A Massachusetts Health and Human Services official has penned a letter supporting the return of Justina Pelletier, the teen at the center of an emotional custody battle, to her home state and went so far as to write that the "groundwork" for a "reunification plan" has been laid.
Justina Pelletier for 14 months has been in custody of the state's Department of Children and Families after a disagreement over a diagnosis between her parents and physicians at Boston Children's Hospital led to accusations of medical child abuse.
When her parents disagreed with the hospital's plan that would treat Justina for a psychiatric disorder — not mitochondrial disease, for which she had been previously diagnosed and treated — they tried to discharge the now 15-year-old in order to take her to her doctor at Tufts Medical Center. That's when the state stepped in to address concerns presented to it by Boston Children's.
Since then, Lou and Linda Pelletier, Justina's parents, have been in and out of court fighting to have custody returned to them, fearing their daughter's health is failing without treatment for mitochondrial disease.
Though a Boston juvenile court judge recently awarded permanent custody to the state DCF, it would appear, based on the letter by Massachusetts HHS Secretary John Polanowicz, that a plan is in the works to at least return Justina to her home state of Connecticut.
Here's Polanowicz's full letter sent Friday:
Justina Pelletier should return to her home state of Connecticut to receive the services and support she needs close to her friends, family, school and community. We strongly believe that this outcome is in Justina’s best interests, and have laid the groundwork to make it happen.
The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) has been working with providers and the State of Connecticut to develop a reunification plan for the family to help achieve this goal as soon as possible.
Last year, the Juvenile Court gave custody of Justina to DCF and since then she has received treatment and supports from both DCF and a residential treatment provider in Massachusetts. She has received tutoring, made friends and attended events in the community, including a recent outing to see Blue Man Group.
We were also pleased we could help arrange for Justina to observe religious services and to spend time with her family on Easter. But we hope she is able to spend future holidays with her family in Connecticut.
Contrary to the belief of many, DCF does not have the authority to determine when and if custody should be returned to Justina’s parents. As with all cases of alleged abuse or neglect, that authority is held solely by the court. In this case, after reviewing all of the evidence, the court found that it is in the best interest of Justina to remain in DCF custody for now.
DCF is ready to work with the family around reunification planning and we hope the family will fully engage in this process. We have taken numerous steps to achieve our shared goal of Justina ultimately returning home -- and we will stay focused on achieving this result.
Some state lawmakers have supported the Pelletiers with a petition that their daughter should be returned to them, and family advocates have called upon Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to address the case as well.
Patrick briefly responded some questions before another engagement earlier this week.