Justina Pelletier

Recently, I’ve been hearing from people urging me to take action to free Justina Pelletier from the custody of the Department of Children and Families and send her back to her parents. See the sample emails further below.

I’m certainly troubled by the story of Justina. It is always deeply saddening when DCF takes children away from their parents. However, it’s terribly important to remember that most of the recent complaints about DCF have involved cases where DCF failed to take a child away from abusive parents. I don’t feel that I know better than the judges, doctors, lawyers and social workers actually involved in the Pelletier case.

The sad truth is this: The Department of Children and Families is on the front lines dealing with the most difficult family situations in our society. They may be right, they may be wrong, but no matter how well they do their job, they will often inspire anger and occasionally do harm.

It’s a tough job. The agency is currently having a terrible time recruiting social workers willing to endure the criticism. They actually have many fewer applicants than they do vacancies right now.

The agency is getting plenty of oversight now from a whole host of directions — the Secretary of Health and Human Services has initiated a top to bottom review, the legislature is holding hearings.

And we all recognize we need to address the situation with more resources. The Governor has proposed to increase the agency’s funding, including $9.2 million for “capacity building” in his FY15 budget.

I do not sit on the legislature’s Committee on Children and Families. I feel that were I to plunge into the Pelletier controversy I would be out of my depth. I also feel that I might be piling on to an agency that needs more help not more criticism. Maybe I am missing something.

Some of the communications that I’ve received appear below. I always appreciate hearing from people and welcome additional communication on the issue.

Imagine if Justina was your daughter…
“Bottom line is, my daughter’s life is now at stake.” Lou Pelletier.

I am writing to ask you to support the resolution to release Justina Pelletier from DCF custody in Massachusetts. This is a deeply concerning situation that deserves swift action.

Please take the time to investigate this matter and offer your support. Additional co-sponsors are being accepted until Monday.

Thank you for your time.

As a parent living in your district, I hope that you are behind the effort to have hearings into the practices of the DCF and the Pelletier case in particular.

As a child welfare social worker, I am deeply concerned about the handling of Justina Pelletier’s case by DCF. I am writing to ask that you support the resolution to release Justina from DCF custody given that she has been traumatically separated from her family for the past year over nothing more than a dispute between doctors over her medical care. The fact that her health has substantially declined in DCF care though she was thriving under the care of her former physician and parents is evidence that DCF has made a gigantic mistep. Representative Lombardo is accepting additional co-sponsors of this resolution until Monday. Thank you for your time and dedication to ensuring this child’s suffering ends in DCF care.

According to the article below, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families is actively engaged in depriving the freedom and opportunity for medical services to a fifteen year old girl named Justina Pelletier.

The Boston Globe has concluded that “Justina (Pelletier) spent about a year in the locked psychiatric ward at Boston Children’s Hospital despite the objections of her parents and in conflict with a diagnosis from Tufts Medical Center doctors that the teen suffered from mitochondrial disorder…. Lou Pelletier said he and his wife have been only allowed to see their daughter on one-hour weekly supervised visits, first while she was in therapy at Boston Children’s psychiatric ward Bader 5, then at a residential treatment center in Framingham, Mass. They say her condition has deteriorated because the hospital has stopped all medical treatment for mitochondrial disease.”

Please let me get this straight. If two board-certified medical doctors disagree about the appropriate medical treatment of a child like Justina Pelletier, then the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families considers itself both authorized and sufficiently expert to side with one set of doctors and forcibly remove that child from the custody and protection of her parents and to commit her to a locked psychiatric ward for multiple years.

I would like to understand the ethical standards that permit this action and how it differs from the dictatorial and fascistic actions once prevalent in Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany and the current totalitarian government in control of North Korea. These actions, combined with the oppressive attempts to hinder public knowledge about them via a court directed “gag-order” on her parents, are very concerning and, in my opinion, need to be investigated at the federal level.

I am a resident of the Commonwealth with great concern over the year long battle for the custody of Justina Pelletier, resident of CT. Please Join Rep. Lyons, and Rep. Lombardo in a resolution to this unusual and disturbing case. Here is a link to recent news stories regarding this case currently before Judge Johnson, and involving our already embattled DCF system. http://foxct.com/local-news/investigations/stories/hospital-holds-west-hartford-girl-for-9-months/

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

4 replies on “Justina Pelletier”

  1. Will,
    I think your approach to this complicated case is thoughtful and wise. I would imagine that much is known to those in charge on both sides of the case that is not known to the public, and in the world of medicine, given the strength of current privacy laws, this decision is best left to those who are privy to the full range of facts.

    Lizzie de Rham

  2. A hopefully useful article on this subject: http://cognoscenti.wbur.org/2014/03/27/rare-disease-laurie-edwards

    If the details this article highlights are true, it seems that she was taken away from her parents because her parents went along with the diagnosis offered by a different set of licensed doctors.

    I’ve had some amount of experience dealing with doctors and a problem they couldn’t diagnose. Often times, their reaction to a mystery is to order more tests and try more treatments (i.e. drugs), and that’s fully understandable. However, to take a child away from her parents because those parents trusted a set of doctors is horrifying.

    I hope there’s more to this story, but WBUR is usually one of the more accurate news sources out there.

  3. You lost my faith when you backed off claiming the judges know better. We all had the statements from the judge and DCF at the time. She’s back home and you were one of numerous politicians to step back and let DCF not work, as it is wont to do. This girl could die from the complications caused by her mistreatment under DCF abuse. Lucky she didn’t, but that’s not to say she won’t from the inflicted abuse in DCF care. One infection could put her over the edge, from what I understand.
    Is there anything you can say now, that MA has effectively stepped back and let them free?
    Is there any thing you can say to make me think you are not just like Martha Coakley defending her stance on Fells Acre?
    Will, you have sat pretty while the famously bungled bureaucracy has decimated a girl. Speak, please, let me think I can vote for you again. Or not. As a voter, I heard the news night after night, one child dead, another child missing, nobody to steer the ship, the governor so cheerfully declaring that just because the head of DCF was incompetent “doesn’t mean we should fire her, she’s a nice person” and this, in the same department. I know of so many more cases than that. Seriously, you just sat on your hands, thinking about the future of energy.
    I have always thought of you as somewhat a renaissance man, interested in many topics, terminally curious with a capable and absorbent mind. I want to know you can at least witness this one area of the world that is not in your favorite realm, because kids are in every single precinct. Kids care is in every single precinct. DCF is part of your business, too.
    So please, now that this is cast off from the commonwealth, can you say something?

  4. Hi Kirstin, I understand your concern. The whole story is, indeed, troubling.

    I do feel that there is a big difference between (a) cases where DCF neglects a situation and (b) cases where DCF is devoting enormous resources to an issue but we question with how DCF handles the situation.

    Most of the cases we’ve read about have been the first kind of case — neglect cases — unmonitored fax machines, scheduled visits not completed, . . . children dying as a result. I’ve been very concerned to provide DCF with the resources to better monitor difficult family situations and we’ve done that in the Senate budget and expect the House to buy in to that in the conference process. Hopefully, we’ll see some measurable improvement as a result, but I expect it will take years of effort to really strengthen that organization.

    On the other hand, when the DCF is working hard on a case, when many qualified lawyers, doctors and social workers are already working on a case, when the case is before a judge, I’m humble enough to recognize that I probably don’t know anything they don’t know already. And, by the way, were I really to jump-in, I’d probably get in trouble for interfering with a court case. The Pelletier case is clearly in that category.

    On a different subject, I hope you saw the Globe’s coverage of my efforts to better protect children from sexual abuse.

    All best,


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