A long-going child custody case here in New York that has now lasted more than 10 years now involves an international dimension.
The Jamaican Consulate wrote a letter dated January 20, 2011 to Gerard McCaffery, Executive Director of Merci First Foster Care, asking why visitation rights are denied family members of Stephen Allen, who is aged nine and has been under the “care” of this agency since 2005, entangled in a custody case.
Stephen has not seen his mother, Sandra Morrison Allen, since June 2010 “without explanation” from case manager, Kirby-Paul or
Program Director, Ms. Reynolds, the mother says.
In the past, letters from William Scarborough, State Assemblyman, and Congressman Gregory W. Meeks have gone unanswered. Merci’s McCaffery said he “has empathy for any mother who has a child in foster care.” He claimed, in an interview, that visitation is a policy handled by the agency; however, he said he does not get involved in individual cases.
Stephen’s uncle Clive Morrison and his wife were allowed to visit Stephen after they petitioned Queens Family Court to adopt Stephen if his parents’ rights were terminated in order to keep Stephen in the family.
After two or three visits, Morrison was summarily called to Merci First recently and told by Kirby-Paul, Case Planner, and Deidre Reynolds,
Program Director, that visits with Stephen will be immediately terminated because the two were not bonding. Stephen’s mother was told otherwise by the Morrisons; Stephen was, they reported, glad to see them.
Mr. Morrison says Stephen used to visit his home on a regular basis and played with his children before he was placed. Stephen’s sister, Tasha, his grandmother, who is in her 70s, and two half sisters, have also been denied visitation rights.
Mrs. Allen, Stephen’s mother, became distraught and contacted the Jamaican consulate; she hails from the Caribbean nation. To its credit, the
consulate, which has a file on this case, wrote to Merci, asking for an explanation.
In addition to Reynolds, the program director, it was copied to other officials, including Rachelle Skuol, attorney for Administration for
Children’s Services, Stewart Altman, Law Guardian, and Judge Linda Talley, who is handling the custody case in Queens Family Court.
Ira Eras, an attorney with Warren and Warren, represents Merci.
He has argued that Mrs. Allen’s parental rights be terminated based on the report of Dr. Lawrence R. Kaplan, Clinical Psychologist, who diagnosed Mrs. Allen as having a paranoid personality disorder. The doctor concluded in his report that Mrs. Allen was unable to assume responsibility for her child.
However, the court returned Tasha, Stephen’s sister, to Mrs. Allen’s custody three months after the two children were placed. Tasha is now grown and attending college while her brother is held by the state. Ironically, Dr. Kaplan never made a direct examination of Mrs. Allen, who refused to be evaluated by a doctor who “does not look like me and does not understand my culture to asses my mental status.” She has insisted that she be allowed to be evaluated by a doctor of her choice–Dr. Calvin A. Adderley, a graduate of Albert Einstein Yeshiva University and author of “Depression in Seniors and School Children” has worked successfully with Mrs. Allen and her daughter, Tasha, in the past. He recommends that Stephen be returned to his mother. Another psychologist and psychoanalyst, Kirkland C. Vaughann Ph.D, did a
complete workup on Mrs. Allen very recently, and questioned the validity of Dr. Lawrence R. Kaplan’s diagnosis in his report.
Judge Linda Talley has closed the case pending her final decision.
Clive Morrison, Stephen’s uncle, and Stephen Allen Sr., Stephen’s father, currently in Jamaica, each have legal representation in Queens Family Court advocating for discharge of Stephen to the family instead of adoption by the foster mother, which is the goal of Merci First.
Stephen is now diagnosed as ADHD/OD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder/Oppositional Disorder) and is on medication, over the objection of his mother. He also attends weekly psychotherapy.
The young Stephen’s ordeal started years ago, precipitated by the actions of a judge who handled the case in the beginning.
The judge, Rhea G. Friedman, ordered the arrest of Mrs. Allen while she was in court in 2005, because she questioned her behavior as she was praying with others in the court waiting room while waiting for her case to be called. She was taken to Elmhurst Hospital for a mental status evaluation. The “behavior” in question was, according to the judge, allegedly “erratic” Mrs. Allen, said. She is Pentecostal.
Judge Friedman later recused herself from the case. Both Stephen and Tasha were under ACS supervision since 2001. Mrs. Allen’s case was connected to an incident, when, she said, infant Stephen was dropped by his sister; Mr. and Mrs. Allen was accused of neglecting the
At the time, a doctor Ensernio Jenssen, former head of the Child Protective Services Team at Long Island Jewish Hospital, where Stephen was admitted after Mrs. Allen said she learned of the fall from Tasha, wrote that Stephen was abused. In the meantime, Dr. Jenssen is facing three federal law suits by parents who are alleging “she misdiagnoses child abuse, accuses parents incorrectly, and causes ACS and other child protective services agencies to remove children unnecessarily.”
The Jamaican Consulate is asking why Stephen is being deprived of the love and support of his birth family pending the outcome of the hearings. The American tax paying public needs to know, also. You may want to add your voice to the Jamaican Consulate by contacting Gerard McCaffery, Mercy First Foster Care, in Syosset, New York, with your own questions.