Another legal kidnapping in Arlington
By: Barbara Hollingsworth
February 8, 2009 On January 4, WRC-TV’s Barbara Harrison featured Arlington social worker Jenna Duffy and one of her young charges, 11-year-old foster child Moses Washington, on the station’s long-running “Wednesday’s Child” feature. Moses said his “big hope” was to find a permanent home.
Viewers had no idea that Moses had been taken away from his mother on unsubstantiated charges of medical neglect. Or that the same cast of characters who snatched Sabrina Slytor from her parents – even though they had previously been cleared of wrongdoing – were involved in Moses’ case as well.
In February 2005, Banita Washington was forced out of her Arlington apartment without being told why. In a court affadavit, Duffy claimed the then full-time Lockheed Martin employee was “evicted from her Section 8 apartment for failure to pay.”
But a rent history obtained by The Washington Examiner showed regular payments and no outstanding balance when the family vacated the unit. After staying with friends and relatives and exhausting her savings at a Quality Inn near her two youngest children’s schools, Washington finally moved into an Arlington homeless shelter to regroup.
She was still scrambling to find a new place to live when Evelyn Fernandez, assistant principal at Key Elementary School, called her at work on Oct. 25, 2005 with more bad news. Eight-year-old Moses, who suffered from respiratory problems since he was two, was having difficulty breathing. She would have to pick him up and take him home.
After questioning Fernandez, Washington says she concluded that Moses’ symptoms were serious enough to call an ambulance, and said she would meet him at the hospital instead.
Her sister, Vanessa, confirms that Banita called her asking for a ride. But Vanessa had a meeting that morning and could not leave work. She also described Washington as an indulgent parent who was “overly protective of Moses – he was spoiled rotten.”
Donna, a former co-worker, sat two cubicles down from Washington – who would often brag about her kids when the two women ate lunch together. She had no idea the family was living in a homeless shelter. “I was really surprised,” she told me. “I didn’t know she was going through all this stuff.”
That morning, she overheard Washington saying to somebody on the phone: “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m coming to get my son.” and “Did you try his nebulizer?” Washington asked to borrow cab fare, but Donna didn’t have much cash.
She left immediately after another co-worker gave her some money. “She was rushing to get there. She seemed concerned and stressed.” A patient advocate at Georgetown Hospital later refused to accept Washington’s apology for being curt with the staff when Moses was admitted.
But by the time Moses was discharged on Nov. 3, 2005, Tammee Gaymon of Arlington Child Protective Services had convinced Judge Esther Wiggins Lyles that Moses would be “subjected to an imminent threat to life or health” if he was released to his mother. So he was discharged in her custody and Duffy, a foster care/adoption worker, was assigned to his case.
Like Sabrina’s mom, Washington was forced to undergo a psychological evaluation at the Multicultural Center and jump through numerous legal hoops in the hopes that she would get to see her son.
Sharon Gustafson, the same guardian-ad-litem who was supposed to look out for Sabrina’s best interests, was assigned to do the same for Moses. But she didn’t intervene when Duffy informed his mother that although he had been “distraught” during his first year in foster care, he was now in a “place of relative calm” – so any further contact would not be permitted.
The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires states to document reasonable efforts to place a child with a relative or guardian, but Washington’s cousin – a psychotherapist who works with children – told me she never received a reply to her offer to take in Moses and his sister Te’Ayra until Washington could get back on her feet.
On June 26, 2007 – less than a month after Judge James Almand terminated the parental rights of Sabrina’s parents – he did the same to Moses’ mother as well. She still keeps a room for him decorated in a Nationals theme just in case a miracle happens.
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Washington Examiner’s local opinion editor. She can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.