Cherokee Morning Song

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sioux Mother Rescues Abused Children. Faces Arrest

Early last year, Audre’y Eby dropped by her former spouse’s home in Iowa to visit her twin sons. She discovered that her blind child had two black eyes, and his head was swollen. The boy hadn’t seen a doctor; when he finally did, Eby recalled, the doctor said he couldn’t suggest the cause of the injuries because they were already healing.

Sioux Mother Rescues Abused Children, Faces Arrest

The emergency room doctor was furious at what he had seen, recalled Audre’y Eby, who is Rosebud Sioux and the mother of disabled 16-year-old twins. One of her sons, who is blind and autistic, squirmed on the examination-room table, screaming, “Ow, ow, it hurts!” The doctor had found livid red and purple bruises covering his penis and scrotum, according to the Nebraska hospital’s records. Those injuries would soon lead to an arrest warrant for the mother—not because she had caused the harm, but because she did not return her son, along with his wheelchair-bound twin, to their abusers.
Indian child welfare expert Frank LaMere called the twins’ situation more extreme than any he’d seen in his many years of work in the field. “These boys are suffering,” said LaMere, who is Winnebago and the director of Four Directions Community Center, in Sioux City, Iowa.
The day before the ER visit, Eby, who is 45, drove from the Nebraska farm where she lives with her husband, Faron, to pick up her boys from their father in Iowa. It was early August of 2013, and she was going to have them for the once-a-month weekend visit the courts allow her. The boys’ father is Eby’s ex-husband; he has physical custody of the kids, and his live-in girlfriend is their primary caretaker. Eby is Native, and the father and his girlfriend are white—facts that LaMere says overshadow decisions that social-services professionals and the courts make on the children’s behalf.
During the five-hour drive to Nebraska, both twins complained. Eby put the grumbling down to the road trip—a long one for such special-needs kids. The sighted twin has cerebral palsy and can suffer painful muscle spasms, and his brother has residual discomfort from a vehicle accident he was in with his father a few years ago. “We stop for breaks, but it’s a lot of sitting still,” Eby said.
The next day, the blind twin began complaining again, and Eby saw blood in his overnight diaper. Alarmed, she and Faron loaded both boys into their car and headed for the ER. After the exam, at a moment when only health-care personnel were present, the doctor took the opportunity to ask his patient, “Who did this to you?” The child named his father’s girlfriend. The doctor questioned the sighted twin, who confirmed his brother’s story.
The doctor told Eby that the injuries were consistent with being kicked in the groin. He immediately called Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services to report alleged child abuse, hospital records show. Eby says the physician also warned her that if she didn’t keep the boys until their wellbeing could be guaranteed in Iowa, he’d have to report her for exposing children to an unsafe situation: “He said Nebraska law required him to do that.”
Eby’s fateful decision to keep her kids in Nebraska soon led to an Iowa judge issuing a warrant for her arrest. She is trapped between the laws of two states and fearful for her sons’ safety.
The Nebraska doctor’s report launched an extensive investigation by Iowa’s Child Protective Services (CPS). The investigation included another physical exam and interviews of social workers, teachers and others who’d interacted with the twins. The boys participated in a Telemed closed-circuit TV interview observed by social-services and law-enforcement personnel in Iowa and Nebraska. (The twins’ names, and that of their father, whose last name they bear, are being withheld to protect the children’s privacy. All official documents quoted here were obtained under Iowa law.)
Both children claimed the kicking occurred after the blind twin was discovered masturbating. He tells the interviewer that his dad had once threatened that “he’s gonna cut my privates off” for doing that. At one point, the boy begs, “Please help me. I’m scared.”
The investigation led to a determination that the father’s girlfriend caused the groin injuries, which means the abuse was “founded.” The father and girlfriend already had several abuse and neglect determinations between them. CPS gave the twins its highest score for risk of abuse and recommended a criminal investigation.
The girlfriend has appealed the most recent abuse finding, according to Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) documents. No charges appear to have been filed against her. She claimed the boy did the damage to himself and told CPS, “I love the boys and would never do anything to hurt either one of them.”
The father toldICTMNthat whatever happened didn’t happen in Iowa and that the couple would appeal more of the abuse and neglect rulings. Over the years, 14 additional allegations have been investigated and dismissed, he noted.
Iowa DHS documents record a startling list of incidents at the father’s home: Among many, the father recently pressed on the wheelchair-bound twin’s nose until it bled, resulting in one of the founded-abuse determinations. On another occasion, the dad poured hot sauce down that boy’s throat while the girlfriend pressed her elbow into his neck to ensure he swallowed it. A social worker recounts watching the father smash a sandwich onto the blind boy’s forehead, purportedly to get him to eat his lunch. The girlfriend has stuffed a cloth down one boy’s throat to silence him. Punishments include cold showers.
Social workers describe quasi-military discipline. “I’m a veteran, and I'm  trying to instill values like honor, loyalty and courage in my children,” the father said. “If that’s wrong, then a lot of parents are wrong.”
Judy Yellowbank, who is Winnebago and the program director at Four Directions Community Center, likened the twins’ treatment to torture. She charged that there’s a double standard in child welfare. “Native parents would be behind bars if they had committed the child abuse and neglect that these two white caregivers have,” Yellowbank said.
Following the recent kicking incident and subsequent abuse finding, Iowa DHS recommended returning the twins to their father’s home, with the caveat that the live-in girlfriend no longer be primary caregiver. When asked how that set-up would work from a practical point of view, the father refused to answer.
One of Eby’s attorneys, Judy Freking, of LeMars, Iowa, asked, “What is the purpose of a child-abuse investigation if, upon concluding that abuse occurred, DHS does not get involved, and DHS does not offer any services to correct the problem that led to the abuse of these boys?”
The father is determined to get the kids back, saying Iowa can provide them more services than rural Nebraska, where the Ebys’ farm is. He recently went to Iowa juvenile court, claiming that his ex-wife was keeping the boys in Nebraska because of “extreme hostility” toward his girlfriend. The judge agreed, writing in an order issued this past September, “It’s apparent this animosity has been a factor.” The judge noted the father’s claim that he had “fully and properly cared for the boys.” The order does not mention the founded abuse and neglect rulings or any criminal investigation.
In October, a district court judge issued an arrest warrant for Eby. She learned of it when it pinged into her email from the Iowa courts’ online system. “I couldn’t cry because my sons were here. I called Faron. He came home from work and sat with the boys, so I could get myself together. Faron has been such a powerful support in all this. We both want the boys living on the farm with us.”
After Eby and the boys’ biological father separated in 2003, when the boys were six, she cared for them. When they turned 12, she thought they should get to know their father. “At the time it seemed like a reasonable idea,” Eby recalled. As the problems in the father’s home mounted, she fought to get the boys back, succeeding briefly in 2011. Through all the abuse and neglect findings, Iowa DHS documents reveal, the agency’s goal has generally been to reunite the twins with their father, and the courts have concurred. He receives their social-security and other subsidies.
Attorney Freking wondered if the situation would have played out similarly if Eby had committed the abuse. LaMere has an answer, and it’s simple: No. He said that Eby’s situation is emblematic of the double standard Yellowbank described. Indian parents are expected to leap enormous hurdles to keep their kids—with no second chances and no benefit of the doubt, said LaMere.
“It does appear that Audre’y and her ex-husband aren’t on equal footing in terms of Iowa DHS recommendations to the courts,” said Freking.
One of Audre’y Eby’s twin sons, who has cerebral palsy, receives stitches in an Iowa emergency room. The 16-year-old and his twin brother live with their father and his girlfriend. According to court records, the girlfriend sent the teen shopping alone in his wheelchair. He got lost and tipped off a curb, gashing his forehead. The incident resulted in one of several abuse and neglect findings for the father and his girlfriend. (Courtesy Audre'y Eby)
One of Audre’y Eby’s twin sons, who has cerebral palsy, receives stitches in an Iowa emergency room. The 16-year-old and his twin brother live with their father and his girlfriend. According to court records, the girlfriend sent the teen shopping alone in his wheelchair. He got lost and tipped off a curb, gashing his forehead. The incident resulted in one of several abuse and neglect findings for the father and his girlfriend. (Courtesy Audre'y Eby)


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