The Internet responds as Tavvi and Connor are removed from their home
The story seems impossible, but unfortunately it's an object lesson in what happens when the spirit of the law is ignored in favor of its letter: A pair of siblings in Oregon were removed from their sister's custody and sent back to Virginia, where they'd previously been removed from the allegedly abusive care of their parents. The community in Beaverton and concerned people all over the Internet are getting involved in this bona fide DHS horror story:
Web sites related to the case accuse DHS officials in Virginia of wrongfully taking the children away from Stephanie Johnston, 24, who was acting as the children's sole parent in Oregon.
Johnston isn't just the parent to 9-year-old Tavvi and 12-year-old Conner, she's also their big sister.
Johnston has cared for the children after they moved from Virginia to Oregon to escape alleged abuse at the hands of their parents, who reportedly had drug habits.
Letter after letter posted on one Web site, from parents and local teachers, pleads for the kids' return to Beaverton.
"We're angry, we're angry, we're enraged," Johnston said, "but we're also terrified, we're scared, and we're also sick to our stomachs."
The story goes on to say that the children were removed by surprise (it says Tavvi was removed, kicking and screaming, from her classroom) and not allowed to gather any belongings before they left. Their sister and guardian Stephanie Johnston is quoted as saying she was given no opportunity to help the children transition.
On the KATU site (where this story is located), there are over 100 comments about the case, speculating on how this can even be possible. Many commenters are furious with DHS; others wonder if perhaps Johnston removed the children from Virginia illegally. Certainly it's tempting to believe that there's information missing, information that would make Johnston the "bad guy" here rather than the very agency that's supposed to be protecting the children it essentially kidnapped.
A bit of poking around on the 'net reveals that Johnston has kept a website called Keep Them Home! about her siblings' progress and the prolonged battle the family has had with DHS. According to the site, Stephanie Johnston no longer controls it -- after she was pressured by DHS to shut it down, it was revived by a group of supporters who are outraged by DHS's actions in this case.
Following the links on Keep Them Home! reveals that a DHS run-in back in December caused a swell of support from both the community and various followers of the story on the Internet. Now that the children have been sent back to Virginia, the Internet is crying out once again.
LynnS at Oregon Media Insiders discusses her incredulity over the situation, and then includes a lengthy letter from Connie Macomber (Tavvi's teacher) which is full of praise for Stephanie Johnston:
[Tavvi] was snatched instantly and unexpectedly from our school today. It took a number of people to carry her out the school doors, with her crying and screaming. She never had a chance to say goodbye. She didn't even knew what hit her.
Her brother was also taken from his home in Beaverton. The house was surrounded and the boy taken. Both children were whisked out of their comfort zone and on a plane back to the hell they came from: their parents in Virginia.
I can speak on this because I spent six or more hours a day with my student. I communicated daily with her sister. The sister, I might add, was the best "parent" I've ever had! She was positive, supportive, extremely intelligent, enthusiastic, and she worked hand in hand with me to help this girl's education. The sister walked the talk. She is the most amazing 24 year old I've ever met.
And one of the bloggers taking up the torch for the family, as well, is Shady Lady, who states that Johnston did indeed have legal custody of the children (this has been questioned in various reports online, as people try to make sense of the children's removal). She's desperately trying to get the word out:
I have written letters to Oprah and Ellen. If anyone can take a story national, it's the two of them. I know that others have written to them as well. Perhaps you will feel inspired to do the same.
These children have flourished in Stephanie's care. Who knows what is happening to them now!
In the comments on Shady Lady's blog, a link is left to a KATU update on the story, wherein the Virginia DHS refuses to address any specifics (or even acknowledge this case being under their jurisdiction), but does field some very general questions about their procedures. Nothing they say explains what happened to Connor and Tavvi.
Other blogs are picking up the story. People are calling and writing to their local news stations, morning talk shows, celebrity show hosts. And in the meantime... Connor and Tavvi are reportedly in foster care somewhere in Virginia, thousands of miles away from their friends, school, and the sister who has -- by all accounts -- provided them with the most stable and loving home they've ever had.
In the follow-up KATU story, Marianne S. McGhee (director of public affairs for the Virginia Department of Social Services) says that: Whenever children are removed from the custody of their parents and are placed in the custody of a social services department, the presumptive goal, under law, is to reunite the children with one or both parents.
That sounds reasonable. What happened here is completely unreasonable, though. Something is badly broken in this system, and at least two children are paying a very steep price.
Virginia DSS: Heal thyself. Please. And let Connor and Tavvi go home.