Taken Away - the "Georgia 9" Case
The “Georgia 9” case stems from the parental rights abuses experienced by nine Georgia parents and their 14 children during an emergency stop in Mississippi on their way home from a church event in Louisiana. (Of these, five parents and 6 children are parties to the suit.) The pastor of the Atlanta-area group fell ill, and while she sought medical care, the families were accused of “child trafficking” by over-zealous case worker Philana Harrell.
Ask yourself: If you had travelled a few states from home with your child and someone suddenly decided they weren’t yours, would you be able to prove them wrong? This was the struggle these families faced – and Harrell kept moving the goal line!
First she told parents at the police station (where she took custody of their children) that the families would be reunited if parents produced photo id’s and birth certificates. But by the time one couple have driven home to Atlanta and back to secure these items, Harrell had decided not to be so “generous.”
Instead, Harrell suggested fingerprinting and background checks would be needed before she would release the children to their own moms and dads.
A hearing was set for the following Tuesday, but Harrell told the parents their hearing would be “Wednesday or Thursday.” (The parents learned the truth practically by accident when they secured counsel just in time to attend.) No written notice of the hearing was ever given.
Not surprisingly, all of the children were taken into state custody and placed into foster care. One child eventually was sent to live with her non-custodial father. She and two of the children in foster care were finally returned to their parents after 77 days. Two other children in the case were not so lucky; their summer trip ended less than a week before Christmas, after 148 days in state custody.
At no point were the parents charged with a crime. No allegations were made of abuse or neglect. Yet the system separated them from their children, causing great trauma to the families and irreparable harm to the parent-child relationship.
The Parental Rights Foundation has filed suit to help these parents get some financial redress for the counseling and legal fees they have incurred as a result of these violations. But just as important, we seek to send a message that such abuses of children, parents, and their rights are patently unacceptable.