MASSACHUSETTS, May 8, 2014 – The Commonwealth of Massachusetts handed the family of captive Justina Pelletier a reunification plan that brought them one step closer to their goal of bringing their 15-year-old daughter home to Connecticut. According to State officials, there is a good chance that Justina Pelletier could be returned to her parent’s care as early as next month.
The State’s four-point reunification plan remains consistent with the March 2014 judgment issued by Massachusetts Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Johnston placing Justina in the State’s care, then calls for Justina’s medical care to be overseen by Tufts Medical Center. According to HHS Communications Director Alec Loftus, the biggest change to Justina’s situation will be effective early next week when Justina is scheduled to move out of Wayside to the JRI Susan Wayne Center for Excellence in Thompson, Connecticut.
In an effort to begin including the parents in the State’s decisions regarding Justina’s care and the reunification process, DCF has laid out a set of vague but modest goals for the family to work towards in order to demonstrate their cooperation and fitness to bring the child home:
(1) Attend visits with Justina at Susan Wayne Center. Currently, Justina’s parents have consistently attended the hour of visitation per week allotted to them by the State.
(2) Follow through with the Tufts Medical Center care plan. This appears to be an obsolete condition given that the State has sole custody of Justina and her parents have no medical decision making rights. According to the Pelletier’s, they have no present control or knowledge of Justina’s current medical treatment plan.
(3) Participate in family therapy. Although it’s doubtful that the family will gain any therapeutic benefit from this condition where their honest disclosures might have severe and dire consequences for all involved, the State has yet to set up such counseling sessions.
(4) Meet with DCF to review progress. It is unlikely that the Pelletier’s could avoid doing so even if they wanted to.
Critics of the plan say that the goals are not relevant or responsive to the child’s needs, and that the State is not working fast enough to bring Justina home to her family. Justina’s parents say they worry about whether another psychiatric facility is an appropriate placement for a child with such serious and unaddressed medical needs, including a diagnosed but untreated heart condition.
Sources say that on Monday, the Pelletier’s car was towed from a State parking lot following their meeting with Polanowicz.
CASE PROGRESS REMAINS SLOW, PROFITABLE
In February 2013, the life Justina knew growing up in her parent’s West Hartford home came to an abrupt halt when she became sick with flu-like symptoms while one of the Tufts Medical Center doctors was on vacation, and another took a job at Boston Children’s Hospital. When Justina’s parents attempted to have her seen by her previous Tufts provider at BCH, BCH doctors waited only hours before deciding to entirely disregard her established diagnosis from Tufts.
Instead, BCH doctors speculatively diagnosed Justina and both her parents with a variety of mental illnesses they thought accounted for her physical symptoms, then filed a child abuse petition (called a 51A in Massachusetts) with the State which ultimately caused DCF to charge the Pelletier’s with medical neglect and remove Justina from her parent’s care.
Over the next year, Justina languished in BCH’s psychiatric lock down ward where her hair fell out and her mobility suffered while BCH conducted various tests and treatments. In late January, Justina was transferred to Wayside amid a flurry of media publicity and outcry from legislators that a “kids for cash” scandal might be afoot.
In March 2014, Judge Johnston issued a controversial order which blamed both Connecticut DCF’s refusal to exercise jurisdiction and the parents feistiness (in response to having their child taken under dubious circumstances) for his decision to allow Massachusetts DCF to retain custody of Justina. At the same time, the order returned oversight of Justina’s medical care to the same Tufts Medical Center the State had accused of misdiagnosing Justina and facilitating her “medical abuse,” calling into question whether or not the child should have been taken in the first place.
Polanowicz’s recent letter explicitly states that the Secretary now “personally” makes calls on Justina’s behalf. The reunification plan signals DCF’s new found eagerness to cooperate with the family to ensure the quality of Justina’s care and her return to her parent’s home.
While the State’s plan does not explicitly outline a set time frame for Justina’s return or provide for additional visitation time with her family, Loftus says there are upcoming opportunities to modify the reunification plan once Justina becomes settled at the Connecticut facility. Loftus correctly pointed out that the original order provided that the parties could file motions to review Justina’s progress every six months, then backdated the order to December 20, 2013, meaning that Judge Johnston could transfer legal custody of Justina to her parents as soon as June 20, 2014.
“This is an important step forward in an extremely complex situation,” says Polanowicz. “We all want Justina to return home soon, and this plan provides a roadmap to make that happen.”
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