A Dead Child's Cry

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 08 August 2010

One poor mamaz' journey through poverty and C.P.S.

Marlon Crump/Poverty and Race Scholar
Monday, March 19, 2007

‘I was in Eloy, Arizona when I found out my daughter passed away. I drove all day and night to San Leandro, California. I rang the bell to view my dead daughter’s body, but the social worker said no and that I needed to make visitation arrangements in advance.’

Standing in the Coalition on Homelessness on a dreary, wet Friday afternoon, I overheard these very dreadful words from a woman who came there seeking advice about her upcoming court battle with the Child Protective Services (C.P.S.). I listened in disbelief to the conversation she was having with Homeless Coalition Volunteer and meeting organizer, Eli Hernandez.

Twenty-nine year old Benita Q. is a mother of four daughters three of which have been wrongfully removed from her care by the C.P.S. I listened as she expressed her extreme frustration and anger regarding her lifelong battle to keep her children.

Throughout her life, Benita has struggled, worked hard, received aid, and tried with all her power to provide for her children. But the government has never given Benita the chance to be a mother to her own daughters and losing them has almost broken her spirit. As I sat listening to bits of Benita’s painful struggle, I sensed the importance and urgency of her story and knew it must be told.

The following Tuesday, I met Benita at the Superior Courthouse in San Francisco. We sat together outside the lobby of the courtroom on the fourth floor. I was there to not only report for POOR Magazine, but to also support this poor mamaz’ fight to keep her child.

I watched as Benita quickly finished off a sandwich and gulped a soft drink. "I'm hungry and I'm eating for two," she said smiling at me. The child she was carrying, her fifth, was the reason we were in the courthouse, hoping somehow this would be the one she would get to keep and care for.

But we quickly learned this would not be the case, as the unsympathetic judge and her even more uncaring counsel informed her that once again the child she bore was to be given to an adoption agency. To add further insult, Benita wasn't even allowed to speak up, or "give any oral arguments in her own defense." She was flat out ignored by those with power in the courtroom, as if she wasn’t even there.

I experienced such embarrassment, months before in this same courthouse, but Benita's situation and circumstances were more crucial than mine. I was merely fighting a civil dispute, not fighting to retain my children. But I still understood and could feel her deep pain and sorrow as I too had experienced the same poverty and race criminalization and humiliation.

Benita lost her mom when she was only twelve-years-old and her father was never around to take care of her. She experienced the evils of rape, molestation, and severe physical abuse, as a result of growing up in foster care homes. By the age of eighteen, Benita was already struggling to raise her year and a half old daughter. This was just the beginning of her victimized motherhood, one that would be filled with pain, struggle and injustice.

Later that afternoon, Benita continued to share her life story with me. As we sat in a quiet room in San Francisco’s public library, Benita told me the tragic story of the first child taken from her by the C.P.S.

Benita was almost sixteen and had recently given birth. Soon after her the birth of her first child, her daughter's father was shot and killed. It was during this period of turmoil in Benita's life that the C.P.S began a file on her based on the false accusations by parties unknown.

The C.P.S.’s usual and only defense when it came to claming Benita’s children was "Benita has a narcissistic personality disorder; someone who loves and is infatuated with themselves more than they should be." Benita gave a grimacing smile and after seeing my startled expression, stated, "I guess loving myself must be too much for C.P.S to handle. I love me, my kids come from me, so I guess hypothetically speaking, I love my kids too much, huh?"

Two months later after her 16th birthday, Benita suffered a nervous breakdown after being severely depressed from the lack of support from family members. Four months later, Benita met a woman she only remembers as Donna who lived on York St. and offered to help her. This turned out to be a sad mistake for Benita who was already extremely vulnerable.

Donna and her kids began to steal Benita's hard earned money. Donna took her clothing, furniture, and lied many times to her. Benita immediately became infuriated, and so emotionally distraught, that in a rage, she threw a shoe at the mirror, and cried out in agony. Shockingly, Donna abducted Benita’s six-month-old daughter and took her to a friend's house. Benita was too weak from emotional despair to even stop Donna.

After reporting this abduction to the police, Benita found herself under arrest for Reckless Child Endangerment and then put in Juvenile Hall due to false accusations by Donna. But the police didn't even come to the home to collaborate or thoroughly investigate Benita's story. ‘If they did, they would've saw for themselves that Donna was a liar, who left her own kids all alone, while I laid helpless on the bed crying all night for my baby,’ Benita said, her face filled with anguish.

After spending three days in jail, Benita was released and stayed with her sister for one month. For one precious month in nearly a lifetime, she was able to have some form of peace of mind, sanity, and sanctuary from the horrors of a savagely flawed judicial system, even if it was only temporary.

However this was not to last and soon after, C.P.S recommended that Benita be placed into a Group Home. This turned out to be very typical, as Benita was channeled through many of them. "The worst of the lot was Lincoln Child Center in Oakland, C.A. It was a co-ed I.R.T (Individual Residential Treatment). The abuse and terror I suffered was unbearable, more than I could take."

On her 18th birthday, the court released her child to her. Benita took her child to relatives who behind Benita’s back sought to take custody of her daughter. They lied manipulated and distorted facts to such a degree, that Benita’s baby didn't even acknowledge her own mom.

Benita was nine months pregnant about a year and a half later, when C.P.S once again came into her life to take her child away. She was declared an unfit mom because she was homeless. Benita struggled to keep everything together to maintain custody of her second daughter. She searched for aid and worked two jobs while living in a car to support herself and her baby. The baby’s father was highly unsupportive, irresponsible and even stole Benita’s hard earned wages to support his alcohol abuse.

This tragedy was followed by the untimely death of second daughter who died at the age of only seven from a cancerous brain tumor only a day before Benita’s birthday.

For the over ten years now, Benita has not only suffered numerous tragedies but also unjust systematic abuse from the C.P.S. Being a poor mama and trying to survive with no resources and a severe lack of family support, Benita has fallen victim to the C.P.S.’s big business of separating families and has lost every one of her children. Her unborn baby is the next in line in this vicious unending cycle of separating and destroying poor families.

COURWATCH is a project that POOR Magazine started because of the unjust racist and classist policies and practices of Child Protective Services, the foster care system and juvenile dependency court. This perspective is based on the first hand experiences of POOR’s own race and poverty scholars, that said we know that the system is completely rigged against poor families and families of color struggling in poverty. We hope through this project to give voice and a channel of media access to those impacted by these systems and to link up conscious lawyers and paralegals with these families.


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