ST. PAUL — A 14-month-old baby is back with his mother after a judge ruled last week that her child was unnecessarily taken from her and placed in foster care in May.
Amanda Weber, 25, said Tuesday her son was traumatized by the four-month-long separation. Weber’s attorneys are calling for changes to state law to protect others from going through a similar ordeal.
On May 21, Weber brought her then-10-month-old son Zayvion to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. She said the boy, previously treated for sleep apnea, had been coughing continuously.
The boy was hospitalized overnight, but Weber left for Little Falls with her son the next morning before a doctor could perform a follow-up examination.
A Child In Need of Protection or Services, or CHIPS petition was filed later after a nurse and social worker suspected Weber of medical neglect.
Weber said that claim was baseless.
“The social worker, she had the information that my son, in fact, was not medically neglected,” said Weber. “And I had, in fact, met all his needs and provided for my son and his diagnoses.”
Morrison County judge Leonard Weiler said a nurse who had been caring for Zayvion at a clinic in St. Cloud, was notified about the boy’s early exit from the hospital. He said that the nurse provided “disinformation” about the boy’s condition to a Morrison County child protection worker who filed the petition which led to an emergency intervention and taking of the child.
Weiler wrote that the petition included a false claim from the nurse that Zayvion stood the “very real risk of dying” if his mother didn’t continue to administer medication and keep him on an apnea monitor.
However, in Weiler’s order he cites testimony from a pulmonologist who examined the boy in 2017 and told Weber then that she could discontinue using the monitor after her son posted repeated normal results. But Weber said she kept using the machine long after that.
“I’m the one who pushed to keep the machine for my own comfort,” said Weber.
Though Weiler ruled in favor of Weber, he also scolded her for not being more cooperative with the county. He noted that while her son was in foster care, Weber told county workers that she was moving to Wisconsin, but refused to tell them where.
The county had also investigated Weber in March after someone reported that she’d regularly left Zayvion and her 3-year-old daughter home alone. In the CHIPS petition, the child protection worker said Weber refused multiple times to speak with her by phone. Weber eventually brought the children to meet with an intake worker. According to the petition, the children were ‘dressed appropriately for the weather,’ however, Weber continued to refuse to meet with the child protection worker. The county later dropped that investigation.
Attorney Erick Kaardal said Weber’s case is representative of an instance where social workers have too much discretion to decide what constitutes neglect.
And Kaardal said the system allows children to be taken out of their homes before enough evidence has been presented to show that a child has been harmed.
“They’re unnecessarily taking children and then basically, after the fact, sort of proving whether they should have taken the child or not,” said Kaardal. “It’s not supposed to be that way. There should be a pre-deprivation hearing, before the child’s taken.”
Kaardal has been working with Dwight Mitchell, who founded the Family Preservation Foundation. The group is raising money to help people like Weber fight the “unconstitutional” taking of children by child protection service agencies.
A small percentage of out-of-home placements involve allegations of physical or sexual abuse of children, said Mitchell. The majority of them fall under the category of “neglect” which he said allows child protection workers to inject their own biases.
However, Morrison County director of public health and social services Brad Vold said individual child protection staff work closely with others when deciding on which course to take with a case.
“We have consultation teams. We have a screening team,” said Vold. “We have a lot of opportunities for workers to work together to make sure because these are very tough decisions.”
Vold declined to comment on any specific child protection case. He said Morrison County’s top priority is the safety of children.
However, Weber said Morrison County harmed her son.
“Just like he screamed when he was taken from me, he screams like that now, when I even leave the room.”