Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Crime Against A Family; As It Happened

For those of you who have been following the plight of Stephanie Bennett, her parents and baby Evelyn, here's the scoop, as it happened. It is about time that more of us speak out against this kind of outright abuse of authority, abuse of a minor's relationship with her family, and sheer using of a family's plight for profit. "A Child Waiting" agency, and those who own and run it, have a lot to which they need to answer, in my opinion.

There is more to this than what you will read below. Legal actions loom and those who used and abused this young mom are going to have to answer for their unethical and, yes, criminal, activities. This family was torn asunder by a mythology that would make a natural family pay with their own flesh and blood for being less than affluent, and a mom for being young and frightened.

Shame on the school counselor, the agency, the "independent" attorney and several "others" that were involved in taking this child from the family that loves and wants her! Shame on the potential adopters for not taking the high road from the start and returning Evelyn to her true family.

As I read this, I remember how easily I was, at this age, coerced, frightened and made to feel responsible for everyone else but myself and my baby. Get good and mad, Stephanie. You have a right!

11/05 – Stephanie found that she is pregnant and hid it from her parents until 3 weeks prior to delivery. She is tall, this is a first pregnancy and the popular baggy clothes worn by young people made that possible.

4/17/06 – Stephanie delivered Baby Evelyn Joann Bennett and named her for her Great Grandmother and her Grandmother and her Mother. The plan is that, with her family’s support, Stephanie will raise the baby.
Stephanie’s parents are not wealthy people and Stephanie and Evelyn go on Medicaid.

4/06 - Stephanie told her parents that the father was a school friend, with whom she had never had sex. She was desperately trying to protect her family. She lied to her parents because she was afraid of the real father who had been making serious and repeated threats against her family. Stephanie attempted to protect them from him and what he would do to her family, to her and to Baby Evelyn.

9/07/06 – After 5 months of repeated and serious threats to her family’s health and safety and emotional abuse from the putative father of her child, Stephanie approached Thomas Saltsman, Counselor, at Glenoak High School. Stephanie originally went to discuss a schedule change, but mentioned adoption. As soon as Stephanie mentioned adoption, Mr. Saltsman turned, got a brochure from his desk for A Child’s Waiting Adoption Agency and arranged a meeting for the next day in his office.

9/8/06 – Stephanie signed the initial paperwork that began the process. Mr. Saltsman signed as witness, in his office, at the high school, this was the ONLY meeting between Stephanie and the agency people, until the agency worker came to take Baby Evelyn on 9/12/06. There was no counseling nor protection offered to Stephanie. An attorney was present, as Stephanie’s "independent counsel", but she also handled adoptions for A Child’s Waiting Adoption Agency on a regular basis.

9/12/07 - As a policy, Medicaid demands the name of a father, or they require DNA testing on any possible ones. The young man that Stephanie claimed was the father in order to protect her family’s safety from the real father went to have his DNA tested. Stephanie was to bring Evelyn in for her test to see if they matched, but Stephanie never came. She had already run away, as directed by the agency rep in the school guidance counselor’s office, to avoid the DNA testing. The involvement of a father in the proceedings would complicate things for the agency. Proven fathers have rights that require protection. DNA evidence is proof of paternity. No proof and there are only putative fathers, who legally need not be consulted. Evelyn was not tested, as she had already been taken from her mother by the agency.

9/12/06 – Stephanie and Evelyn ran away (at the agency’s suggestion, in the Guidance Counselor’s office, to Carrol County where Stephanie’s parents could not interfere). Also the last time Stephanie saw baby Evelyn. The agency rep came to this place and picked up baby Evelyn.

10/2/06 – Judy and Ranza Bennett got temporary custody of Baby Evelyn; went to the agency in Copley Township in Summit County accompanied by Copley Police. Agency told the police that they had spoken to the 17-year-old but told her that they could not do business with her while she was a minor and that neither child was at the agency.

10/16/06 - Judy and Ranza notified by Canton police that they were to appear in court on 10/17/06. Not informed as to why.

10/17/06 – Went to court, still no information as to reason. Stephanie appeared accompanied by A Child’s Waiting. Court placed Stephanie into a Respite Home due to allegations of abuse made against Judy and Ranza Bennett by the putative father who had been making the threats against Stephanie and her family, which stated that there was neglect and abuse against both Evelyn and Stephanie. A case worker came to their home to investigate the charges of abuse.

10/18/06 – Stephanie ran away from the Respite Home and called a friend, who called the caseworker who advises him to take Stephanie to Family Court. While in court, Stephanie tells the judge that she wants to return home to her parents and her sister. The Lawyer for Child Protection told the Judge that there was no sign of neglect or abuse in the home. Evelyn’s pediatrician stated that he had no concern about Evelyn being in the home.

10/18/06 - Stephanie then told her parents who the father actually was (there is no more information about the father available beyond this as yet, as charges are pending and any information leaked could jeopardize their case). Her parents attempted to find an attorney who could handle the case and would work for payments that could come later, for Stephanie and the baby.

Dec. 31, 2006 – Rick Armon’s article appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal.
Early January, 2007 - Sandy Young called the Bennett family to offer help. They said that they could use it.

Jan of 07-. Hired Paul Reiners to defend Stephanie. He agreed to work on a pro bono basis, unless they won the case. In that event, they would owe him standard fees.

1-19-07 - The first time Stephanie went to court in Summit Co. with Mr.Reiners, and was not allowed in the court room. Paul Reiners came out of the court room and told Stephanie that the Magistrate, Diana Stevenson, had put a gag order on all parties involved in the case.

2/2/07 – Judge in Stark Co. ruled that the custody order of Ranza and Judy Bennett was no longer in effect; That another court had precedence.

2-21-07 - Stephanie went back to court in Summit Co, where she is still fighting for the return of her daughter Evelyn. This date was to determine if the Surrender could be overturned. The judge was to rule on this matter on March 27, 2007. The briefs were to have been turned in on the 23rd and she would rule several days later. Paul Reiners had said that he would have several witnesses subpoenaed including the putative father. He also had indicated that he would depose Joe Soll to testify to the effects of the coercion, the loss of her daughter, the psychological impact of the threats and the emotional abuse that Stephanie had been subjected to. He did none of the above.

March of 07 – Fired Paul Reiners

March of 07 - hired Jennifer Lowry, who obtained a continuance on the ruling by the judge and obtained the court transcripts. She could find no evidence of any gag order on any party to the case. She still prefers to have Stephanie remain silent, as a matter of choice, and to protect her, but her parents and the attorney are not so bound.

April 07 – Obtained copies of the complaint filed against the agency in the matter of Stephanie Bennett by her mother. The agency was found to be not in compliance in numerous areas. A copy of the findings is attached. So far, no actions have been taken against the agency by the state, despite being out of compliance.

April 9, 2007 – Meeting with Jennifer Lowry. She was excited about the Bennetts having a copy of the complaint. She also has started to construct a reunification plan.