On Monday, February 26, 2018, Chelsea Thomas, 18, gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy in Birmingham, Alabama. Their first-born son was everything that she and her 19-year-old fiance’ Brian Stokes had hoped for.
They immediately fell in love with their “sweet prince” who has daddy’s nose and mommy’s lips. Baby Kason was their whole world. Then, their world was shattered. At 3 pm the very next day, Chelsea had just breastfed her baby and he was asleep in her arms. A nurse came into the room and said she needed to take Baby Kason to the nursery “for an assessment.”
He never came back.
Less than an hour after the nurse took their baby out of the room, Chelsea received a phone call from a lady with the Steps Ahead prenatal program telling her that she was required to notify the Department of Human Resources (DHR – Alabama’s Child Protective Services) when the baby was born.
She told them that DHR had taken custody of Baby Kason. He was in lockdown in the hospital nursery and the parents were not permitted to go near the nursery. There was no reason given. There was no warrant. No court order. No emergency circumstance. Nothing. Their baby had only been with them for little more than 24 hours.
It turns out that, even though Chelsea is 18, Jefferson County DHR still legally has custody over her, because she is a former foster child. As such, it appears that they get to call the shots – up to and including taking her baby away from her.
Just before Chelsea was discharged from St. Vincent’s East Hospital the next day, the stunned parents were given 10 minutes to hold Kason and say goodbye, supervised by Jefferson County social worker Ericka Lawery. They have not seen their baby since then. It was not until they went to court on Friday, March 2, that they were given any reasons for their newborn being taken. Even then, the reasons don’t make sense to them or to those who know them.
One of the allegations is that Chelsea has “severe mental illness.” The other is that she was “discharged from her prior placement at Childhaven for wanting to harm her baby.” The same report has her on “runaway status.”
According to Chelsea, Brian, and his grandparents, these allegations are simply wrong.
Is This How We Treat Children Rescued from Abuse?
Chelsea, who turned 18 a month after Kason was conceived, is no stranger to the Child Protective System. As a little girl in Arkansas, she was taken from her biological mother when she was 4 years old. She remembers the horrors from which she was rescued – from a mother who reportedly was a drug addict who trafficked her own children.
She experienced things that no child should ever have to go through. It is for such children that taxpayers have approved the existence of Child Protective Services. It is that knowledge that makes the taking of Baby Kason that much more confusing to his family, who believed that CPS was supposed to be about taking children from abusive parents, not from loving parents.
With Chelsea, her birth mother’s rights were terminated when she was 6 years old, and she was adopted by a couple in Arkansas when she was 8. However, all was not bliss in her new “forever home.”
The new family moved to Alabama when she was 10, due to her adoptive father’s job transfer. Her adoptive parents split up and her father re-married. Alabama DHR became involved over reports of physical and verbal abuse in the home when Chelsea was 12, and she was removed from their home. At age 14, she was placed into a residential group home in the Birmingham area and has been under DHR custody ever since. She met her fiance when she was just 15 years old.
Drugged in Foster Care
Chelsea said that, under Child Protective Services’ care, she has been on medications since she was 4 years old, for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. This is consistent with data that shows that children in foster care are drugged at a higher rate than the general public.
While it might be reasonable to expect that a child who had experienced what she had would have PTSD, it does not follow that she would need medication. Instead of being seen as a pathology that needs to be treated, there are some who suggest that Post Traumatic Stress is not a disorder to be medicated, but rather it is a normal response to an abnormal situation.
Chelsea says that she has asked many times over the years to be taken off of the medications. She has been telling them “as long as I can remember” that she doesn’t need them. Shortly before she turned 17, she was placed into Hillcrest Behavioral Health Services for what Chelsea calls “medication management.” Hillcrest has a residential program and adolescent group home.
Chelsea said that it seemed to her that she was there because they really didn’t have a place for her anywhere else. After she became pregnant, doctors at Hillcrest took her off of all the medications she had been on. Chelsea says that even though they stopped the meds cold turkey, she is happy to be free of them. She says that she doesn’t need them and that she is doing fine without them.
Is the bottom line the fact that Chelsea remains in DHR custody, even though she is 19? It is clear from other cases in Alabama that some social workers believe that the fact that the mother is a foster child entitles the state to their babies. It is readily apparent that Chelsea and Brian have plenty of support from Brian’s family. They have embraced Chelsea as part of the family, and they obviously love her.
Brian’s grandparents have raised 5 children and 3 grandchildren. DHR has even placed children with them before. They passed the recent home inspection, and they don’t understand why DHR won’t let them care for the baby if they are worried about the parents.
Could it be that some social workers have grown accustomed to placing children with strangers, because that is where the financial incentive is, due to the Adoption and Safe Families Act?