In the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, a family has been raising their transgender daughter Amy ( alias ) in an affirming home.
According to the mother Donna ( alias ), Amy started presenting at 18 months of age.
Donna began her conversation with Windy City Times describing her daughter with a proud energy and laughed as she talked about a girl with a sharply developed sense of humor matched only by her equally perceptive intelligence.
However, as she described events that occurred beginning one October morning in 2012, Donna's tears were so agonized that she needed time to regain her composure.
"When Amy was about a year-and-a-half, a friend gave me a trunk that had dress-up girl clothes in it," Donna recalled. "I was supposed to give the trunk to a girlfriend who had a daughter. I brought it in the house. Amy opened it and pointed to a frilly skirt. She said 'on.' So, we put it on her and she twirled like a ballerina. She cried when we tried to take it off her. We would go into Target and she would always go straight to the girls' aisle and never the boys' aisle. She would always want princess dresses. When her pre-school had dress-up days, she would always gravitate to the girls' clothes and she would always hang out with girls."
"This was about nine years ago," Donna added. "I had no idea what transgender was. I started looking online. I checked everything. I bought a book, The Transgender Child, [A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie A. Brill and Rachel Pepper] and it became my bible. It outlined exactly who my child was."
When Amy was envious of a friend's two-piece bathing suit, Donna bought one for her.
"I took it home. It was the happiest face I could have ever seen from my child," Donna said. "We just never thought there was anything wrong. If we bought her a boy thing, she always threw it aside. She didn't want it. So, we just bought her the girls' stuff."
Amy was 6 when, in October 2012, someone reported Donna to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services [DCFS].
As is the policy of Illinois DCFS, the anonymity of the caller was protected.
"I came home one day and there was a business card on my doorstep," Donna said. "It was from the Department of Children and Family Services. I had no idea why it was there. Then, two days later, I got a phone call. It was the same lady from the business card."
The DCFS investigator told Donna that she had been reported. Donna asked why.
"She said she could not tell me until she met with me," Donna remembered. "She said that she had to meet me at my home and that Amy had to be with me. My husband did not have to be there. She could have cared less about him and, actually, he was out of the country on a business trip."
Even though both Donna and her husband had been affirming of Amy's identity, LA DCFS were only interested in the mother.
A case currently under investigation at Illinois DCFS involving a transgender child has, similarly, been focused primarily on the mother. Windy City Times has discovered other cases in Illinois and Michigan in which the mother is or was the only one accused despite an equally affirming father.
Donna offered to take her daughter out of school and to meet the DCFS investigator on the same day she received the phone call. The investigator declined and, instead offered to meet Donna and Amy the following afternoon.
Donna spent the night before in a cold sweat.
"I didn't know what I had done wrong other than to give my child what she wanted," she recalled, beginning to cry.
The next day, she picked up Amy from school.
"I had to explain to her why I was picking her up early," Donna said. "I told her that a friend from high school was coming to visit because I didn't want Amy to be afraid. The social worker was late coming to our home. She called and said she had car trouble. But Amy was so excited to meet her. When the social worker arrived, Amy ran to the door and waved. She wanted to take the social worker to her room to show it off. It was painted pink because that's her favorite color. She had dresses, Barbie dolls and shoes."
However, the DCFS investigator wanted Donna to do some paperwork first. It was only when Donna was signing the paperwork that the investigator informed her of the three allegations that had been reported.
"She said the first one is, 'You drink alcohol every day,'" Donna recalled. "The second is, 'You fight with your husband all the time.'"
The investigator then told Donna that the first two allegations were not a point of concern.
"She said, 'The reason I am here today is because you have been accused of being an older mother who wanted to have a daughter, but who had a son and who was forcing her son to be her daughter.' I looked at her and said, 'Excuse me?' I thought, 'Oh my God, she's going to walk into Amy's room and think I'm crazy.' Her next question to me was, 'Is your child a hermaphrodite?' I was so angry but I had to be nice because I was thinking, 'What if she is not happy with my answers and takes Amy away from me?"
The investigator sternly warned Donna not to be defensive but Donna's frustration was growing as rapidly as her fear.
"How do I explain to the social worker that I'm not crazy and this is what makes my child happy?" Donna said. "She was very hard on me for the first hour-and-a-half. But Amy kept coming out of her room, kissing me and saying, 'I love you Mom!' Or she would hand me a note. All the time she was wearing her favorite pink tutu."
"Finally, the social worker said, 'People ought to mind their own business. I can see a very loving family here,'" Donna recalled. "She went up to see Amy's room and looked at the whole house. The hardest part was when she met Amy alone for three minutes."
The visit lasted two hours. As she was leaving, the social worker told Donna that her agency would be in touch but not before they had called Amy's pediatricians and teachers.
For the next three months, the family lived in a nightmare of uncertainty.
"You're waiting to hear back," Donna said. "You're living your life thinking 'is something going to happen?' And finally, we get a letter in the mail saying we had been cleared of all allegations."
However, the nightmare was far from over.
After California passed a 2014 law affirming gender identities in public schools, Donna transferred Amy from the private academy which she had been attending. They also legally changed Amy's name and gender marker.
In October 2016, a call was made to the LA DCFS hotline accusing the family of sexually abusing Amy.
"I got a phone call on Monday morning at work and it was a social worker saying that she had just met with my child at school," Donna said. "She said there had been an 'incident' at the school. So, I called the principal. I was told that the social worker had come in and asked for Amy by her old name. Luckily, the principal pulled the social worker into the office and ordered her to talk to Amy with her correct name and then told her, 'You better not have a problem with Amy's gender when you see her.' Thank God that happened."
The investigator was a different individual from the woman who took the case in 2012. She explained to Donna exactly what the incident was with Amy that had provoked the complaint to the LA DCFS hotline.
"The social worker told me that someone saw Amy 'humping' another child,"' Donna said. "That was her word! Humping! So, she wanted to meet with me. My husband was furious but I told him we had to cooperate."
An appointment was made at the family's home for the following day. By this time. the investigator had changed her language and instead said that Amy was seen "bouncing" on another child.
"Whichever teacher saw that thought that Amy was acting out what had been done to her," Donna said. "So, they figured someone was sexually abusing Amy and Amy was doing it to another child."
Like Illinois, teachers are on a list of mandated reportersindividuals who must contact DCFS when they witness any incidents of suspected child abuse or neglect. Amy believes it was a teacher who had a problem with Amy's gender identity.
"The social worker said, 'I met with your child and I understand that she is transgendered [the investigator's terminology], but I don't think she did anything wrong."
Nevertheless, another three months of interviews followed. This time, they included a visit to DCFS offices.
"Amy was so scared, she didn't eat the whole weekend," Donna recalled, breaking into tears. "She didn't want to say the wrong thing and I told her, 'You have to be honest and tell the truth.' Amy said, 'All the truth? That I'm trans?' I told her, 'Yes.' She was relieved but she just wanted the day to be over. So, we all go in and she got put into one room and I got put into another. I couldn't even sit near her when she was being asked questions. What you have to go through, it really destroys your life."
In late 2016, the family were again cleared of the allegations against them. However, Donna realizes that she is one of the lucky ones.
"People are cruel," she said. "They need to think twice before they report something because they don't understand just how it can tear lives apart. These doctors who are taking kids away from their homes are just horrible."
Donna believes the problem lies with training.
"There's not enough training in our schools, with DCFS or in a lot of places," she said. "It's still so new. I get it. Even though I'm in a state where they say being transgender is OK, I know there's teachers who aren't trained on this."
But what about a state where protections for transgender children are not so clearly defined?
In Indiana, transgender issues have been hotly debated. After President Obama's 2016 guidance instructing schools to affirm gender identity ( now rescinded ), then Gov. Mike Pence took a stand against federal involvement.
Still, there are groups of transgender-affirming families in Indiana. Like many across the country, their activities are restricted to private social media groups or meet-ups. They are frightened and forced into shadowed lives simply because they want to be able to accept and love their children for who they are.
The reason for that fear was expressed by the mother of a large family in Northern Indiana. She has one transgender girl now aged 14.
As Windy City Times has discovered throughout the course of its investigation, the fear of retaliation from Child Protective Services is so visceral, that any family agreeing to talk on the record only does so under the condition of complete anonymity.
Windy City Times provided this mother with the alias Martha and changed the age of her daughter.
From the conversations, which her parents' groups have shared with those in Illinois, Martha told Windy City Times that she knows of two cases of transgender children currently in Illinois DCFS courts where a parent stands accused of some form of abuse or neglect and 10 that have been similarly heard nationwide.
To her knowledge, most of those cases have involved an accusation of Factitious Disorder by Proxy ( FDBP ) or Munchausen by Proxy Syndromethe creation of non-existent physiological or psychological conditions in another person ( in these cases, children )which Illinois DCFS classifies as a form of Medical Child Abuse.
"There has been a shift the last six months," Martha said. "Prior to that, if DCFS was called in and identified a case for investigation, it was almost always because someone had reported a parent of forcing their child to transition. Occasionally, the term 'sexually exploiting the child' would be used. But recently, Munchausen has been the go-to allegation. Those cases are handled completely differently and medical privacy laws keep the whole case a lot more secret."
Like Donna, Martha has been investigated twice by agents working for her state's child protective agency, the Indiana Department of Child Services ( DCS ).
Her child began to express her gender identity at age six.
"She had always played with girl's toys and games," Martha said. "When we took her for a second evaluation, an extended family member said they weren't comfortable with us letting our daughter transition."
Shortly afterwards, DCS were called to the family's home.
It was 2009 and the charge was Sexual Exploitation of a Minor.
"[The complainant] said we were forcing the child to do what we wantedto be transgender," Martha said. "DCS showed up at our house. I didn't know what to do. I was terrified I was going to lose my children, that it was going to emotionally scar them."
Martha handed the investigator her daughter's safe foldera collection of documents from pediatricians, therapists and other medical professionals affirming a child's gender identity which advocacy groups suggest parents of transgender children keep in their homes.
"The investigator spoke to me, to each of my children and then left," Martha said. "Two weeks later, I got a letter in the mail telling me they were closing my file. I was so relieved but hurt that someone had called them in the first place."
In November 2016, the family were subjected to a second DCS investigation.
"One of my cisgender children was changing doctors," Martha explained. "We had an intake appointment for him and, during the interview, my child mentioned that he had a transgender sibling. By the time we came home from that appointment there was a DCS agent and two police officers in my driveway."
The agent told Martha that DCS had received a complaint stating the children in her household were "at high risk for sexual abuse."
Once again, Martha was forced to allow the investigator into her home.
"The investigator explained that there was concern because of the prevalence of sexual abuse and gender dysphoria," she said. "He was amazingly thoughtful and courteous though. He had already looked up some information about gender dysphoria but, he said, because of who had called in the report they had to do a full file on us. I told him I understood and didn't have anything to hide."
An appointment was made for Martha to take each of the children to a DCS office for interviews.
"I was frightened," Martha said. "It was surreal. One-at-a-time, each of the kids were taken back."
After the interviews the investigator apologized for the inconvenience and told Martha the agency would be in touch.
"I didn't hear anything for over a week," Martha recalled. "I was incredibly nervous and worried. This time, all the kids were old enough that they were aware what was happening. The level of anxiety in the house was awful. My son who'd had the original intake was really hard on himself."
The investigator requested another interview with Martha. He asked her about her daughter's childhood pictures ( showing herself as a girl ).
"I felt like the entire appointment was for him to educate himself," Martha stated. "It was the first time since this all started that I didn't leave with my heart racing. A few days later, I got a call from him and he told me that he didn't see a need to expand the investigation and was closing the file. I thanked him, hung up the phone and I cried a lot."
Like Donna in California, Martha feels lucky but also that DCS were over-zealous because she has a transgender child.
"We're a typical, boring family," she said. "Neither me or my family have any criminal history. None of our kids has been in any trouble. Our oldest is on the honor roll. Our kids aren't abused. They aren't neglected. They want for very little. But because we chose to affirm our child and not force her to become what we expected her to be, two DCS files were opened on us. If all of my kids were cisgender, this never would have happened. There is a lot of wasted time, money and anguish involved examining families who haven't done anything wrong."
"Anyone who has a transgender child walks around in fear," she added. "All of us are incredibly careful. We hesitate to see new doctors, to transfer our kids from one school to the next or one daycare facility to the next. Even if your child is stealth, there are people who have to know like doctors or school administrators. Every additional person you have a conversation with increases your risk, your vulnerability and the risk of possibly losing your child."
Martha believes that, for her, the difference between case closed and a judicial nightmare came down to the DCS investigators assigned.
"I hear about a lot of situations where DCS or DCFS investigates the family of a transgender child, not just here or in Illinois but in the country as a whole," she said. "We were incredibly blessed. The agent who came to us was kind, empathetic and caring. His top concern was not to upset the children and to understand my transgender child."
Luck of the Draw
As Windy City Times discovered through an examination of the case currently pending in Illinois courts, not all investigations have the same outcomes as those of Martha and Donna's families.
Yet, DCFS Illinois insists that there is little for parents to worry about because comprehensive, agency-wide transgender-sensitive training has been undertaken.
In a conference call with Windy City Times, DCFS Statewide LGBTQ Coordinator Jane Kelly, consulting psychologist Dr. Claudia Mosier and Associate Director of Behavioral Health-Clinical Division Juliana Harms discussed measures in place within DCFS to ensure the protection of transgender children and their families. The call was held under the strict supervision of DCFS Deputy Director, Office of Communications Veronica Resa.
Due to juvenile court system confidentiality, the interview could not discuss details of the case currently in DCFS courts. Only general questions regarding DCFS policy pertaining to transgender children were permitted.
"DCFS would never take a child because of [being] transgender," Kelly stated. "If that was the case, it could come to the attention of many people and no decision is made alone when it comes to the removal of a child. I couldn't even imagine anyone taking a call at our DCFS hotline simply if that was the only component; that this parent is raising a transgender child or that parent was making her little boy into a little girl. There would be a lot more questions asked but it wouldn't be around gender. We've had a couple of cases, which I've gotten involved with, where the child happened to be transgender, but that is not the issue. There were other matters."
Kelly added that DCFS has a strong policy guide when it comes to LGBTQ children and that a new one is pending "which has a huge piece around our transgender children and youth. It speaks to the issue of chosen name and pronoun, placement, sleeping arrangements and, critically, transgender healthcare."
Harms acknowledged that she and her colleagues respect "the gut level terror that sometimes families feel when Children and Family Services knocks on their door."
"Within Illinois, sometimes there may be a core issue such as somebody taking notice of a trans child and a family and there may be a call to a hotline," she said. "If there is also accompanying information where it is portrayed that there might be abuse or neglect and that reporter is saying, 'I need you to go out and check out the family,' it may very well be taken because there are factors that are alerting us to a need to explore this. There are different levels of risk or safety concerns but the goal would be to get information to and from the family as quickly as possible."
Harms noted that a safe-folder was an idea which made her hesitate because "it harkens back to the days of 'show us your papers to prove who you are.'"
"But I think it is a component of education, of chronicling the needs of the child and the support being offered to the child so, having those records at hand, sometimes can be valuable," she said. "But, within Illinois, we are graced with our LGBTQ coordinator so, if there is a flag, one of the first calls that an investigator would make would be to Jane Kelly to ask for input. Jane would certainly be a part of information gathering. She might have contact with the family or with the child. We really work to make sure that information is shared. Our administration and child protection [staff] is educated with regards to the needs of LGBT families. If you go up the chain of command, you are going to be speaking to people who respect diversity and the uniqueness of families."
Kelly added that "we like to inform the families what the process is each step of the way."
According to Harms, within DCFS baseline training that all staff needs to undertake before commencing work with the department, "there is education regarding the broader LGBT circumstance and population. We are working to really enhance that knowledge regarding trans issues. We recognized that there was a deficit regarding trans knowledge and we really needed to build upon that."
Kelly stated that, at present, herself, Harms and Mosier provide additional LGBTQ training as needed.
"We're working hard on Pride training for our foster parents in terms of LGBTQ and, because we really want to talk about our transgender children, they have set aside an entire day," she said. "There's a lot that's already in place." [The DCFS training for parents is coincidentally called Pride, but it is not LGBTQ; it includes LGBTQ.]
"We have different levels of foster parents in terms of their experience and training," Kelly added. "We have a specific code now for foster parents centered around their preference ( teenage boys, girls, transgender or LGB kids ). For those who are open to supporting transgender kids there's a special code. Nationwide, all child welfare agencies are struggling to recruit foster parents."
Ten private agencies who contract with DCFS engaged in a public drive for LGBTQ-inclusive foster parents in the summer of 2016. DCFS supported that effort, and Windy City Times and Pride Action Tank also promoted the event.
Prior to the arrival of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, the Department of Justice ( DOJ ) was similarly engaged in comprehensive training about transgender issues to be disseminated to law enforcement across the country. In many cases, that training involved the input and participation of transgender people. Windy City Times wondered if the same could be said of DCFS.
"No, we haven't," Kelly said.
Mosier noted though that she does describe herself as "gender expansive."
"We've brought in people from the community sometimes and resources as we're able to," Mosier said. "We need to do that more. DCFS is a good environment for me to be making changes. For example, with the request for psychological testing, when we revised that form, I said, 'We have to make sure that we know a kid is LGBTQ and that question needed to be added to the form.'"
Harms detailed the role of the DCFS investigator after a hotline call is received at the agency's Springfield call-center and the answering child welfare specialist believes there to be a "reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect."
"If there is that suspicion, the hotline worker will assign an allegation," she said. "That report is then sent to the area where the youth lives and assigned to an investigative team. The information is reviewed and an investigative plan is created by the investigator and the supervisor. The investigator works to gather as much information as possible before going out to see the child."
There must be a good faith attempt or in-person contact between the investigator and the child within 24 hours.
"The investigator must also gather information from the family to more fully assess the safety of the child," Harms said. "It must happen as closely as possible to the time that the child is seen. As that information is gathered, the family can offer collateral contacts. The investigator could also reach out to the family physician or the school. There is supervisory oversight and, if necessary, additional administration may come in to provide oversight. If there is an LGBT circumstance, that is where Claudia or Jane may be contacted to provide feedback and guidance. Ultimately, the investigator and the supervisor do need to make a determination if there is credible evidence of abuse or neglect."
Some cases are ultimately considered to be "unfounded."
In those where a determination of credible evidence of abuse or neglect is made, Harms said the family has a right to appeal.
Kelly reiterated that the system is replete with "checks and balances."
"In every court, there is a DCFS attorney," she said. "I have had referrals and I have been pulled in on various cases that are involved in court."
Windy City Times asked specifically if it is DCFS understanding and acknowledgement that a child can express or present as transgender or gender nonconforming as young as age 2.
"I've got quite a few small little transgender children," Kelly said. "They're very clear in terms of their gender expression. The bottom line is whether the child has a chosen name and how they want to be referred to. Parents or foster parents who need support, I ask to go to Lurie Children's [Hospital Gender & Sex Development Clinic]. The main thing is providing support, education and the affirmation for the child."
Kelly added that she also works with the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance for children who are struggling in school as well as parent support groups throughout Illinois.
"When we bring a child in, it's not because of a child's sexual orientation or gender unless the parent has totally rejected the child because of that and we can't find a relative who can care for them," Kelly said. "If I'm consulting on a case and that child is being moved, I will follow that kid. I want to know about the home they're going to and I want to make sure it's affirming."
The interview with DCFS was held before Windy City Times discovered a possible transphobic picture on the social media account of a DCFS investigator named Halema Townsend.
Townsend was assigned to a case involving a transgender child whose South Side family was accused of Medical Abuse after pediatricians at Advocate Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn accused the mother of suffering from Munchausen by Proxy.
An anonymous source who was a part of hearings held in DCFS Judge Robert Balanoff's courtroom between March 7 and March 13 to determine temporary custody of that child reported that Balanoff, Townsend, the State's Attorney and the Cook County Guardian all referred to the child with male pronouns. [See more details in the first part of this series.]
The source also noted an occasion on March 13, when the mother's defense attorney Rina Infelise asked for copies of evidence Townsend claimed to have in her possession. Townsend told Infelise that she did not have enough copies and walked away.
At the hearing, none of the mother's witnesses were called to testify on her behalf and the mother indicated to a friend that Townsend had not looked at the safe folder the family kept.
On March 13, Balanoff ruled for DCFS to take temporary custody of the child.
Following the hearing and interview with DCFS, Windy City Times reached out to Infilese to determine if she had been contacted by Kelly.
It appears that Kelly had not been alerted to the case by Townsend.
On April 8, Infelise told Windy City Times, "I have never spoken with Jane Kelly. She never made contact with my client. Once I learned of her position, I reached out to her several times and I continue to await and look forward to a response."
Los Angeles training
LA County DCFS told Windy City Times that the agency does employ specific training to address transgender issues provided by a program called RISE ( Recognize, Intervene, Support, Empower ), which is an initiative developed in 2010 and implemented by the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
In a written statement, LA County DCFS asserted that, "The training curriculum addresses LGBTQ issues and awareness, particularly as relevant to social services. [The] RISE training curriculum includes information on transgender youth, along with best practices to serve them."
The agency added that RISE training covers an array of issues including language and terminology, the importance of gender pronouns and the use of a transgender youth's "asserted" name, protections offered by California state law, anti-transgender bias and discrimination and trans-affirming medical care.
"RISE facilitates this deeper knowledge and practice of LGBTQ competency through master and peer coaching, and by providing continuous learning opportunities through field based scenarios," LA DCFS wrote. "RISE provides optional training to LA County DCFS social workers, Child Service Administrators, and managers ( Assistant Regional Administrators and Regional Administrators ). RISE worked collaboratively with other public agencies such as Probation, Department of Mental Health, Los Angeles County Office of Education [and] Children's Law Center to provide training which includes training of judges. RISE has transgender people ( including former foster youth and staff ) contribute to and help build the curriculum."
Angela Weeks is the RISE program manager at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
"The goal of the program was to develop models of care that helped young people find permanency and improve their outcomes and well-being," she said. "We were trying to create models that we could rigorously evaluate so that other jurisdictions throughout the country could replicate the work that we had done to help LGBTQ populations."
Weeks shared some of the results.
"When we do the trainings, they have been really effective in increasing knowledge," she said. "[DCFS] staff have reported that they have applied that information to their work. I have a lot of confidence that, once staff are given the opportunity to listen to the information and get the skills and tools around it, they actually do use it."
"The problem, though, is that it's not a mandatory training," she added. "If you only make it a voluntary or optional for staff, only the people who care about this population are going to go to the trainings. The people who have an incredible amount of bias, or even a little bit of bias, will opt out but they are the people who need it the most. There are over 8,000 DCFS employees and we have trained around 1,000."
Weeks said that RISE has been providing trainings throughout Los Angeles County for close to six years. "We are thrilled [DCFS] are providing it to their staff," she said. "But, if a hotline worker is taking a call and they don't have the information to know what transgender means, what questions to ask or what information to gather, it's going to be really hard for them to make an accurate decision on that. We look forward to a time when the training is not optional."
She also indicated that such training should extend to Emergency Response staff so that they know what to look for when they go to investigate families.
In each of the cases Windy City Times has discovered so far, in which a transgender child is investigated or removed from a home, a pattern has emergedone in which the call to a child protective services hotline about a transgender child has involved an accusation of force of some kind.
Weeks said that she found the idea of forcing a child to be transgender ironic.
"There are thousands of young people who are forced to act heterosexual or cisgender and that is not considered abuse," she said. "Even though we know, when people are put in those situations where they are forced to be someone they're not, their negative health outcomes are tremendously increased. How can we talk about it being abuse on one end of the spectrum but not the other?"
In the cases of Medical Abuse, the allegation of force ( one which has triggered DCFS investigations ) often involves Munchausen by Proxy.
More and more cases
After the first part of Windy City Times investigation was published, a number of individuals and families reached out to tell their story both on and off the record.
One was an Illinois woman who asked to be identified as Lilly. She is a close friend of the family whose case is currently in Illinois DCFS courts involving a 5-year-old transgender child.
It is a case both Windy City Times and LGBTQ Nation have detailed in which the mother has been accused of Medical Abuse.
Lilly described the events leading up to DCFS involvement in the case which began at Advocate Children's Hospital in the Oak Lawn suburb of Chicago.
"I've known the mom for 15 years," she said. "When the child was a toddler, she would take long bath towels, drape them over her head and say, 'This is my long, pretty hair.' She got much more verbal around age four. She didn't know why she had boy body parts. The mom was worried. Nobody wants their child to have a difficult path in front of them but something as simple as a pink pair of socks made the child so happy and so joyful. She sparkled. She was a bright, amazing, energetic little girl."
Lilly confirmed that the child had health problems ( LGBTQ Nation reported it was diabetes and epilepsy ) for which the mother was seeking treatment.
According to Lilly, the family's troubles with DCFS began when the mother started to take the child to Advocate because it was "close to where they lived."
"The child had a chronic illness and the mom was just concerned with her care," she said. "But she started to make complaints about the treatment plans Advocate suggested because they were pretty aggressive. A couple of them required surgery. The mom wanted to try less invasive treatments."
Lilly added that issues with Advocate escalated six months ago with a pediatric endocrinologist the child was seeing.
"The family did everything they were supposed to do and everything they were asked to do," she said. "But the staff started misnaming the child and using male pronouns. My 13-year-old was Face-timing with the child one day while she was in hospital and we heard the nurse use the wrong pronouns and the wrong name multiple times even while the mom was gently correcting her."
Lilly added that the child had returned home and was doing well with her new course of treatment but, because her gender wasn't being respected, the family told Advocate staff that they wanted her transferred to Lurie Children's Hospital.
Less than a week later, on Feb. 3, 2017, the mother made a frantic call to Lilly.
"A social worker from DCFS and two police officers had showed up and ordered the mom to take the child to Advocate," Lilly said. "The mother was really frightened and upset. I arrived at about 8 in the evening. The mom was in the room with her daughter. There was also a hospital employee whose entire job was to just sit there and watch the parents. When I walked in the room, the child bounced off the bed and yelled, 'Aunt Lilly!' and she hugged me. I asked her how she was doing and she said, 'Too good to be here!'"
Lilly stayed with the family until Feb. 5.
"While I was there, I did not hear a single employee working for Advocate Children's Hospital use the correct pronouns once," Lilly said. "Every single person went out of their way to use male pronouns and to use the male name. They took the girl clothes she had brought in a little bag and she was put in a blue hospital gown and blue pajama bottoms."
"When the child got bored, the nurses gave her Legos," she added. "They wouldn't allow any other toys. So, she would build ponies with the Legos. I watched more than one nurse take the Legos from her and disassemble them because she'd made a pony or a doll. She would use the child's male name, put the Legos back in the bucket and suggest that she build something else. It made [the child] cry. She kept looking up at her mom and I to protect her but there was nothing we could do. She looked over and whispered, 'Should I just be a secret girl? I don't understand.' What do you say to that? It's heartbreaking."
Lilly said no DCFS representatives were present and that the child was under the care of Advocate under their Therapeutic Separation Clause.
At 10 a.m. on Feb. 6 ( the day after Lilly left ) she got another call from the mother. "She had been sitting in the hospital room with her daughter," Lilly said. "An employee came in and asked to talk to her. She was taken to another room and hospital security was in there. They told her that she had less than 10 minutes to go into the child's room, get her things, say goodbye to her and leave the hospital grounds. She was not allowed to tell her child what was going on. They walked her out of the hospital. The child was left alone with no one she knew around her."
Lilly said the child remained there for the next 34 days. Only one visit with the parents was permitted. After the March 13 hearing, the child was handed over to foster parents through Children's Home + AIDa $63 million agency to which DCFS outsources.
A statement Windy City Times received from Advocate Hope read, "As a faith-based organization, we are steadfast in our belief that every person should be treated equally, with respect and dignity. In accordance with our church sponsors, we are fully supportive and welcoming of the LGBT community and proud to be designated as a 'Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality' by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. We provide our staff with a robust continuing education and sensitivity training program focused on caring for our LGBT patients. Under the leadership of a physician specializing in transgender medicine, we are currently developing a Transgender Clinic to ensure a sensitive, seamless experience for our patients we are so privileged to serve."
After part one of Windy City Times investigation was published, other parents' groups began to look closely at DCFS investigator Halema Townsend's Facebook page.
A video posted Sept. 1, 2015 which one of the parents shared with Windy City Times, allegedly posted by Townsend, appears to show an angry woman who accuses Townsend of "trying to fuck up my life and make money off my kids."
On the comments under the video, Townsend writes "look at the video I just posted. Your ( sic ) gonna die laughing. I see the funniest shit ever while working." This could indicate that Townsend violated the confidentiality of a client by posting a video of her. [DCFS told WCT that was not a client or a DCFS investigation.]
Illinois DCFS would not respond to Windy City Times inquiries as to whether any sort of investigation had been launched into Townsend's actions.
"DCFS can't comment on personnel issues," they stated.
The third and final part of this series will examine the psychological and physiological benefits to a transgender child being raised in an affirming home and the consequences if that child is removed. The American Academy of Pediatrics also weighs in. Attorneys also offer legal advice for parents who may find themselves caught up in a DCFS investigation.
For more information about the Los Angeles LGBT Center's RISE program,, visit: LALGBTCENTER.ORG/RISE .
Supporters of the Chicago family whose transgender child is presently in DCFS custody have launched a fundraiser to assist the family with their legal fees: WWW.YOUCARING.COM/FAMILYSHIELDEDPROCEEDSGOTOLAWYERFEES-798814 .
See the first article in this series here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Can-the-Child-Welfare-System-Handle-Trans-Children/58703.html .