A Black Texas couple has been reunited with their newborn daughter after authorities removed the baby and placed her in foster care last month citing a doctor’s concerns about how they were treating a jaundice diagnosis.
Rodney and Temecia Jackson of DeSoto, Texas, regained custody of their daughter, Mila, on April 20 following a nearly month-long battle with the state’s Child Protective Services, according to The Afiya Center, a reproductive justice advocacy group.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services, which includes CPS, confirmed to CNN that the office had recommended a dismissal of the case to an assistant district attorney. Mila’s release was granted on Thursday, according to a court filing.
The removal, the Jacksons say, was sparked by their decision to let their midwife treat Mila’s jaundice instead of taking her to the hospital for care as their doctor had recommended. Temecia Jackson said during a news conference earlier this month that she gave birth to Mila at home on March 21 with the help of a midwife and wanted that same trusted midwife to provide medical care for her baby. But Mila’s pediatrician disagreed with this decision and ultimately contacted CPS, Temecia Jackson said.
“We’ve been treated like criminals,” Rodney Jackson said during the news conference. “This is a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
Separating Black parents from their children
Reproductive justice advocates say Mila’s removal is just the latest example of the criminalization of Black parents, who lose their children to the child welfare system at disproportionate rates. In the US in 2018, Black children made up 23% of youth in foster care, but only 14% of the nation’s child population, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Additionally, one study found that between 2003-2014, 53% of Black children were the subjects of child welfare investigations by the time they reached age 18.
Marsha Jones, executive director of The Afiya Center – a Dallas, Texas, based non-profit that advocates for Black women and girls – said there is a systemic problem with the child welfare system that unfairly targets Black parents. In many cases, Black families have their first experiences with the criminal justice system in family court, Jones said.
“It’s almost unspoken and unseen because there is just this thought that Black women are not good parents and that we are criminalized because of poverty,” Jones told CNN. “This is not new.”
Jones said the center stepped in last month to support the Jackson family and put pressure on public officials to return Mila home. She believes this played a role in reuniting the family last week.
“There’s no reason this baby should have been removed from her home,” Jones told CNN. “This family was not being heard. The Black midwife wasn’t being heard.”
Rodney and Temecia Jackson could not be reached for comment.
In a letter to CPS obtained by CNN affiliate WFAA, the family’s pediatrician, Dr. Anand Bhatt, who is with the Baylor Scott & White healthcare system, wrote that while the Jacksons “are very loving and they care dearly” about Mila, “their distrust for medical care and guidance has led them to make a decision for the baby to refuse a simple treatment that can prevent brain damage.”
“I authorized the support of CPS to help get this baby the care that was medically necessary and needed,” the letter continued.
CBS News, which obtained a copy of the affidavit filed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, reported that Bhatt reached out to a DFPS investigator on March 25 and indicated that Mila’s bililrubin test showed levels of 21.7 milligrams.
A bilirubin test can screen for jaundice and other conditions. That level was “cause for a lot of concern,” Bhatt told the investigator, according to CBS News, and could lead to brain damage, he said, “because the bilirubin can cross the blood brain barrier.”
Bhatt said he reserved a bed for Mila at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas and asked the Jacksons to take her there or he would call police for a welfare check, according to court documents obtained by CBS News. WFAA reported that Bhatt wanted Mila to receive phototherapy – a common treatment for jaundice.
But court documents, according to CBS News, say Rodney Jackson told Bhatt he and Temecia Jackson planned to treat their baby “naturally” and didn’t believe in “modern medicine.”
The midwife, Cheryl Edinbyrd, told CBS News the family had ordered a blanket and goggles to provide light therapy to treat Mila’s jaundice.
When the Jacksons didn’t show up at the hospital, a CPS investigator and police went to the Jackson’s home at 4 a.m. on March 25 but Rodney Jackson declined to speak with them, according to court documents obtained by CBS News. An hour later, authorities returned with an ambulance and fire truck and Rodney Jackson still denied them entry.
Authorities returned to the home on March 30 with a warrant and arrested Rodney Jackson on charges of preventing the execution of a civil process, according to CBS News. Police entered the home and took Mila from Temecia Jackson. According to CBS News, the Jacksons’ other two children were not removed.
Temecia Jackson said in a press conference that when she asked to see the affidavit, she noticed it had the name of a different mother on it.
“Instantly I felt like they had stolen my baby as I had had a home birth and they were trying to say that my baby belonged to this other woman,” Temecia Jackson.
Marissa Gonzales, a spokesperson from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said in an email to CNN that her department was given an incorrect name for the initial affidavit. The mistake, she said, was corrected in the case filings.
Gonzales declined an interview with CNN to discuss the case further, citing “state confidentiality restrictions.”
“It is always the goal of DFPS to safely reunite children with their parents,” Gonzales also said. “The decision about when that happens rests with the judge who ordered the removal.”
CNN’s request to interview Bhatt was also denied by Baylor Scott & White.
“In respect of patient privacy, it is inappropriate to provide comment on this matter,” the health system said in an emailed statement. “We do abide by reporting requirements set forth in the Texas Family Code and any other applicable laws.”
A biased system
Advocates say the racial bias of professionals such as teachers, doctors and social workers has created inequity in the child welfare system.
Dorothy Roberts, a law professor and sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said decisions to report neglect and abuse are largely shaped by racist stereotypes of Black families.
The child welfare system, she said, needs to consider the trauma inflicted on children when they are separated from their families.
“We have to ask whether there is a better way of addressing children’s medical needs instead of the system we have now where doctors are reporting suspicions, which we know is highly biased, and investigating families, which we know is very traumatic,” said Roberts, author of “Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families – and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World.” “Hospitals should not be places of fear for parents.”
Roberts said there is also a longstanding cultural conflict between the healthcare system and midwives who are often devalued. Black midwives provided care for mothers for hundreds of years, delivering the babies of enslaved women and even slave owners’ wives. But as medicine became more professionalized in the late 1800s, male doctors wanted to take control of childbirth, with some suggesting midwives were unfit, according to a report by Vox.
Monica Simpson, executive director of Sistersong, a reproductive justice organization advocating for women of color, said many Black women are choosing midwives because they have lost trust in doctors and hospitals.
Much of that is driven by the harrowing statistics: Black women are 2.6 times likelier to die of pregnancy-related complications than White women, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Black infants also die at more than twice the rate of White infants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Simpson said the child welfare system is broken. She said racism has played a part in the continued criminalization and separation of Black families.
“There’s been this narrative that Black women can’t parent their children properly,” Simpson said. “We have been battling these narratives for decades. The way that Black women are criminalized around their motherhood, it’s horrible.”