"In the best interest of the child" - Autism and a mother's fight against CPS

Tiffany Pritchett

When does cps really act in the best interest of the child? When does children serve as a dollar sign with child protective services? Offering parents “services” that they don’t need. Offering them to parents because they get paid to do so. Getting federal bonus money for each child they adopt out and an extra 2k for a special needs child. Before my kids were taken; I thought cps acted in the common good of families and not rip children away from families that loved them. My name is Tiffany Pritchett and I have three beautiful children. My oldest son’s name is James Pritchett. He has Autism.

I have loved and cared for my kids since the day they were born. As a young single mother; I have worked so hard to provide them with what they need in every aspect of their life. I went to college so I could better myself and had my kids attend one of the best daycares in Modesto to ensure they got the love, attention, socialization, and education they deserved. I have attended the Parent Resource Center in Modesto, Ca since 2007; as I was a new mother and took them voluntarily knowing it would only benefit me and my kids.

When my son was 1yrs old, I noticed something was wrong. People kept saying, “He is just a boy. They are naturally slow” even though I knew something was “off”. I worked so hard and made significant efforts to put him through VMRC (Valley Mountain Regional Center) so he could have the therapy and resources he deserves. He has had many therapists come into the home including a speech therapist, physical therapist, and an overall therapist that came to the home weekly since 2008. Autism has always been a “red flag” for both me and his therapist, Sandra Fields. Even though he progressed in most of his development; he still wouldn’t and couldn’t talk. By the time he was 2 ½ yrs old, I pushed for VMRC to put him through B.E.S.T. (Agency that specializes in Autism) as that is what he deserved and to have more progress be made. I started receiving services with them in Sept 2010 while his diagnostic assessment was underway. I pushed for a diagnostic assessment because getting him diagnosed would open up a lot of doors and resources for him. Throughout him receiving therapy since 2008; I have always been right by his side and was involved to the upmost extent during the sessions and even after the therapist left. I have always loved my son (and all my kids) and taken care of them since the day they were born. I have always been my sons biggest advocate; reasoning why I’m fighting this hard so the truth can be upheld and justice can be served. They are my life. They are the air that I breath and I will not stop fighting until they come back home.

On Sept 2, 2010 at 1pm, CPS came to my residence. They said that they got a report that I “locked my kids in the room”. Was it true? Yes. Was it neglect? NO! I let them in my home as they requested. They continued with their “concerns” about the door being locked. I began to explain to them that my son had Autism. I tried to explain to them what behaviors associated with my reasons behind locking the door. I told them that I had to do it as my son “wanders” during the night which is common in children that have Autism. I said that is started after an episode my son had. One night I woke up to my son crying. I jumped out of bed and found him standing in the bathtub filled with cold water. As a mother, I had to find a way to protect him during the night. I previously tried the gates. They didn’t work. He knew how to hop over them and push them down. I tried the safety locks for the door knobs and those didn’t work either. He knew how to push them down to where they would pop off. I then began doing research, like cps should have done, on credited Autism websites on what safety measures other parents took to protect their Autistic child from “wandering” at night. I found that many professionals advised parents to “lock the bedroom door” during bedtime to protect their child. I explained this to Madeline Perez (The initial cps worker that came out during the investigation). She didn’t care. She didn’t know anything about Autism and didn’t care to understand what I was saying. Just because she didn’t “approve” of the method, it did not mean it was wrong and certainly did not mean it was neglect! However, I did comply with everything they asked! They wanted the door open and gate up, I did that! They wanted “different alternatives”, I did that too! I bought a taller gate so my son wouldn’t be able to hop over it. I bought a door knob handle that had no lock on either side. They were both installed! I called Madeline Perez, during the investigation, that Debbie was going to drive me to get the new gate and new door handle. She said, “ok”.

Rosa Mercado and Madeline Perez came on Sept 8, 2010. The purpose of that visit was to try to get me to do the VOLUNTARY “Case plan”. I never refused services. I just gave them valid reasons why I felt I didn’t need them. The case plan included Parenting Classes, Domestic Violence Assessment, and a Mental Health Assessment. In the beginning, Rosa Mercado said, “Madeline Perez wants to close the case. We just want you to do these classes”. “Are they voluntary”, I ask. “Yes” they reply. I thought I had a say in the matter. I told them I didn’t need parenting classes for the mere fact that I have been taking parenting classes since 2007 at PRC. I didn’t need a mental health assessment because I recently had one done and have had a mental health caseworker since 2007. I didn’t need a domestic violence assessment as it wasn’t a current issue and something that happened years ago. It wasn’t my fault I didn’t need their services. I get a call later that day and they said they were going to “staff” the case. They neglected to inform me what that meant.

On Sept 9, 2010 four people came to my residence. One of them being Madeline Perez. She had papers in her hand and said they were going to remove the kids from the home. Tears immediately started streaming down my cheeks. “Why” I ask. “Honey, you didn’t comply with the case plan”. Later I would found out that by law, it is illegal for a social worker to remove kids from the home just because they refuse to do a voluntary case plan. It also completely violates “due process” rights. In the report it states that they were in immediate danger. How so? Because I chose to lock my son in his bedroom during bedtime to protect him? Because I complied with everything you asked of me from the beginning? If they were such in “immediate danger” why did they wait until the 9th to remove my kids? Its ironique how they removed them from the home a day after Rosa Mercado came to the home, wanting me to do the case plan. Did they bother calling an Autism Specialist to find out if the reasonings why I locked the bedroom were accurate? No. Did they have them come to my home to inspect the situation to make sure it was neglect and not a safety measure the parent had to take to keep her Autistic child safe? No. They didn’t call anyone that specialized in my sons diagnosis nor did they call anyone that actually knew me and knew what kind of mother I have always been to my kids. They made me interrupt my sons therapy session and they made me wake up my daughter from my nap only for them to rip them from my arms moments later. They didn’t even put my sons best interest at heart as they put him with a complete stranger, his dad. His father, Juan Espinoza, has never been Involved in James life. Nor did he care enough to be involved. I have many court records showing that he never showed up to any of them. He even went to the extent of moving to Oakland, Ca to reside with his girlfriend, Kami Martell, instead of staying in modesto and being involved with his son. I explained to cps that they couldn’t do that to James. I explained that an Autistic child doesn’t do well with change and it will be highly detrimental to him to be placed with a complete stranger. They didn’t even care. How accurate is it when cps states that they act in the child’s best interest? My sons interest and his rights were the last thing they were concerned about. At the time during the investigation I was 39 weeks pregnant. After my kids were taken, I gave birth to my second son. When the hospital tried to discharge us an alarm came up stating to hold the discharge as a social worker had to come talk to me. He didn’t really talk at all. He just said I had to sign these papers to relinquish my son into cps custody. “Why”, I ask. “Because you recently had your other two children removed from your home and it wouldn’t make sense for us to let you keep this one”. At that point I just started crying really hard. I was grieving over my kids being recently taken from my home just because I was protecting my son and now they were going to detain my newborn for no valid reason. “I just need you to sign this; otherwise we are going to have to call the cops”. Later I found out that cps isn’t allowed to make threats and they did that afternoon when they took my son away from me.

Since my kids were removed, I have had multiple court hearings including two detention hearings and two jurisdictional/dispositional hearings that kept getting extended because of the ICWA. Cps kept submitting their reports which included the detention report and the Jurisdictional Report. Yet, I wasn’t allowed to submit my side of the story. I already wrote up my Objections and Corrections letter since Madeline Perez lied throughout the whole report and falsified peoples statements and twisted words around to her liking. Two people that were mentioned on the report had to write rebuttles stating that what the cps worked said was false and how they reinstated what they actually said. My court appointed attorney wasn’t doing much to help my case so I hired a private paid attorney that would actually defend me in court and bring my kids home. At the last hearing my Lawyer stood up and contested the allegations, like it deserved to be as I never neglected my kids. We are bringing this to trial which will be held on Dec, 10th 2010 at the Stanislaus Superior Court House in Modesto, Ca at 10am with honorable Judge Ann Q. Ameral.

I have never in my life cried as much as I did when my kids were removed from my home. My heart has never ached so bad. I have cried a thousand tears and fighting everyday to prove that I never neglected my kids. I have spent many nights searching online about California Laws, CPS corruption (www.fightcps.com), Autism Websites, etc. I have called multiple Autism Agencies where they even said what I did was not neglect. I need people to come together for my kids but most of all my son, James. His voice can’t be heard in court and his rights as a child with Autism should be protected and upheld. CPS should be mandated by law to have an Autism Specialist come to the home if a special needs child is involved in an investigation to observe the situation because what may seem like neglect may very well be a safety measure the parent had to take. I should not have had my kids removed from the home purely based on cps lack of knowledge about Autism and the behaviors associated with it.

I’m taking this to the media because it deserves to go that far. I am not only fighting for my kids to come home but I need the public more aware about cps and to try to prevent this from happening to other familes whom have children with Autism or a child with special needs. I will not stop fighting until my kids come home. I will take this up through the court of appeals if needed. I will take this up to state and congress level. Parents should decide what’s best for their kids, not the government. The government has overstepped their boundaries by telling the parents how they can and can’t raise their children.

As parents, we all need to come together for the common good of our rights as parents and for the rights of our children. I need my story to be heard across the board. I need people to come together to not only help bring my kids home but to try to prevent this happening to another loving family. I need everyone to share my story with everyone you know. To also bring it to higher authorities, agencies, companies, lawyers, advocates parents, organizations, etc. I need people to try to attend my trial on the time, place, and date given above. To have so much people behind me where the hallway would be packed. I need you guys to contact the people at the numbers I provided below. I contacted ABC news and our local newspaper (www.modbee.com) and they said that I need to have a lot of people to call in because as of right now, it’s just my word vs. cps. I need you guys to be persistent with the calls and keep calling them as I’m going to do the same. If you need to contact me to find out more information or for whatever reason, you can call me at (209) 221-5149 or email me at TiffanyJPritchett86@yahoo.com. Thank you.

The Modesto Bee
Nan Austin
(209) 578-2339, Fax (209) 578-2207

ABC News (10)
News Hotline: Main Number:
(916) 321-3300 (916) 441-2345

KCRA (3)
(916) 444-7316
When you call, direct it as “I’m calling regarding the cps/autism story that needs to be aired”. Something to that affect.

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