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The worst Department of Social Services story we've heard yet
Where is Chief Justice Margaret Marshall?
DSS feminists attempted to force mother to get divorce
How do feminists at DSS define violence?
Feminists forced mother to get restraining order
February 2002 Howard family is together once again by Ed Oliver
DSS is back, banging on door of Neil and Heidi Howard
This is probably the worst Department of Social Services (DSS) story we have heard in a long list of outrageous stories.
Neil Howard and his wife were arrested and shackled in Lowell District Court last month for not telling the DSS the location of their two-month-old daughter which the social workers wished to seize.
What could have caused these people to treat a mother like a common criminal for not giving her baby to strangers?
Massachusetts News had already met with the Howards last November after the distraught couple contacted us about what the DSS was doing to their family.
Heidi Howard was told by the DSS, as have countless women, that she must divorce her husband or lose her children. She was not to worry about being "homeless." They would take care of her. They would set her up in an apartment with her children. Because she did not obey, she ended up shackled in a Massachusetts jail without her two-month-old baby.
When Heidi Howard protested to the feminists at DSS that her husband had never been violent to her or her children, they replied that he kept the family checkbook in order to gain "power" over her. This, they said, was violent behavior.
In what is standard procedure with the DSS, Heidi Howard was forced to lie to a judge and get a restraining order against her husband even though he had never been violent to her or her children. She was told this was necessary if she did not want her children taken away from her.
"I don't care how you do it, I don't care what you say, just get it," she was ordered.
The Howards have lived at their home on an acre of land in Tyngsboro since they bought it in 1991. Neil works as a machinist and Heidi is a homemaker.
They've always been just an ordinary family trying to get ahead until they had a baby with terminal neurological problems and the feminists at DSS discovered that having a dying baby causes stress in a family.
After that sick baby died at one year, the DSS was so entwined with the Howards that it demanded that a new baby born in December 2000 be given to them to be cared for by strangers. As any mother would understand, this was not something that appealed to Heidi Howard.
The tragic events in their lives began when the Howards learned in the fall of 1998 that the new baby who was expected in 1999 to join their sons, Ethan who was close to 3-years and Christopher who was almost eight, would not be normal. At 21-weeks gestation, doctors at Children's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess broke the bad news that the child would be born dead or would die soon after birth.
The child, a girl, was born by emergency C-section in August 1999 with a rare neurological disorder and subsequently underwent three life-saving operations. They named her Faith. She had seizures which had to be controlled with medication and close monitoring. Doctors said she was doing better than they expected, however, with a life expectancy of 1- to 3-years.
After a couple of months, the Howards were told in October they should consider taking Faith home because she could die from viruses in the facility. A staff member at Spaulding Rehab Center in Boston where Faith resided said a trained nurse could come to their house to show them how to care for the dying infant's needs. The Howards told the hospital that they had not yet made a final decision about the baby coming home and they weren't ready for a nurse to come to their home because they were in the midst of remodeling the house.
A nurse from the Visiting Nurses Association called Heidi from out-of-the-blue telling her she was on the way and would be there in an hour. She was actually a DSS agent, apparently sent by the Spaulding Center. Until this event, the Howards had never had any contact with DSS or had anything unusual happen in their lives except for their sick new baby.
The Howards were doing renovations to their kitchen and painting the rooms. The night before, they had moved their appliances into the living room and ripped up the kitchen linoleum in preparation for installing new cabinets and floor.
Heidi thought the nurse was a safety-evaluation person from Spaulding. She told the nurse she was busy with housework and she could come only to fill out paperwork, because they were not ready for a safety evaluation. The nurse agreed, but as soon as she arrived, she proceeded to walk through the house looking at rooms and opening closets despite Heidi's objections. The visiting nurse was working for DSS they later learned. No forms or releases were signed as required by Visiting Nurse Association policy.
The nurse told Heidi she was disturbed by the condition of their home and she would be filing a 51A report with DSS. A "51A" is a report to DSS of suspected child abuse or neglect. The nurse said she thought the house was the "worst she's ever seen." Heidi pleaded with her not to do that because they were already under a lot of stress. The nurse seized on Heidi's comments and asked her what she meant about being under stress, could she give an example?
Heidi told her they weren't sure whether they could care for the baby at home. But Spaulding was telling the Howards there was nothing more they could do for her and the baby would die from possible infection if they didn't bring her home.
Heidi confessed that she and Neil argued more than usual and they were disagreeing on things like paint colors. She said her husband was not acting like himself and he would snap at the children. She told her that Neil never hurt them, however. They were just under a lot of pressure. She also said she had concerns about what might happen to Faith at home and she didn't want her to die in front of the children.
People with hard experience dealing with DSS learn that even their most innocuous statements will be misinterpreted and used against them. Home visitors are especially trained to look for "risk factors" that they can report. Heidi was verbally stepping on land mines as she sincerely discussed her worries about caring for Faith and her minor gripes about her husband. She was shocked when the nurse suggested to Heidi that she should leave her husband.
The nurse reported to DSS about the disarray at the house. The Howards noticed later that the nurse's report was exaggerated by DSS, and the social workers altered the report by excising information about the remodeling, the condition of the baby and that Heidi told her she was feeling overwhelmed. For instance, the nurse reported that Heidi stated to her, "Mrs. Howard had said that she did not want Faith to die at home. Babies with this condition can die very suddenly." This was twisted later by DSS to say "Mom says she's afraid dad will kill Faith if she comes home."
Another statement she made was that she and the boys would be leaving to go to her sister-in-law. Heidi and the boys were only going for the weekend while the renovations were completed. This was twisted by DSS into her saying, "Mrs. Howard wanted to leave her husband."
When Neil returned home from work that Thursday, he drove Heidi and the boys to stay with the sister-in-law because the remodeling work had to be completed without interruption. Faith would be home in a week if they were ready for her. Heidi told Spaulding Rehab personnel where she could be reached in case there were any problems with Faith. DSS, already on the march, obtained Heidi's number and address from Spaulding. The Howards later learned that Spaulding had constant communications with DSS.
DSS called Heidi and told her not to go home until the 51A was investigated. DSS also called Spaulding to warn them not to allow visitation by the father, because there was a high risk of injury to the baby.
When Heidi called Neil, she told him for the first time what had happened when the nurse came to the house. She said she couldn't come home until the investigation was over and he couldn't come pick her up.
Neil and his 69-year-old mother went to visit Faith at Spaulding. His mother was allowed to see Faith. Neil, however, was prevented from visiting her and he was escorted out by security guards without explanation. Heidi called Spaulding to find out what was going on and the nurse told Heidi that Neil came there to kidnap the baby.
Neil's mother Irene tells MassNews there was a young nurse there who was usually a delightful person, but that day, "She looked at Neil like he was an ogre."
A DSS investigator went to the sister-in-law's house and questioned Heidi and the children separately with no lawyer present. According to the Howard's current attorney, Greg Hession, the social worker asked the boys if daddy ever spanked them. He said the boys answered yes, but it was not a big deal to them. For instance, when daddy was answering the phone and Ethan was screeching, he gave him a nudge toward his mother with his foot. Another time, in the boy's room he bopped Chris on the head with a manila folder in his hand to get his attention when telling him to clean his room.
Neil tells MassNews, "It got worse in later versions. It turned into beating him over the head with a book and kicking Ethan in the chest and head. Of course, there is no evidence of any of that."
Heidi told the social worker she had never witnessed Neil abuse the kids and he had never hit her.
In the DSS report, Heidi was quoted accurately. However, in an affidavit to the judge by DSS, they said that Heidi was "confused" when she told them that Neil had never hit her.
Heidi was told by the social worker to file a restraining order against her husband to keep him away from her and the kids. The worker said the children told her Neil was beating them. The social worker also told her that Neil tried to kidnap the baby the other day.
Heidi protested. She said this is crazy, wouldn't I know if my husband was beating the kids? Heidi refused to get the order. The investigator responded, "Then I guess we'll just have to take your kids away." Heidi was terrified at the prospect. She said she wanted to go home. The investigator said now she was really concerned because Heidi wanted to go home after what she had just told her. She told her the restraining order would only be temporary until the investigation was completed. She told Heidi not to worry about being homeless, they'll take care of that.
Heidi said DSS pressured her to get the restraining order as soon as possible. They could set her up in an apartment, they said, and she could have all her children there with her until this was cleared up. "I don't care how you do it, I don't care what you say, just get it," said the social worker.
Heidi reluctantly agreed to get a restraining order so DSS wouldn't take her children.
At the Woburn District Courthouse, Heidi didn't know what to do to get a restraining order. A female "victim witness advocate" showed her how to fill out the form. She advised Heidi that she had to write something about being in fear. She could not just put down that DSS told her to get the restraining order. She told Heidi, "You have to make it sound bad."
The advocate asked if Neil ever abused her or the kids. She said no. "Think of something bad." Heidi was mortified to tell MassNews what happened next.
"I lied on the affidavit. I wrote that I was afraid my husband was going to kidnap the baby, as DSS had told me. I thought I was saving my children. They were going to take them away from me. I would have done anything to keep them. But I wasn't saving them, I was destroying them. Even though my husband and I are together, we lost all our children to DSS.
"When the Judge asked me why I wanted the restraining order, I told her because DSS wants me to get it. She asked me if the affidavit was true. I said yes."
While Heidi waited for the restraining order to be printed up, the court advocate gave her a card from Greater Boston Legal Services and told her the next step after getting a restraining order is to get a divorce. "Call one of these lawyers," she said. Heidi said she did not want a divorce.
Heidi was under tremendous stress at the time because of Faith's medical problems. She was worried about being able to care properly for Faith at home. DSS tried to convince Heidi that her husband was the cause of her stress
"There was a lot of pressure by DSS," she said. "They were trying to divide us. They raised doubts in my mind about my husband. He was mad at me that I got a restraining order. But I thought he might be mad if I didn't get it and they took the kids away. It didn't take long for us to get over it and figure out what they were doing to us though. We got back together pretty quickly."
Neil contacted DSS and insisted he be given the right to tell his side of the story. They asked him why his wife took out a restraining order against him. Neil was bewildered and told them someone must be telling her what to do. If she said those things, he chalked her behavior up to depression related to the birth of Faith. He said his wife wasn't her normal self since she learned that her baby would die at birth due to a cranial abnormality. Neil said he loved his family and they should understand that this has been a tough year for them, especially his wife.
When asked about hitting the kids, he admitted he practices basic discipline.
Neil called DSS again. They told him not to worry about anything, they considered the allegations to be exaggerated.
Heidi moved out of her sister-in-law's house to escape DSS. She stayed with friends for a week. DSS called her sister-in-law looking for information. They found out Heidi had nursed her kids until they were three. DSS wrote another 51A complaint.
DSS called Heidi at the new place after getting the number from the children's school. DSS demanded she give the address. DSS went there to check the "sleeping arrangements" without telling Heidi they were already investigating a new 51A against her. Heidi was camped out in the living room with the children. DSS wanted to know if her children slept in the same bed with her.
DSS called Heidi and told her they had just filed a new 51A against her for breast feeding a three-year-old and for allegedly sleeping naked with her children. They wanted to come right over to investigate. In reality they had already filed the 51A a week before. Heidi said, "What are you people doing to me? Don't come here, I need to call my attorney." They replied, "You don't need one." Heidi called her attorney who tried to schedule something. DSS called Heidi again later that day and said they were in the neighborhood and demanded permission to come over immediately. After another refusal, she did not hear about it again and assumed it was dropped.
Heidi called Neil at work and told him she loved and missed him and wanted to come home. Neil told her she had to vacate the restraining order or he could get arrested. The family reunited that evening at a motel near the courthouse.
Heidi attempted to vacate the restraining order. The judge wouldn't immediately vacate it, however, saying DSS needed to be informed. Heidi would have to wait a week or two. Heidi told the judge she needed a place to live in the meantime. A witness advocate suggested she go to a shelter. Heidi refused. The Judge gave Heidi a partially vacated restraining order that was confusing because it had both "allowed" and "denied" marked. The judge told her she could go home with the kids. She assumed the restraining order was vacated. All parties had to come back to finalize it on December 8.
The whole family enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday together.
Heidi came downstairs from the shower to find two social workers from DSS inside her house, standing in the living room. Heidi told them their family was working to put their lives back together and didn't need their services. They told Heidi they were there to investigate the 51A filed on November 12.
Heidi argued with them about breast feeding, telling them to mind their own business. The social workers took the boys into the next room for questioning. Heidi could hear them talking. Chris told them about the time he locked all the doors to the house when he was five. He did it because he was mad at his father for taking down his fort. His father spanked him. He said he is not really afraid of his father. This was reported by DSS as "Christopher expressed extreme fear of his father." Chris told them about another time he and his brother put sticks into a burning grill and got caught. They were punished with a spanking for playing with fire. DSS later said that the boys displayed early signs of being potential arsonists. Arsonists are usually abused when they are young, they said.
DSS told Heidi there were concerns because she went back home even though she had taken out a restraining order. They told her they wanted her to get a psychological evaluation and she should call for a referral from her health insurance. After they left, Heidi left to do some errands. Later that afternoon, DSS arrived back at the house with police and paramedics. DSS told the police to arrest Neil for violating a restraining order when he arrived home. They called an ambulance to take Heidi to Lowell General for a psychological evaluation. Neil was arrested when he arrived home, saw the commotion, and attempted to call a lawyer from a neighbor's house. DSS took away their children.
Lowell General transferred Heidi to Emerson Hospital. They told her she was there voluntarily, but Heidi says that once you go through those doors, you can't leave without a doctor's order.
"I was trapped in there," she said. "They told me I couldn't leave without going to a battered women's shelter far away from the perpetrator."
Heidi was an emotional wreck when she arrived. Her life was disintegrating before her eyes. Her husband was in jail, DSS took her children, her baby girl was dying, and she was being locked up in a psychiatric ward. They gave her a tranquilizer, which knocked her out.
Heidi woke up groggily at two in the morning. A social worker immediately began questioning her. The social worker told Heidi that she was a battered woman and that is why she was upset and stressed. Heidi said her husband never hit her. The social worker told her, "You don't need to be beaten to be battered."
The Howards later found a notation written by a social worker in the records at Emerson Hospital, "Collaborate w/DSS, file 51As as needed." DSS had already informed Emerson that Neil violated a restraining order and Heidi was a "battered woman." Heidi woke up again two hours later at four in the morning and they questioned her again.
Whatever Heidi said about her relationship with her husband, the social worker told her it was typical of a batterer. For instance, she told them that Neil handled the finances. They responded that he was controlling her and manipulative. Heidi said, "We don't go around beating the children, we would never go too far in our discipline." The social worker twisted her words writing, "They have to stop each other if they go too far."
Heidi was awoken again at 8 A.M., exhausted and still drugged, and was interviewed at nine. She told them she was the problem, not her husband. They told her she was in denial. Exasperated, she told them she was hurt by what was happening and they had destroyed her life. She wanted to run away and start over, she didn't care about anything or anyone anymore.
She thought her communications were confidential, but Emerson filed a 51A against the Howards. Heidi said those statements kept popping up everywhere in court reports and other places. "The fabricated 51A keeps coming back to haunt me," she said. "It won't stop. The longer you have contact with these people, they keep generating 51A's against you." She said there were seven of them investigated and four screened out.
Heidi wanted to go home. They would not let her leave unless she had an "Aftercare Program." She had to have the restraining order dropped, which they discouraged, or she had to go to a shelter.
Heidi asked if she still had parental rights. She was told she could have her kids back as soon as she was discharged from Emerson. They would arrange for them to visit her in the meantime.
Neil asked the judge for permission to visit Heidi and Faith. Neil told Heidi to fight for the children because DSS does not intend to give them back. He said DSS now had a "supported" 51A against each of them.
DSS was furious that Neil had the legal right to visit Heidi at the hospital. The social worker from Emerson discussed the case with DSS. She then told Heidi that DSS was basically saying that Heidi could not have her husband and children too. She would have to choose one over the other. She said DSS made it clear if she didn't keep the restraining order, she would never see her children again. Heidi argued how unfair that was and how she thought they could work it out and stay together as a family. She asked her lawyer if DSS could give her such an ultimatum. Her lawyer told her, "Yes, they've done it before."
Back in court, on the day the vacated restraining order was supposed to be finalized, Heidi renewed the restraining order under heavy pressure from DSS. Neil sat there shocked and devastated. He had warned Heidi not to fall for their tricks. Neil told the judge that DSS was frightening his wife into keeping the restraining order. The judge asked Heidi if that were true. She said yes. Weighing heavily on her mind was the fact that DSS did not allow her children to visit her at Emerson and she wanted to be able to visit Faith who was dying. Heidi's poverty lawyer from Greater Boston Legal Services asked the judge to give Heidi a restraining order for a year. Heidi only wanted it for a couple weeks to sort things out.
Heidi told Mass News, "I thought I could outsmart DSS. My plan was to get the restraining order, arrange to go to the battered women's shelter, get an apartment to re-establish myself and get the kids back. Then I would call my husband and drop the restraining order. Then we could get away, sell the house or something and escape DSS."
Heidi explained her frustration from dealing with DSS. "If you don't do what they say, you are 'non-compliant.'" If you do what they say to try to get out of the mess, they use those actions against you later. They don't take responsibility for what they told you to do. They say it was all your idea. "We didn't tell her to choose between her husband and children. We didn't tell her to go to a shelter. We didn't tell her to get a restraining order. It was her choice, her doing, not ours.'
"Unfortunately, I signed releases for DSS to talk to all the kid's doctors, teachers and hospital where Faith was staying, to prove we were good people. But it backfired. DSS called all those people and told them not to talk to the parents because DSS had custody. We couldn't get medical and school records any more to help prove our innocence."
DSS filed a motion to obtain psychiatric records from Emerson without Heidi's knowledge. She was informed she had a court appointed lawyer who she was unable to reach by phone.
The 72-hour hearing took place at Lowell District Court to determine if DSS had reason to keep the boys. If properly represented, the Howards could have put on their case at this time. Instead, Heidi was unable to speak to Neil because of the restraining order she was pressured into filing. Her poverty lawyer identified herself to her. She was standing with a group of Emerson and DSS social workers who then hovered around Heidi. Her lawyer told her to do whatever DSS says, they are there to help you. Neil was there with his parents.
DSS presented two affidavits to the court saying why they needed to take the kids. Both Heidi and Neil were approached separately and asked to sign a waiver of their rights to the children. The two parents could not communicate. Heidi was told by DSS to sign it because Neil was signing it. They also said it was to protect Faith from being kidnapped by Neil or anybody else because Faith was being transferred to an extended care facility in Groton that doesn't have any security. DSS put in the affidavit to the judge that Faith was going to be transferred that day, as though it was urgent. The couple later learned that it was a bald-faced lie. Both facilities had no plans for a transfer.
Heidi was told, "Make sure you tell the judge you understand what you are signing and make sure to ask that Faith be put on the petition. If you do this, you'll get your kids back as soon as you are discharged from Emerson."
Neil was told by his female attorney, "Listen, sign the waiver. Heidi is signing it too. This will all get straightened out. A court investigator will look into this. If you testify today, you'll have Heidi's DSS attorney and the children's attorney against you. Once the court investigator does their job, you won't have to testify." Neil thought that made sense at the time. He was positive an investigation by the court would clear him.
The hearing was recessed for several hours because there was no contest. Heidi went to her court- appointed attorney's office next to the courthouse. The attorney kept avoiding Heidi and would not answer her questions about what she was signing or about her case. She spent several hours in a room by herself. At 2 P.M., the lawyer escorted her to a room where the judge asked her if she understood what she was signing. She did what she was told. She said yes and asked that Faith be added to the petition.
Heidi tried to arrange her "aftercare program" so she could leave Emerson. She could only get shelter in Springfield because it was far away from the "perpetrator."
Heidi settled in at the shelter in Springfield. She called Neil. They both talked and cried.
Heidi called her social worker at DSS to ask about seeing her children as they had promised. They told her that was impossible because Springfield was too far away.
Heidi called Neil to see how he was holding up and to tell her plan to go to the shelter in order to get the kids back was not working. Neil pleaded for her safe return and told her DSS was building a case against her. They decided to vacate the restraining order.
Heidi took a bus to Boston and visited Faith. She met with Neil. They made arrangements to meet after court the next day.
Heidi attempted to get an immediate hearing in Woburn District Court to vacate the restraining order. She was told to wait a few days so all parties involved could be present. Heidi tried to arrange a visit with her children. DSS refused. They demanded to know where she was and said leaving the shelter was highly irresponsible and would not help her get her children back.
The motion to vacate the restraining order was allowed. The Howards were relieved that DSS didn't show up. They speculated that DSS didn't care about the restraining order anymore because they had the kids and the waivers. Neil and Heidi went home together.
The couple visited the children at the DSS office and gave them Christmas presents. The visit went very well and both children had a great time. When it was time to leave, both children had a difficult time accepting the idea of not returning home with their parents. They heard Ethan's cries as DSS carried him away.
The court investigator came out to the house and interviewed both parents. They showed the investigator around the remodeled house and explained their whole story. It seemed everything was going to be fine.
Back in court, the Howards learned the report by the investigator was awful. It contained only one paragraph about the interview at the house, which didn't even mention that it had been remodeled. The rest of the report consisted of unsubstantiated allegations copied verbatim from DSS. Heidi and Neil denied everything in the report.
The report recommended the Howards get psychological evaluations, take parenting classes and follow any other DSS recommendations. The report did not recommend returning the children. The Howards attempted to follow the plan in hopes of getting their children back.
The Howards, with attorney, Greg Hession, who took their case, tried to get their 72-hour hearing invalidated on the grounds that Heidi was living in a psychiatric ward at the time she signed the waiver. Judge Trainor at Lowell District Court denied the motion.
DSS records show that it told Ethan's foster mother to file a 51A against the Howards. The foster mother related bizarre sexual allegations she allegedly heard from Ethan, who had just turned four. The most serious allegation was that the Howards "cut off his pee pee." Ethan also was supposed to have said his mother breast-fed him, which Heidi never denied. Neil Howard said his son Ethan has a form of autism called PDD, which made him difficult to understand and he often repeated whatever you told him, something he called "echoing."
The Lowell District Attorney interviewed both children. They said Ethan was not a credible witness. Chris said nothing damaging about his parents. DSS watched the interview from behind a two-way-mirror and took notes. The DA closed the investigation.
The Howards later learned there were tapes of the DA's interview. The DA did not allow them to have copies of the tapes however. Their lawyer subpoenaed the copies. They compared the tapes to what DSS wrote and found that DSS added an entire paragraph of negative allegations that was not on the tape. DSS also deleted positive comments about the parents and altered a word to give a statement a negative connotation.
The Howards and their attorney told Mass News that the tape of Chris contained only praise for his parents and normal answers to questions powerful evidence they can use in court.
During this time period, Neil's restraining order violation was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Ethan and Chris were living in foster homes. Ethan's foster mother was a female Lowell police officer.
The Howards believed Ethan was being abused in the foster home, but DSS did nothing about it.
They began noticing bruises on Ethan, missing teeth, chipped teeth, crushed fingernails on both hands, a broken arm.
The Howards later discovered in DSS files that day care workers also noticed that there were marks on Ethan's buttocks and back covered with make-up. A 51A was not filed, but the call from the day-care center was logged into DSS records. Fresh marks were again discovered later. Neil says this is around the time Ethan was telling people "Charlie" was hurting him.
Faith was transferred to a foster home. Visits of the parents with Ethan and Faith were cut back to one hour per month and twice a month with Chris. The Howards were devastated that they were restricted from visiting their dying daughter.
Ethan was taken to South Bay Mental Health, which is right next door to DSS. It has an unlicensed female therapist without any credentials. It filed a 51A report against the Howards saying that 4-year-old Ethan accused his parents of abusing him, holding his head under water, "Charlie" beats him, his mother sits on him, they touch him sexually. Neil Howard says nobody knows any "Charlie" and the other charges are ridiculous.
When told that Ethan has PDD, South Bay's therapist said Ethan's neurologist who diagnosed him is "full of it."
South Bay refused to show the Howards their notes. Later, the Howard's attorney requested that the court compel South Bay to produce the therapy notes. The court did compel but South Bay hasn't produced anything in months.
Later, the same South Bay therapist gave her "expert" opinion that all visitations of the Howard children should be terminated. Attorney Hession successfully challenged the "expert" witness by proving she had a complete and utter lack of credentials.
DSS took another try for the brass ring and asked the DA to investigate Ethan's latest alleged utterances. The DA said Ethan is not a credible witness and would not interview him. In the last interview, when the DA asked Ethan if he had a brother, he answered that he did not. After Ethan answered a similar easy question incorrectly, the DA terminated the interview.
Not to be deterred by a witness who is not credible, DSS decided they would interview the small boy themselves. A DSS social worker and the foster mother "interviewed" Ethan in the foster mother's waiting room without following accepted protocols. Soon DSS had fresh allegations of the Howards putting "pine combs" up Ethan's rectum and more talk about "Charlie." DSS asked Ethan, "Who is Charlie?" he said nothing. "Is Charlie a friend of mommy and daddy?" He allegedly said yes. The interview was not taped but notes were taken.
The 51A was "supported" by DSS against the Howards. The Howards said they appealed every single 51A that was lodged against them.
Later in October, DSS brought Chris to the DA for another interview which was taped. An obviously coached Chris appeared according to those who viewed the tapes. There was marked contrast from the first interview months earlier. Chris charged that the Howards put writing implements "up his butt." The DA apparently was not convinced and did not support the complaint. DSS did however. It was made clear to DSS that it would be the final interview that the DA's office would conduct.
A new tactic used by DSS against the Howards was to complain that there was a conflict of interest for the Howards to have the same lawyer. They say there should be separate attorneys because the couple were legally at odds at one time. As Heidi reiterated for Mass News, DSS uses something they previously told her to do against them now. The Howards, who say they are totally together on everything, feel the latest divide-and-conquer tactic is intended to get Greg Hession off their case. It has delayed their trial so, reluctantly, Heidi has recently obtained her own court-appointed lawyer.
Faith died on her first birthday. DSS called Heidi and told her Faith was in the hospital having seizures and she should go there. Neil rushed home from work. DSS called again to tell them that Faith was dead. The social worker told the grieving parents that now that she is dead, custody reverts to them.
Despite the fact that the Howards had custody of their dead little girl, DSS social workers met them at the hospital when they arrived. The Howards wanted to see their baby girl and mourn in privacy, but DSS felt this was a great time for them to meet the new social worker. The Howards were astonished at the insensitivity and told the social workers, "Leave us alone, now!" The social workers still stood there but without saying anything. Neil Howard got the hospital to tell the social workers they were not needed. The couple spent time alone with Faith.
The funeral arrangements involved DSS because the Howards wanted their boys to attend. DSS denied the request. The Howards wanted their sons to see their little sister for the first time in almost a year. The Howards threatened to take legal action. DSS called back and said they could go.
Ten minutes before the funeral, DSS called the Howards and told them a therapist told them it would be inappropriate for Ethan to go to the funeral. Ethan was not allowed to go. Chris attended the funeral with two social workers who followed him around the entire day. Chris was allowed to visit with friends and family and was happy to see them. DSS wrote page after page about the visit and wrote that Chris "put on an act hugging people."
On a supervised visit with their boys, the Howards noticed Ethan had a broken arm and more teeth were missing. There was also a deep red handprint on his forearm and his hand was swollen. DSS went into great detail about how he had broken his arm on a slide. They said a girl stomped on his hand the same day also. DSS blamed the missing teeth on Heidi's breast-feeding. The Howards say Ethan had perfect teeth until three months after DSS took him. DSS would explain away every missing tooth by saying he "fell." But the Howards don't remember Ethan being that clumsy.
DSS dictation records reveal that a social worker told Chris that his parents couldn't protect him anymore, so he'll never be going home. Soon afterward, Chris developed a problem with his bowels and with lying.
Neil's sister had tried all year to get custody of the boy. She drove down from Vermont and visited the boys two or three times a month. DSS did not work with the sister to get custody even though Vermont's DSS approved her.
Just before a court date, DSS filed another 51A based on the last taped interview with Chris. They said Neil's sister and her husband took the boys on an unsupervised visit to a park in Lowell in September. Neil Howard says that is true, and what is weird is that a social worker usually goes along, but that particular time they didn't.
Christopher told the social workers that the Howards went to the unsupervised visit and threatened to throw him off a cliff. He also said they sexually abused him in the past by putting pens and pencils up his rectum. According to the Howards and their attorney, on the tape Chris leaped up almost proud of himself and said, "Oh yeah, Ethan is making disclosures too, and he's not lying."
"We completely proved this to be false, yet they supported it," said Neil. Neil brought time cards and affidavits from his work. Heidi, who has no car, obtained phone records to show she was home that day. The sister and her husband also say Neil and Heidi weren't there and they had a wonderful visit. DSS now officially considers Neil's sister unfit to take custody.
No trial because DSS delayed it again with the conflict of interest issue. The Howards and their attorney met with MassNews to tell the story. Heidi is obviously pregnant.
DSS stopped the monthly visit after only a few minutes because the Howards hugged their children. No hugging or sitting on laps allowed anymore.
Heidi had contractions and gave birth to Jessica on December 14. Baby Jessica was born in secret to keep the DSS away from her.
A court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) and doctor are assigned to check Heidi's competence over the conflict of interest issue. The GAL saw baby Jessica twice and reported no concerns to the court doctor. The Howards had a pediatrician who raved about baby's progress.
No Christmas with the boys.
Scheduled visit with boys. Neil and Heidi and grandparents brought "tons" of presents. DSS quietly noticed that Heidi was no longer pregnant.
DSS called the Howards. "Call us, it is very important."
DSS left three messages saying to call them. On the last message, they said it was apparent on the last visit that Heidi was no longer pregnant. "The department has concerns. You need to bring the baby to the office by 9 a.m. to be viewed. If you do not, the department will take appropriate measures." The Howards did not trust DSS. The department had lost all credibility with them and they suspected DSS wanted to steal their baby or manufacture new claims against them. They left their home and moved to a friend's house.
Neil Howard called DSS and told them that any further communications would have to be through their attorney.
DSS said the Howard's attorney was not willing to make arrangements for them to meet the parents and view the baby. DSS went to the Howard home and found nobody there. Neil received several unidentified hang-up calls at work. Police and DSS went to search the grandparent's house. There was a warrant for the Howard's arrest.
DSS claims they went to Lowell District Court and obtained custody of the baby. DSS did not have the name, date of birth or the correct sex of the child, but they still claim they obtained custody from Judge Neil Walker. A letter from DSS informed the Howards that they went to court and obtained custody. "Please bring your newborn son to the DSS office."
Hearing in Framingham regarding court appointed doctor for Heidi. The couple feared they might be arrested, yet they attended. They were served with a subpoena to appear on February 5 in Lowell District Court. A court report in Framingham says that Heidi is on medication. DSS uses that later to tell a judge she is "on drugs."
Neil's parents get an attorney and apply for guardianship of baby Jessica.
Grandparents received guardianship of baby Jessica in Middlesex Probate Court. Neil and Howard are supposed to appear for their 72-hour hearing in Lowell. The Howards did not appear because their attorney was attempting to get the arrest warrant stopped now that the grandparents had guardianship.
DSS went to court and challenged the grandparent's guardianship. They pointed to an honest statement by the grandparents that they will not take the child away from its nursing mother. The grandparents gave their guarantee of the child's safety. The judge reversed himself and gave DSS custody of the baby.
The Howards left baby Jessica with their pastor and appeared in court. They were arrested and shackled until the baby was found by DSS at their pastor's home. Mass News reported the baby snatching by DSS. The pastor reported Jessica is a beautiful baby in perfect health and Heidi is a caring mother.
In a hearing the day after the baby was seized, DSS tried to say that Heidi was "on drugs" and poisoning the baby. The "drugs" however are a prescribed medication for post-partum depression. A psychiatrist prescribed the medication and different doctors have approved the use and dosage while she was pregnant and later breast-feeding. They gave Heidi a book that shows different medicines that are safe to take while pregnant. The Howards were confident that they have solid evidence to defeat the charges.
DSS charged that baby Jessica's eyes were swollen shut with conjunctivitis when they seized her. Jessica's pediatrician has agreed to testify that baby Jessica was in perfect health. The doctor had noted some crusting of the eyes in the morning and told the Howards that it was normal for a newborn baby to have this and it could be a blocked tear duct or it could not be developed all the way. She told Heidi to keep it clean and keep an eye on it. Heidi said when the baby wakes up, you just wipe it away and she's fine the rest of the day.
DSS charged that Heidi has an undiagnosed mental illness. Heidi however, has been diagnosed with a mild form of depression that many mothers have after giving birth and she has been treated for it.
There was a hearing on March 2, 2001, at Lowell District Court over these latest issues that have been raised by DSS in an attempt to keep the baby. On March 14, the 72-hour hearing to remove the child was scheduled to take place. Since DSS claimed they took baby Jessica based on alleged "past abuse" of the Howard boys, the parents hoped they could use the hearing to prove they have not abused their sons and fight for all three of their children at once.
A joyous Howard family is finally together again and safe. They were able to survive the anger of state employees only because they had two excellent lawyers who care. They also had a courageous, retired judge who was not worried about "getting along" in the "system" for the next 30 years.
A joyous holiday was celebrated by the Howard family this past Christmas.
It was the first time the young family from Tyngsboro, Neil and Heidi and their children, Christopher 11, Ethan 6 and Jessica 1, had been together in over two years.
"I can't tell you how wonderful it was to finally have all of us together again," said Neil.
"The agony that has been in my heart for the last two years has finally disappeared," said Heidi. "Although the children have been through a terrible ordeal for the past two years and have suffered greatly, their basic nature has remained intact. They have incredible endurance."
The celebration was held in Vermont at the home of the father's sister because the boys are still in her care. Although the baby, Jessica, went back to the parents last August, the boys will continue, under the terms of the court order, to be with the aunt for a short while before returning to the rest of their family.
The parents had seen their children individually in visitation centers, for which they had to pay, but the visits were very structured with social workers constantly watching. The year before, the visits were stopped at one point because they had hugged a child.
The parents are very perplexed why this happened to their family. They are puzzled as to how anyone could be so mean and nasty.
They heaped praise on Attorneys Chester Darling and Greg Hession who went to the last 30 of their hearings. For the previous 20 hearings they had a court-appointed lawyer or they represented themselves. Altogether, they had to go to 50 hearings in the past year.
Without Attorneys Darling and Hession, they say they never would have recovered their children.
When asked whether it was possible that they were the victims of lesbian social workers or other extremists who dislike both men and those women who like men, they became very thoughtful. They said that they had never thought of that possibility, but it might explain everything that had happened to their family.
Both Neil and Heidi say it was their Christian faith that carried them and their children through their terrible ordeal.
"Although we were nominal Christians before all this happened, this made us much stronger in our faith," says Heidi.
She says that their church, Grace Baptist Church in Pepperell, stood behind them during the entire time and was a great source of strength and comfort.
Although the Howards are strangely non-vindictive in spite of what happened to them, they believe they have a compelling duty to tell everyone about what is going on at DSS.
"It's frightening to realize that the state can come in and do this to anyone," says Neil. "If you're rich enough to hire the best lawyer, you are probably okay, but otherwise, forget it. They will just wear you down. If Chester Darling had not represented us for nothing, we would have lost all our children. He and Greg Hession had to go to 30 hearings last year for us."
They also would like to have their sons receive counseling for the things that were done to them while in DSS care.
"Someone had to have told Christopher about weird sexual activities in order for him to report them about his mother," Howard said. "He was made to wait until everyone else in the foster family had eaten and was then given cold leftover scraps. He was not given breakfast."
Ethan suffered bruises, lost teeth, chipped teeth, a broken arm and other injuries [while in foster care].
A lawsuit is being prepared against the state by Attorney Greg Hession and should be filed sometime this month.
"These parents were tested," says Attorney Darling. "They have fought for their children with every ounce of their being. What they have endured at the hands of DSS is almost beyond human endurance."
When the parents began to fight DSS, the agency started to accuse the parents of sexual abuse and mutilation of the boys, but without any evidence.
Last May, an important break occurred when Judge Belmonte suspended the trial for six months and allowed the Howard's newborn baby, Jessica, to return home. The judge had apparently heard enough of DSS' bizarre testimony and was annoyed at social workers' attempts to control the trial. When the trial to terminate the parental rights of the two boys resumed this winter, DSS folded its tent.
"Basically they couldn't prove their case," said Neil Howard to MassNews. "We had a whole list of doctors and therapists ready to testify in our favor. DSS couldn't prove a single thing against us."
January 15, 2003 DSS caseworkers are back banging on the door of Neil and Heidi Howard, Tyngsboro, as the result of an anonymous tip, demanding to "interview" at 1:30 today these parents of three children.
The Howards were just reunited last year, in January 2002, after two years of separation and 30 hearings with Attorney Chester Darling and Greg Hession representing them. The grueling ordeal finally ended happily when retired Judge Robert Belmonte had the courage to stand up to the system and send the children back home.
But DSS is now back again. It all started again last Friday, January 10, when two obvious caseworkers came to the door and started banging.
If there is one thing Heidi learned the hard way, it was, "Always say 'no' when a DSS worker wants to enter your home, and always take their threats very seriously." So she did not answer the door when they appeared without warning on Friday.
On Monday they returned and banged some more. This time they left a notice that an anonymous 51A violation had been received against the Howards and the social workers would be back today at 1:30 for an interview. But Neil Howard called and told them not to come. He informed them that if an interview is scheduled, it will include Attorney Hession, a reporter from MassNews and a tape recorder.
This case brought speculation last year that the Howards were chosen for punishment by lesbian social workers or other women who dislike men intensely because Heidi refused to leave her husband. Like many other women, she was told by the social workers she would lose her children if she refused to do so. She did refuse and the children were taken.
What bothers observers this year is that an anonymous tip is causing this trouble and the Howards will never know whether an anonymous complaint really was filed, and if so, what the alleged tip was about. Is there some snoopy neighbor who dislikes them that much or is it just angry caseworkers? The Howard family will never know the answers to those questions.
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Last modified 4/11/15