By Diane Bukowski
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Starletta Banks has not seen her three children, Darius, now 11, Danielle, now 7, and Darren, now 5, since the year 2000, but she says she is determined to have them come home again to her loving arms.
“It’s been devastating,” said Banks. “It’s been hard holding jobs and eating and sleeping. You can’t even imagine the Christmases and birthdays I’ve spent. When we get them back, whenever that is, it will be Christmas because I’ve gone on buying presents for them all this time.”
Banks says her children were essentially kidnapped by Governor Jennifer Granholm, Attorney General Mike Cox, and various judges, administrators and doctors to be used as “cash cows” for the benefit of the state’s child foster care system. That system is largely farmed out to private non-profit agencies who receive federal funds for each child. She says the alleged kidnappers have profited because they sit on the boards of agencies in that system.
On June 6, Banks filed suit in U.S. District Court under federal racketeering and civil rights statutes, demanding her children’s return, and calling for an immediate investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the alleged misuse of federal funds by the State of Michigan in hers and thousands of other foster care cases.
Banks’ parental rights to her children were terminated by Wayne County Juvenile Court Judge Patricia Campbell in October, 2000, after a series of events that began two years earlier when Banks took Danielle, then an infant, to Henry Ford Hospital after she fell out of bed.
After an X-rays mixup, the court took temporary custody of Banks’ two children. Her third child was born later and also taken based solely on the accident with Danielle.
The children were assigned to Orchard’s Children’s Services, where workers eventually recommended that they be returned to Banks after she successfully completed a parenting course at Black Family Development.
The workers said the children had been traumatized by their removal from their mother, repeatedly cried and asked for her, and were scared of being left alone.
However, after an Orchard’s worker withdrew the recommendation for return, the judge terminated Banks’ rights, despite the fact that no charges of abuse or neglect had ever been brought against her. Banks’ parents were later appointed as guardians, but that status was terminated in 2001 and the children were returned to foster care.
Banks contends that numerous state officials who participated in the termination of her parental rights also are members of non-profits connected with the foster care system, creating a blatant conflict of interest. They are cited as individual defendants in her case.
They include appeals court judge Kathleen Jansen, one of the three judges who denied her appeal, who sits on the Macomb County Child Abuse Neglect Information Council, and Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Weaver, who chairs the “Governor’s Task Force on Children’s Justice and Family Independence Agency.”
Although she was not the attending physician, Dr. Annamaria Church testified against Banks on behalf of Henry Ford Hospital. Besides heading the pediatric residency program at the DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, she is also involved with the state’s non-profit Children’s Trust Fund, which doles out $70 million annually in funding to various non-profit child welfare agencies including foster care programs.
Dr. Shirley Moore, National Director of Legislative Affairs for the American Family Rights Association says children are needlessly placed in a system that is often more dangerous than their own homes because the county gets $30,000 to $150,000 in state and federal revenues for each placement.
Moore said the situation in Michigan is far worse, because officials at all levels up to the state are involved, and there is no recourse here except federal court.