The Connecticut teen at the center of a contentious custody case that includes a medical discrepancy is having her care transferred back to Tufts Medical Center and the motion to have her father held in contempt of court for breaking a judge’s gag order has been dropped.
In fact, the gag order issued last November has also been dropped completely.
An attorney for Justina Pelletier’s parents called the latest developments “good news,” but said custody of the 15-year-old still needs to be restored to her mother and father from the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families.
“We need DCF completely out of the case and [for] them to return full custody back to the Pelletier family,” Mat Staver told TheBlaze after an attorneys-only hearing Monday at the Suffolk County Juvenile Court in Massachusetts.
Tufts Medical Center is where Justina was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease several years ago and where she was treated for her symptoms. Last year, after complications with the flu, doctors at a Connecticut hospital recommended she be taken to Boston Children’s Hospital to see a gastrointestinal specialist.
Once there, her parents have said, Boston Children’s doctors said they believed Justina had somatoform disorder, which put the root of her symptoms as psychological. When the Pelletiers learned BCH wanted to stop Justina’s mitochondrial disease treatments, they tried to discharge her to bring her back to Tufts. Instead, they were accused of over-medicalizing their daughter and DCF stepped in, taking custody of Justina on Feb. 14, 2013. Justina was in a psychiatric ward at the hospital until early Jan. 2014.
The Pelletiers have since had numerous court hearings trying to regain custody of their daughter and have her medical care returned to Tufts. Last week, the judge presiding over the case ruled that Justina be transferred from Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, where she has been living for the last month, to a foster care facility. This facility a couple days later though said it could not take Justina.
Rev. Patrick Mahoney, who is the family’s spokesman, told TheBlaze Monday afternoon that the recent developments were “significant victories, but “no one can get overly excited until Justina is returned home. There is not exuberance until Justina is back.”
Staver told TheBlaze that Justina’s custody remains with DCF for now, but it’s something the family intends to fight at the next scheduled court hearing on March 17.
“Justina has had worse treatment than convicted fellons in the state,” Staver said. “She has had only a one-hour visit each week, no education and abysmal medical care.”
From Mahoney’s perspective, the decision to turn Justina’s care over to Tufts could support that custody should be restored to her parents.
“If one follows through the court’s decision that if this whole removal of custody from family was predicated on these dueling disputes,” he said, referring to a mitochondrial disease diagnosis and treatment versus somatoform disorder, “I think you can make the assumption … that Justina should be returned back to her parents because the fundamental dispute is now gone.”
As for why Monday’s hearing was so quickly scheduled ahead of the previously scheduled date for later in March, Staver said he thinks it was because “DCF saw the handwriting on the wall.”
“They’re already under investigation for fraud and mismanagement,” Staver said, noting a recent report that revealed DCF was no longer checking on 134 children within the system who could therefore be missing. “They were getting spotlight and still are getting spotlight on them.
In addition to awaiting the next hearing, Mahoney said he is meeting with Connecticut legislators Monday and Tuesday to encourage them to make a statement about Justina’s custody, given that Massachusetts DCF wants to transfer custody to Connecticut DCF.
“It’s not an issue of geography, but custody. The only solution to this is Justina being returned to family,” Mahoney said.
The Pelletiers will make a statement in front of Massachusetts legislators this week and a resolution to “free Justina” has already been drafted for the upcoming session.