Guilty until proven innocent

Pam
Pam Frampton
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The Weekend Telegram front page

“Justice while she winks at crimes,

Stumbles on innocence sometimes.”

— Samuel Butler (1835-1902),

British author

 

Part 1 in a three-part series

 

Like any loving parent, when Sharon (not her real name) checked on her baby and found her lethargic, she called 911 and rushed her to the Janeway Children’s Hospital.

The five-month old had been crying and fussy that afternoon.

The child was examined at the hospital and then treated for infection. On Day 2, tests revealed bleeding on the brain and behind the retinas of her eyes.

“The doctor asked if she’d had any accidents. Did she fall off the bed?” Sharon said.

“Then the RNC and Child Protection showed up.”

One week later, the child was in protective custody in the hospital.

 

“Little did I know that all the guns were pointed at me at the time,” Sharon told The Telegram in a recent wide-ranging interview, where she was accompanied by family members.

“I was in shock. For two-and-a-half hours we were questioned by the RNC investigative unit and Child Protection. The whole family got interviewed — anyone who looked after her. … About a week later we were served with the papers that they were taking (the baby).”

Sharon said she knew she hadn’t hurt her child and she didn’t think anyone else had, either.

“I stuck with my gut instinct on that,” she said. “I brought her to the hospital because she was sick.”

A family member who helped advocate for Sharon interjects: “The theory is that you have a frustrated mother and a crying baby, and the mother snaps.”

“Her father and his family had her on the weekend and a few hours during the week. …,” Sharon said. “It wasn’t like I had her day and night with no help. … I had tons of help.”

Sharon was at her daughter’s bedside in the hospital night and day for more than three weeks. At one point she was called into another room, where two social workers and two RNC officers were waiting. That’s when she was served with papers telling her she was losing her daughter.

“I threw up,” she said.

Days later, police and social workers arrived again.

“They took her away,” she said, crying softly. She had no idea where her child was going.

It is the only time during the interview when she loses her composure.

“I wasn’t even told when I would be able to see her again.

“They recommended I get a lawyer. … I had barely heard of shaken baby syndrome at the time.”

It was guilt by association; the last person to have cared for the baby becomes the target of suspicion.

It is a story too often told.

• • •

Because of a medical condition, Sharon thought she would probably never have children. So when she found out she was pregnant in 2010 — even though the circumstances weren’t perfect — she was ecstatic.

She and the father of her child were not together at the time, but as a woman in her 30s who thought she’d never have the experience, she was surprised and pleased to be having a baby.

“I was really happy — I didn’t think I was going to have kids,” she said. “I was thrilled! I wasn’t very happy with my situation — we were broke up at the time. We tried to make it work, and even went for counselling, but it didn’t work out.”

Still, she was looking forward to parenthood. An educated, articulate woman with a professional career, she figured she was well equipped to care for her daughter.

Now, three years later, she is struggling to rebuild her life after going through psychological, emotional and financial hell.

Sharon’s pregnancy was difficult. By the 27-week stage, she had contracted pneumonia. The baby was breech, with its head tucked near Sharon’s rib cage. Sharon coughed violently for six weeks and required antibiotics and hospitalization. Eventually her daughter was delivered by C-section, five weeks prematurely.

The baby’s head was elongated and enlarged, and the fontanel — the soft spot between the bones of her skull — was bulging. For the next three months, she required occupational therapy to correct the shape of her head, which had grown 12 centimetres in four-and-a-half months — a rate of growth you would normally expect to see in a year.

“This was all recorded,” Sharon said, “but nothing was followed up on. They never went back and considered anything in her history. They looked forward from the day she was brought in (to the hospital). They never looked back.”

The fight to regain access to her child would cost Sharon dearly.

The stress of the situation meant she had to take medical leave from work. The staggering cost of her defence led to her declaring bankruptcy. She lost her house.

“It took a toll on the whole family,” she said. “I hit rock-bottom more than once, let me tell you.”

But Sharon had strong weapons in her arsenal. Among them: tenacity, courage and the truth.

 

Next week: The rocky road to justice

 

Pam Frampton is a columnist and

The Telegram’s associate managing editor.

She can be reached by email at

pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • maxine lewis
    June 27, 2013 - 19:51

    Stay Strong--God will Bless You and your Baby

  • Kerri m
    June 19, 2013 - 20:06

    Sharon, you are awesome and I admire your perseverance ! I know your daughter will appreciate it and the sacrifices you've made over the years ! It's unreal to heat what you've had to endure ! Keep pushing forward !!!!

  • Tim
    June 17, 2013 - 16:40

    Elizabeth B...this story is not about mother vs. father it's about parent vs. the establishment while trying to save her kid. The article even mentions how things just didn't work out but there was no ill will between the parents of the child. You appear to be making an issue out of something else and should maybe cool your jets and let the parent rebuild their relationship with their child. If you are angry, direct it toward the child welfare people who believe they are one step away from being gods...no matter what province you live in.

    • Elizabeth B
      June 18, 2013 - 12:13

      Tim...I don't know why you would think that I'm talking about the mother vs the father. You should read my messages more carefully before you blow up!!! I'm just saying everyone is only reading one side of the story " the mothers"side now it would be nice to hear "the fathers" story... And if you are going off that the story is about mother vs the establishment well like I said there are two sides to a story and everyone knows that.

  • geraldine
    June 17, 2013 - 15:58

    Thank you Pam for publishing this story.It must have been heart wrenching for the family to go through this....to lose a child through sickness or accident is one thing but to lose your child because you went to the hospital to get help and be accused of SBS is INCONCEIVABLE. I wonder if some parents are afraid to bring their children to hospital for fear of being accused of wrong doing!!!!! As was in this case. Not only losing your baby for more than two years but also your home...the mental anguish that Sharon had to bare,God love her for putting her story in the paper, all parents should be aware of this Guilty Until Proven Innocent.I also think that this story should be put into the news on T.V. I definitely think that the hospital(doctor)should be held accountable Good luck Sharon.

  • Elizabeth B
    June 17, 2013 - 14:53

    The Fathers side needs to be heard before anyboby judges anyone... Did the mother get full custody???

    • Pam Frampton
      June 17, 2013 - 15:27

      The parents have joint custody.

  • mother of accused
    June 17, 2013 - 12:23

    I am sorry you have gone through this nightmare. I unfortunately know first hand how the system assumes you are guilty and never follows thru with other possibilities. Many families fight the same injustices daily. Stay strong!!! Also, Pam thank you for writing this series the public needs to be aware of how SBS cases go so wrong for so many.

  • Elizabeth B
    June 17, 2013 - 11:00

    I think that people reading this story need to hear both sides before they judge...and I wonder if the editor of this story heard both sides before this story before it got published....this is just my opinion

    • Pam Frampton
      June 17, 2013 - 11:04

      I am familiar with the judge's decision in this case, which I cannot quote from because the matter arose before Family Court. However, I can report the outcome, which was that the mother's access to her child was restored by the courts.

    • Elizabeth B
      June 17, 2013 - 13:57

      For the editor the replyed to my message I would like for you to write a story from what the father went through so that would be considered both sides of the story

  • coco
    June 16, 2013 - 05:55

    "It is better to risk saving the guilty than to condemn the innocent" - Voltaire. So far in the series, I am not impressed with this doctor or the two social workers and the two cops. I don't know what they were all using for a brain but they alone will have to live with what they did and depending on how this story unfolds, it must be a terrible burden for them to bear.

  • sylvia
    June 15, 2013 - 18:19

    stay strong Sharon. your road has been really rocky. Its hard when you know and your family knows that you not guilty ,but everyone else thinks you are guilty.. Believe that everything will work out.. Don't lose Hope . Looking forward to hearing your story next week in part 2. thank you. Sylvia

  • marg hancock
    June 15, 2013 - 18:07

    how sad------typical behaviour of those over zealous social workers----lots of book learning but no experience or common sense

  • Bill
    June 15, 2013 - 16:48

    CYFS consistently torture families.

  • Mary
    June 15, 2013 - 15:45

    MY GREATGRANDAUGHTER HAS GONE THROUGH THE SAME THING AND ONLY NOW HAS BEEN AT LEAST GIVEN TO HER GRANDMOTHER. ALL BECAUSE THEY DID WHAT THEY WERE ADVISED TO DO. SO MUCH SO, EVEN THE BABY'S MOTHER COULDN'T EVEN BREAST FEED HER DAUGHTER THE SHAME IS ON OUR MEDICAL SYSTEM AND THEY SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE.

  • Experienced
    June 15, 2013 - 13:43

    Guilty until proven innocent is standard operating procedure for Child Youth & Family Services. It is a cold and bureaucratic organization which cares more for covering its ass than the best interests of the child. It will not admit a mistake, but instead will go all out to cover it up. It damages many of the children in its care.

  • starr
    June 15, 2013 - 12:01

    This is what I don't like about social workers - I know some who have graduated in recent years and they come out of MUN with attitude. Pious, self-righteous, know-it-all-attitudes. To do this to a mother is unthinkable, there has to be a better way. And this mother should be compensated financially by the un-justice system that caused her so much loss.

    • Anon
      June 17, 2013 - 10:22

      As a social worker from MUN, I would have to say that you're spoit-on, Starr. The field is filled with too many social workers who misunderstand and misuse their power.