Mother: 'Child Welfare Services in Colorado Stole My Disabled Son'
The “child welfare” bureaucracy has struck again, this time targeting a seven-year-old disabled child and removing him from his mother’s care—and evidence suggests it was done by deceptive means.
Cynthia Abcug, a mother of four, has been struggling with the medical needs of her son Michael* since he was a baby. He suffered seizures and muscular problems, developmental delays, and more, all documented by specialists. On top of this, her teen daughter is in therapy for trauma she experienced as a child through the interference of child services, who placed her with the man she says abused her for eight years. Even though Cecily’s doctors were concerned she was being sexually abused as a toddler and stated in documentation that “Cecily stated ‘boo boo daddy’ and pointed to her vaginal area…” and that “sexual/emotional difficulties” were suspected, child services in Broward County, Florida, ordered her to have unsupervised visits with her abuser for the next eight years. Abcug eventually obtained a no-contact order against Cecily’s biological father, David Smith*, and he was barred from contacting her in any way going forward. The abuse was so severe that the court ordered them into the state’s address confidentiality program, which would conceal their location from the abuser. Abcug’s son Jeremy told PJM, “Cecily had an extremely hard time with her father and it took way too long for the system to do something substantial for her. It was evident that she was abused.”
Abcug's youngest son Michael was seeing specialists until his physician, Dr. Wong, felt he could no longer treat him effectively. In documents, Wong described Michael’s condition at five years old.
Michael started to show signs of epilepsy since 7 months of age. He has been evaluated extensively by the Pediatric Neurologists and EEG specialists at Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital and Miami Children’s Hospital, two of the best Children’s Hospitals in South Florida. Unfortunately, to date, Michael has not achieved adequate control of his seizures nor has a definitive cause of his seizure disorder been found...it has been extremely difficult for Michael to integrate socially at school, and the effects of his epilepsy, as well as the side effects of his seizure medicines, have hampered his ability to learn. Furthermore, any extensive convulsions risk damage to his brain and potentially can be life-threatening.
Despite these findings, Abcug was accused of abuse through Munchausen by proxy by Smith, her ex, who called DHS repeatedly with false allegations causing a nightmare of investigations. Abcug was cleared of any wrongdoing and the Broward County DHS stopped taking Smith’s calls seriously. Cecily’s guardian ad litem appointed by the court during that time is on good terms with the family and is supportive of Abcug and her parenting decisions.
Dr. Wong recommended that Abcug take Michael to a specialist in Colorado who could get to the bottom of his undiagnosed disorders. “I strongly believe that Michael should be further evaluated at the neuroscience Institute at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado located in Aurora, Colorado,” wrote Wong. Abcug took his recommendation and petitioned the court for an emergency motion to temporarily relocate out of state with Michael and Cecily, the two minor children in her care. The petition was granted in January of 2018. In that ruling, Judge Frink ruled that Smith, Cecily’s father, was “prohibited from having any contact/communication with said minor child, including telephone communication, written communication or electronic communication.”
Abcug uprooted her life and moved to Colorado to find a diagnosis and seek recovery for Michael. The trouble started, Abcug said, when she began petitioning Pioneer Elementary School in Colorado to continue Michael's special services, that he is federally guaranteed, into first grade. In kindergarten, Michael had aides and a teacher. By the end of the year, his teacher stated that Michael would need a paraprofessional with him in first grade. Dr. Collins, Michael’s new neurologist, also wrote a letter to the school district saying, “Michael’s extensive medical history (which encompasses episodes of muscle weakness, lack of coordination, and delayed processing ability) have a markedly deleterious effect on his ability to perform any task related to daily living.” She followed up with a list of things he would need help with at school including getting his coat on and off, going to the bathroom safely, opening his lunch, and close monitoring on the playground.
After attending school for one week, Abcug says Michael came home with an open wound on his back and an uneaten lunch every day. Abcug retained an attorney to represent Michael at an IEP meeting to try and get his needs met. The school declined the services requested and Abcug’s attorney confirmed the position of the school in a letter to them stating that “the team was not able to come to a resolution over a safety plan, which prompted Ms. Abcug to place Michael in a home-school program so that she could remain in compliance with the doctors’ orders. Had the IEP team decided to follow the doctors’ orders... Ms. Abcug would have agreed to place Michael in the school district’s program.”
Abcug pulled Michael out of school in October of 2018 to homeschool him. On January 31, 2019, the Department of Human Services showed up on her doorstep to interview her children on charges of neglect and abuse, which they refused to specify, except to say they received a call that Abcug was “misrepresenting Michael’s illness.” DHS interviewed both children against the advice and request of Cecily’s therapist, Amanda Edwards, who wrote, “It is my current clinical impression that the mental health and wellness of my client could be negatively impacted at this time by an interview and/or participation in any “investigation” should the appropriate therapeutic support not be present at the time of said interview.” DHS investigator Camille Gadziala interviewed the traumatized teenager, who has been diagnosed with PTSD, against Edwards’ recommendations. She also interviewed Michael without support as required by ADA guidelines. Even after the letter from Cecily’s therapist was sent to DHS, they interviewed her a second time without her therapist and within days Cecily attempted suicide and was hospitalized. Edwards said she “received no communication from any caseworker regarding this interview or investigation.”
DHS offered Abcug “services” after those interviews that they said would help her “set appointments” for all of Michael’s medical care. Abcug attended a “family meeting” at the DHS office, where three of Michael’s caregivers came with her and confirmed his medical conditions. When Abcug turned down the department’s offer for “services,” things got ugly.
Camille Gadziala texted Abcug requesting to interview the children again. Abcug denied her request. Gadziala then sent an email to Abcug informing her that she would have a court hearing on May 8th, 2019. (PJM is in possession of that email.) Abcug was not given any reason for the hearing or issued a summons to show up as Colorado law requires. She was given one email from an employee of DHS who then rescheduled the hearing at the last minute. Abcug requested the official petition that the department filed with the court several times and was told she could have it at the hearing. She was also told she could only get a court-appointed attorney thirty minutes before the hearing with no time for her representation to go over any of her evidence or medical records. Abcug did not have funds for a private attorney. In other words, the fate of her children rested on her ability to defend herself against charges she had not seen with a lawyer she had never met.
Abcug says when she went to court she was dismayed to discover that she was not allowed to see the petition or what she was alleged to have done, but was asked to sign it. She refused. “The Magistrate, Rebecca Moss, asked me why I didn’t sign it stating that I understood it and I told her, how can I understand something I haven’t read? I don’t even know why I’m here!” Abcug reported that Moss asked her three times, “Is your son terminal?” to which Abcug answered, “No!” each time. Moss then lightly questioned the agents of DHS, Camille Gadziala, Molly Stegink, and Nicole Adams, who told her that Abcug was "uncooperative." Without explanation, Abcug says Moss ordered that Michael be placed in the custody of DHS and they removed him from his home within 30 minutes. A no-contact order was issued against Abcug for two weeks, where she would have no contact with Michael. "I was not allowed to speak in my defense or share any evidence to refute DHS's false claims," said Abcug.
Upon returning home, Abcug read the petition that DHS had filed against her and discovered they had charged her with making up Michaels’s medical issues. They went all the way into the records from Florida from years before and rehashed the old allegations that were proven false. They even outrageously claimed that “Dr. Collins reported that Ms. Abcug’s anxiety can escalate her to an illogical place out of fear. Dr. Collins sees Michael frequently to avoid Ms. Abcug’s frantic thoughts.” Dr. Collins refuted this accusation explicitly in a letter to Abcug. “I did schedule more frequent visits with you initially because of the complexity of Michael’s history, the tests we were doing, to be able to discuss the results with you, and yes, also because of your degree of anxiety about what is going on with Michael. I would and continue to do the same with any complex patient we are trying to figure out and also for any patient whose parents are anxious...This does not mean there is any harm being done to Michael or that I was doing anything different in your case than I would for another family in a similar situation.”
It’s hard to imagine any mother would not be anxious with a severely ill son that no one can diagnose. Collins continued, “Unfortunately, my opinion on the matter is irrelevant to DHS and they have made their decisions about his case regardless of my input as to whether anything inappropriate was done or there was any harm.”
Abcug’s oldest son Jake, who is twenty-six, told PJM that no one from DHS in Colorado ever contacted him to ask about his mother’s treatment of Michael. “You’re the first person who called me, and I was there,” he said. “He’s the sickest child I know. He goes unconscious from seizures since he was younger than one.”
Jake defends his mother absolutely. “She didn’t want to go to Colorado. She didn’t want to leave me. She followed the doctor’s orders and left a good paying job. She uprooted her life to do what is best for him,” he said. Jake and his family are desperate to know what is happening to Michael in DHS custody. “He was getting therapy three times a week. Are they caring for him? We still haven’t gotten a diagnosis and in order to get it, we listen to his doctors. If she didn’t follow their advice, she’d be charged with neglect!”
Michael’s occupational therapist (who declined to be identified) wrote a letter to DHS refuting their claims of abuse by Abcug. “Cindy Abcug, Michael’s Mom, has always kept the therapist in her home up to date on medical concerns with Michael,” she wrote. “She has told us verbally and given written information from both Dr. Collins and Dr. Finney regarding medical issues. This has included testing requested by the physician or me, to determine a diagnosis for Michael. It is my understanding that only 3 to 4 medical tests have been completed in the 1 ½ year he has lived in Colorado; one was requested by me."
The therapist continued to destroy DHS’s claim that no one had witnessed Michael’s illness. “Currently both physicians are working diligently to determine a possible diagnosis for Michael’s medical issues, which I have observed myself.” Even more disturbing is that it appears that DHS did not reach out to the therapist before removing Michael from his mother’s custody. “I have not been interviewed by Douglas County Child Protection Services regarding their concerns,” she wrote.
Another outrageous and debunked claim DHS made in their faulty petition to remove Michael was that Abcug had subjected her other son, Jeremy, now an adult, to chemotherapy claiming, “She represents her older son Jeremy had stomach cancer and was receiving chemotherapy.” This claim is refuted by Jeremy in a letter he wrote on May 20, 2019. “These allegations against Cynthia are absolutely ridiculous. I’ve seen Michaels’s decline in health over the years, and the notion that she was poisoning Michael is unbelievable. She has never claimed that I had stomach cancer (in fact, she was the only one in the family to take steps to get me treated when I was suffering from h. Pylori bacteria.)...I hope Michael is rightfully returned to his family as soon as possible before his situation deteriorates even more so, and that more care is taken in these types of situations in the future.”
PJM reached out to Jeremy. “I don’t believe they looked at any of his records. They have taken no care in this case,” he said.
On May 30, Abcug received an email from Nicole Palmer, a caseworker at Douglas County Health Services, claiming that she had failed her court-mandated drug screening hair test and tested positive for marijuana. “I just wanted to let you know that your hair follicle was positive for THC. I have submitted these results to the legal team so you can obtain a copy,” wrote Palmer. To date, Abcug has not received a copy of that report. Unfortunately for DHS, Abcug went the Monday after taking the court-ordered test to Escreen for an identical test because she was concerned that the DHS testing was faulty or fraudulent. Escreen sent her samples to the same lab, Omega Laboratories, that DHS uses. The Omega hair screening that Escreen ordered came back negative for all drugs.
Recently in Alabama, a viral story about falsified drug tests that resulted in parents losing children was reported by local news.
More charges are expected for the owner of an Alabama lab collection company accused of altering paternity and drug test screenings.
The Ozark Police Department on Friday announced charges against 36-year-old Brandy Murrah, who lives in Clopton. Murrah is the owner of A & J Lab Collections.
Dale County District Attorney Kirke Adams said Monday that if the allegations against Murrah are true, it could mean that parents were denied custody based on falsified drug screen results.
Abcug has not seen Michael in 22 days. She is not allowed to know where he is or what medical procedures are being done on him. She only knows that he is being seen by medical professionals without her consent or knowledge and subjected to more tests they claim to want to save him from. She was notified that the foster family is enrolling him in day camp with rigorous sports and activities that he is not supposed to do without constant supervision and frequent breaks. Heat and activity can trigger a life-threatening seizure. While ignoring Michael’s doctors, DHS has also endangered Cecily. Abcug found out they contacted Cecily’s father, David Smith, and revealed to him the location of his daughter, who was under a protective order from a Florida court. Abcug believes they have put her life in danger. “We were put into a modified witness protection program to protect Cecily from her father who is unstable. DHS has violated that court order and revealed our location to him for unknown reasons. I’m worried they are going to try and give her back to her abuser.”
DHS and her court-appointed attorney have refused to give Abcug the copy of the court order separating her from Michael. Requests for an emergency petition to have Michael returned have also been ignored. “When an agency as powerful as DHS comes in and takes your child under false pretenses, it’s both heartbreaking and terrifying,” said Abcug. “I’m afraid of them retaliating because they still have my son and we haven’t seen him or heard from him since he has been in their custody. But at this point I need help. I have nothing to hide because I’ve done nothing wrong.”
PJM reached out to DHS for a statement and received no reply. But within minutes of that contact, Abcug received an email from DHS saying, “At this time the Department and GAL are continuing to assess Michael's true medical, developmental, and emotional needs. The Department is concerned about influence and coaching in this case, therefore there will be no visits at this time.” Abcug had been asking for visits since they took him 22 days ago and this was the first conclusive communication about visitation she received.
Abcug is in the process of firing the court-appointed attorney and raising money for a private attorney. A GoFundMe page has been set up for Michael here.
*Some names have been changed to protect the identity of minor children