Just three hours after a Native American mother got home from the hospital after a suspected heart attack, Child Protective Services (known in Alabama as DHR, Department of Human Resources) showed up on her doorstep and took away her two autistic sons. Now, Alan “Mighty Thinker,” age 13, and Arnold “Swift Eagle,” age 10, are living in a foster home in Mobile, almost 250 miles away from their Sylacauga home, and their mother says that they are being abused in foster care and that their culture is being trampled by the social workers and foster parents.
Dawn “Adaleha” (“my sunshine” in Cherokee) Cullins was appointed as the Alabama Ambassador for the Sokoki tribe, and in 2003, was recognized for “acts of compassion and kindness” and awarded the Civic Recognition Award in her community. She holds a degree in Paralegal studies and is very active in tribal activities. Her record is squeaky clean, without so much as a traffic ticket.
None of this was enough to stop DHR from turning her family’s lives upside down for reasons that Dawn says are erroneous and an “abuse of discretion,” charges that she alleges in a brief that she filed this week in federal court. Like Michelle Rider of Missouri, whose son was taken by Lurie Children’s Hospital and Illinois DCFS (story here), Dawn also charges that ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) laws have been ignored.
Health Impact News has previously reported that Native American children are taken by CPS at a higher rate than other children in many states. ICWA of 1978 was an attempt to reverse this disturbing trend, yet many jurisdictions are not in compliance with the provisions of the Act, aimed at preserving Native American families and their culture.
Dawn and her sons are card-carrying members of the Sokoki tribe, and are part of the Wolf clan. They speak not only English, but also Cherokee and Lakota. Their Native American heritage is very important to the family, as is their Christian faith. However, like many of their ancestors, Dawn says that their culture is being taken from her children since they have been in state custody. She calls it “genocidal kidnapping,” and reports that, when she told DHR that they were Native American, the social workers told her that she would never get her kids back.
Alan’s Problems Began After Measles Vaccine
Alan was a healthy baby boy who was developing normally until his MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) shot at just after 18 months. Dawn reports that he developed a very high fever that he kept for a week. She believed that the vaccine was responsible, but she says that the doctors didn’t want to make that connection, recommending alternating Tylenol and Motrin. Studies have linked Tylenol (acetaminophen) to autism when given to children after certain vaccines. (See: Study: Evidence that Acetaminophen, Especially in Conjunction with Vaccines, is a Major Cause of Autism and Asthma.)
They would not admit him to the hospital, and he was never the same after that.
“I watched him shrink into a shell.” But “No matter what anyone says, I love my children just the way they are!”
Very Difficult Birth with Arnold
Arnold’s issues began with his difficult birth at Coosa Valley Hospital, where the baby weighing almost 11 lbs was born hypoxic, after 28 attempts with a vacuum extractor (a maximum of 3 attempts is recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.) His arm was broken in three places, because he presented with an arm in front of his head.
The boys have always been close, bonding even before Arnold was born. Alan used to hug his little brother while he was still in the womb. Both boys are autistic and have developmental delays, but his grandmother told Health Impact News that they are really sweet and really smart.
“They say autistic children are really smart, and I believe it. They always love their mom.”
Autistic Child Elopes, Opening the Door for DHR Involvement
DHR first became involved with Dawn and her boys when Arnold was 6, and he eloped from his house. Eloping, or wandering away, is reported as one of the most difficult problems for parents of autistic children to deal with. Dawn was in the bathroom when Arnold found a way to unlock the front door and run down the street. When she found him, DHR had already been called to investigate.
At that time a social worker was assigned to visit Dawn’s home 3 and 4 times a week to check on the children, and make sure that the house was clean. There were allegedly never any problems found, and Arnold did not elope again from his home. (Since that time, he has eloped once from the foster home, breaking a window in order to escape.)
Health Impact News reported about another Alabama family earlier this year whose children were taken by DHR after an autistic child eloped.
Mom Goes to Hospital; DHR Appears 3 Hours After Her Return Home
One year to the day since that first encounter, Dawn reports that DHR came back to her house. Just before that, Dawn thought she was having a heart attack, and was admitted to the hospital for several days. Her mother, Sybol Castleberry, reports that Dawn’s ex-husband demanded that she pay him $500 to watch his children while Dawn went to the hospital. When Dawn got home on Sunday, August 5, 2012, she immediately began cooking dinner for the boys, then fed and bathed them.
She had barely been home for 3 hours when social workers and police came knocking on her back door, without warning. They said they had a call of neglect and needed to see the children. They didn’t have a search warrant, but insisted on coming in anyway, Dawn reports, in violation of her 4th Amendment rights.
“They could see that the children were fine, not neglected nor abused.”
They took the children and put them in the back of a police car, and ordered their mother to collect their belongings. She tearfully asked why, but reports that neither the social worker, Meighan Hallmark, nor the officers responded.
In court the next morning, DHR cited charges of a messy house and dirty children.
Less than three weeks later, on August 23, 2012, the boys were transferred to a licensed, therapeutic foster home in Mobile, Alabama – a drive which takes Dawn 6 to 7 hours. When Dawn asked why so far away, she was told that it was because that was where the therapeutic foster home was. The foster mother later told her that she had no experience with autistic children. Dawn says she was the one who gave her a great deal of information about how to care for children with autism.
Forcibly Drugged and Hungry in Foster Care
Dawn is only rarely permitted visitation, and recently went for 5 months without being allowed to see them. The mother alleges that her boys are now living in the basement of the foster home, and that their Native American culture is being sacrificed. The foster parents are Black Muslims. Ms. Cullins fears for her boys, because she says that they are being abused and drugged.
Both boys have lost weight since being taken in 2012. Arnold weighed about 80 lbs when he was taken and now weighs about 60 lbs. His older brother has lost much more weight than that. She does not believe that they are being fed adequately. At one time, the foster mother told her that Alan was only eating 2 navel oranges a day. Dawn promptly went out and bought food that she knows her son likes.
During one visit, Dawn reports that she saw the foster mother pouring “at least 6″ different medications in the boys’ apple juice. When she asked what her boys were being given, the foster mother told her that she had been instructed not to tell her what medications the boys were on. Dawn says her sons were asleep within 30 minutes of being given the cocktail, and she reports that they often appear disoriented and drugged when she sees them.
Social Worker Forbids Native American Speech
During another visit, the boys began dancing around in a circle singing in Cherokee and Lakota. Dawn says that the social worker, Tiffany Twyman, told them that they were forbidden to use “those words.”
“They are nasty words. They are vulgar and vile.”
However, neither the Cherokee nor the Lakota language contains any curse words.
Beaten for Saying the Name of Jesus
On one occasion, Dawn was on the phone with Alan, the older of the two boys. He began singing a chorus he remembered from church.
“Oh my Jesus. Oh my Jesus. Hallelujah.”
Dawn was horrified when the foster mother grabbed the phone away from Alan and threw it down, apparently thinking that she had hung up. But Dawn heard everything. She describes hearing at least 7 whacks, which “sounded like a gun shooting off. I don’t know what it was she used.”
She heard Alan screaming,
“Please stop. I won’t do it again.”
Arnold picked up the phone and whispered to Dawn,
“Alan did bad. He said, ‘Jesus.’ We can’t say that.”
Dawn heard Alan throwing up in the background, and also heard the foster mother tell him that she was going to beat his behind for that. At that point, she grabbed the phone from Arnold and hung up.
Never Spanked at Home, Only in Foster Care
Dawn says that, in her care, the boys were never spanked, even once. She disciplined using time-outs, taking away toys or privileges, or talking. However, during one visit, she says that Arnold posed for her to show her how they are required to stand when they are being whipped by the foster mother. Sometimes the boys have shown up to visits with “bruises from belt buckle marks, dilated eyes, bumps and knots on the forehead.” But she says that the judge in her case refused to view the photographs, terming them “hearsay.”
Not Allowed to Say “I Love You”
When her sons lived with her, Dawn says that their school teachers always spoke of how inquisitive, bright, and happy her children were. Now, they have regressed developmentally, and she asks, “Where have their smiles gone?”
During one visit, Alan whispered into his mother’s ear,
“They’re watching us. They’ve got cameras. We can’t tell you we love you.”
Discriminatory Requests from DHR about Housing
Dawn reports that she has complied with everything that the social workers have told her to do in order to get her boys back, but still they are not home. At the time that her children were taken, she was living in a rental house, because there had been a fire in the home that she owned. After insurance covered the repairs, she says that DHR would not approve the home that she loved, instead telling her that she needed to let her house go into foreclosure and move into a particular set of projects. Then she would be able to get the boys back, they allegedly told her.
“So I let it go [my home]. My kids are worth more than a building.”
(Note: Dawn is not the first to report such behavior by CPS. There have been several families that have shared similar stories with Health Impact News, of CPS telling them to move into the projects or dangerous neighborhoods in order to get their children.)
In a recent conversation with a police officer over concerns about the dangers of the community, including shootings and drug deals, she was alarmed when he told her that DHR had to have placed her at the projects “on purpose” so that she would get hurt. She says that he has directed her to resources to help her get out of the high crime neighborhood and into a safer environment.
The Rest of the Story
Dawn was deeply in love with her first husband, but she lost him to a heart attack. She became acquainted with her boys’ father when he began writing her letters while he was incarcerated. Dawn and he had mutual acquaintances from high school, and he began pursuing her from prison. Dawn says that she had mercy on him because friends, and even his mother, were telling her that he was innocent of the charges that sent him to jail. She believed him then, but has since regretted that decision to trust him.
He allegedly played on her sweet and compassionate nature, as well as her low self-esteem, and convinced her that he was a devoted Christian – a religion that she says he lost the moment he walked out of jail. But it was too late. She had committed herself to him in marriage, and she was determined to make the best of it. The two boys were a product of that relationship. However, she found that he was abusive to her. She says that she finally found the courage to call the police on June 24, 2011, and escape the abuse.
She wonders if he was the person behind the call that was made to DHR, but she may never know the truth. He has accused Dawn of somehow causing the boys’ autism.
All Dawn Cullins wants now is to get her boys back. Her last court date was in March, where she filed an appeal for a Trial de Novo – “new trial.” Her request has been granted. She has filed in federal court and asked for a trial by jury. Losing is not an option for her. She says she was told by her court appointed attorney (who is no longer working on her case) that she should give up.
“I can’t. My babies are my life. I don’t intend to lose. I plan to get my kids back.”
Dawn Cullins is described by her friends as sweet, polite, and generous. But underneath that Southern hospitality, a fire of determination burns to fight with everything within her to get her children back and protect them.
How You Can Help
Dawn has stated that her legislators have not listened to her before now, but she hopes that concerned citizens will make phone calls on their behalf, and come alongside her to help her fight for her children. Their Native American heritage is being taken away from them, even as they have been taken away from the loving support of their mother. Her heart is broken for her children.
“I know when my babies cry. I can feel it.”
There is a Facebook page set up to support the family called Bring Dawn Adaleha Cullins’ Children Home.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s office may be reached at 334-242-7100 or contacted here.
Dawn Cullins’ Senator is Jim McClendon. He may be reached at334-242-7898 and contacted here.
Representative Ron Johnson is her Congressman, and may be reached at 334-242-7777 and contacted here.
ICWA, the Indian Child Welfare Association, has reportedly not intervened on the behalf of Alan “Mighty Thinker” and Arnold “Swift Eagle,” although a number of provisions and laws pertaining to Native Americans have allegedly been broken. They may be reached at 503-222-4044 and contacted here.
Alabama DHR Woman Indicted: Faking Credentials and Collecting $864K in Medicaid funds for Kidnapping Children
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