A First Coast mother is seeking answers after she says a fight over insurance coverage led to the removal of her twin teenage daughters.
Laura Dalton says her daughters have suffered from eating disorders, emotional trauma and required specialized care.
The Department of Children and Families petitioned to have Dalton's minor children placed in a dependency shelter on October 27. In the court order, DCF says Dalton is "unable and unwilling to get the children the proper treatment or services to meet their needs, placing the children in serious risk of harm."
Dalton acknowledges not always seeing eye to eye with Children's Medical Services on what providers her daughters should see.
CMS provides Medicaid eligible patients who have special health care needs a collection of services.
The court order says Dalton preferred the Youth Crisis Center for her daughter's therapy instead of the Daniel's Kids facility recommended by CMS. Dalton also felt Body Image Specialist Counseling Center would provide specialized nutritional care for her bulimic daughter, but the provider was out of network for CMS.
"Not having any say in your child's care is scary as it is, I know what's best for her," Dalton says. "Daniel's has people who have experience with eating disorders, but they don't specialize in it."
CMS submitted a second request for Body Image, according to the court order. While a decision on the second request was pending, Dalton received what she calls an 'accidental' email from her CMS coordinator on October 25. The email read 'The twins are most likely being sheltered tomorrow!' The email was immediately recalled by the sender. Dalton says it was her first indication DCF was considering removing her children.
"My heart sank, I never expected my kids to get taken from me," Dalton says. "CMS knew before I knew that my kids were going to be removed and it was with exclamation points so that concerns me. How can anybody be happy with that?"
The court's order of removal states Dalton was avoiding communication with a child protective investigator since October 17.
But a text message Dalton says she received from the investigator on October 18 says "DCF does investigations to see if the child is safe or not in the parents care....[Your children] are safe in your care as you do everything you can do to seek out services. I was offering services for assistance because it can be overwhelming at times. So if you are not interested I can close my case."
On October 27, a court granted DCF's petition to remove Dalton's daughters.
DCF's representative John Harrell says they cannot comment on specific cases due to privacy laws. Children are only removed from the home if there is a danger of neglect or abuse and all removal decisions are brought before a judge with evidence, Harrell says. CMS or anyone in the general public can send DCF a tip if they suspect abuse or neglect, Harrell says, but in less than ten percent of those reports do we remove a child.
The Florida Department of Health's communication director sent this statement on behalf of CMS:
"We cannot discuss any specific patient in detail. However, with every family we serve through the CMS Plan, we work diligently to ensure all medical services needed are provided. This includes going outside of our regular network of providers and utilizing safety net funds to meet all medical needs."
Dalton said she never received a response or denial on the second CMS request to cover Body Image costs. Now that her children are in state custody, a letter from CMS says their Medicaid coverage no longer applies.
"I need my girls home, I need my girls safe," says Dalton. "They are with strangers, this is only going to set them back emotionally."