Another Way it Happens

by Julia Fletcher

Recent posts  How Does it Happen? and  Looking in a Blind Eye show several ways in which family courts fail our children. The following video clip  from Connecticut’s guardian ad litem training shows yet another way it happens. 

The woman playing the guardian ad litem seems like a trustworthy person with years of experience in the field of child protection. She’s a mother and grandmother of five who wears her heart on her sleeve next to the unexplained  disconnect when it comes to protecting the children she’s supposed to protect.

If  this video is supposed to teach people how to speak with parents in a family court case, maybe the woman playing the guardian ad litem was unprepared or caught off guard by ad lib comments about “child porn”. Why else would a guardian ad litem ignore disclosures of child abuse?  

While we’re asking, here are a few more questions: 

  • Which consultants wrote the sample case for the training and who approved the content? 
  • Do administrators there purposely or inadvertently encourage a lack of respect for established law? 
  • What intolerable consequence could possibly threaten those who do the work it takes to protect children from abuse in family courts?

Here’s the sample case summary:  

Mona and Howard are married and have three children, Justine, 13 years; Kevin, 6 years; and Amy, 18 months.

According to Howard, a lack of sexual intimacy with his wife led him to have an affair with Olive – the babysitter who is “half  his age”. He allows his 13-year-old daughter to use her cell phone to send sexually explicit text messages and provocative photos of herself to her friends. In this video, he appears to admit having “child porn” on his computer.  

Mona is anxious and depressed. Her psychiatrist ruled out all other possible reasons for her symptoms and diagnosed her as having postpartum depression. He prescribed  medication which caused suicidal thoughts and excessive drowsiness. At some point, she fell asleep on the couch while her 18-month-old daughter sat on the floor chewing on a pill bottle – prompting someone to recommend supervised visitation for her when she is with her children …

“Looking in a Blind Eye”

by Julia Fletcher

Driving through a parking lot yesterday, moving forward slowly, I happened to turn my head to the left for some reason. It could have been the bumper sticker that caught my eye. Big and bold. Navy blue and white. It said “We Are Penn State”. 

I don’t think I’ve seen that bumper sticker before. Maybe I have seen it and didn’t notice – having looked at it “in a blind eye” before yesterday. 

Most of us have noticed something for the first time that’s been there all along. Maybe that’s what happened.

Almost everyone knows about Penn State University and their football team and maybe everyone except me has seen that bumper sticker before and they already know what it means. I didn’t.

When I saw that bumper sticker, I didn’t think about cheerleaders at football games. I thought of all the “We are” solidarity slogans we’ve seen in the news lately…

     “We are Trayvon Martin”

                                                                                                                                              “We are Troy Davis”

                                                          “We are Bidder 70”

“We are Penn State”

“Wow.” I thought. “Bumper stickers to show solidarity with the children abused at Penn State.”

I certainly didn’t expect that. The Penn State scandal broke, and now, here’s this public awareness of the importance of speaking up about child abuse with Penn State leading the way!

Everything’s going to be okay… those working in family courts will catch this wave of solidarity and protect our children from now on.  It’s just a matter of time …

So inspired and so clueless. I drove home and sat at my desk to write this post, so optimistic and so ready to call it:

 “We are Penn State!”

Looking online for the bumper sticker, I learned what “We Are Penn State” actually means. It’s been one of the school’s mottos since 1948.

“Success with Honor” is another. 

It’s interesting to note that the phrase “We Are Penn State” actually did start in the spirit of solidarity. It was a show of support for the entire football team at that school and it happened over 60 years ago. The first and now famous sentence spoken was, “We’re Penn State. There’ll be no meetings.” and  “We Are Penn State soon became the football team’s cheer and catchphrase.

I would have thought that the majority of Connecticut state legislators would have shown the same kind of solidarity last month during a Judiciary Committee hearing when two advocates, a psychologist and a physician offered testimony to express their concern and support for a little boy in Connecticut.

It could be that the legislators didn’t show their concern or support for the boy because the hearing was mostly about an attorney – rather than the boy the attorney was supposed to protect.

Those who testified about Attorney Maureen Murphy’s alleged misconduct in the boy’s case, stated their opposition to Ms. Murphy’s promotion to the position of Superior Court judge. They told state legislators about her mishandling of clear and convincing evidence of horrific, unspeakable child abuse.

Just a few weeks before the hearing, Ms. Murphy had been the boy’s Guardian ad litem.

Perhaps the Connecticut legislators thought they had only two choices – to vote for or against Ms. Murphy – and maybe they didn’t have enough time to take a closer look at what happened in that case involving the boy. 

Could it be that some purposely “looked in a blind eye” at the evidence? 

Many of them are lawyers and all are politicians. Were a few of them worried about Ms. Murphy becoming a Superior Court judge and eventually sitting in judgement of them or in judgement of their clients one day?

The testimony was as clear and as convincing as it could be.

Connecticut State Senator Doyle wondered out loud during the hearing about how it could be possible that so many individuals involved in the case didn’t do anything about it. He said, “If Attorney — if Attorney Murphy was the only party in this case and the only person of authority, to me, that would — I could understand it more. But you’re telling me everyone looked in a blind eye. To me, that’s hard to believe.”

It is hard to believe. 

What happened at Penn State is hard to believe too.

Year after year, hundreds of thousands of fans filled that stadium. The football games were televised. The coaches and staff  lived their lives in the public eye. So many coming and going, in and out of the locker rooms. Surely someone must have seen something over the course of so many years. 

Those who saw what happened “looked in a blind eye” there too.   

Is it too hard for us to believe that some adults abuse children in unspeakable ways?

Is it too hard to believe that those in positions of authority in our homes,  in our schools and in our family courts are unwilling or unable to protect children from abuse? Are we ashamed to talk about it or is our shame more important than protecting a child?

Are we afraid or is our fear more important than protecting a child?

Will it inconvenience her in some way?

                               

Will it take too much time for him to investigate?

                                     

 Will their social standing be affected? 
                         Will others think less of them? 
 

    What happens when we dare to speak up first?

Was Ms. Murphy afraid she would be held accountable for not protecting the boy? According to the testimony presented that day, she tried to convince everyone that the abuse did not occur.

Why would she tell others to ignore the signs and symptoms?

And what about a child’s teacher? A child’s teacher would speak up if something’s not quite right. Right?

What should teachers do when a child’s grades drop 33%?

What should teachers do about a child who is “significantly depressed, anxious… traumatized… punching himself in the face… and talking in school about his father playing “tickle the weenie” with him.” ?

 Did Senator Doyle think, if the boy displayed clear signs of child abuse at his school, those in authority at the school would take care of it? Did Senator Doyle consider that maybe the school’s principle worried that an abuse case would harm the school’s reputation  in some way?

Maybe it would disrupt the teachers’ schedules.

Would it invite a lawsuit against the school for not reporting the abuse sooner? 

Did the Ms. Murphy, as Guardian ad litem, convince the teachers to “look in a blind eye” so she would avoid liability as the one who was ultimately responsible for protecting the boy?

In any event, at this point in time, whatever reasons there were for whatever happened in that case don’t matter more than protecting that young boy from harm right now. 

The following is an actual email exchange between the mother and her son’s two teachers. All names in the emails have been redacted.  The mother saw signs that her child’s father was abusing him. She reported the abuse to professionals who reported the abuse to the family court judge.

Subject: meeting today————————

From: (Mother)Date: Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 9:59 AM To: teacher@aol.com, teacher2

Hello (Teacher) and (2nd Teacher),

I have an emergency that came up this morning and I have to handle it A.S.A.P.

Can we reschedule the PT meeting for one day after school?

Thanks so much,

(Mother)

———-From: <(Teacher)>Date: Mon, Oct 3, 2011 at 6:56 PMTo: (Mother).@gmail.com, (2nd Teacher)@gmail.com

Hi (Mother),

I have a half an hour available on Thursday at 3:45. Hopefully that will work while you are picking up (Child).

Let me know.

Peace –

Teacher

———-From: (Mother)  <(Mother).>Date: Tue, Oct 4, 2011 at 11:13 AMTo: “(Teacher)@aol.com” <(Teacher)>Cc: “(2nd Teacher)@gmail.com” <(2nd Teacher)>

Hi (Teacher),,

It’s not a good thing for (Child) to have his already limited time with his mother any further reduced, so let’s find a time when we can meet without doing so. I can make myself available almost anytime outside of my time with him.

Thanks,

(Mother)

———-From: <(Teacher)>Date: Tue, Oct 4, 2011 at 7:34 PMTo: (Mother).@gmail.com, (2nd Teacher)@gmail.com

Hi (Mother)-

Just wanted to confirm that we are scheduled for a brief meeting on Thursday at 3:45 in addition to you emailing me your questions and concerns, etc. I do have another conference at 4:15 on Thursday. I will be happy to read your email, respond and place it in (Child)’s file.

Let me know. Thanks.

(Teacher)

———-From: (Mother)  <(Mother).>Date: Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 1:03 AMTo: (Teacher)@aol.comCc: (2nd Teacher)@gmail.com, nesmoffice@yahoo.com

Hi (Teacher),

I’m curious why you’re confirming a meeting that I was clear I won’t be able to make.

I certainly understand your constraint of having to get the material from parent conferences turned in by Friday. I also understand that you only have to offer me 30 minutes of time. I think, however, that we’d all agree that (Child)’s situation is far from typical, and that the typical amount of time spent in discussion will not validly cover the issues in anything but a cursory and unrealistic manner. I’d like to avoid the further spread of confusion and misinformation in (Child)’s situation.

I look forward to meeting whenever we are able to do so.

Thanks,

(Mother)

———-From: <teacher>Date: Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 7:03 AM To: mother@gmail.com Cc: teacher2@gmail.com, schooloffice@yahoo.com</teacher>

Hi (Mother),

Surely, I agree that (Child) situation is not typical, however I can show you his school work, and relay my observations about him during school session in about 30 minutes. My job and dedication to your son is his behavior and performance in school. While I am sure you are under pressure with all that has happened, I must stay unbiased regarding all other information outside of school. If there is something you feel is a particular situation that you see and may effect your son during school hours, always, please email me and let me know. Particular attention will be given to him that day, as all the teachers have done in the past. I am sorry to not spend this sharing time today with you, to show you how great he is doing and excelling in all areas. Your son is lucky to have you in his life.

Teacher

———-From: Mother <mother>Date: Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 10:42 AM To: teacher@aol.com Cc: teacher2@gmail.com, schooloffice@yahoo.com</teacher>

Hi (Child’s teacher),

Thanks for working with me to make sure we can come together to find solutions to address (child’s) needs.

I will confess that I am confused about your goals for this meeting. In this email thread you tell me, “My job and dedication to (your son) is his behavior and performance in school.” However the questionnaire I have been working on for the purposes of this meeting asks many detailed questions about his home life, such as, “What area of your family life would you like to improve?”, “Describe your relationship with your child,” and “Tell us about your dreams for you child’s future.” Perhaps the most striking question that is truly relevant to you, and may need 30 minutes of discussion in itself is: “Does your child have any behavior or social difficulties?” I hope you can see how two pages of questions like this would lead me to believe that you are interested in discussing (my son’s) life outside of school at least somewhat.

Regarding the last question, part of the necessary colloquy needs to address how you make observations like “…to show you how great he is doing and excelling in all areas,” and yet have scored him as significantly depressed, anxious, and traumatized on the instruments you have filled out. I have witnessed him self-harming in the classroom, having been corrected by you or (another teacher) in several instances, and yet that is never articulated as a concern in his reports, or relayed to the authorities even when they ask you. Are you concerned that the bulk of his report card scoring has dropped to mainly 2s instead of 1s he was getting during his first year? I don’t perceive what must work out to at a minimum a 33% drop in grades – particularly the social areas – as “excelling in all areas”.

It is this, what seems to be a major disconnect in your reporting your observations, that I feel needs to be explored in more detail. I had hoped to do so face to face, but as it doesn’t seem workable for this week I’ll relay my concerns here.

I understand that being in this situation is very untenable for you and for everyone at the school. No one likes dealing with anything this chaotic. I didn’t bring any of you into this situation, and my asking for honest and clear communication regarding my child is not the problem – it is the only way to come to a solution that helps him.

Thank you for your time,

(Mother)

———-From: <(Teacher)>Date: Sat, Oct 8, 2011 at 3:01 PMTo: (Mother).@gmail.comCc: (2nd Teacher)@gmail.com, nesmoffice@yahoo.com

(Mother)-

The form you have been asked to share is a standard form, given to all NESM families. We were trying to grant you the same opportunity. Please feel free to disregard the form all together. After a lengthy discussion with (2nd Teacher), we do not see (Child)’s social behavior in the classroom as difficult. I have conveyed this information to several lawyers, therapists, and doctors that have called. Each year comes a higher level of expectation, both in academics and classroom behavior. While we may have observed anxiety, we have not expressed witnessing significant depression or signs of being traumatized. (Child) continues to show improvement in self correcting his own behavior, sometimes with reminders, regarding hurriedly walking and a loud voice in the classroom. I will continue to communicate in an honest and clear manner – keeping (Child)’s well being in mind.

(2nd Teacher)

———-From: (Mother)  <(Mother).>Date: Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 10:14 AMTo: (Teacher)@aol.comCc: (2nd Teacher)@gmail.com, nesmoffice@yahoo.com

Dear (2nd Teacher),

Thank you so much for “trying to grant me the same opportunity” as every other parent of a child in your school has. I’m not sure why it warrants a distinction that you’re “trying to grant me the same opportunity” that every other parent has, but I appreciate it nonetheless. I’m unclear what gave you the impression that I might like to ignore a form that I specifically have been asking for some consideration to go over with you in more detail to assess accurately (Child)’s circumstances.

As you well know, I have been under court-ordered supervision for the last eleven months, and my child is not allowed to spend nights in my home, for no other reason than I reported clear signs of physical and sexual abuse. I find it absolutely hypocritical of you to send (Child) home with a form asking many detailed questions like “Briefly tell us a little about your child’s history, focusing on significant events that have shaped your child’s character/personality,” and then tell me that it is a “standard form” and that you don’t want to entertain discussion that my child is not living a “standard” life.

It is a matter of record that you have scored (Child) on the instruments provided to you by the psychologists with elevated levels in anxiety, depression, and trauma. It is also a matter of record that (Child) has talked in school about his father playing “tickle the weenie” with him. It is not a matter of opinion, and it’s veracity is not open for discussion. What is in need of explanation, however, is your glossing over of (Child)’s falling grades with, “Each year comes a higher level of expectation,” and your strange denial of witnessing behavior in him which is a matter of record that you not only witnessed but corrected.

I am not concerned about whether (Child) runs or speaks loudly or any other normal developmental issues that children learn to curb. I’m frankly not even sure why you would introduce such typical things into a discussion where I am referencing the truly frightening instances of things such as (Child)’s punching himself in the face in your office and classroom, and demonstrating a preoccupation with dying. These would be the behaviors that we are discussing, that an accredited educational facility has a mandate to report accurately to the authorities.

This statement from you: “I must stay unbiased regarding all other information outside of school,” is quite true. “Unbiased” means reporting exactly what happens as it happens – not ignoring it, or saying children are “excelling in all areas” when they are punching themselves in the face, their grades are falling, and they are scored, by you, on psychological testing instruments as highly anxious and depressed. The reason for mandatory reporting laws is to ensure that professional educators are observing and documenting signs that a child’s home life might be abusive or neglectful. In the position you seem to be taking, however, ANY acknowledgement of signs of abuse would be “biased” against a parent suspected of inflicting it.

I had hoped that meeting with you about these issues would give us an opportunity to work together on bringing your disparate accounts of my son’s behavior and performance into alignment. I’m saddened that, instead, you have chosen to evade my valid concerns with a combination of defensive maneuvering and disingenuous obsequious. It seems, unfortunately, at this point that to continue this discussion in a meeting would be a waste of time. If you have any further information for me at this time or in the future, please feel free to email or call me at the number in (Child)’s file.

Thank you so much for your time,

(Mother)

“Success With Honor”. That’s a catchy phrase too. I wonder how many people in Connecticut know about that one.