by Health Impact News/MedicalKidnap.com Staff
Matthew Marble was not even in the state when his 10 month old daughter was hospitalized for abuse. Little Hailey was in the care of her mother and her mother’s boyfriend when someone smashed her head into a table.
The head injury left her with cerebral palsy, and, due to the alleged actions of Tennessee social workers, the incident left her without her father.
Matthew, who is disabled himself, has been fighting to get his daughter ever since that fateful day in June 2013. His parental rights have been severed by the state of Tennessee, primarily due to his disabilities, but he and his attorney Connie Reguli hope to reverse that decision and have filed a lawsuit against the state for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Matthew is not alone in his fight. His family has been by his side throughout the whole ordeal. His aunt Bobbi Dubois contacted Health Impact News to ask for help in telling their story. Bobbi and her husband Will, Jr., have been willing to take care of Hailey and facilitate the relationship between father and daughter, but they have allegedly been blocked by Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) at every turn. The Dubois are certainly well qualified – they have long been advocates for others, and have even been asked by their own state to take in disabled children.
Because of his disabilities, Matthew has never claimed that he could parent alone, but he just wants the opportunity to be a part of his little girl’s life. However, DCS set up a permanency plan for him which, according to Reguli, was “discriminatory and failed to accommodate his limitations.”
This story is about a father’s right to parent his child. He loves his daughter, and he did nothing wrong. He was not involved in the abuse that happened when she was in her mother’s care. DCS knows that, but still they have kept him from his daughter and have demonstrated that they prefer that she live with strangers rather than her own family.
Baby Conceived; Father Takes Responsibility
Matthew Marble and Aren Stuber met and began dating in high school. Aren became pregnant, and Matthew made it clear that he wanted to be a part of his child’s life. Before the baby was born, the couple broke up and Aren moved with her mother to Tennessee. Even so, Matthew wanted to be there for his child, and he went to Tennessee for Hailey’s birth on August 8, 2012. At that time, he had turned 18, and Aren was 16.
Since his daughter’s birth, Matthew made several trips from Michigan to Tennessee to spend time with his new daughter. Aren also made about 3 trips to Michigan to leave the baby with Matthew and his family for visits. He sent money to help support his child. Despite the fact that Hailey’s parents lived in different states many miles apart, she had a relationship with both parents and their families.
When Hailey was about 6 months old, Matthew went to Tennessee to file for joint custody of his daughter. The court reportedly told him that he should start off with filing for legal visitation rights, which he did. A hearing was set for July 3.
Horrified Father Learns His Baby Was Allegedly Abused In Mother’s Care
Just before that hearing, everything changed. Aren and her current boyfriend were involved with partying and drugs, and, according to court documents, “left her 10-month-old baby without proper supervision.” At some point during the party, Hailey’s head was smashed on a coffee table, and her mother was reportedly passed out from drugs. Aren’s mother was allegedly involved as well in Aren’s having access to drugs.
Hailey was subsequently hospitalized at Vanderbilt hospital, where she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. DCF understandably became involved because this was a case of severe abuse.
Meanwhile, a relative of Aren’s reportedly sent a message to Matthew and his family to get to Tennessee right away because there was an abuse allegation and Hailey was being taken from her mother and placed into foster care. Matthew’s aunt Bobbi told Health Impact News:
Nobody at that point actually knew what was going on, but it wasn’t good.
Matthew, his mother Kimberly Trackwell, and the whole family made a beeline to Tennessee to be there for Hailey. They were devastated that Hailey had been hurt. Because Matthew was the child’s father, both legally and biologically, he should have been able to go straight to her and take her home with him. But DCF had different ideas. Though court records indicate that they were well aware that Matthew was Hailey’s father, they had already picked out a home for her with complete strangers to the family.
The Guardian ad litem, Virginia Tomkins, said that the only way that Matthew and his family could even see the baby was for everyone, including a minor cousin, to a drug test. Everyone was clean, but still, the GAL allegedly refused to allow them to see Hailey.
Aren was charged with and pled guilty to severe child abuse, but neither her boyfriend or her mother were ever charged. Because Aren was still a minor at age 17 at the time, she was placed into foster care. She has since aged out. In November 2014, she voluntarily gave up her parental rights to her baby, but she and her family have reportedly been allowed visitation, as evidenced by photos and posts on Facebook.
DCS Stacks Deck Against Disabled Father
However, it is a different story with Matthew Marble and his family, who currently have no visitation rights, even though they had nothing to do with Hailey’s abuse. In fact, according to court documents:
The father was never alleged to have been a risk of harm to his daughter.
Matthew is a sweet guy with a ready smile – the kind of person that people are immediately drawn to. According to his aunt, “everybody loves Matthew.” At the same time, it is apparent that something is not quite right.
Matthew suffers from several cognitive and physical disorders, and DCS was made aware of these from the beginning. When he was in 3rd grade, he was hit in the face with a soccer ball and was knocked out when he fell backward onto a block of ice. Since that time, he has suffered from a seizure disorder. He is partially blind in one eye, and he suffers from chronic knee pain from a disorder which caused one leg to grow faster than the other. He was fully vaccinated as a child, and these symptoms are possibly related to vaccine injury.
DCS social workers argued that Matthew’s seizure disorder affected “his ability to be the sole parent.” At the same time, they created a permanency plan for Matthew that he was not capable of meeting. Connie Reguli is his current attorney who was hired after his court-appointed attorney was fired for inadequate representation. She states that:
DCS knowingly gave [Matthew] objectives beyond his capabilities.
According to Reguli, “Under the ADA and Section 504, programs and services must be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.” A disability is anything that interferes with daily activities, and Connie says, “the state must make accommodations.”
But the permanency plan that Matthew was ordered to complete before getting his own child included demands to:
- pay child support
- obtain and maintain suitable housing for six months
- demonstrate payment for food and utilities on time
- provide documents for proof of income, including pay stubs
Matthew has the full support of his family and resides with his family in Michigan. He has obtained jobs, but his disabilities, as well as multiple trips to Tennessee, have hindered his ability to meet these requirements. He completed the requisite parenting classes and assessments, signed medical release forms, and submitted to random drug screens, which were all clean.
DCS terminated his rights to his child in April 2015 based on his lack of employment and dependence upon his family for housing. He was accused of “abandonment for failure to remit support,” and of “substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans.”
In a twist of irony, or excellent work by an attorney, a former DCF supervisor involved with the case met with attorney Connie Reguli for depositions on April 4, 2017, where Lois Gregory assured Reguli that many of these very demands “would not be a requirement of any permanency plan.” But they were for Matthew Marble, even with his disabilities which made those requirements unattainable for him.
Reguli also says that they learned for the first time about secret meetings between DCS staff, behind closed doors, without any representation from the families whose lives are being decided in the meetings.
Hailey Considered Special Needs, Loves Her Father
After Hailey was placed into foster care in June of 2012, Matthew and his family were not able to see Hailey even once until September of that year. They were then able to have some visitation, for the time period until Matthew’s parental rights were terminated.
Because of the abuse, Hailey is now considered “special needs.” She has cerebral palsy, but her doctor has said that it is mild and is not likely to get any worse. She also sometimes wears braces on her feet. Her cognitive abilities do not seem to be affected, and she is a bright, loving child who clearly loves her father. During the time that he was able to be in her life, Matthew testified:
She definitely understands I’m Dad, and she makes that well known when I walk into our visits because she’ll come up to me and she will give me a hug. And I’ll tell her I love her, and she says I love you. and then she’ll refer to me as Daddy or Dad.
Capable Family Placement Denied
Matthew’s Aunt Bobbi and Uncle Will DuBois, Jr., asked social worker Lindsey Kenyon in October about kinship placement. From the beginning, Kenyon made it clear that she wanted to keep Hailey in Tennessee and seemed to hinder the process of getting Hailey back to her family. She reportedly said she didn’t know what it would take for Bobbi to be eligible to care for Hailey.
Bobbi is a homeschool mom who has an Associates Degree in Special Education and has worked as an advocate for low-income families. Her husband builds vehicles for handicapped people. They have experience working with special needs. In fact, she says that Matthew’s family is full of teachers and nursing assistants – a family well-qualified to work with children with special needs.
When Bobbi got nowhere with Kenyon, she began researching what they would need to do to get an Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC), so that they could care for Hailey and assist Matthew in being a parent to his child. This arrangement would have been acceptable to the family and would have been in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bobbi found help with Felicia Harris in the Upper Cumberland DCS office, who explained that they would need to be certified in both Tennessee and Michigan. They started the process immediately and finished the process “in record time.” In fact, while they were qualifying to be foster parents in Michigan, they were asked to care for several special-needs children, which they did. They eventually adopted one of them. (Note: this was not a forced adoption. Bobbi made certain that the mother truly wanted to relinquish her rights to her child.)
All this was to no avail. By the time that Tennessee DCS stopped dragging their feet and this came before a judge, Connie Reguli says that DCS attorney Tracy Hetzel told the family court that it would be “barbaric” to send Hailey to live with relatives after she has been in foster care for so long. (See: “DCS Advocates for Foster Parents Over Relatives” by Connie Reguli)
This is in direct conflict with both Tennessee state law and federal guidelines, but as many of our families can testify, that seems to mean little to Child Protective Services. The family was heartbroken. Bobbi told Health Impact News:
We are OK to adopt others, but not our own niece! Our own flesh and blood!
The reason for this appears to be financial. Connie Reguli writes that under both state and federal guidelines:
…the state child welfare agency is required to place with a relative when the child cannot be returned to a parent. Kinship foster care is codified in Tennessee Title 37 and is also a requirement put down by the United States Department of Health and Human Services under Title IV E of the Social Security Act for any state child welfare agency receiving federal funds.
Foster Mother – “You Promised Me This Baby!”
Bobbi and the family witnessed a very disturbing display when they attended a preliminary hearing on November 7, 2013, more than 4 months after Hailey was removed and placed into foster care. According to court documents, the foster mother, through the Camelot Care foster care agency, turned to GAL Virginia Thompkins and said:
You promised me this baby!
Bobbi told us that she had tears in her eyes and was clearly not expecting the possibility of a family placement for her beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed niece. The GAL reportedly responded to the distraught foster mother:
I know, and we are going to win.
Hailey and other children are not prizes to be won; they are children belonging to their families. How can this kind of thinking exist, where strangers believe that they have a right to someone else’s child?
At this point, it appears that the foster parents, GAL, and social workers did win, but an appeal has been filed, as well as an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit in federal court. Hailey’s biological family is not giving up. Bobbi told us:
My nephew is so innocent. He just always wants to do the right thing. He would be such a great dad! All that he needs is an extra hand.
She says that DCS has stolen that from him for more than 3 years now.
Title IV-E Funding – the Root of Child Protective Services Corruption
In the documents filed by attorney Connie Reguli, the root of all this corruption – the stealing of children from loving parents – is spelled out:
Title IV-E funds are an unlimited source of funds for the child welfare state agency that are termed as a “use it or lose it” funding scheme. So long as states expend the monies granted to them, they are eligible to receive the same or more money for the following year.
However, these funds are only allocated for the financial support of the foster care system. A child can only qualify as a commodity in this funding scheme if the child is removed from the home by a State agency and placed in the foster care system. The funds are NOT available for family preservation or protecting the family unit prior to removal. Nor are they available to provide resources after the child has been returned to the parent.
The State of Tennessee [and many other states] is dependent upon securing Title IV-E funds to maintain its annual operating budget and the continued employment of its staff. Therefore, the State must keep the flow of children into the foster care system to continue to receive their federal funding benefits.
The end result creates a “quota” of children that must be removed from the care and custody of their parents. …
In addition, the State of Tennessee [and all other states] receives a bonus in the minimum amount of $4,000 (four thousand dollars) for each child they adopt out after terminating the rights of the parent. [Funds provided under the Clintons’ Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.]
This financial incentive is authorized under Section 473A of the Social Security Act and provides motivation for the agency to terminate the rights of parents instead of complying with the public policy of Tennessee which is to reunify the child with the parents.
How You Can Help
Governor Bill Haslam may be reached at (615) 741-2001, or contacted here.
Senator Mae Beavers represents the district where Hailey’s case is held. She may be reached at (615) 741-2421, or contacted here.
Representative Kelly Keisling represents their district. He may be reached at (615) 741-6852, or contacted here.
Two Congressmen have recently introduced bills to extend Tennessee DCS until 2021. (Source) Concerned citizens need to contact them and ask them to reconsider their position in light of the harm that comes to families through the Department of Children’s Services.
Senator Mike Bell introduced SB0068. He may be reached at (615) 741-1946, or contacted here.
Representative Jeremy Faison introduced the companion bill, HB0224. He may be reached at (615) 741-6871, or contacted here.
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