Marlena Olivas was already missing one child.
The young mother says the reason two of her children were taken away from her by county authorities in January is because they did not believe she had adequate housing. (County officials refused to talk about the case, citing privacy laws.)
The elder of the two children, 2-year-old Everlyse, was placed in foster care in the home of Manuel and Vilma Carrascal, in North Las Vegas. Everlyse has been missing since June 10. The Carrascals initially told police that the missing girl stood on a stool, unlocked the front door, and walked away from the house. But North Las Vegas police say the Carrascals are no longer cooperating with their investigation into the toddler’s disappearance.
Marlena Olivas is still being kept apart from her 1-year-old. In fact, she says, she first came into contact with county child welfare officials when that son was born. Both she and the child tested positive for marijuana at the time, she says.
Both parents -- Ms. Olivas and her husband, Ernest Cabrera -- were ordered to take a drug treatment class. (Again, county officials would not say whether that was ordered by a judge, or merely by non-elected bureaucrats as a condition of getting back any remaining children which the county may have managed not to lose, at that point.)
Ms. Olivas admits she didn’t complete the classes. But she says she wasn’t warned that as a result, county officials would deem it appropriate to do what they did on July 6.
Marlena Olivas gave birth to a new baby at University Medical Center on July 5. Born three weeks premature, the infant weighed five pounds, 11 ounces, and was drug free. “I’m clean and sober,” the mother says. “The baby is clean. They (the hospital staff) let me know that me and the baby are totally healthy.”
Yet when Marlena Olivas went to leave the hospital with her baby the next day, authorities took the newborn out of her arms and made him a ward of the county.
“This is my newborn they have taken,” Olivas said on Friday. “They lost my daughter and now they are telling me it’s justified to take my baby?”
Actually, it’s not. When “drug classes” are assigned as a condition of probation or a suspended sentence, a judge can of course reimpose the initial sentence for a failure to complete such a “diversion” program. But such court proceedings feature due process and a presumption of innocence; a jail sentence for being a first-time marijuana user and bearing a child would be unusual, to say the least.
“Seizing your children” as punishment for almost any crime, short of violent and life-threatening child abuse, verges on a textbook illustration of “cruel and unusual punishment” -- all the more so, since it punishes the innocent child by depriving him of the most concerned and nurturing caretaker available, especially if the child is thus deprived of his own mother’s milk.
Pot ingested in the womb or through mother’s milk may indeed be bad for infants -- but so are alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. If the Legislature really meant to make “having all your children taken away” a statutory punishment for the crime of pot smoking -- or for the crime of being poor and having “inadequate housing” -- we’d like to see the statute. As would, we hope, the Supreme Court.
And if you think seizing poor newborns who test positive for alcohol or nicotine won’t soon follow -- just wait.
County authorities will presumably claim “We’re just doing what’s best for the children.” Given Everlyse’s fate (we all continue to hope for the best, but any rookie detective can tell you that prospects dim with the passage of time), and how carefully child “welfare” workers chose where she would be placed, that rings hollow.
In fact, statistics show children are far more likely to die, be injured, or suffer abuse in foster care than when left with their birth parents -- even in such extreme cases as the children of crack cocaine users -- according to Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, who contributed an Oped, “Too many Nevada kids taken from parents,” in the Opinion section of the July 9 Review-Journal.
Nevada seizes children at twice the national average -- at three to five times the rate of the states that do best at keeping kids safe -- wrote Mr. Wexler and local law school professor Annette Appell.
Children do not belong to the state. Mothers with drug problems should be offered help -- by private charities, govenrment has no role here -- preferably designed to make it easier to keep and care for their children while they are under treatment. Or do we really want to drive women in labor away from appropriate medical care for fear of having their babies seized?
That editorial brought a quick letter from one of our local “child welfare” workers (I run letters as received):
“In answer to today’s editorial, as a longtime Nevada State Welfare worker let me tell you why we take babies from addicted parents. Some time ago we had custody of a newborn who mother was to have gone to counseling and did not. The mother went to court to regain custody. I personally went to court to show why this would not be wise. Judge Addelar Guy decided all babies should be with their mothers. Not so. Within weeks the current livein boyfriend took this tiny baby by its heels, whacking it into their front room wall and crushing its little head like an eggshell. I have never fully recovered from the feeling of helplessness.
“Does no one but me realize this current mother has had 3 children in 3 years without the ability to care for them? The County or City (the taxpayers) are paying for her lodgings. It IS a tragedy that the two-year old is missing and I’m sure Nevada State Welfare or County Welfare workers are more concerned than anyone as to her location. These cases are extremely difficult and Welfare people do their best to provide safety, often having to follow court decisions. They certainly do not need the local newspaper bashing them also as they continue trying to protect children and make decisions that affect the future of these children in an extremely overcrowded situation.”
Thus endeth today’s lesson from our “public servants.”
Medically, addictiveness is established through two factors: tolerance, and withdrawal. Dr. Andrew Weil is an M.D. and an expert on pharmacology and addiction. He has written books on the subject and taught Addiction Studies at the U of A in Tucson. Dr. Weil places marijuana far BELOW cigarettes in its capacity to cause “addiction.”
Yet this bureaucrat -- who doesn’t reveal where she took HER degres in medicine or pharmacology -- believes she can seize the children of a woman who once tested positive for marijuana use (but no longer does), apparently without consulting any doctor or judge, by the simple expedient of diagnosing her as an “addicted parent.”
Addicts can quit. But how shall we cure Chronic Assholism?
Also note the confirmation of what we figured -- that Marlena Olivas’ children have been taken away from her, in part, because she’s poor: (“Does no one but me realize this current mother has had 3 children in 3 years without the ability to care for them?”)
True, taxpayers should not have to pay for this married woman’s lodgings. (If she needs aid, that’s what private charities are for.) Can we thus take it the writer favors closing down that welfare-state program? So what’s her proposal? Use a dart gun to shoot up Marlena Olivas with birth control hormones, like a wild horse?
How much do we have to earn to prevent this character from stealing our children? Can we get that in writing?