, obtained by the People Paper, says that Concilio's foster parents are forbidden to share "the child's history with neighbors, friends, relatives or any other persons(s) not directly involved with the professional care of the child."
The previous confidentiality agreement was about four to six pages in length, said Robert Newton, a former Concilio foster-care social worker who was terminated in March 2009.
Rivera and other sources familiar with Concilio's policies said that confidentiality was never a priority before the stories ran in the newspaper.
During the confidentiality meeting earlier this month, Williams told the group in Spanish "don't believe the lies in the newspaper and don't believe the people who are united to create chaos," a source said.
Other sources, including former co-workers and someone who attended a different meeting, also said that Williams told them that the two women would go to jail.
Perhaps Williams should have given the new agreement a once-over himself.
According to former Concilio supervisor Ruth Cabrera, she spoke with a "traumatized" Williams a few days after the teen's abortion. Williams had driven the agency's van to the abortion clinic in New Jersey on March 17 with the minor, her 1-year-old daughter, Rivera and Navarro.
Cabrera told him that she had heard about the girl, who was six months' pregnant, but Williams immediately corrected her.
"No, Ruth, she wasn't six months' pregnant, she was seven months' pregnant," she recalled him saying, in an interview conducted in Spanish.
Williams also disparaged Rivera, formerly his good friend, at an American Legion event on May 2, said Cabrera, who worked at Concilio for 15 years.
"He told me the situation was 'hot' and Marisol had taken the wrong tactic . . . and that she will face criminal charges. And I said, 'Why? She hasn't killed anyone,' " Cabrera recalled.
Other Concilio workers also apparently discussed the case.
News of the teen's abortion had already spread in the community shortly after it happened and weeks before the Daily News story was published, Cabrera said. In April, Cabrera went to a North Philadelphia hair salon frequented by some Concilio managers.
When she arrived for her appointment, the salon's stylists already knew about the pregnant, underage girl at Concilio who had had an abortion.
Source: Philadelphia Daily News