by Health Impact News/MedicalKidnap.com Staff
In a dramatic turn of events, Michigan twins Abbie and Alexis Odonnell have been returned home to their family.
In July, the family court told the teens’ family that they were considering sending them to a facility in Boystown, Nebraska, and their family feared for their safety. (See story here .) All contact had been cut off between the twins and their mother Laura Odonnell, and there was a difficult 6 week period when Laura had no word about the twins at all. The situation looked hopeless.
But now the girls are home.
Laura reports that, out of the blue, she got a phone call telling her that the girls were not doing well, and that the state was going to release Abbie and Alexis from CPS custody and send them home. Alexis came home on August 16, and her twin was released the next day. Their older sister Alyssa had already been coming home for some visits by this point, and she was released from CPS 4 days after she turned 18 on September 2.
Nothing prepared Laura for the condition that her twins were in when they were returned to her.
When the state seized custody of the girls following an incident where the twins admitted to smoking a joint, the girls were all healthy. The twins were involved in cheerleading, gymnastics, and swimming. There were no health concerns at all.
Now, the twins have suffered permanent damage to their health. Abbie has developed anorexia, and Alexis has bulimia – serious eating disorders that are often triggered by trauma. The twins came home with numerous bruises and cuts all over their bodies.
It has taken some time for Health Impact News to be able to cover the story of their homecoming, because the girls have been in and out of hospitals and emergency rooms since they have been home. Numerous interviews have been scheduled and postponed because one or the other or both twins had to be taken back to the emergency room.
The family is thankful that the girls are finally home. However, it has not been smooth sailing. Laura has expressed frustration that by the time the state sent Abbie and Alexis home, their health had deteriorated quite severely. She has been working hard since then to get them well. She wishes that the state had not waited so long. Some of the damage to their health is permanent.
The system did not help my kids at all. What was the point of them being there? They were HEALTHY when the state took them.
Their mother believes that the girls had completely lost hope. They had been told that the state was considering terminating Laura’s parental rights, and that they wanted to send them away to a facility in Boystown, Nebraska. In July, probation officer Amy Bennett petitioned the judge for all visits with their mother to cease, and a “no contact” order was issued. She did not see or speak with Abbie or Alexis for 6 long weeks, and no one in the system would tell her how her daughters were doing. Meanwhile, she had regular overnight visits with her older daughter Alyssa.
During that time period, Tammi Stefano, executive director of National Safe Child, spoke with a supervisor with Michigan CPS about the Odonnell children (see link ). The supervisor assured Tammi that they were monitoring the twins’ health and that they were “absolutely” OK, and that the twins had the tools that they needed to do the meal planning appropriate for their eating disorders. This claim was made despite the fact that they were in a lockdown facility with workers who had no training in eating disorders.
Laura had no idea that Abbie had regressed into her anorexia. During her final 6 weeks in state care, Abbie lost 12 lbs.
Despite the assertion by the CPS supervisor, the twins were apparently not doing well at all.
Home! And Straight to the Emergency Room
On Abbie’s very first night back home, her heart rate was so low that she had to be taken to the E.R. Both girls had contracted an infection in the detention center. Alexis says that she had told workers at the center about it, but they were unconcerned. After they were home, doctors quickly realized that the infection was life-threatening. They spent most of their first week home in and out of the hospital due to the infection.
The girls have inflammation and damage to their esophagus and gastrointestinal tract. They experience periods of fainting, as well as low blood pressure and low blood sugar. Testing shows that there is damage to Abbie’s heart. Both twins came home anemic.
Since they have been home, Abbie has spent a total of 19 days in the hospital, primarily for bradycardia resulting from the anorexia. She has been admitted twice to the hospital.
Alexis has also made several trips to the emergency room as well. Bulimia has taken a toll on her body. When they came home, Alexis was on 13 different psychotropic medications. She has now been weaned off of the drugs.
Gaps in Medical Coverage
Despite the many health concerns, the girls were left without medical coverage for most of their issues. Before they were taken by the state, they had full-coverage with Medicaid. Because they went into the juvenile system, they have what one social worker termed “jail Medicaid,” which only covers emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Therefore, they cannot simply visit a doctor when there are problems; they are forced to go to the emergency room.
The current plan leaves huge gaps in their coverage. Laura hopes that they will close the girls’ juvenile case soon. Then, she should be able to get full Medicaid coverage. Until then, she has to scramble to get the twins care for the harm that came to them while they were in Michigan state custody.
Emotional Trauma from Being Away from Home
The twins were traumatized in state custody. The love and nurture of their family is helping them, but they are experiencing what many families have reported to Health Impact News. It is not all sunshine and roses when children come back home after being seized from their families. It is a sometimes long and arduous process to emotional wholeness. Children, whether separated for a matter of hours or for several years, suffer trauma because of that separation. Rarely are these stories “happy ever after,” even when they have a good ending.
This is an indictment on the “just in case” approach often used by social workers and judges, where they seize children before gathering adequate evidence. That theory reassures the workers that they are doing a good thing and exercising caution “in the best interest of the child.” The experience of many innocent families who have to work to help their children put their lives back together shows that this is not, in fact, in the best interest of the children at all. Even a few hours or days of foster care can cause damage that can take months or years to heal.
Alexis, who spent more time than her sister in Wolverine detention center, suffered from nightmares when she first got home. The girls are only just now sleeping without the light on.
Girls Behind in School
Alexis missed an entire year of school while in state care, and Abbie missed two years. They will now have to play catch-up and plan to do homebound school. Under Michigan state law, they don’t qualify to do online schooling, since the state issued IEPs on them. Individualized Educational Plans are designed so that states can get federal funding for children with disabilities. The girls were never considered disabled before they entered state custody, but, as many families have reported to Health Impact News, often their children are labeled disabled once they enter the system, allegedly so that the state can “maximize funding” on the children. The IEP on Abbie was requested, and granted, by Wolverine detention center after Abbie was no longer there.
Even though they are identical twins, they are no longer in the same grade.
Their older sister Alyssa was able to remain in school during her time in foster care. Laura is proud of the fact that she maintained a 4.0 average. (She notes that Alyssa was not under probation officer Amy Bennett’s authority, as the twins were.)
However, Alyssa is now missing the first semester of her senior year due to issues with CPS. Her father flew to Michigan from Hawaii to pick her up during the summer according to an agreed-upon plan. When he arrived, the department told him that they didn’t have the paperwork ready. The paperwork was not ready until right at the beginning of the school year for Michigan, just after Alyssa turned 18. When she finally arrived in Hawaii, she had already missed too much of the school year, because they started in August. She cannot enroll until next semester, which means she will not graduate on time unless they can figure out a way to make up the credits.
Some members of the family believe that the state kept Alyssa in the system as long as they possibly could in order to get the maximum federal funds for her. They also believe that they finally released the twins from CPS custody when it became clear that their health was so poor that it would cost the state more to care for them than to let them go. (Note: the CPS case is closed, but the juvenile court case is still open.)
Still Not Completely Free
When the twins were returned home, they were due to be on a day/night watch program as part of their probation. Probation officer Amy Bennett had long been determined to make them serve a full 12 month sentence for their crime – they had run away from an abusive foster home. Many times Bennett made it clear to the family that the girls were not going to “get out of” their sentence by getting sick and throwing up.
At some point after the court hearing in July, Bennett was removed from the case. Laura started dealing directly with the probation director, who seems to be more reasonable.
The probation program severely restricted the family’s freedom. The twins were to stay at home 24/7 unless they had received prior permission to leave for doctor’s appointments and such. They were assigned a curfew. The night watch program means that workers come by at all hours of the night, and the girls must come to the door and show that they are home, even if it is 4:00 in the morning.
They still did not have the freedom to go hang out with friends or go to the mall. They were frustrated, and told the workers that they just wanted to be normal teenagers again and have a normal life. They had already lost the past 2 years of their lives.
This lack of freedom caused a great deal of anxiety. Triggers still lurk around many corners. A simple trip to the day watch facility resulted in a meltdown, when one of the girls simply walked into the restroom. Something triggered a traumatic memory. Fortunately, the probation director recognized the event as trauma and didn’t attempt to punish her further. They have slowly been giving the girls more freedom during the day, even though the night watch program remains.
This appears to be helping. The twins are beginning to show signs of improvement. Because of the severity of the eating disorder, their mother must monitor them after each meal to make sure that they don’t purge. They have meal plans to follow. In the past few days, they have been keeping down more meals, where previously every meal was coming back up, especially for Abbie. The vomiting had become so bad that it was involuntary.
Laura has done a great deal of research on their eating disorders. The nature of anorexia and bulimia is such that they cannot get past it without help. It is not something that people “get over” and stop on their own.
Amy Bennett had allegedly told her and the twins that they were simply being manipulative so that they could be together, and so that they could go home. Laura has learned that anorexia and bulimia often arise out of trauma. They become coping mechanisms for dealing with the trauma, and, if not addressed early on, can become habitual and very difficult to overcome. Her daughters certainly experienced trauma in juvenile detention and foster care, where excessive punishments seem to be the norm. Separation of twins in and of itself can be quite traumatic.
Laura has searched high and low to get them into a residential eating disorders facility, but has not found one in her state. She has, however, found a group of doctors who specialize in treating the disorders, and they are working together.
Last week, after a consultation with the doctors, Abbie was admitted to the hospital again because her heart rate was so low. This was her second hospital admission since coming home August 17. There were some apparent triggers as she was admitted into the hospital, and she began having a meltdown. This time, however, the eating disorder specialist recognized the meltdown for what it was. Instead of punishing her, she worked to reassure her and calm her down.
Laura believes that neither Abbie’s nor Alexis’ behavior in the past couple of years has been the result of rebellion; it was the cry of kids who were emotionally wounded and traumatized after being removed from her care by the state. Having an adult authority understand that, who chose not to punish Abbie for hurting, has made a significant difference. Having some freedom to act like normal teenagers is helping. The girls are showing positive signs of beginning to work through their problems.
Advocates Made a Difference
Health Impact News first learned of the family when this heartbreaking photo reached us, showing Abbie near death from anorexia. The 5’9″ teen weighed only 103 lbs, and her heart rate and blood pressure were dangerously low.
See original story:
Activists all over the country got involved, calling and writing legislators, sharing their story, and praying. By April, Abbie had been placed into an eating disorders clinic in Ohio and her health was improving.
But Alexis appeared to the court to be in shocking condition. Her hair was falling out and she had sores on her hands from the bulimia and causing herself to throw up. Her blood sugar was dangerously low. Abbie recorded a video asking for the public to help her twin as they had helped her.
It has been a long and difficult journey. Now the Odonnell girls are finally home. The family wants to thank everyone who has called legislators, written letters, prayed, or worked to bring their children home.
Being away from everyone that they loved has changed them forever, and they have lost much. It will be a process to recovery, just as it is for every child who is returned to their family after being legally or medically kidnapped.
At one point last week, Laura reported that she felt that people expected the girls to automatically be fine once they got home, and that something was wrong with her as a mother if the girls had any struggles.
But their family was broken by the system. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, but with love and support, their family is hopeful that their health will improve. They are thankful to finally be together as a family again.
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