In was on Oct. 13 that Yolanda Bryant, 44, started to receive text messages from a family friend’s phone. It was her 10-year-old grandson. After some chit chat, the boy started to open up. He and his 5-year-old sister had been staying with the family friend for five months already. During that time, they hadn’t been to school. “He said, ‘We’re not allowed out the room,’” Bryant said. “He said they get beat with sticks.” Her heart sank.
“Can you get us?” the boy asked, texting from the phone he secretly took from the family friend. She explained that she couldn’t do that. She hadn’t had contact with her daughter for about two years. She didn’t even have her phone number. Getting the children out of there would mean getting custody through the family court.
“Can you do that,” he asked.
“I promise you I will,” she replied.
She learned the address of the place from the boy, called the police, and had a relative drive her to the place. The police never came, she said.
The apartment wasn’t really an apartment at all. It was a single room in a hotel-like building with a kitchen and bathroom shared with other tenants. The children were skinny, lying on sheets spread on the floor. No bed. Not even a mattress for them. Not allowed to leave the room, they had a bucket for a bathroom. Despite objections from the family friend, Bryant loaded the children in the car and left.
The next day, she went to the family court and filed paperwork requesting custody of the children.
A few days later, she noticed the girl was afraid to use the bathroom. Bryant explained to her that she’s free to use the toilet now, but the girl said she can’t feel when she needs to. After some hesitation, the girl pointed to her back and said her mother’s boyfriend used to touch her private parts.
“She said she would be in the bathroom…” Bryant said, her voice breaking up.
This was the breaking point that set Bryant on a quest to get justice for her grandchildren—an apparent collision course with some social workers at the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS), based on her account, which she backed up with videos, images, recorded phone calls, text messages, court documents, and other official documents.
She took the children to a hospital—that was Oct. 18.
The check-up turned out well. The children were healthy, though skinny. There were no bruises or wounds indicating they have been abused—physically or sexually—at least not recently. They spent the previous five months at the family friend’s home, where the boyfriend apparently didn’t have access to them.
Bryant also remembered that the girl complained about pain “down there” about two years prior, but the mother turned down Bryant’s offer back then to take the girl for a check-up and instead said it was because of the soap the girl was using. At the time it didn’t occur to Bryant the girl may have been abused.
The boy alleged sexual abuse too, telling Bryant he was forced to inappropriately touch the boyfriend.
The hospital called the DHS and filed a child abuse report based on testimonies of Bryant as well as the children.
The “grandmother appeared appropriate and receptive to” the hospital’s social worker, the hospital documents said. “Grandmother stated she is willing to take in [the children].”
Then something went wrong. The DHS reported back that Bryant was not cleared to take custody. The agency was to take the children instead.
Bryant was told there was “something from 1995” on her.
Apparently, more than 23 years prior, Bryant was investigated by social services after one of her daughters fell and bruised her cheek. The daughter allegedly fell because Bryant was beating her at that moment. It’s not clear whether the report ended up being substantiated. Bryant denied it.
Bryant has five children and 11 grandchildren. Her small, two-floor Philadelphia house had a homely feel, tidy except for a sizable pile of paperwork she took out of a large bag to back up her story. Speaking in a soft voice with a hint of desperation, she sometimes struggled to articulate her thoughts in an organized manner, especially when on an emotional topic.
The DHS took the children and set up a family court hearing the next day. They wept. “MawMaw! You promised!” the girl cried, afraid she’d be put back with the boyfriend, Bryant said.
Social Worker Power
The hearing didn’t go over too badly. The judge ordered DHS “to explore kinship resources maternal grandmother and [the children’s] father … as a possible placement option” for the children, the records show. He also ordered that Bryant and the father are allowed to have supervised visits with the children. “He thanked me for, he said, rescuing the kids,” Bryant said.
But when Bryant called the DHS to arrange a visit, a supervisor social worker snapped her, “I don’t care what the judge said. … You not gonna see them kids and you not gettin’ them. And that’s final,” she said, according to Bryant.
Based on last names, images she was able to collect, and what took place at subsequent court hearings, Bryant concluded that the supervisor, as well as several other DHS workers, are relatives of the boyfriend accused of sexually assaulting the children.
Bryant tried to call everywhere: The DHS, the Philadelphia Police Special Victims Unit, the State Attorney’s office, even the FBI. But nothing changed. Apparently, the police couldn’t even launch an investigation into the allegations without DHS approval.
The Epoch Times has reported in some detail about issues with the child welfare system in general, and the Philadelphia DHS in particular. Facing a social worker with a personal animus is one of the worst situations because these workers wield substantial powers to level life-crushing allegations based on minimal evidence. The system differs from state to state, but generally a social worker only needs to write an affidavit alleging abuse or neglect and the court will grant an order to remove a child from the home with no further evidence needed.
The workers are even authorized to remove children from homes without a court order in an emergency situation. They can apply for the order afterward, putting the judge in the awkward position of either rubber-stamping such an order or basically saying the social worker violated the family’s constitutional rights by removing a child without proper cause.
Not only did the DHS refuse to investigate the boyfriend or have the police investigate him, but it also claimed the children walked back all the allegations, Bryant said. She found that unbelievable. The children told the same story to multiple people in a relaxed environment. The DHS even claimed the children never lived with the family friend to begin with, despite Bryant having a picture of the boy standing in the building on Oct. 14. She still had the texts from the boy, too, but the DHS refused to collect the evidence, she said.
For the prior two years, Bryant had cared for another grandchild of hers—a baby girl whose mother, due to mental health issues, couldn’t care for her and gave her up after birth.
Around Nov. 28, Bryant received a message from a foster mother with whom one of her grandchildren was placed. She told Bryant to come to the courthouse downtown on Dec. 3 for a hearing. Bryant wasn’t aware of any hearing that day, but went anyway just to be sure.
There was no hearing. Around noon, she said, she received a message from her son, who was visiting her home that day: “Mom, come home now. … DHS is at the house.”
The DHS supervisor and another social worker had come to her home with several police officers, demanding to see the baby girl and claiming they want to check if Bryant’s custody paperwork for her was in order.
When Bryant returned, the social worker told her they had to take the child away because a judge ordered them to. Bryant demanded to know why. They didn’t give her an answer. When Bryant’s husband walked out to meet Bryant, the social worker snatched the baby out of his arms, the supervisor put her in her car and took off.
The police officers on scene were uncomfortable with what happened, Bryant said. When they opened the paperwork the DHS workers were waving about, it turned out it wasn’t a court order at all. It was produced by the DHS itself. Parts of the interaction with the social workers and the police were captured on video by Bryant and her son.
The next day, the supervisor requested an Order of Protective Custody, claiming Bryant “is reported to have severe mental issues” and “reportedly” threatened the child’s mother. It’s neither clear who reported it, nor what it was based on. The order was granted by the court.
Bryant took it as an attempt to silence her, but it only fired her up more.
Despite the social workers’ attempts to convincing her to stop, she kept going to court hearings for her two grandchildren. It turned out, the supervisor was trying to have the children placed with the boyfriend, who was introduced to the court under a slightly different name and as the real father of the children, Bryant said. The supervisor tried to have Bryant removed from the courtroom, but the judge allowed her to stay, she said. She managed to dispute the boyfriend’s fatherhood and the judge ordered a paternity test, proving the boyfriend wasn’t the father.
The two grandchildren have since been placed with an “aunt” who, according to Bryant isn’t an aunt at all and was brought to the court by the boyfriend.
On March 26, Bryant received a phone call from another DHS worker, informing her that somebody filed a report against her for sexually abusing the 5-year-old grandchild. Several days later, she was informed by the worker over the phone that the report was “indicated,” which means backed by evidence that “outweighs inconsistent evidence and which a reasonable person would accept as adequate,” according to the state’s law. She was supposed to receive a letter informing her about the case, but she didn’t.
There appears to be no indication that anything untoward happened to the children during the few days in October Bryant cared for them. On the contrary, she has pictures and videos of the children being lively and cheerful.
Bryant’s case attracted the attention of Philadelphia Councilman David Oh, who’d also personally had a run in with the unchecked power of the DHS, and decided to probe issues with the agency further. He said he managed to corroborate much of Bryant’s story, but couldn’t make much progress dealing with the DHS.
He presented her case at a May 16 council hearing and put to a vote a resolution to set up a “Special Committee” to “investigate child separation in Philadelphia’s child welfare system” designed to recommend how to ensure compliance with the law, protect children, protect “due process rights of families,” and “prevent the unnecessary break-up of families.”
The resolution was defeated.
Bryant recently decided to hire a lawyer, but she had to drop the idea—the fight for her grandchildren took her away from her event planning business, making it hard for her to make ends meet.
Still, she said she’s not giving up.
“There’s got to be justice for children,” she said. “There has to be.”
Update: The article has been updated with additional information from Yolanda Bryant.