Moms say county is forcibly reuniting children with abusers

A group of mothers is highlighting what they say are serious problems in the La Crosse County Family Court system, including a pattern of children being forcibly reunited with abusive fathers.

“My daughter protested, refused, wept, and did everything in her power to not go see her abusive and mentally ill father,” one of the mothers wrote in a signed testimonial to local elected officials released on Saturday.

The testimonial states that staff working for the county blamed the mother for supporting her daughter and demanded that she be sent to spend time with her father. 

“In the fall of 2019, my daughter was then ​molested by him and has since struggled with suicidal ideation and attempts at self harm at age 11 because of the abuse,” the document states. “We are still struggling for the La Crosse County Family Court system to protect us, practice in modern, trauma-informed ways, stop repeatedly enacting gender bias and discrimination against women, and stop seeing abusers as the victims.”

In another testimonial, also released by the group, a local mother describes how La Crosse County Family Court officials required a child who had not been under his father’s care for three years to start spending time with him again.

“My son’s therapist disagreed so strongly with this psychological malpractice, that she quit rather than follow the court order to support this outrageous reunification step,” the mother wrote. “The Parenting Place also advised that they would not force reunification in this way, and couldn’t facilitate against the wishes of the children.”

According to the testimonial, the officials also “ordered my 10 year old fourth grader to go to in-person school during the covid-19 pandemic, despite free, high-quality, public virtual learning options being available and preferable due to the medical fragility and heart conditions of his two younger siblings. My daughter’s cardiologist even submitted a letter to the court to say that she fully supported my decision on keeping my 4​th grader home during this high-risk pandemic. The commissioner threw out this letter, saying that ‘a cardiologist isn’t an expert on covid-19.’”

Through a review of legal documents provided by the women, The La Crosse Independent was able to confirm some of the details in the four testimonials they released.

“Stop blaming women”

Beth Mattson Weyl, a member of the group, said she and the others were willing to publicly come forward with their stories in the hopes that doing so would highlight the need for reform in the system. They are calling their group Moms and Kids Surviving Abuse and have launched a website that features their testimonials. Asked what the fundamental message the group wanted local officials to hear was, Mattson Weyl said simply: “Stop blaming women.”

The group particularly wants to highlight what they describe as repeated instances of the La Crosse County Family Court System “forcibly reunifying children with their abusive fathers, and blaming mothers for their own and their children’s symptoms of trauma survival, neurodiversity, and other medical diagnoses.”

They are calling on elected officials at the county and state level to investigate and take action, and also have filed official complaints to a number of state bodies.

The La Crosse County Board’s Judiciary and Law Committee acts as the policy oversight committee for the Family Court Commissioner and Family Court Services. County board member Dawn Wacek sits on that committee. She said on Sunday that she was “very concerned” by the allegations put forth by the women and plans to do her part to look into them. We have also reached out to La Crosse County Family Court Commissioner Elizabeth Wright for comment.

The mothers say it’s highly unlikely their cases are isolated incidents and say they know firsthand of three other families who are afraid to come forward with similar stories for fear of retribution.

“There are most certainly more of us, with even fewer resources to speak on behalf of us all,” the group said in a statement. “Wisconsin and La Crosse should be stepping forward with progress and equality, not falling into patterns of social and psychological practice from six and seven decades ago.”

The women judged that the potential cost they may face for publicly speaking out was worth it to put a spotlight on their plight and push for change.

One of the mothers wrote in her testimonial: “I, my children, and the other mothers and children of La Crosse County will face retribution for speaking up against the powerful local authorities in this way. Please help us. Please ensure that the safeguards that are supposed to protect me and my children from our abuser are utilized…Examine and fix the local system that mirrors national trends that punish mothers and children for speaking up against abuse.”

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