Whitney 3 brothers

“Adoptable” brothers Bentyn, Ethyn, and Kamdyn were taken from a disabled mother and are now cut off from all family members. Photo provided by family.

by Health Impact News/MedicalKidnap.com Staff

A grandmother is fighting to save 2 generations of her family from abuse by the state of Tennessee. Through no fault of her own, her family is being ripped apart, in a terrifying sequence of events that could happen to anyone.

She is afraid for 3 of her grandsons who were seized by Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) from their mentally disabled mother. They have suffered horrific abuse in foster care. Now the state is attempting to sever all family ties so that they can adopt them out to strangers.

She is also fearful for the life of her 33 year old daughter Tara, the boys’ mother, whose mental illness became much worse after the boys were taken. When they learned of the abuse of the boys in foster care, the sense of utter helplessness to protect them pushed her daughter over the edge.

The law provides for families to do what families do – for those members who are capable to step in and help other family members who are incapacitated in some way.

However, in this family’s case, the state seems determined to keep that from happening.

Violation of Civil Rights for Disabled Mom

Whitney and Tara

Whitney Manning (left) with her daughter Tara. Photo provided by family.

Whitney became conservator over her daughter’s affairs when Tara’s mental health declined to the point where she couldn’t take care of them on her own.

Tara has suffered from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD for many years. Since her children were taken, Tara has declined dramatically. She has now been diagnosed with psychosis and schizoaffective disorder.

There are provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that should have been followed by DCS but allegedly have not been followed in this case. Though it is documented that DCS has known about her mental illness from the beginning of their involvement, they have reportedly failed to address it.

Currently, she is not receiving any therapy, and Whitney is not being permitted to make medical decisions for Tara to ensure that she gets needed treatment.

The state refuses to allow Whitney to care for her own grandsons, even though she has custody of the boys’ little sister.

DCS social workers are now attempting to have Whitney removed as conservator altogether so that they can proceed with the termination of Tara’s parental rights and adopt out her 3 sons without Whitney’s input.

If they are successful, Whitney says she won’t know what they are doing to her grandsons or to her daughter. She will no longer have to be notified if Tara goes missing (as has happened before) or if they change her medications.

DCS wants the state to put a doctor in charge of Tara as conservator. What kind of things could happen to Tara then? Would she become a science experiment or lab rat? How would anyone know if her family were cut out of the picture?

Whitney Tara with boys

Tara with her 3 sons during a visit. Photo supplied by family.

Children Taken over Alleged Psychological Harm by Father

DCS first became involved with the family in October of 2010 after allegations of their father being abusive toward their mother. Ethyn (now 11) and Kamdyn (now 9) were toddlers at the time.

As soon as Whitney Manning was notified, she headed to Tennessee immediately from her home just outside of Washington, D.C.

In court, it was decided that the boys could go home with their mother as long as she was supervised by another family member. Their father was issued a no-contact order and told not to contact Tara or the boys at all.

For the next year, Whitney’s life alternated between life in Tennessee where she supervised Tara and her grandsons, and life at her own home in Virginia with her own sons and her husband, while another family member supervised Tara and the boys.

In June of that year, Tara gave birth to another boy, Bentyn.

The family went to court in September of 2011. The judge placed Ethyn and Kamdyn under Whitney’s guardianship and gave her permission to take the boys back to her home in Virginia. Tara was allowed to have supervised visits.

It was decided that baby Bentyn would live with Tara’s father (the baby’s grandfather) and his wife in Tennessee, so that Tara could have more frequent visits for bonding.

Whitney Bentyn 1st bday

Bentyn with his mother on his first birthday. Photo supplied by family.

Social workers told both grandmothers that the case was closed and DCS was out of it.

Whitney went to Virginia and got everyone in a good routine there. The boys had frequent phone calls with their mother and visits once a month. They started preschool. There were plenty of family members for support as well as a nurse in the home 12 hours a day for Zachary, Whitney’s 3 year old son with Down Syndrome.

Social Worker Lies, Says They Have to Return to Tennessee

Just after Thanksgiving, Whitney says she was “shocked” by a call from DCS social worker Crystal Lyons, who allegedly told her that “the judge had illegally placed the boys and that they needed to return to Tennessee.”

When Whitney asked why, she states that Lyons threatened her with kidnapping charges if she did not comply.

Whitney later learned that this was not true. She found the law. DCS acted under the color of law to force her to do something that she was not obligated to do.

She took her son Zachary and her grandsons back to Tennessee on December 26, 2011, to stay with Tara:

When I left I had to give up all of Zachary’s services and doctors. I also left behind my other 2 younger boys, ages 8 and 11…. I left my other children for Ethyn and Kamdyn all because of a lie from Crystal Lyons.

Whitney quickly rented her own place in Tennessee, but DCS was involved again. They wanted the 3 brothers together. Whitney told them that she could take the baby IF she could go back to Virginia where she had support, including a nurse and therapists for her own little boy, who had a host of medical issues himself. All of her resources were in Virginia.

The boys’ Guardian ad litem Polly Peterson didn’t want the 3 boys in the same house with Zachary. Because of his Down Syndrome, she considered him to be a threat to his nephews. Whitney was told that she had to choose to keep her own son with her or to care for her grandsons. She couldn’t do both.

Whitney boys with Zach

Zachary never posed a threat to his nephews. The boys were very close as this post by Whitney Manning from a visit in 2015 shows.

At one point, Whitney mentioned being “tired” to the social worker, but her words were twisted to mean that she didn’t want the boys. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Boys Abused in State Care

The social worker later admitted that she did not do a background check on the couple with whom the boys were placed.

That placement turned out to be disastrous.

According to Whitney Manning:

The boys went from happy, polite, healthy, fun, well-loved little boys to having sores, nightmares, peeing on themselves, sick, underweight, scared, sad, crying, withdrawn little boys.

Even though Whitney bought bunkbeds for the boys, she says that they had to sleep on the floor. Sometimes one of the boys would allegedly be handcuffed and locked in the closet with no clothes or blankets. One of the children showed up to visits with cigarette burns on his body.

The boys used to love bathtime. Now they screamed. They learned that Kamdyn had allegedly been held down with his head under ice cold water in the bathtub.

When Ethyn was 5 and Kamdyn was 3, Ethyn described witnessing very disturbing behavior at the foster home. He said that he would get off the schoolbus and come into the kitchen to find his little brother squatting up against the wall with the foster mother holding a butcher knife between his legs, blade side up, so that it would cut him if he moved.

He demonstrated how Kamdyn had to squat. It was a story he told on multiple occasions, including, allegedly, to the social worker and Guardian ad litem.

Nothing was done about this or the other abuse. His family was helpless to stop the abuse, though they tried. Meanwhile, Tara’s mental health declined. Whitney told Health Impact News:

There was nothing we could do to protect them, and that is when she started losing her mind.

Whitney kids w mom at family dinner

Tara at dinner at her mother’s house, surrounded by her children and brothers. Whitney says, “She just wanted a family and a white picket fence.” Photo supplied by family.

On one occasion in early 2013 Whitney was present when the boys told the therapist that the fosters would put Kamdyn outside in the dog kennel and force him to eat dog feces that they had placed on a toy bar of soap. Ethyn was forced to watch from inside.

Whitney was horrified. After the therapist visit, she couldn’t bring herself to take the children back to the DCS office. Instead, she drove to the attorneys’ office where they called DCS. Social workers insisted that she had to bring the boys back. When she arrived, she says that her car was immediately surrounded by police.

She didn’t hear from them for 3 days after that. The boys were placed into another foster home.

Abuse Continues in Next Foster Home

The boys have shown up for visits with bruises and cuts. Whitney sent us a photo of Bentyn with a gash over his eye. He told her that the foster mother had kicked him into the corner of the wall.

Whitney Ethyn gash over eye in foster care

Gash over Ethyn’s eye sustained in state custody. Photo supplied by family.

During a weekend visit with Whitney in the summer of 2016, she recorded Ethyn decribing an incident that happened at the YMCA after school. He said he was upset because the foster care review board had told him that he was going to be adopted. He got into a conflict with someone at the Y and ran off.

When he described the incident, he sounded like a child who had lost all hope. Referring to the foster mother, he said:

I knew she was going to hurt me anyway.

DCS Retaliates for Grandmother Reporting Abuse in Foster Care – Cuts Off All Contact with Family

Whitney reported the incident to the CPS hotline, and she showed the video to Tara’s attorney. When she showed it to Polly Peterson, Whitney says the GAL just “rolled her eyes.”

Immediately after Whitney reported the abuse, there was apparent retaliation.

That visit on August 12, 2016, ended up being the last time she has seen her grandsons. Her mother, the children’s elderly great grandmother, also lost visitation. Tara’s visits were halted soon after.

Whitney Zach Kamdyn Bentyn

These children love each other dearly, but through no fault of their own, they cannot see each other. Photo supplied by family.

Mother’s Mental Health Plummets

During the course of DCS involvement, Tara’s mental health declined. She tried to comply with the requirements of the permanency plan, but Whitney says:

They put Tara in a no-win situation setting her up to fail.

The Americans with Disabilities Act specifies that Child Protective Services must make accommodations for parents with disabilities in their requirements.

According to Whitney, they made none:

Crystal [the social worker] admitted that there were not facilities or doctors equipped to take care of or address Tara’s mental health needs in the area.

Another Baby Born, Grandmother Approved to Care for Her

Tara gave birth to another baby, Makinlyn, in April of 2014. DCS placed her into Whitney’s custody where she has been ever since.

Whitney Tara with baby girl

Tara with Makinlyn at a visit. Photo supplied by family.

That case is closed. The same DCS department still refuses to allow Whitney to care for the 3 brothers of that baby.

Even though the baby is safe, Tara’s helplessness to stop the reported abuse to her sons plunged her into a deep depression, something Health Impact News has found is common with parents who lose their children to the state and who are subsequently abused in foster care.

Tara is now on disability, and Whitney is now the conservator over her affairs.

Multiple Generations Impacted

At stake here are 2 generations. Whitney wants the state of Tennessee to simply allow her to take care of her family, as is her right and responsibility.

She is very concerned about the safety of her grandsons under state care.

She is also very concerned about her daughter’s health and well-being. She believes that Tara will fare much better if she knows that her children are safe and free from abuse.

DCS has petitioned the family court to terminate Tara’s parental rights (TPR) on the grounds of mental incompetence.

The family is not trying to get the children back into their mother’s custody. They recognize that she is not capable of taking care of them.

But Whitney Manning is.

Whitney 4 siblings

Makinlyn loves her 3 brothers. Because of DCS decisions, she hasn’t seen them in a year and a half. Photo supplied by family.

For millennia families have stepped in when family members needed help. It is what families do. However, in today’s climate in the U.S., government has replaced families in deciding what they feel is “best” for the children, which all too often means massive federal and state funding for foster care and adoption that is obtained ONLY when children are removed from their families.

Whitney boys trip to VA

They are family. Why are these relationships being severed? Photo supplied by family.

Sara Gordon Case and the ADA

The Department of Justice supports the role of extended family in cases involving disabled persons.

In the case of Sara Gordon, Massachusetts DCF seized a newborn baby from a mother with a developmental disability, even though she lived with her parents who were perfectly capable of helping her. (See link.)

In February 2015 the DOJ ordered her baby to be returned and issued an opinion which attorney Connie Reguli summarizes, stating that the DOJ:

held that the state’s welfare agency had violated ADA for the mentally disabled Mother when they refused to consider the support she could receive to parent her child from her family (specifically her mother). This was considered a reasonable accommodation for a mentally disabled Mother whom the state sought to terminate her parental rights on the grounds of mental incompetency.

Social workers in the Child Protective Services industry apparently don’t see it that way.  The DOJ decision has held little impact on the practices of social workers and family courts. (See related story.)

Conservatorship Opposed Because Whitney Doesn’t Trust DCS

The newest tactic by DCS is an appeal to the court to have Whitney removed as conservator. If that were to happen, it would be practically assured that DCS would be able to terminate Tara’s parental rights and adopt her children out.

Tara’s GAL Claire Addlestone brought a report to the latest court hearing on January 10, 2018, saying that Whitney should not be Tara’s conservator or have authority over her medical care. The reasons cited were that Whitney:

  1. cannot be objective because she believes that Tara would get better if she had a relationship with her children, and
  2. does not trust DCS and has repeatedly said that DCS “stole” her grandsons.

Of course Whitney has a conflict with DCS. She is fighting them for her family.

Polly Peterson, the GAL for the boys, should have had no reason to be involved with the conservatorship case, but she was able to testify at last week’s hearing. She reportedly recommended that a particular state doctor could oversee Tara’s case and be her conservator as well.

That thought is scary to Whitney. Besides the obvious conflict of interest issues with this man that she had never seen before, Whitney is afraid that, if her daughter elopes again as she did just before Christmas (see link), or disappears, or dies, she wouldn’t even know about it if the state is allowed to replace her as conservator.

How to Help

Though this family’s story is a tangled nightmare with many layers, the solutions are simple:

  • Whitney Manning needs to remain conservator for her mentally disabled daughter so that 1) she has the authority to get her the help she needs, and 2) she can intervene in the DCS proceedings on behalf of Tara.
  • The 3 boys, Ethyn, Kamdyn, and Bentyn need to be removed from foster care where they are being abused and be placed under the care of their grandmother.

Whitney tells Health Impact News:

They have destroyed my child. It didn’t matter what she did, they were determined to take her kids, and they took them from me, too.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam may be reached at (615) 741-2001, or contacted here.

Senator Jon Lundburg represents the district where Tara and her boys are being held. He may be reached at (615) 741-5761, or contacted here.

Representative Bud Hulsey represents their district. He may be reached at (615) 741-2886, or contacted here.