perspectives.gif (2040 bytes)

Are the Foster Care System and the Family Court Just Legal Drug Dealers?

By Woody Henderson

On April 16, 2001, a story appeared in the New York Post about a 16-year-old boy by the name of Cecil Reed III who died while in the care of (ACS) the Administration for Children's Services. His death on April 7, 2000, was the result of overmedication, not only at the hands of ACS but, against the wishes of the boy and his father, Cecil Reed Jr. Mr. Reed refused to sign papers giving the agency or hospital permission to use experimental drugs on his son. Apparently ACS overruled the father and someone signed the papers giving permission to have these experimental drugs administered to his son. A few weeks later the 16-year-old boy was dead.

In the year that has passed no one from ACS or any other City agency has ever contacted the father and given him an acceptable reason for his son's death.

The illegal medicating, and the disregard for parent's wishes, as they relate to health, education, discipline, and overall well-being of their children by ACS and the New York family Courts, are at epidemic proportions and must be stopped.

The Honorable Judge Margarita Lopez Torres of the Kings County Family Court told me at a two-day conference on child welfare held at Fordham University, "I am alarmed at the large number of children in foster care that are placed on psychotropic medications such as Ritalin and Prozac. Usually these are boys. And, I am unaware of cases brought before me where the law guardians for the child ever questioned the need for these medications." If I don't bring it up or ask if they have looked into other alternatives, no one seems to question whether they {The drugs} are necessary or not."

Far too many of us in the general public still live under the false assumption that if a child is removed by ACS or placed on medication or ACS and the courts refuse to return a child to his/her parents, there must be a good reason. This is not always the case.

The unlawful and unnecessary removal of far too many children, in low-risk categories from their families based on hearsay and or without first obtaining a court order as required by law is a major contributing factor to the breakdown of the family unit in Black and Hispanic communities. The subsequent medicating of these children compounds this injustice.

I contacted Douglas Montero, the reporter from the Post who had the courage to break the story on Cecil Reed III's untimely death. I told him of my work as an advocate for children and families who have been devastated by the current procedures of ACS and the New York Family Courts and asked him if he would put me in touch with the deceased boy's father, he did.

I called the father, Mr. Reed, and his very concerned wife, the stepmother of his child and talked for over an hour and a half about their deceased son. I found their story not only to be creditable and compelling but in line with other stories and information I have gathered over the past few years.

I invited Mr. Reed to a legislative breakfast forum on child welfare that was being held the next morning for citywide candidates at the New York County Lawyers Association, where he would get an opportunity to confront the candidates face-to-face. Although he had to be at work at 9:am. he said he would contact his supervisor to see if he could come in late.

The next morning I met Mr. Reed at NYCLA. A soft-spoken, articulate, well-mannered young man, he asked if he could distribute copies of the article from the Post to those who were arriving for the forum. He did, and then sat patiently and listened to every word the candidates had to say.

The candidates for Public Advocate and Comptroller spoke first. They answered prearranged questions on the issue of child welfare and stated their positions as to how they would deal with that issue. Then questions were opened to the floor. Due to time constraints the moderator only allowed two questions. Mr. Reed tried but unfortunately did not get to ask his question but was told he would be allowed to do so after the mayoral candidates had spoken. Again he sat patiently.

Mark Green and Peter Vallone, had stopped by earlier but chose not to stay for this very important forum. Only Fernando Ferrer, Alan Hevesi and George N. Spitz of the mayoral candidates remained. Once they had gone through the process questions were again opened to the floor.

The moderator again announced that unfortunately due to time restraints there was only time for one question. When she pointed to a woman in the audience to ask that question, Mr. Reed respectfully interrupted saying. "Excuse me, excuse me, I don't mean to be rude; excuse me, I don't mean to be rude; but before the Advocates left I was told I'd get to ask my question."

The moderator said, "Okay, you can ask your question."

"Thank you," Mr. Reed responded, "My son died in Bronx State Children's Psychiatric hospital; he was overmedicated without my permission. I want to know who is gonna be held responsible, how come nobody has gotten in contact with me to find out what happened to my son. The story was in the Post, Monday. No one still has contacted me except this gentleman, Mr. Henderson, and the gentleman that wrote this article. {referring to the article in Monday's Post} I would like to know who is gonna work with me to fight to get justice for my dead son."

Alan Hevesi responded first, saying, "There can be nothing worse than losing a child. It's got to be the most awful experience imaginable. So everyone in this room extends extraordinary sympathy to you, to have a child taken suddenly without warning and apparently without cause. Your remedy, I guess is to first sue the state hospital. Start litigation. Gather the power of whoever represents you to do that to issue subpoena and obtain records and find out what went on. Because, no amount of money coming back to you is gonna bring back your son. But, also to trigger a review by the hospital as to what happened. What went wrong? What was the level of negligence? Was it criminal? Was it stupidity, which is criminal too very often? And, so somebody should help you obtain legal representation. If you can afford it, that's one thing. If you can't, there are agencies to help you do that. I don't know if the National Action Network is going to participate in that, {pointing to Mr. Henderson, Chair of NAN's ACS Committee who had invited Mr. Reed to the forum}. If not I'll have my office connect with you."

Next, the Bronx Borough President, Fernando Ferrer, responded saying, "I'd like to know more about this. This is probably not the forum to deal with a lot of the questions that must be swirling around in your mind. I have a lot of questions too, having heard what you just said. So I'll be talking with you after I leave this table."

With that statement, the forum was over. Mr. Ferrer went directly to talk with Mr. Reed. There would have been no questions on the medicating of children in foster care at the forum had not Mr. Reed, been there.

Ms Aramintha Grant, Vice President of the Association of Black Social Workers, was also in attendance. She shared with me the concerns of her organization about the extensive overmedicating of children in foster care all across this country, which, she said, just happen to be predominately Black and Latino. She also said, "The courts, when okaying the medicating of many of these children never seem to take into consideration the corporal punishment being applied to the body by some of the toxic drugs they are forcing these children to take."

A major part of the problem is that, more often than not, the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society, which represents most of the children in family court goes along with ACS's request to medicate. They rarely question the need to medicate the child, nor do they advocate for therapies other than medication often enough.

When the lawyer representing the child signs off on ACS's request to medicate, it's difficult for the lawyer who represents the parents to convince the judge that medicating the child may not be in the child's best interest.

The illegal and dangerous medicating of children in foster care and the fact that more than 97% of these children are people of color is a far more severe example of racial profiling proportionately, than the police racial profiling that exist in New York and on the New Jersey turnpike.

At a time when politicians from the President on down are chanting, "We can't leave one child behind," not one major television station found this forum on child welfare worthy of coverage. The one television camera there was MNN's Public Access TV's "A Struggle for Justice," which will air part of this forum and an in-depth interview with Mr. Reed on channel 34 in Manhattan and on the Internet at www.mnn.org this Thursday at 7:pm.

Parents have a legal and moral right to say no to the drugs being offered to them or their children. Mr. Reed's son said no. Patrick Dorsmond said no. Now they are both dead, at the hands of the state. Where is the justice? As Roy Wood, that great, black, news commentator use to say, "Now run and tell that."



contact us / letters

Comments are welcome. Send your emails to ajuststruggle@yahoo.com.

Remember Life Shouldn't be "A Struggle for Justice"