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‘Why is this happening?’

Newborn baby taken from mother in hospital

Jeremy Lazarus | 8/27/2015, 6:35 a.m.
Newborn baby taken from mother in hospital
A mother cuddles her newborn before a city social worker arrived to take the baby. Photo by Sandra Sellars

“I was way beyond up upset. All I could think is ‘why is this happening?’ I never got any explanation. They just came in and took my baby.”

So said 41-year-old Jane Doe in the wake of a shocking action: Richmond Department of Social Services employees, with police in tow, seized her healthy newborn daughter at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital where she was born. (The names of the mother, father and daughter are being withheld to protect their privacy.)

Since Wednesday, Aug. 19, when the social workers came, Ms. Doe has not even been allowed to see her baby, who has been placed with a foster family who have no relation to her. The father also has not been permitted contact with his child.

Ms. Doe said she was even barred from providing pumped breast milk for the child because she said a social worker told her that her milk was causing the baby to have diarrhea, which seems to fly in the face of the current government campaign to push breast milk as the healthiest option.

The battle over custody of the newborn is raising questions about the willingness of city social workers to seize children with little justification.

Two years ago, the department was under fire for alleged failure to do enough to protect children from neglectful and abusive parents. Now there is a real question whether the department is going overboard.

This is the third case brought to the attention of the Free Press in which the department seized one or more children and placed them with foster families even though there were relatives ready and willing to take in the children.

In one case, a social worker seized two young children from a mother after she sought the department’s help with a teen son who was acting violently toward her, though not toward his young sisters. The teen did not receive attention until a judge chastised the social worker for unwarranted action and returned the young daughters.

In a separate case, the department seized three children after their mother tried to run over their father. Despite pleas from relatives, the department refused to place the children with them, instead farming them out to strangers in foster families and virtually making it impossible for family members to see them, except on holidays.

The Free Press has learned that a social worker who protested against such forced breakups of families was fired for raising objections.

In the case of Ms. Doe’s baby, Shunda T. Giles, the new city Social Services director, declined to discuss specifics.

Still, she insists that state guidelines are being followed in every case.

Ms. Giles said the department takes the drastic step of removal only after making a determination that a child or children “would be subject to an imminent threat to life or health to the extent that severe or irremediable injury would likely result” by remaining with the current caregiver. The department had the option of placing the child with the father, but rejected the option, preferring to put her with strangers at a time when the bond between parent and child is being developed.