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by A Denver Newspaper
Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003 at 10:44 PM
This IS all an OUTRAGE...I'm tired of America with their heads UP their ASS. IDIOTS!
Agency seizure of baby still a sad mystery
By Diane Carman, Denver Post Columnist
Victoria Goodluck sat in the sweltering living room of her Westminster home Monday afternoon, her breasts throbbing under the weight of so much milk. Her baby girl, born early Friday morning, was in protective custody.
Her five other children weren't.
The kids peeked out the window and played quietly as an Adams County social worker interviewed the parents and inspected the house and the family environment.
In the front yard, a gathering of supporters from a church waited to testify. They were alternately outraged and bewildered by what had happened.
It remains a mystery.
The Rev. Heidi McGinness of North Presbyterian Church insists that social workers at Denver Health Medical Center mistakenly assumed Goodluck and her husband, Phillip Gates, were homeless. Then, when they questioned Goodluck, they misinterpreted her natural shyness for animosity, secretiveness or even mental instability.
Hospital officials contacted the Denver Department of Human Services about their concerns for the child's safety on Saturday. On Sunday morning, 2-day-old Sunshine Gates was whisked away.
Or, as McGinness describes it, "They stole our baby."
Sue Cobb, Human Services spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the case. Instead, she talked about policy, parsing her words carefully.
"When we get a referral, we are obligated to follow up on it," she said. "We rely heavily on family cooperation, on the family providing information. And we make every effort to keep a family together."
Bobbi Barrow, spokeswoman for Denver Health, reiterated the message. "The Colorado Children's Code requires all care providers to report any situation where the welfare of the child is a concern. We rely on the cooperation of the family to provide information to resolve our concerns."
Cooperation obviously was a problem.
Goodluck, a Navajo, said there also may have been a cultural issue.
She said she was "upset" by the inquiry. "The social worker kept asking for all this information. She would ask me all these questions when we were alone, then stop when someone else walked in the room. If I didn't tell her what she wanted, she threatened me. She said, 'I'm going to take your kid away.'
"She said the doctors were concerned about my homelessness, but my friend took pictures of our house and brought them in. It's so stupid. I gave her all the information. I don't know what she was looking for."
Gates, a Lakota, said he is "pretty sure this had to do with outdated medical records," possibly going back to a time when the family was homeless.
Goodluck said she told hospital admissions personnel her address, "but while I was there, people kept coming up to me and asking if this is right."
She didn't understand it.
The family had lived in a Denver-area homeless shelter for about six months in 1999 and later in a basement apartment provided by a member of the church where Phillip Gates has become an ordained elder.
It's just one chapter in the family's struggles.
Gates, who was a tribal policeman, said he was shot while working on a joint investigation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration when he was 22. He was permanently disabled and, because of the sensitive nature of the work, he had to flee the reservation. That was 23 years ago.
Goodluck, meanwhile, has worked at a variety of jobs, most recently as a cashier at Kmart.
Over the years, they have lived with Gates' father, Goodluck's mother and various friends. Their current home is a tidy Section 8 house with a dreamcatcher and a collection of Native American artworks and Christian religious figures displayed on the walls.
In addition to disability payments, they survive on food stamps and assistance from the church, Gates said. Over the years, they have received medical care at Denver Health, which used be be called Denver General Hospital, because it provided treatment for indigents who live in Denver.
Gates said he took his wife there last week even though they live in Adams County. "We've gone there in the past. Because of our economic level, there's no other place that we can go," he said.
"They seemed to know Victoria. She's had five kids at Denver General, and this is the first time this has happened."
Gates and attorney Ted Peak, representing the family for free, said Human Services didn't give an explanation for taking the baby. A form that Gates was asked to sign did not include a reason. "It did include the family's correct address, however," said Peak, noting the irony.
After an initial investigation, Sunshine was released to her parents Monday night.
"We're a family again," said Goodluck.
A happy ending, said McGinness.
We can only hope.
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