Editor’s Update: After our original story, Angela Eder and her children were re-united and the child protection cases were closed. She says both children are doing well.
For the past two years, Minnesota officials have been focused on fixing a child protection system that left too many kids at risk.
But a pair of cases now being heard in Ramsey County Juvenile Court raise questions about how well child protection officials are balancing the need to protect children with the other stated goal of trying to keep families together whenever possible.
When children are removed from their homes, Minnesota law requires officials to make, “reasonable efforts” to reunite children with their families, “at the earliest possible time.”
Attorneys for a St. Paul woman claim Ramsey County officials have failed to do that in a case that’s dragged on for nearly one year.
Her name is Mona. When KARE 11 met her for the first time, she was just 4 days old.
But as her mother nursed Mona, she was clearly worried.
Angela Eder is scientist with a PhD, a good job and no criminal record. But over the Fourth of July weekend, she was afraid that her newborn baby was about to be taken away.
“I’m worried. I’m terrified,” she said.
With a knock on the door on Tuesday, July 5, child protection caseworkers arrived. First, social workers and an officer in plain clothes came. They were later joined by other deputies.
They were armed with a court order to seize the baby.
“We do need to take baby into custody,” explained a caseworker.
A judge in Ramsey County had issued an emergency order on July 1, saying the baby’s “health and welfare require her immediate removal.”
PAST FAILURES SPARKED CHANGES
In the past, KARE 11 has reported on child protection failures that left children at risk, sometimes with tragic results.
In 2014, we reported on the case of the Minnesota boy Eric Dean, 4. Officials had received at least 15 complaints about suspected abuse before the boy died.
In a haunting confession, the boy’s stepmother admitted she had repeatedly bitten the boy.
“How many times do you think you’ve bitten him?” asked an investigator.
“Too many,” she replied.
Amanda Peltier was convicted of murdering Eric after a jury heard evidence she’d thrown him across the room causing fatal injuries.
“The picture of Eric Dean will haunt me for a long time,” Governor Mark Dayton said at the time.
The governor and lawmakers responded by adopting a series of child protection reforms and approving millions of dollars to keep kids safe. However, the law still requires officials to try, when possible, to reunite families.
WHY WAS MONA TAKEN FROM HER MOTHER?
Cases like Mona’s raise questions about how effectively child protection officials and the courts are achieving that balance.
“So right now custody is with the court,” a caseworker told Mona’s mother.
Court records show the case began long before Mona was even born.
Angela and her husband, St. Paul firefighter Jason Woodbury, had a son named Franklin.
One morning last December when Franklin was about 6-months-old, records show his parents noticed alarming bruises on Franklin’s face and bloodshot eyes.
Angela rushed him to a doctor and then to experts at Midwest Children’s Resource Center in St. Paul, records show. The doctors suspected child abuse, especially when an X-ray showed an earlier broken rib.
Angela and her husband both denied abusing their little boy, but Child Protection workers immediately put him in foster care.
“I know I didn’t ever hurt my child. I never saw his father hurt him. I never had any indication that day care had done anything,” Angela told KARE 11 last summer.
At first, Angela said she thought her son had inherited a medical conditions she has, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, that makes bruising and even broken bones more likely.
But there was a stunning development one month after child protection took Franklin away and just as Angela and her husband learned they were expecting another child.
Jason Woodbury took his own life.
According to court testimony, police found a note in which Jason said he was taking responsibility for the abuse.
“I hurt my son then lied about it to everyone and I will never forgive myself,” the note read, according to court records.
SUICIDE NOTE DOESN’T CLOSE CASE
But at the courthouse, the case was far from over.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Kathleen Gora argued that child protection officials weren’t certain who abused the little boy, in spite of the suicide note. And even if Angela hadn’t harmed the boy, Gora argued she had failed to protect him.
In court, Gora accused the mother her of changing her story, bending the truth, and refusing to cooperate with authorities.
So, by the time Mona was born this summer, Angela was still only allowed short visits with her son, visits limited to one hour, three times a week – all supervised.
“I’ve missed first steps, learning to crawl, first teeth,” Angela said.
Since child protection officials didn’t think her son was safe with Angela, they told a judge that her newborn daughter wasn’t safe with her either.
“The basis of this petition is the basis of Franklin’s petition,” a caseworker told Angela as authorities arrived in July to take Mona away.
Angela wanted to expose what she calls child protection’s over-reaction, so she invited KARE 11’s cameras to watch as authorities gave her a few last minutes alone with her baby.
“I don’t understand, I don’t understand,” Angela sobbed as her daughter was taken away.
NEW HEARINGS THIS MONTH
Since July 5, Mona’s case has been in legal limbo while court hearings drag on in her son’s case.
In court earlier this month, Angela testified that she recently discovered medical records showing that shortly before Franklin was injured, her husband had sought help for anger management.
According to records introduced as evidence at the hearing, Jason Woodbury told a counselor he felt himself “getting angry,” “yelling” and was “having trouble thinking straight,” as he tried to deal with his "screaming" six- month-old baby.
One of the final witnesses was a professional psychologist who said she doesn’t think Angela poses a serious danger to her son.
In spite of that, the Ramsey County Attorney still argues the mother cannot provide a safe home. In a court filing Friday the county said, “Angela Eder continues to engage in distortions and manipulative behavior.”
The county argues she has been condescending, vindictive and uncooperative and that “her son’s safety and well-being will continue to be at risk in her care.”
Meanwhile, Angela’s attorney is challenging the way officials have handled the cases of both children.
Attorney Lucas Dawson argues that Ramsey County authorities have failed to try to reunite the children with their mother “at the earliest possible time” as required by law.
Franklin’s case began last December. Mona’s case officially began in July. And yet, their mother is still allowed only one hour of visitation three times each week.
A judge received final written arguments last week in Franklin’s case and is considering what to do. A new hearing is scheduled in Mona’s case before a different judge later this week.
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