Story Summary

Justina Pelletier Custody Case

FOX CT’s Beau Berman has been following the case of Justina Pelletier, a West Hartford teen who has been held from her parents since they admitted her to Boston Children’s Hospital in February 2013 with flu-like symptoms. Justina had previously been diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at Tufts Medical Center in 2011. Doctors at Boston Children’s questioned the diagnosis and said they believed her symptoms — including weakness, headaches and abdominal pain — were psychologically induced. They diagnosed her with somatoform disorder, a mental disorder. Justina’s parents disagreed with that diagnosis, and have been in a custody dispute with the State of Massachusetts ever since. She remains in Massachusetts custody.

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Local News
07/16/14

Justina Pelletier Pushes Law in Washington D.C.

West Hartford teenager Justina Pelletier met with Congresswoman Michele Bachmann Wednesday in Washington to push a new law in her name.

Bachmann has introduced a bipartisan bill nicknamed “Justina’s Law” that would ban federal funding for medical experimentation on children who are wards of the state.

“She’s now free and the purpose of Justina’s law will be to make sure this never, ever, ever, happens again and Justina hit it out of the park when she spoke to numerous members of Congress today to ask them to support Justina’s law,” said Bachmann.

Pelletier says she was mistreated and the subject of medical experimentation at Children’s Hospital in Boston, while in the custody of the State of Massachusetts.

Bachmann says several hospitals involve children in research that presents great risk, sometimes with no benefit to the child.

“I just want the law to be passed: Justina’s law,” said Pelletier, sitting next to Bachmann Wednesday.

Bachmann says Justina received a standing ovation when she addressed about 70 members of congress during a lunch briefing.

“We know that this is happening all over the country in all 50 states, that children who are designated wards of the state, are having medical research done on them that may not have any direct benefit whatsoever to the child and in Justina’s case she was made paralyzed by this medical research,” said Bachmann.

The teen hopes to testify before the entirety of congress in September.

Pelletier was in Massachusetts custody from February 2013 until June 2014.

The controversy began when doctors argued over her medical diagnosis and her parents were accused of “medical child abuse”.

 

After months of anguish, there is joy in the Pelletier household.

Fox CT spent the day alongside the family of Justina Pelletier  as she returned home for the first time in 16 months.

For the first time, the world is hearing Justina’s take on the custody battle that all began because of differing opinions about her medical condition.

She’s at home now in her parents’ custody without any strings attached.

She’s literally “home free”.

At 10:00 Wednesday morning, Linda Pelletier, drove her daughter Justina out of the Thompson, CT, youth educational facility where she’s lived the past month.

It marked the end of a nightmare for her family.

Sixteen months of life without her daughter was over.

“It’s a very happy moment, the best moment of my entire life,” said Linda Pelletier.

On Tuesday, the Boston Judge presiding over the case officially returned Justina to her parents’ custody.

It was Joseph Johnston, who is the same judge who took custody away from them in February 2013.

After Fox CT aired the Pelletier’s story in November 2013, the case drew national attention, raising questions about parental rights, government intervention and awareness regarding rare disease.

Lou and Linda Pelletier lost custody after they disagreed with a new medical diagnosis and were accused of medical child abuse.

Justina was diagnosed with ‘mitochondrial disease’ years earlier and then she came down with the flu in February 2013.

Her parents admitted her to Boston Children’s Hospital to see a specialist who recently transferred there from Tufts Medical Center.

Tufts Medical Center is where she was originally diagnosed with mitochondrial disease.

But they say that when Justina was admitted, a different team of doctors swooped in and declared Justina had a mental condition called somatoform disorder, not mitochondrial disease.

Her parents argued that diagnosis and were eventually escorted out of the hospital by security.

The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families was called in and they had lost custody within the span of just four days.

However, the family spokesman says Justina’s release proves the family’s innocence all along.

“Today is vindication. This has been the most examined family in the state of Massachusetts and Connecticut and Justina is being released,” says Rev. Patrick Mahoney.

But her return Wednesday, was less about controversy than about coming together with her three sisters, three dogs and her parents.

Eighteen months ago Justina was figure skating but now her legs won’t work, so father Lou, had to carry her inside their home Wednesday.

He then addressed the hoard of media outside.

“We have a whole new battle now in the transition of bringing Justina back to where she was before,” said Lou Pelletier.

Then Justina sat down with Fox CT for a one on one exclusive conversation about the past 16 months in the custody of a different state.

Beau Berman: “How does it feel to be back?”

Justina Pelletier: “Awesome!”

Beau Berman: “It feels good?”

Justina Pelletier:  “Yeah! It feels so good to be home.”

Justina Pelletier: “I just… I just don’t know how this really happened because it doesn’t feel like it’s real.”

Beau Berman: “You were gone a LONG time.”

Justina Pelletier: “I know! A long time, a long 16 months.”​

Fox CT asked Justina about her time at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“It was crazy oh my gosh. I didn’t have any support there, they didn’t believe me at all especially at Children’s especially when I got on Bader 5,” said Justina.

Justina says she now wants to help other children.

“I want to help a lot of people. It was hard and tough so I don’t want anyone else to be put through the same thing I got put through.”

But first she’ll undergo intensive physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Her parents say her health deteriorated while the hospital took her off necessary medications.

“I will be walking some day and be running, skating and all this other stuff,” said Justina.

Despite 16 months of separation from her family and living away from home against her will, Justina is choosing to celebrate rather than look back.

“A big party, I want a big party – I deserve it – I think I do.”

Local News
06/17/14

Family Reacts To Justina Pelletier’s Return

PDF: Pelletier Ruling 1 Pelletier Ruling 2

After more than a year, a West Hartford family’s battle to get their daughter back is finally ending.

A disagreement about 16-year-old Justina Pelletier’s medical care put her in the custody of Massachusetts last year and sparked a national debate.

The judge’s order came down this afternoon and it’s official, Justina Pelletier will go home to West Hartford Wednesday, June 18.

Her family is at once ecstatic and exasperated.

They had their life turned upside down in February 2013 and now, 16 months later, they got a phone call telling them their nightmare is over.

“I’m so excited to be home, I can’t wait, I’m just so happy to be home, thank you everyone for letting me go home tomorrow I’m so excited. I can’t believe it’s happening, thank you guys so much for everything,” said Justina Pelletier, in a video recorded Tuesday afternoon.

With her mother, Linda, by her side in Thompson, CT, Justina called her father and her sisters Tuesday with the good news.

“It was such a shock, such a surprise, but obviously, the best surprise we could have had. She’s finally coming home and we can begin the healing process,” says father, Lou Pelletier.

Her sister, Jessica, was with Mr. Pelletier when he got the call.

“I was speechless. I can’t believe it, I’m so happy,” she said.

Justina spent the past 16 months in the custody of the State of Massachusetts Department of Children and Families after her parents disputed a medical diagnosis in February 2013 at Boston Children’s Hospital, were accused of medical child abuse and a judge revoked their custody.

But in a written order released Tuesday afternoon, the judge returned custody to Justina’s parents.

“I don’t want to see this happen to another kid again because it should have never happened to my sister to begin with,” says Justina’s oldest sister, Jennifer Pelletier.

Her mother, Linda, will pick her up from the Thompson, Connecticut youth facility where she’s lived the past month and driv her back to West Hartford on Wednesday.

Julia Pelletier is one of Justina’s three sisters and her roommate in the Pelletier home.

“It’s a little hard to sink in, but I’m really happy that it’s going to happen that she’ll be home tomorrow!” she said Tuesday evening.

You don’t have to go far from the family’s home to find support for the 16 year old.

Right at the base of their street, a chalk message reads “Welcome Home, Justina”.

Justina’s father credits here return to his family’s perseverance, online support where her Facebook page (“A Miracle for Justina”) has almost 50,000 ‘likes’ and to the media, for sharing the story.

“Thank god, Beau Berman comes along, because if you didn’t come to our house in September and then air this after doing your own homework in November, who knows where we’d be right now,” says Lou Pelletier.

Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services, John Polanowicz, helped arrange an 11th hour reunification plan for Justina.

“Today’s decision is a result of our collaboration with the Pelletier family around the reunification plan, and the strong work of staff at the Susan Wayne Center for Excellence in helping Justina along her road to recovery. The Court’s ruling reflects a thorough review of this complex case, and we are very pleased with the result,” said Polanowicz on Tuesday.

Justina is still unable to walk according to her family and not in good shape physically or mentally so it will certainly be a road to recovery.

The family isn’t hiding the fact that they plan to file a civil lawsuit.

They also have plans to push for a new law to prevent similar incidents from occurring to other hospital patients.

Local News
06/17/14

Justina Pelletier To Return Home Wednesday

The Pelletier family of West Hartford has told  FOXCT their daughter, Justina, will be returned to her family Wednesday.

Lou Pelletier, Justina’s father, says a juvenile judge issued the order Tuesday afternoon, returning custody of Justina to her parents.

The Pelletiers lost custody 16 months ago to the State of Massachusetts, after disagreements over a medical diagnosis.

Since then, Justina has been in the care of Boston Children’s Hospital and Youth facilities.

Father’s day is emotional for dads everywhere, but perhaps even more than most for Lou Pelletier, the father of Justina Pelletier.

Justina, 16, who remains in Massachusetts Dept. of Children and Families’ custody, was allowed to go home and visit her dad Sunday.

The visit marked what was only the second time in 16 months that she was back in her West Hartford home.

It came ahead of Friday, which is the first day the judge presiding over her custody case can revisit his decision to give custody to Massachusetts DCF.

Pelletier has been living at the Justice Resource Institute (JRI) Susan Wayne Center for Excellence in Thompson, Conn., since last month. Her family has been allowed to visit her there.

Her mother, Linda Pelletier, has seen her almost every day.

Linda has been living in a hotel just north of the Connecticut border, in Massachusetts.

Sunday’s trip home was an unsupervised visit. She enjoyed a Cirque Du Soleil show and then a barbecue with her dad at the grill.

“It was bittersweet. There were parts of me that wanted to cry of happiness, but there was parts of me that wanted to cry with sadness because end of the day … she was leaving and she didn’t want to go,” says Lou Pelletier.

June marks 16 months since Pelletier was taken from her parents’ custody after a medical diagnosis dispute and doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital accused the parents of medical child abuse.

But June 20 also marks six months since a December custody decision and the first time the judge will review the arrangement to consider Justina’s permanent return home.

In the past few weeks, Pelletier attorneys filed a motion for her release, as did attorneys for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, prompting some to say the judge could release Justina at any moment.

“What’s the judge waiting for? He doesn’t have to wait until the 20th. He can do it now,” says Lou Pelletier.

Controversy aside, Father’s Day provided at least a day of relief for Justina’s dad, and based on photos, put a smile on her face as well.

“I think she was so happy to be back. Who wouldn’t be? She wants to be a normal kid, go back to school and be with her friend and family,” says Justina’s sister, Jessica Pelletier.

For now, Justina’s West Hartford room remains empty, as she awaits word from the judge, who will decide where she spends the rest of her summer and beyond.

“It was great that we had the family there and dad’s on the grill and life seemed like it was 16 months ago. We were one family. Everything was good,” says Lou Pelletier.

There’s no court date set for June 20, so it’s unclear exactly when and how the judge will release his findings upon reviewing the case once more.

 

Attorneys for Justina Pelletier’s family say the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services filed a motion for “review of reconsideration and dismissal in the case of Justina Pelletier.”

The action follows a motion from the Pelletier family’s attorneys to return Justina home. They say the motion from HHS indicates that they are in agreement to return Justina home.

The 16-year-old West Hartford girl is currently at a facility in Thompson, Conn.

She was taken away from her parents’ custody in February 2013 after a complicated dispute over a medical diagnosis.

Massachusetts DCF has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Justina Pelletier returned to Connecticut for the first time in 15 months on Monday.

The 15-year-old was brought back to her home state just after 3 p.m. in an ambulance, the same way she left the state 15 months earlier when she entered Boston Children’s Hospital, where the custody case began.

But while that fight continues, on Monday, her family expressed unprecedented optimism after visiting her new facility: The Justice Resource Institute Susan Wayne Center for Excellence.

“I went in kind of skeptical as far as what I was expecting from Mr. Andy Pond, the CEO, but I came out of here very, very optimistic,” said Lou Pelletier, Justina’s father.

Justina’s mother, father and three sisters visited her inside the facility.

Her father says he and his wife, Linda, are now allowed nearly unlimited unsupervised visitation of Justina at the facility in Thompson.

The transfer stems from a Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services reunification plan that has been in the works for weeks.

“I believe that HHS, by putting this plan together and working with this facility, was the first right step in bringing her home and bringing healing to this family. So that’s a positive thing, but we can’t let up. She’s not home,” said family spokesman Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Free Justina Coalition and the Christian Defense Coalition.

The facility’s president, Andy Pond, released a statement last week saying in part:

“JRI has a long history of working closely with families in difficult circumstances, with the goal of reunification.”

Lou Pelletier says Justina will receive immediate therapy and has an on-site nurse who is familiar with her medical needs.

The question now is how long it will be before Justina goes to her actual home.

Her father says Massachusetts officials have the power to order her home once they receive a positive recommendation from the facility, something the family is praying for sooner, rather than later.

“For now, we’re going along with it. She’s gotten out of that wayside facility where she’s been 4 months now. So now she’s at least in the state of Connecticut and hopefully this is her last stop and hopefully a short one before she’s home in West Hartford,” said Lou Pelletier.

Despite all of the Pelletiers’ optimism after Monday’s placement, they say they won’t be satisfied until Justina is at home.

In fact, they said a protest is being held Saturday May 17 at 2 p.m. in front of the Massachusetts State House, organized by a Boston radio show host.

 

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Susan Wayne Center For Exellence Facility where Justina Pelletier was transferred Monday

Justina Pelletier, the West Hartford teen at the center of an interstate custody dispute, has been moved to a Connecticut treatment facility on Monday.

She had been at the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network Facility In Framingham, Mass. and was moved to JRI Susan Wayne Center For Excellence In Thompson, which is in the northeast corner of the state.
The 15 year old remains in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families as she’s been the past 15 months.
She was taken from her parents after they disagreed with a sudden diagnosis issued at a new hospital.
Justina’s parents met with the Wayne center’s director Monday — the parents want her home immediately.

West Hartford teenager Justina Pelletier will be moved to a Thompson, Conn., facility next week, according to a letter written Monday by Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz.

Polanowicz issued the letter after a 90 minute meeting with the Pelletier family.

The letter lays out a reunification plan that would move Pelletier to the JRI Susan Wayne Center for Excellence.

According to Polanwicz’s letter, it is a “therapeutic education provider in Thompson, Connecticut” where “she will receive comprehensive services and supports closer to her family, friends, school and community.”

The facility is in the northeast corner of the Connecticut, close to the Rhode Island and Massachusetts borders.

It is approximately a 1 hour, 15 minute drive from the Pelletiers’ home in West Hartford.

“It was an emotional meeting. There were tears shed. There was the expectation that Justina, with conditions, would be returned home as quickly as possible,” said Pelletier family spokesman Rev. Patrick Mahoney during a press conference on the Statehouse steps after the meeting Monday.

But the expectation of her immediate return was flipped upside down when the Pelletiers received Polanowicz’s letter.

The letter says the Massachusetts DCF would support Justina’s return home if four conditions are met by her parents:

  1. Attend visits with Justina at the Susan Wayne Center for Excellence
  2. Follow through with the Tufts Medical Center care plan
  3. Participate in family therapy
  4. Meet with DCF to review progress

“So they come to the Pelletiers and they say, ‘Accept this plan. It will be so good. We want Justina home immediately.’ There’s no date on here. How do we know? The broken promises of 15 months?” said Mahoney.

Rev. Mahoney says he met with Polanowicz twice last month and that both HHS and Justina’s state-appointed attorney agreed to a plan that would send her home to West Hartford right away.

But Mahoney says that at Monday’s meeting, the alternate plan was suddenly put forward.

Some ask why the Pelletiers are not at least grateful for Justina’s proposed return to Connecticut and why they don’t just chalk it up to “baby steps” toward getting her back.

They say their “baby” turns 16 years old this month, and after 15 months without her, their only victory would be having her back at home.

“Justina needs to be home by her birthday, May 24, and that is the ultimatum we have given the secretary and the DCF commissioner,” said her father, Lou Pelletier.

Justina has been in Massachusetts state custody since February of 2013, after a complicated series of events at Boston Children’s Hospital.

While she had been previously diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at Tufts Medical Center, different doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital diagnosed her with somatoform disorder, a mental condition.

When her parents moved to discharge Justina, they were eventually escorted out of the hospital by security, and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families was called in.

Within four days, the Pelletiers lost custody of their daughter.

The family has been fighting to regain custody ever since.

View the Massachusetts Reunification plan letter here: Reunification-plan-letter

 

The father of West Hartford teenager Justina Pelletier discussed the potential impact of the Massachusetts DCF Commissioner’s resignation on the custody battle for his daughter Tuesday.

Massachusetts DCF Commissioner Olga Roche stepped down from her post on Tuesday morning. The announcement came on the same day that about two-dozen people held a rally on the Massachusetts Statehouse step calling for the release of Justina Pelletier from Massachusetts state custody.

Pelletier’s parents have been fighting with DCF and the courts to months now to regain custody of their daughter.

More than 400 stuffed animals were placed on the Massachusetts Statehouse steps today by the protesters. Pelletier has been in state custody for more than 14 months after a medical diagnoses dispute at Boston Children’s Hospital.

“We did a rally at the capital where we had a stuffed animal for every day that Justina has been in captivity by the State of Massachusetts,” said Justina’s father Lou Pelletier.

Despite a judge’s March ruling placing Pelletier in permanent custody of the state, a group called the “Free Justina Coalition” is rallying for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick or the DCF Commissioner to order her release.

Whether that is entirely legally possible is unclear.

“It’s clear from the events of this weekend, she can no longer command the trust of the public, or the confidence of her line staff,” said Gov. Patrick at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Roche was at the helm during the recent deaths of three children in separate situations, including two babies this past week, which created an increasing sense of public outrage.

Many believe a lack of oversight at DCF ultimately allowed the children’s deaths. One of those children was Jeremiah Oliver. His father had ties to New Britain, Connecticut.

Governor Patrick announced Deputy DCF Commissioner, Erin Deveney, will serve as interim DCF Commissioner during the search for Roche’s long-term replacement.

“I have accepted her resignation, because I believe it is not possible for the agency to move forward in this environment with her at the helm,” said Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services, John Polanowicz.

Pelletier’s father, Lou, believes his best chance of getting his daughter back lies with Polanowicz.

“He sees the writing on the wall with what is going on  and he is obviously under scrutiny himself because he could have stopped this himself.  Just like Gov. Patrick has executive authority to stop this, so does Commissioner Polanowicz,” said Pelletier.

Massachusetts DCF Spokesman, Alec Loftus, emailed the following statement to Fox CT in response to a request for comment Tuesday night:

“HHS Secretary John Polanowicz today met with Jennifer Pelletier and Reverand Mahoney to discuss a reunification plan for the family to get Justina back home to Connecticut as soon as possible. We strongly believe Justina should return to her home state to receive the services and support she needs close to her friends, family, school and community.”

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