Updated: January 6, 2014 1:06PM
A piece of a parent dies when a child is killed.
But when the state has custody of the living link the grieving parent has to the deceased, and refuses to even consider the rights of that parent, it is like killing the parent’s hopes and dreams over and over again.
That’s what has happened in the wake of 20-year-old Natasha Howliet’s murder.
The single mother of three toddlers was gunned down in 2009 as she stood at a bus stop in the 3300 block of West Madison.
Howliet was not involved in gangs or drugs, and was not the intended target of the armed gang members who were allegedly on the street looking for rivals that evening.
Keith and Kelly Pearson, 31-year-old twins, were quickly apprehended. Keith was convicted of pulling the trigger and was sentenced to 65 years. His twin, Kelly, was sentenced to 30 years.
At the time of her death, Howliet was trying to regain custody of her three children, ages 3, 2, and 3 months. The children had been removed from Howliet’s care and placed in foster care after one child was injured, according to sources familiar with this case.
Howliet had completed parenting classes and earned a medical assistant certificate, according to family members. Then tragedy struck.
After Howliet’s death, her mother, Patrice Matthews, contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services about the whereabouts of her grandchildren.
“I wanted to see if they were going to give me my grandchildren. They were supposed to return the children back to her. Instead the kids were placed with the caseworker’s friends,” Matthews said.
A spokeswoman for DCFS declined to discuss this case.
“DCFS, under state law, cannot respond to your request for information,” said Karen Hawkins in an email.
“The Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act specifically outlines what information the department may disclose about the children and families we serve,” Hawkins said.
Under DCFS rules, the agency has no obligation to inform Matthews of her grandchildren’s whereabouts.
“The nightmare did not end after the murder,” noted Elce Redmond, the community activist who helped Matthews organize a vigil on Nov. 27 at the exact location where her daughter was murdered.
“That is when the mishandling took place. The biological grandparents were trying to get custody of the children, and DCFS put the kids in foster care. The grandmother was seeing her grandchildren for visitation, then all of a sudden that stopped and they are not giving them any sort of explanation,” he said.
The children — two girls and a boy — are now 7, 6 and 4 years old.
“The last time I saw them was June of last year,” Matthews said. “Two of them are being adopted and one of them was going to be sent to foster care. I have been fighting to get my grandchildren since my daughter’s death.”
DCFS will allow visits between grandparents or great-grandparents and children “in substitute care” when they have been granted visiting privileges by a divorce court, according to rules effective since 1996.
Unfortunately, those guidelines ignore the reality that many of the children in DCFS’ care are born to unwed mothers. Also, many of these children are being raised in extended families that are often headed by maternal grandmothers.
Given the number of children that have been killed due to abuse and neglect in Illinois, I understand why DCFS is being cautious.
But unless Matthews has been abusive or neglectful, she should have the right to play a role in her grandchildren’s lives.
Matthews lost her daughter to a senseless tragedy.
She deserves more than a cold-hearted brush-off from this state agency.