LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – June 9, 2004 was the first day in seven years that Debra Reid placed a tombstone on the grave of her asthmatic son, Jonathan. He was taken away from her in 1997 at 9 years of age and placed in a foster home because a social worker falsified a court case document. During that time, he was overmedicated and died.
Ms. Reid plummeted into mourning with a purpose and founded the Jonathan Reid Family Rights Coalition, a non-legal support service for families involved in the dependency court system. She also established June 9 as a Day of Mourning for all children who died while in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
“It’s been seven years since his death in a foster care home, but for my family, the pain resides as if he had passed yesterday,” Ms. Reid stated.
At a press conference that same day, she commemorated the young lives, announcing her push for a bill in California that would require mandatory sentencing for the filing of false documentation into court records that result in the injury or death of a child under the care of DCFS.
A similar bill, HR 71E, was adopted in the Florida House in 2002, and carries a third-degree felony sentence.
Later that evening, the community joined the Reid family in a song and prayer vigil at Faith United Methodist Church. They viewed a videotaped history of Jonathan’s life, and Ms. Reid’s struggle for justice, wherein she filed a million-dollar civil lawsuit against Los Angeles County and the treating physician, which included the removal of the civil immunity of DCFS social workers under Government Code 820.21, Ms. Reid said.
But the settlement that they awarded the family was not sufficient justice. “We sought true justice and we have not received it. All we received was a payoff and we’re not satisfied with a payoff,” Ms. Reid charged.
“I believe that within our community, we should be able to culturally put our children with our religious centers, social centers, and have social workers set up an alternative program where these types of things are not happening,” stated Min. Tony Muhammad, Nation of Islam Western Regional Representative.
Educator and journalist Kaia Niambi Shivers works with foster youth and adults who have been emancipated from the foster care system. She pointed out that the foster care system is laden with bureaucracy.
“It’s not just the social worker–that’s just one person. You have judges, police officers, psychologists, even court appointed attorneys–a whole circle of people who basically block the parent from some sort of healthy, intimate relationship with their child,” she stated.
And regardless of the child’s background, she continued, being ripped from a mother’s arms renders a type of psychological trauma that the victims live with every day. She cautioned that it is no rhetoric or conspiracy theory that there is a disproportionate number of Black youth in foster care.
According to a 2003 Child Welfare League of America report, entitled “Children of Color in the Child Welfare System,” for every 1,000 Black children in the U.S. population, 21 were in foster care on September 30, 2000, whereas for every 1,000 White children, five were in foster care. While Blacks were 15 percent of the total population under the age 18, they were 40 percent of the foster care population. Whites under the age of 18 registered at 61 percent of the total population, yet 38 percent of the foster care population, the document continued.
A DCFS spokesperson, who requested anonymity, stated that the number of children in the care of DCFS dropped from 60,000 in 2001 to 45,000 in 2003, with a total of seven who have died within the last three years. Whenever a child is lost, it is a tragedy, he stated.
When these fatalities occur under the cover of unjust reporting and removals, the pain is worsened, Ms. Reid stated.
She has lost track of how many children the coalition has helped reunite with their families–not magically, she stated, but through hearings that parents hardly know exist.
“We hit them with their own laws, but the problem is that parents do not know their rights, and their court-appointed attorneys do not inform them, because the system could become liable, and that is their bread and butter,” she explained.
The coalition has created an informative pamphlet that outlines the language, structure and procedures of the dependency court system.
However, according to Allan Parachini, public information officer for the Los Angeles Juvenile Dependency Court, the court is not a county agency and does not employ the attorneys. He said it is hard to believe that, given the court’s quality of leadership, inadequate representation occurs.
Ms. Reid said that the Day of Mourning was especially poignant for her, because it came in the wake of the federal government’s reporting that the state’s child welfare system could lose nearly $18 million in funding for its failure to abide by measures regulating the well-being of children in its system.
(The Jonathan Reid Family Rights Coalition may be contacted at (310) 515-7686.)