Mother makes desperate plea to child welfare agency for return of daughter


Thursday, December 6th 2007, 4:00 AM

The mother of a 6-year-old girl in city custody on allegations that her parents are mentally ill Wednesday made an emotional plea directly to the head of the city child welfare agency.

More than three months after Amber James was taken from her South Ozone Park home, her frustrated mom confronted city Administration for Children's Services Commissioner John Mattingly at a public conference on the agency's ongoing reforms.

"ACS has kidnapped my daughter wrongfully!" Vanessa James, 41, said at the gathering at the New School in Manhattan.

A pediatrician reported Vanessa James to authorities over concerns that she may suffer from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a rare disease where a parent believes the child is sick - or makes them sick - to get attention.

Vanessa James and her husband, Marvin James, 48, have been to numerous court hearings since Amber was placed into the foster care system on Aug. 23. But they have not been charged with any crime, and neither has been found to be mentally ill.

"They found us innocent," Vanessa James said to Mattingly during the question-and-answer portion of the panel discussion.

"My daughter's being held prisoner," the desperate mother said. "What do we do now?"

After she made charges that her daughter has been abused while in foster care, Vanessa James was interrupted by the panel's moderator, who asked Mattingly to respond.

"I can feel the hurt in your voice," Mattingly said. "I know about this situation. I know it's in court and hearings have been held and will be held. ... It is up to the court to make the future decisions."

Amber's case has become a public tug-of-war between her parents and the ACS since the Daily News first reported the family's plight in September.

Ironically, yesterday's forum was largely devoted to announcing an ACS pilot program to increase family services and reduce foster-care placements.

After Vanessa James' plea, several welfare workers attending the forum referred to Amber's case as an example of the ongoing problems at ACS.

"Children are being abused" in foster care, said Sharonne Salaam of People United for Children, an advocacy group. Yet ACS has failed to crack down on foster care abuse, she charged.

Susan Loeb, of Voices of Women, said the ACS hotline is often abused.

"Malicious reports are an epidemic in many communities," Loeb said. "Anyone with an ax to grind can call, without any real consequences."

Emphasis added by H4K Editor