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The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has come under a microscope following the death of a two-year-old toddler from “acute fentanyl toxicity” after he ingested pills he found on his mother’s bed. It was the third time the child had swallowed pills and twice before had to be revived by medical workers. The third attempt was unsuccessful.

DCFS had been notified of each incident at the time they occurred but took no steps to protect the child.

LouisianaVoice had a story on Monday about the removal of three children from their parents in Natchitoches after the mother said she was falsely accused of drug use by her in-laws.

Now, a former Department of Juvenile Justice employee, Jerel M. Giarrusso, has come forward with a story of her own experience with the DCFS’s removal of a newborn from his parents, again on the flimsy word of in-laws who claimed in this case the mother failed to take medication during her pregnancy.

Following is her account:

By Jerel M. Giarrusso

Guest Columnist

Several years ago, I was personally involved in a case where DCFS wrongly removed a newborn from his parents in northeast Louisiana.  Let’s refer to the couple as Louis and Anna. The young couple had lived with us for some time and we were like parents to them. 

Anna had a lengthy, nightmarish labor and emergency caesarean delivery, and remained in the hospital for a couple of days after Louis took the infant home.  While she was hospitalized, a social worker accused Anna of being unfit to mother her child after someone (she thinks it was her husband’s mother) alleged she had not taken psychotropic drugs for a mental health condition during her pregnancy.

The hospital staff bought that foolishness, got DCFS and law enforcement involved, and they demanded that she not go home to her own residence with her husband and new baby – and that she have no unsupervised contact with her baby.  Anna’s adoptive father was there and called us repeatedly to keep us apprised of the situation.

To be sure, the meds that Anna did not take had not even been prescribed for her during her pregnancy, as they would have caused severe problems for a developing fetus.  The mental health condition had been diagnosed when Anna was three years old and was probably bogus in the first place. (I have copies of DCFS paperwork regarding her case as a toddler removed from her parents, adopted by another couple, and years later, the situation with her own child.)

Anna went home to her husband and new baby four days after he was born.  Several hours later, three people arrived at their mobile home with a court order, and took the infant away – two DCFS employees and an armed sheriff’s deputy.  The charge for removal of the baby was that Anna had abused him in utero because she did not take certain medications during her pregnancy –  meds that had not been prescribed for her, and would have been dangerous to the baby.  Yep – that’s in writing in the DCFS paperwork – abuse and neglect of the fetus in utero because she didn’t take certain medications.

Anna’s adoptive father hired an attorney to fight this mess. The lawyer was well-intentioned but inexperienced and had no clue how to handle such a case.  I was officially appointed as an advocate for the family under DCFS’s own regulations, so I was supposed to have full access to their records, and could be present and speak for them in court hearings. The one time that I was present in court on their behalf, the two attorneys for DCFS had the judge throw me out.

Louis and Anna did everything the court and the DCFS workers demanded of them.  They took classes on parenting, anger management, whatever they were told.  They were only allowed one visit a month, for one hour each visit.  Although they had moved back to East Baton Rouge Parish, the DCFS staff in Monroe refused to move the case, and the baby, who was in foster care, to EBR, despite the request of the Baton Rouge office supervisor.  Louis and Anna drove to Monroe every month to visit their son, four hours each way.  Sometimes they sold blood plasma to pay for gas for their car.  Several times they were told, after they arrived, that the foster parents couldn’t (wouldn’t) make the child available to them for the one hour visit.  When visits did take place, usually at a McDonald’s restaurant, the foster parents remained present and interfered, until the lawyer intervened and DCFS finally allowed private visits, at the office.

Anna took photos of serious diaper rash and small bruises on her son during some early visits, and complained to DCFS about his condition.  As a result, they were forbidden to have their cell phones in the visits.  The lawyer then made a complaint alleging abuse, with the photos, to the city police.  The baby was then re-assigned to a different foster home. This was about the same time that a St. Tammany Parish foster mother was arrested and charged with the murder of her foster child, after DCFS ignored the birth parents’ repeated complaints that their child was being abused.  The birth parents sued DCFS, of course.  One would think the agency would have taken seriously birth parents’ concerns about abuse of children in their custody.       

DCFS alleged that family reunification was not appropriate because Louis and Anna had not properly bonded with their son.  It’s rather difficult to establish a relationship with a baby when the face time equals 12 hours a year, if that. 

This went on for a couple of years.  I contacted DCFS officials to ask for someone to look into this case and return this child to his parents, taking it as high as the executive office, and I was swatted away.  The family could no longer afford the lawyer, who had been ineffectual anyway.   After about three years, Anna became pregnant again.  Louis and Anna said the DCFS social worker threatened to remove the new baby from them at birth, for no other reason than that their first child was in DCFS custody.  They were finally intimidated into surrendering their son to the state and terminating their parental rights, to protect their second child from the depredations of an out-of-control state agency. 

Throughout this ordeal, Louis and Anna were required to pay child support to DCFS for the privilege of having their child taken from them.  DCFS continued to draft their checking account for child support payments after their parental rights were terminated.  DCFS finally had to refund the money.

Their oldest child was basically kidnapped from this couple.  They have no contact with him.  He is lost to them forever.  Right after the baby was taken from them, I contacted an acquaintance who was a high level DCFS program manager to ask if she could make sense out of the situation.  She looked up the file on the computer, looked me in the eye and said, “hmmm, a healthy white infant…”

 The significance of that remark is that the Children’s Bureau supports programs, research, and monitoring to help eliminate barriers to adoption and find permanent families for children. The Children’s Bureau provides funding to states and tribes to help them support families who adopt from foster care (Emphasis added). “We provide additional funds to states that achieve a high number of adoptions of children from foster care,” its web page says.

I was told that Louisiana has had a very high success rate in achieving adoptions from foster care. The federal government pays state agencies accordingly. The word that came to my mind, not anyone at DCFS, was “bounty.”

There is a ready market for the adoption of “healthy white infants” in all 50 states.  When people adopt from state foster care, they do not wait forever — nor do they pay tens of thousands of dollars to attorneys for private adoptions.

 

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Folks, when I screw up, I have no choice but admit it and apologize. The votes by Kennedy and Cassidy were to keep the $35 cap on the price of insulin intact. I misread the amendment as an effort to remove the cap and had our two senators voting yes.

The amendment, in fact, was not to remove the cap but was a procedural move in an effort to keep the cap. It was voted in favor by a 57-43 vote but needed 60 votes to pass, so the $35 cap for those under private insurance do not qualify for the cap.

The Repugnantcan Party did, in fact, kill the cap, but Kennedy and Cassidy were not part of that effort. My sincerest apologies to both.

I may oppose Kennedy and his grandstanding, but when I err, I must do the honorable thing and admit my mistake and to apologize.

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The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has come under severe criticisms lately following a couple of cases – one in Baton Rouge and another in north Louisiana – involving infants.

In one case that that has received considerable scrutiny involves the death of a two-year-old toddler from “acute fentanyl toxicity” after ingesting some pills he found on his mother’s bed.

It marked the third time the child had overdosed on drugs. He had been revived twice before but medical personnel were unable to revive him last April.

Compounding the tragedy was the fact that DCFS had, on the previous two occasions, flagged risks to the boy’s life but each time he was allowed to return to his mother’s home.

Contrast that with another case in which a woman, Leah Newell, who was seven months’ pregnant, was involved in an auto accident in Natchitoches Parish on May 6. Her two younger children were with her when a City of Natchitoches truck driver pulled out of a side road and struck her vehicle on the driver’s side.

An ambulance rushed Newell and her two children to the Natchitoches Parish Hospital ER. “That’s where a nightmare would begin for our family,” Newell wrote LouisianaVoice.

At the ER, a hospital social worker was told (falsely, Newell insists) by her sister-in-law and mother-in-law that she was at fault because she was abusing illegal drugs.

On the basis of that information, “The social worker told me that she was a nurse and needed a urinalysis to check on the fetus,” Newell said. “Although I was never given paperwork with results, the social worker claimed I had tested positive for amphetamines. I don’t do and have never done drugs,” she said.

She said she subsequently discovered evidence that proved the tests were never done in the ER. “The social worker who lied and claimed she was a nurse also lied and never drug tested me and then lied about me failing,” she said. 

“The social worker obtained permission from my mother-in-law to test the two youngest children for drugs, and the results came back negative. I had to undergo an emergency C-section to save my unborn child, and when the social worker insisted that the child be drug tested, that test also came back negative.

“My husband and I were drug tested a second time about a week after the accident and were negative for drugs. After a month, DCFS secured a removal order for the three younger children, who were temporarily placed with their paternal grandparents.”

Newell said she and her husband cooperated with DCFS in the belief that their children would come back home. “After six months, in December 2019, our children were finally placed back in their home with us,” she said.

“My husband and I went back to court in June 2020 after DCFS claimed the case would be closed because we had cooperated completely. The DCFS case worker, along with her supervisor and the court appointed CASA volunteer all submitted reports saying the children were happy and healthy and could remain at home. To everyone’s surprise, four days later, during the hearing, the judge ordered the children be removed again and placed back with the paternal grandparents. The judge said there were safety concerns but wouldn’t elaborate. And in a weird twist, moved the case from Natchitoches Parish to Sabine Parish.”

She said that since that day, “DCFS and the family court system in Natchitoches Parish continue to violate our constitutional rights, especially the fundamental right to be parents. The law requires a hearing within 72 hours after the removal of the children, but our hearing happened 9 days after the removal. The subsequent court dates never occurred within the time frame of the law, but we believed that if they cooperated, our children would come home again.”

In May 2021, during a case review hearing, the same Natchitoches judge ruled that the paternal grandparents would be granted custody, although no guardianship motions had been filed. “The court notified neither my husband nor me of this change in placement,” she said.

“Regardless, in July 2021, the judge granted guardianship to the paternal grandparents without even holding a trial. The judge would not grant the parents any visitation until September 2021, when two supervised temporary visits were allowed.”

A permanent plan was not established until late October 2021. The visitation plan granted the parents only two phone calls as week and four hours a month with supervision required.

Despite neither of us ever being charged of any crimes of abuse or neglect, despite DCFS not having a valid complaint for the investigation that led to the 2nd removal (with the DA confirming this in court records), despite three years of court ordered drug testing (urine, hair, and salvia) for both parents which was always negative, despite both of us taking parenting class twice, anger management, substance abuse classes, attending NA meetings, mandatory enrollment in daycare, paying child support and sending groceries and clothing, and begging for visits and phone calls with our children, we are still are being punished by having our parental rights completely ignored.

Despite guardianship being a temporary custody placement, this judge has said on court records that this guardianship would permanently be “a parental visitation-only case until subject children reach majority,” according to the court order. Guardianship is addressed in Louisiana’s Children Code Articles 718-724.1.

“We had their rights violated by the Natchitoches Parish 10th Judicial Court District and by Judge Lala Brittain Sylvester,” Newell said. “We continue fighting in court to bring our babies home, but this judge dismisses us every time. There is no evidence or proof or even any allegations of mistreatment of these children by us. Yet, for the last three years, we have had our family ripped apart because of lies, rumors, misguided DCFS investigations, and a biased judge. 

“There is no justice in Louisiana and certainly no justice in America anymore.”

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John Neely Kennedy is quick to disparage the so-called mainstream media yet he is equally adept at using that same MSM to get the widest possible exposure to his every Foghorn Leghorn utterance in his undying effort to appeal to this century’s political base.

For most of this century he has been a John Birchite Repugnantcan but before that he was a liberal Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the US Sen. against Mary Landrieu and endorsed Democrat John Kerry for President in 2004. Like his hero, the former guy, he was even (gasp) pro-choice in another lifetime.

But after poking his finger into the political winds and discerning a significant shift to red in Louisiana, he hit rewind and switched tracks to right-wing, holier-than-just-about-everyone Repug.

For just about anyone else, that would’ve been like undergoing a warm buttermilk enema in political-speak, but for Kennedy, it came easy because he’s never really had a well-defined political philosophy. Opportunists and con artists rarely do.

The release of his latest reelection campaign ad is spread all over the MSM today and that is no accident. His political flacks have expertly spread the word about what a masterpiece it is – surpassing in wit and cleverness even his 2016 proclamation that he’d “rather drink weedkiller” than support Obamacare.

In this oh-so-sincere version of himself, he proclaims, “Always be yourself, unless you suck.”

Clever, no?

Well, perhaps he should take some of his own advice and be himself, whoever that chameleon may be.

This ad could backfire if exploited properly by the opposition (there are three Democrats running against him).

First of all, he supports increased military spending but recently voted no on a bill to appropriate funding for veterans whose health was compromised by toxic burning at military bases in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. So, send young men and women to war but abandon them when they return home.

It wouldn’t be the first time run an ill-advised ad backfired. In 1999, when he was the secretary of revenue (appointive) seeking the office of state treasurer (elective) he ran a statewide TV ad claiming that as revenue secretary, he reduced the paperwork requirements of businesses “by 150 percent.”

He may have graduated from Vanderbilt and Oxford universities, but anyone with a passing familiarity with math knows it’s physically impossible to reduce anything by more than 100 percent. But such is the nature of self-serving, if untrue, political campaign advertising.

Expedience, not accuracy, trumps (no pun intended) everything.

But Kennedy is one of those marathon runners who has made a career of politics. He’s run in several statewide political races, most unsuccessfully before finally getting himself elected for secretary of revenue and finally, the Senate – on his third attempt.

In gardening vernacular, he’s a perennial.

But he’s nothing if not calculating and conniving.

When he figured out that Louisiana was shifting from blue to red, he changed colors like that lizard. I hope he never tries to hide in a box of crayons; he’ll explode.

But consistency has never been his strong suit.

As senator, he voted for the National Defense Authorization Act but spurned sick vets.

He was quoted as saying, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Yet, he voted to reject the results of the 2020 president election.

He all but accused President Biden’s nominee to head Treasury of being a communist in 2021, telling her he didn’t know whether to refer to her as “professor or comrade,” while overlooking his own furtive trip to Russia three years earlier over the July 4 holiday. He has steadfastly refused to explain the reasons for the trip, although he did walk back his initial claim that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that “interfered” (not meddled) in the 2016 election, claiming that he “misheard” the question.

I’m told that weedkiller can adversely affect one’s hearing that way.

Back in 2019, Kennedy was a guest on Faux News and used the occasion to take Democrats to task over their three years of “whining” about the results of former guy’s 2016 election over Hillary Clinton.

“We’re going into the third year that they’ve been throwing a tantrum over the election result. They need to leave the man alone, let him be president,” he said at the time, adding that if Democrats were dissatisfied with the results, they should “get over it” or campaign against the president.

“I wish I didn’t have to say this,” went on (he’s always going on). “There are some members of the House leadership whose only mission in life is to demonize the president.”

This from a guy who voted not to certify the 2020 results and who has spent nearly two full years “demonizing” the president.

Damn, it’s funny how your words can come back to bite you on the backside.

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The pleasure boat of Waste Solutions/Trash Raiders owner Dustin Clouatre was recently parked on the Lamar-Dixon Expo near Trash Rangers vehicles. Trash Rangers operates is private trash hauling business from Lamar-Dixon, paying the parish $600 per month rent where other entities pay as much as $3000 per month (see story below). The boat was subsequently moved within an hour of an inquiry about its being parked on public property.

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