Saturday, December 15, 2012

Judgment vs Compassion

This post is different from most others on this blog. It is not so much about self discovery as it is about the loss of faith in our human race balanced with the hope in the same race! Confusing? Read on.

This is a true story. I have changed the names of the main characters but the events are true.
The Family
Baby 'Sunny'
Ajit is an IT professional who worked for an organization in Kolkata, India. He was given an assignment to work at a client's establishment in New Jersey, USA. He arrived in USA end of July 2012 with his wife of four years, Bina and their 11 month old son Sunny. They moved into a one bedroom apartment that was partially furnished with a bed and a few chairs. Ajit started working a couple of days later and the young couple were still planning how they would divide his first paycheck to buy necessary furniture, groceries, toys for Sunny and other necessities when there was a tragic accident.

One afternoon two weeks into their arrival Bina and baby Sunny were playing on the bed. Sunny was bouncing off his buttocks as he had just discovered that he could, and it made him laugh in joy. He did not have toys to play with and this seemed like a harmless way for him to enjoy himself. Bina sat on the bed watching him when suddenly Sunny bounced a little too high, lost his balance on his way down and toppled sideways slipping off the bed. Bina lunged forward to stop his fall, but missed by a fraction of a second. There was a thud when Sunny's head hit the hardwood floor. Bina jumped off the bed picked him up, rushed into the washroom and put cold water on Sunny's head. Sunny was awake but seemed stunned. He was not crying but Bina knew all was not well. She wiped his head and rushed with him to the telephone. She called Ajit and told him she needed to take Sunny to a doctor immediately. She did not know her way around town, did not know where she could reach a doctor, had no car, could not speak a word of English and had an injured baby in her arms. Imagine the agony of this 24 year old mother. It only got worse.

The surgery was successfully performed the same night. A clot was removed and the prognosis did not appear good for complete recovery. Ajit and Bina sat watching over Sunny, praying and hoping that their darling baby would recover fully inspite the grave prognosis. When the lady from Division of Child Protection & Permanency (DCPP) came up to them, they presumed this was procedure so went in willingly and described exactly how the accident had happened. The nightmare began then.

The DCPP agent seemed determined to prove that Sunny was being abused. This was because there was another clot found in the baby's brain. Sunny was a hyperactive baby and had tumbled off a sofa about 6 weeks before leaving India. He had been rushed to a doctor then who had given him a clean chit. No tests were done which was why the clot had never been discovered. The DCPP had reason to be concerned and did the right thing in questioning the parents, checking the scene of the accident, working with the doctors to determine that the baby was not in jeopardy. What they did wrong was the methodology they used! 

The case worker spoke to Ajit and tried to convince him that if he implicated his wife and said she was abusive the Department would work with the family. She also said that if the baby was taken away from them under suspicion that the baby was being abused and if the case lingered for more than a year, the court would put Sunny up for adoption here in the USA. They questioned Bina for over 2 hours inspite her story remaining consistent about the accident. Remember Bina does not speak English and spoke to them via an interpreter. The doctors at the hospital (not the operating surgeon) gave a report stating that Sunny's injuries were consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome. The symptoms that prompted the surgery were one sided - the baby was responding well to stimulus on the other. The injury of the muscles of the neck were also one sided. The child did not have seizures and has recovered completely from the injuries.

Sunny has been placed in foster care by a judge awaiting a full investigation. The DCPP is supposed to have the best interest of children as their driving force. The actions of the case worker are not consistent with this at all. She is unresponsive to the concerns of the parents, clearly has no understanding about the cultural issues of Indians (in her report she states concern over the fact that the mother stayed under her mother's care for 5 months after the birth of her child with the father paying regular visits to his wife and son. This is a common practice in India and not indicative of any strain of relationship between couples, or concern over the capability of the mother to care for her child!). The parents have suggested ways to increase their interaction with the child who is only 14 months old now. They have visitation rights of 2 hours once a week. The time chosen by DCPP is Fridays at 11:00 AM at the DCPP offices. This means Ajit (who is driven to and from work by a colleague while he works towards a drivers license) has to take a day off work each week thus jeopardizing his job. The reason evening or weekend visits are not acceptable to DCPP is because their office is closed during those hours and supervision by an authorized person is not available (does not show interest in doing what is best for the child, does it?). The case worker's response to the concern was that the father need not be present for the visit. I guess that would be best for the child according to DCPP policies. The father suggested setting up Skype sessions with the baby during the week while the baby is in the care of the foster mother. The response was that the foster mother does not have access to Skype. In today's America that is absurd. The foster mother has a computer and internet access which was why the request was made in the first place. The child has been placed in a Caucasian home and has no exposure to his native language or culture. Sunny had just started communicating through baby words when the accident happened, but has forgotten those words in the last 4 months. His vocabulary has not developed in the English language either. The surgeon had prescribed speech therapy and when questioned about it the case worker says she will consider it when the baby is 18 months old. Another indication that the best interest of the child is not her main concern. 

During a hearing the lawyers for the parents requested increased visitation which the judge approved. The DCPP lawyer suggested that the parents find someone to supervise the extra visits and the judge agreed. The parents were able to get a friend who was willing to open her home and supervise any extra evening and weekend visits. The case worker then requested a CPR certification for the lady, which was then submitted. This time the case worker wanted the supervisor to go to a recognized hospital to demonstrate her ability to perform CPR before she would approve her fitness to supervise the visit. To-date the details of where she needs to go has not been provided. 

The judge also approved that if a suitable relative in India is willing to care for the child while the case is being decided, Sunny could be repatriated to India. DCPP said that the International Social Services would need to approve a foster home in India and requested names of willing people in India. The parents supplied 5 names and addresses of relatives who were all willing to care for the child. DCPP also said that they would need background checks and home studies to be done before repatriation process can be considered. The Consulate General's office requested such a study from the Government of India. A non-government organization was assigned by the Government of India to do a home study on Ajit's parents. This report was submitted by the Consulate General's office to ISS - who then said that it would not suffice! They needed the study to be done by their sister organization in India. They refused to divulge the name of this organization citing confidentiality as the reason. They also claimed that it could take months to get the study done. Clearly no concern for the best interest of the child.

The parents requested more information so they could prepare for repatriation in terms of process, information and any other requirements so there is minimal delay. DCPP provided a website address via email that does not open and when a request was made to provide a working URL - the response was that was the only URL they had. 

The baby was taken for follow ups to the hospital without any notification to the parents or asking if they wanted to be present to speak to the doctors. The child fell while in the care of the foster mother and his upper teeth cut through the inside of his lower lip and that was deemed an accident based on the word of the foster mother. Sunny has difficulty re-connecting with his parents every Friday and by the time he has warmed up to them it is time for them to hand him back to the foster mother. The psychological trauma that the child and the family are going through is unimaginable.

We are a pretty large Indian community in the States of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and yet this family has no one here helping them deal with the situation. A very kind woman S.A. in New Delhi is a lawyer by profession who has helped them acquire an attorney through her connections at Universities in the USA. There are non-profit organizations run by local residents who are standing by the couple and helping them gather information, provide connections who can assist, showing them ways to gather the support of people in positions of power so that they are strengthened and don't appear alone - and hopefully are not bullied into giving up their child. There is maybe one or two Indian families who are standing by this couple as they go through this ordeal. There are many passing judgment on the 'negligency' of the mother based on their 'personal investigations' on the case. Judgment in the court of the people of our community is that 'the mother is negligent. How come the child fell twice in such a short span of time?' Maybe we have forgotten the time when we were raising our children. Could it be that we were just fortunate that our children did not fall on their heads, but on their bottoms, their knees, their arms? I am not so bothered about this quick judgment about the mother as I am about the total disregard for the child. Sunny is an innocent baby who would benefit from being in a culturally similar environment as the one he was born in. I would have understood if our community had said they had personal limitations because of which they cannot take the child in, but to waive that option away so as not to be involved with a child who has been deemed as one from a negligent mother confuses me. If this is an unfortunate child of a negligent mother this child would benefit more from being in the care of a caring person who could help him develop in a culturally similar background.

The people from local organizations that deal with issues like these and help families get together again have picked up the ball where our own community has dropped it. There are some amazingly kind people who make time out of their busy days to help this family every way possible. They strategize, apply pressure through the right sources, think about the welfare of the child and let the family know they care! It does not take much, just a call to ask how things are going and if they can help in anyway. There is one family in Pennsylvania who have befriended them, taken them to temples during the festival season, driven them to places and even welcomed them to spend a weekend in their home. It gives the couple a much needed break and also helps to get to know them better. As a community we can help the mother learn English, teach her some parenting skills, show her that she is part of us. Rallying around a family in need is a very animalistic instinct and we are humans!

Today, as parents hold their children a little tighter after that horrible shooting in Connecticut, keep young Indrashish in your thoughts too. Is there no one in NJ who is in a position to foster Indrashish and can look beyond their need to judge and simply say, "He needs me. I will be his hero?" He will probably be repatriated to India or handed back to his parents eventually. For a short time please stand by him!

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