In case you missed Part 2
By Gretchen Rachel Hammond
Isaiah took a deep breath as he remembered April 15, 2014.
“I had been on medication and I was just opening my eyes,” he said. “Most of my doctors were around me. One of them said ‘sorry to tell you this but you’re not allowed to see your mom.’ I was surprised of course but I was on so much medication I didn’t know how to physically grasp what was going on. It went from 24 hours to 48. I couldn’t even talk to my mom. It really hit me after I was sent to a foster parent. I knew I wasn’t ever going to see my mom again and I had no other choice.”
Foster care had a profoundly negative impact on Isaiah who was “used to being in a really nice environment in the suburbs.”
Instead, he was subjected to and witnessed a litany of horrors he was not ready to talk about in detail.
“I’m still dealing with it internally,” he said.
But there were times Isaiah recalled being treated like a hostage.
“After I made the video, I got in big trouble,” he said. “I didn’t care that my foster parent found out but I got my phone taken away. I tried to get out of the house but I was threatened with being sent to a group home. I was so scared of that.”
Meanwhile, as Michelle fought to prove her innocence and have Isaiah returned to her, she discovered a shocking reality faced by innumerable numbers of parents who have a DCFS case tried at the Cook County Juvenile Justice Center.
There, rights guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment seemingly don’t count for much. Also, according to legal watchdogs, while prosecutors in a criminal court must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proof for DCFS is dramatically lower. This has led to proceedings resembling a third-world kangaroo court in which juris prudence is practically non-existent.
A summary of the State’s petition for temporary custody alleged that “after Isaiah’s surgery at Lurie, Michelle demanded unnecessary medications and refused other options for treating his pain. The petition further alleged Isaiah’s pain improved when Michelle was not present. Michelle became loud and belligerent with medical staff and uncooperative with recommended medical treatment.”
“That was a flat-out lie,” Michelle said. “They wanted to start Isaiah on Methadone [an Opioid] and I said ‘no’ because he wasn’t responding to narcotics. We were supposed to have a hearing 48 hours after they took him. We did not. I attended over 23 hearings in that court house. I wasn’t allowed to have any of my family or friends in the courtroom. I found out later that a public relations woman from Lurie was at the first ten hearings.”
Physically and emotionally drained, Michelle began to spiral into depression.
Isaiah lost hope and spent every day in terror of being sent to a group home.
“I knew I was never going to see my mom again,” he said. “I thought I was never going to leave; that this was going to be my life. I was trying to mentally prepare myself but it just got worse.”
Isaiah was in foster care for just shy of six months. With the case garnering significant media attention, in December 2014 the State of Illinois agreed to an interstate compact and Isaiah was allowed to move back to Kansas City to live with Michelle’s parents. However, he was still considered a ward of the State.
“They were sending cases workers from Illinois to Kansas City,” Michelle said adding that they would often show up unannounced at both her house and the home of Isaiah’s grandparents.
“They were intrusive,” Michelle recalled. “Making sure that I wasn’t visiting him without supervision. If he went back into the hospital, even though I couldn’t be there with him, they would still blame me. The [State of Illinois] judge refused to listen to Isaiah. He denied Isaiah the right to have his own attorney. It was crazy.”
She added that, on numerous occasions, DCFS took it upon themselves to haul Isaiah back to Illinois. After his experiences in foster care, these visits served to re-traumatize him even as he was trying to reconstruct a life under his grandparent’s care.
In August, 2015 Isaiah was to turn 18. Considered a legal adult in Illinois (the age of Majority) an 18-year-old can vote, enter into a contract, consent to their own medical treatment and enlist in the military without the consent of a parent of guardian.
Understandably, both Michelle and Isaiah thought that, on his 18th birthday, he would finally be free.
However, in an astonishing move, DCFS refused to relinquish Isaiah. Despite his firm declaration that he wanted to be back with his mother, DCFS defended their decision using various and wildly obscure reasoning from “a responsibility of care” to a pending appeal that Michelle had filed in April, 2015.
According to both Michelle and Isaiah, a DCFS representative offered Isaiah $500-per-month if he agreed to stay in the system.
Looking back, both mother and son feel that DCFS had only one thing in mind.
“Money,” Michelle said. “This is an industry and they used my son to benefit it.”
“It’s just a cash grab,” Isaiah said. “I believe that DCFS is corrupt and is all about money. My foster parent was supposed to give me an allowance. She told me how much she was getting but I found out later on, it was much more than that.”
In a November 2015, the Appellate Court of Illinois’ First District ruled against DCFS.
“The trial court based its adjudication on wardship solely on the State’s allegations that Michelle improperly manipulated Isaiah’s medical treatment,” the court wrote in its decision. “The State made no other allegations of physical or emotional abuse. Isaiah is 18 years old and, according to our review of the record, a fine young man able to make decisions about his own medical care.”
In May, 2016 the case was closed.