966 Days & Nights ”Molly & Sara’s” Story
Saturday, November 15, 2008 by Anne Grant
As you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, please remember that this will be ”Molly” and ”Sara’s” third Thanksgiving away from their lifelong home and community. Thanksgiving will be their 966th day and night separated by the State of Rhode Island from their mother.
It will be the sisters’ 458th day separated from each other, since the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) gave ”Molly,” 7, to the father she had accused when she was 3 of playing ”sausage games” while her mother was at work and her sister at school. She had drawn a picture of him ejaculating and she re-enacted male masturbation.
DCYF refers to what it did to these children as ”Family Reunification.”
As we analyze the documents in this case, we recognize the strategy of their father’s criminal defense attorney, Lise Gescheidt, who succeeded in getting DCYF to overturn its original finding of sexual molestation against her client.
When Ms. Gescheidt and the father appealed that finding in 2004, DCYF assigned attorney Norbara Octeau to serve as hearing officer. Ms. Octeau’s online essays have shown her bias against mothers and her outreach to fathers to hire her as their divorce attorney. DCYF gave Ms. Octeau no reports whatsoever to document their investigators’ original finding against this father.
Gescheidt attended that hearing in October 2004 with her client, the girls’ father. But DCYF never informed the girls’ mother or her attorney of the hearing. Ms. Octeau never met or questioned the mother before condemning her solely on hearsay and rendering a decision in favor of the father in December 2004.
Gescheidt’s friend, attorney Lise Iwon, served as guardian ad litem. Her bills total nearly $50,000, and reveal her vigorous search for clinicians to label this mother mentally disturbed–contrary to evidence provided by scores of others, including neighbors, colleagues, and doctors.
After Octeau had overturned the finding against the father, Gescheidt and Iwon, with a team of attorneys (Deborah Tate, Martha Kelly) and clinicians (John Wincze, John Parsons, Haven Miles, Nancy Harper, Bernice Kelly, James Beck) added to the confusion.
Screaming poured from the closed courtroom. On the day I was summoned to testify about our blog, even Judge John Mutter seemed uncertain how this matter was being fragmented into two distinct cases, civil and DCYF.
By December 2007, Gescheidt, Iwon, and their team had succeeded in delaying the matter for three years since Octeau’s decision. That was the time limit needed to expunge the father’s record at DCYF. The agency had already given ”Molly” to him four months earlier and had sent ”Sara” to a foster home.
DCYF had to do something with the girls, who were living in a state shelter at a base-cost to taxpayers of $60,000 a year. Unable to prove their mother was mentally unfit, DCYF finally said she had neglected her children.
But did she? When neighbors asked the Parenting Project to investigate the case in 2006, we visited the home. We saw thousands of photographs their mother had taken of ”Sara” and ”Molly,” invariably grinning together at countless activities indoors and out. We found an extraordinary, child-friendly home, as Phil West’s photographs document:
The side entrance welcomes guests with a yellow triangular warning in a child’s script.
The last thing the children did at home was to prepare this cage for a new tenant. Their mother had promised to take them to the pet shop to buy a hamster after school on April 7, 2006.
Instead, Lise Iwon brought an emergency motion to Judge Mutter to remove the children from their mother and home ”temporarily” for psychiatric tests. Police went to their schools with a DCYF social worker.
Their mother asked where they were taking her children. The officer said, ”I don’t know.” The girls were only 5 and 9 years old.
They have not seen their home, their art projects, piano, rocking chair, books and games since then–966 days and nights ago this Thanksgiving.
Who will spend time on Thanksgiving thinking about ”Molly,” ”Sara,” and the other children that Rhode Island holds hostage?
If we do not know about them, it is because we do not want to know.
Which of our legislators will examine this case and others like it? They are the ones responsible to oversee the courts and agencies that our General Assembly established to handle such cases.
Which organizations committed to better government or to child welfare will consider the hidden plight of children like these? Who will dare to question attorneys like Lise Gescheidt, Lise Iwon, Norbara Octeau, Deborah Tate, and the lawyers of DCYF?
Their legal stratagem is not unique to Rhode Island. Do Rhode Islanders have it in us to stop the state from removing these children?