Vigil Held Outside Philly Department of Human Services for Families Separated by the System

Photo by Kenneth Lipp

Photo by Kenneth Lipp

By Kenneth Lipp


Yesterday, activists in Philadelphia held an hour-long candlelight vigil and press conference at the Philly Department of Human Services Building in Center City, to raise awareness of families they say are separated by an unfair system. The vigil was called by one Carolyn Hill with public interest organizations Global Women’s Strike, The Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, and the PayDay Men’s Network. Hill herself is a foster parent and erstwhile caretaker of minor family members under the guardianship of the Philly Department of Human Services.

Vigil outside the Philadelphia Municipal Services building. Photo by Kenneth Lipp

Vigil outside the Philadelphia Municipal Services building. Photo by Kenneth Lipp

Ms. Hill is seeking the return to her care of two minor nieces, removed from her home by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services in April of 2012 after approximately a year in her custody. The children were placed in Ms. Hill’s care after termination of their parents’ guardianship rights in 2011. As reason for the removal, the Department of Human Services cited Ms. Hill’s lack of a GED as well as what they referred to as her poor “cognitive skills.” While no abuse or neglect was ever alleged, the children remain in the custody of a distant relative even as prescribed Family Decision Making Groups and agency communication reflect the fitness of Ms. Hill to act as guardian for the young girls.

In an email dated November 8, 2012, Philadelphia Department of Human Services Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose told May Kaylna of the Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, an organization that has been assisting and advocating for Ms. Hill, that the DHS was in support of returning Ms. Hill’s nieces to her home, and that they were “in the process of working with [their] attorney to effectuate this result.” The email stated that Commissioner Ambrose understood “the process was long and complicated” and that she realized the “toll that it has taken on Ms. Hill and her family.”

In an attempt to maintain a good faith relationship with the Department of Human Services, Hill brought two more minor relatives who had come under her care recently in to the department office to disclose the children’s presence in her home; DHS subsequently removed the minors from Ms. Hill’s custody.

Another demonstrator at the vigil discussed what she framed as an epidemic practice of over-diagnosis and medication with psychotropic drugs for children with behavior problems that are a result of traumatic separation. She calls it “sugar-coating the real problem,” which many of those present framed as a dehumanization of the participants in the child welfare system.

As has been reported, the Philadelphia child advocacy framework is a fertile ground for profiteering and resultant harm to children and families. The Declaration, as with other news outlets, received no response to emails to the DHS for comment, including a request to simply confirm the content of the emails to Ms. Hill.

Another woman holding vigil was greatly motivated by her own circumstances with her son, incarcerated for intimidating a witness (on Facebook) and retaliation, and facing a sentence in prison of 5 to 13 years.

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About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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