CONNECTICUT, May 14, 2014 — Last Monday, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts moved 15-year old Justina Pelletier across state lines to her new placement at the JRI Susan Wayne Center for Excellence in Thompson, Connecticut. According to the Pelletier family, the move comes as a welcome, but not ideal, change of circumstances for their child, who was removed from their care under highly questionable circumstances last year by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF). Yesterday, the family emerged hopeful from a meeting with the Wayne Center, after learning that their daughter would have more privileges, education time, and access to her family in the Connecticut facility.
“The people at Susan Wayne were very nice to us and have assured us that Justina will have more time with her family while we wait for her to come home,” says Justina’s older sister Jennifer, age 22. “But it’s still a three hour trip for us to see Justina at her new placement in Connecticut, which is just as far from our house in West Hartford as Justina’s last placement at the Wayside Center in Framingham, Massachusetts.”
At the time Justina was taken into State custody in February 2013, she was also a competitive figure skater. Currently, Justina is wheelchair bound and has lost much of her hair while in State care, going nearly a year without adequate medical treatment for her deadly metabolic disorder at Boston Children’s Hospital’s psychiatric lock down facility. Throughout the process, Jennifer, a West Hartford skating instructor, has been a staunch advocate for her little sister, regularly meeting with State officials and leaders on Justina’s behalf, and only missed one week of visitation.
STATE DOES DAMAGE CONTROL ON DCF BUSINESS MODEL, JUSTINA’S CARE
The bitter custody battle between Justina’s parents and DCF began in February 2013 when the State charged the Pelletiers with medical neglect at the recommendation of Boston Children’s Hospital after Justina’s parents brought her to the ER with flu-like symptoms. At the time, the Tufts Medical Center doctor who had been treating Justina for mitochondrial disease was on vacation, and recommended that she go to BCH and see her regular Tufts specialist who had recently taken a job at BCH. After Justina’s arrival in the ER, BCH failed to review the child’s Tufts medical records, then diagnosed Justina with a controversial psychiatric disorder, cut off her medical treatment, and successfully filed an abuse petition with the State to have her removed from her parent’s custody.
Last winter, Massachusetts legislators prompted action from State actors on Justina’s case when they began asking questions about the seemingly endless flow of taxpayer money being spent by DCF to deprive the child of adequate medical treatment and access to her family, who has been shut out of Justina’s care and relegated to one hour of supervised visitation per week. Eventually, Justina was moved from BCH’s psychiatric lockdown unit to another locked ward the Wayside Youth Center in Framingham, Massachusetts.
In March 2014, Suffolk County Juvenile Court Judge Jeffrey Johnston issued a bitter judgment, permanently making the life long Connecticut resident a ward of the State of Massachusetts due to the inconvenience posed by Connecticut DCF’s refusal to take custody of Justina,and the Pelletiers “uncooperative” and feisty response to the State actors they say are responsible for depriving them of custody and keeping Justina sick for their profit. The judgment also removed BCH from the case and placed Justina under the medical care of Tufts Medical Center, the same provider BCH accused of misdiagnosing Justina and facilitating her parent’s alleged “medical abuse” in the child abuse petition that caused the State to take custody of Justina. By April 2014, Anonymous hacktivists had allegedly become involved in the movement to “free Justina,” launching attacks on Wayside’s and BCH’s websites.
On May 5, 2014, Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz provided the Pelletier’s with a four point reunification plan consistent with Johnston’s decision, then announced plans to move Justina out of the Wayside Youth Center. In order to regain custody of Justina, the modest plan requires the Pelletiers to visit their daughter at the Wayne Center, follow through with the Tufts Medical plan for Justina [that they have no knowledge of or control over], attend family counseling, and meet with DCF.
Jennifer Pelletier says that thus far, the Wayne Center has been accommodating and gracious to the family and will allow them to spend time with their sister on a vastly more generous schedule. The family says they are meeting with DCF officials and the Wayne Center later today to hammer out a visitation schedule and discuss the possibility of allowing Justina to see her friends, who have not been allowed to see her for over a year. Jennifer says the schedule is mainly decided by the Wayne Center, not DCF, and the schedule will likely be decided based on times that do not interfere with Justina’s daily educational and medical care regimens, and could provide for as much as daily visits in the near future.
According to a Massachusetts HHS spokesperson, Judge Johnston’s orders provide for a hearing every six months to review Justina’s progress, meaning that the State could decide to transfer legal custody of Justina to her parents as soon as June 20, 2014.
The Pelletier’s say that while they are hopeful and pleased at Justina’s improved conditions and the State’s progress towards her transition home, they aren’t counting their chickens before they hatch.
“We are happy Justina is in a better place, but we will continue to fight to encourage the State to exercise it’s power to move her home today” says Linda Pelletier, Justina’s mother. “We can’t rest until Justina is home safe with her family where she belongs.”
Jennifer says that whenever Justina asks her why no one is listening to her and why it’s taking so long to bring her home, “I always ask her ‘what do I always say?’ and Justina responds ‘be patient, my big sister will always have my back.'”
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