August 18, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This is a great article (Sun Herald, 8/12/16). Better yet, it’s one of a series.
Its points are two; first is the story of Mindi Stiglet, a single mother whose child was taken by the Mississippi Department of Human Services in Hancock County. Second is the secrecy that shrouds DHS, making possible the wrong done to Stiglet.
Although no charges have yet been filed, Stiglet produced compelling evidence that a DHS caseworker forged a signature on a case management plan for Stiglet. What difference did that make?
The forgery investigation revolved around two “case plan” forms, commonly known as service agreements, which DHS uses to outline various tasks a parent must complete to regain custody.
DHS officials said it’s unusual for a case to have two case plans.
The first case plan was filled out and signed Dec. 4, 2013. It contained seven tasks, most of which are standard and include drug screenings, parenting classes and a mental-health evaluation.
The second case plan was the one investigators believe was forged. Stiglet’s supposed signature appears markedly different from her other signature samples.
The most significant difference, however, was a single sentence added to the second case plan that allowed Stiglet supervised visits with her daughter. The first case plan made no mention of visitation, and Stiglet said Simms refused her pleas for visitation. Furthermore, her child was living with a foster family in Michigan.
Though she had completed the tasks listed on the first case plan, Stiglet’s efforts became irrelevant when the second case plan surfaced and she was accused of not wanting to visit her child. Her purported failure to exercise visitation became a primary factor in DHS’ petition to terminate her parental rights, records show.
In other words, a social worker, probably Fegee Simms, took Stiglet’s child and placed it in foster care. The two agreed on a case plan under which, if Stiglet performed all of her obligations, she’d get her child back. But Simms, or whoever forged Stiglet’s signature, didn’t want that to happen, so she unilaterally came up with a second plan that was identical to the first except that it required Stiglet to regularly visit her child who just happened to live over 1,000 miles away in Michigan. That “requirement” of course was unknown to Stiglet, so she didn’t take the steps required to meet it. That in turn allowed the DHS to move to terminate her parental rights to the child, which the Department duly did.
In still fewer words, the Department committed fraud in order to take a child from its mother.
Why would it do such a thing? Regular readers of this blog know the answer all too well – money. Under the Adoption and Safe Families Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1998, the federal government offers states cash incentives to take children from families and have them adopted out of foster care. According to one North Dakota State Senator, William Napoli, the ASFA was “huge,” causing “a real influx of kids being taken out of families.” After its effective date, states began taking far more children into foster care and adopting far more them out of foster care. Here’s the article I wrote about Napoli’s revelation.
Now, let’s be clear. Mindi Stiglet isn’t an ideal parent. Since her teen years, she’s had problems with illegal drug use. Tellingly, though that may have a lot to do with the fact that she herself is a product of Mississippi’s foster care system.
The 24-year-old is no stranger to DHS, having herself grown up in the state’s custody until she turned 18.
“They made my life a lot worse,” she said of DHS in an interview in February. “Snatched me from my parents. Snatched me from my grandparents. Just in and out of the (group) home, from this place to this place, bouncing me around.”
While growing up in the system, she wasn’t allowed to maintain contact with her mother, she said.
“It’s like a repeated pattern,” she said. “I can’t see my kids now.”
I’m sure there’s information somewhere on how many kids who spent much of their lives in foster care go on to have kids who end up in the same place. I’ve never seen it, but I’d love to read studies of that revolving door phenomenon. My guess is that child protective authorities have created a system that amounts to an endless cycle. Children are traumatized by being taken from their parents and then often re-traumatized, emotionally, physically and/or sexually in foster care. When they become adults and have kids of their own, their traumatic upbringing makes them abusive and neglectful parents, resulting in their children being taken into foster care. Repeat, ad infinitum.
Meanwhile, the question arises of whether the social worker who seems to have forged the signature in question is any better than Mindi Stiglet.
But the DHS worker who handled both the Berry and Stiglet cases also has a criminal record.
Simms was employed as a state child-services worker despite having been arrested four times on multiple charges in Louisiana and Georgia. The charges include submitting falsified information to police, simple battery, probation violation and other misdemeanors, according to records from law enforcement agencies.
Is it a problem that the caseworker who made the decision to take Stiglet’s child is a worse actor than Stiglet, even without the forgery allegation?
I’ll get into the secrecy in which Mississippi DHS operates and the people who are trying to change it next time.
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