Jackson family at Maj. John Jackson’s promotion ceremony.
It’s every parent’s nightmare.
Army Major John Jackson and his wife Carolyn, devout Christian homeschoolers with a history of serving as adoptive and foster parents, had their five children taken away in April 2010 by the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services – and despite the collapse of the evidence against the Jacksons, DYFS hasn’t returned the children to their parents.
During the course of a nine-month legal battle to regain custody of their children, the Jacksons say they have encountered prejudice against their religion and homeschooling as they fight a state agency determined to see the children adopted by strangers no matter what the evidence says.
According to the Jacksons, DYFS employees, contractors and foster parents alike have demonstrated anti-religious bias, including one case supervisor who refused to allow the Jacksons to pray with their children as they wished, for the reunification of the family.
“You can pray about other things, you can pray that they’ll be happy in their placements,” said a DYFS worker identified by Jackson as Denise Hollerbach.
Jackson accuses DYFS of fraudulently misrepresenting statements by himself and his children to build a case against him, “brainwashing” the children by telling them they have been abused and “isolating” them by not allowing them to be assessed independently by U.S. Army investigators.
The father of five claims DYFS suppressed a medical report concluding that injuries suffered by daughter Chaya Jackson could not be proven with “medical certainty” to have resulted from child abuse. Dr. Mark S. Finkelstein of the Alfred I. Dupont Hospital for Children wrote, “It is equally possible that this injury may have occurred in or around the time of birth or in the later post-neonatal period” – before Chaya was adopted by the Jacksons.
“DYFS kept this out of the court. We had to get it and provide it as evidence,” said Jackson.
“DYFS had the information to exonerate us before they removed our children, but they continued on to try to gather information to remove the kids,” said Carolyn Jackson. “It’s been difficult to work with them and try to walk in integrity and love when you know anything you say will be turned around and used against you.”
John Jackson added DYFS conducted a “forensic assessment” under the guise of fulfilling a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation: “It was really an interrogation. They should have been read me my rights, and I should have had a lawyer present.”
“They’ve got all my children,” John Jackson lamented. “My children are being held hostage. They’ve been kidnapped.
“They’re not accountable to anyone,” Jackson told WND. “They told us they do not lose cases, and they will substantiate the abuse. This has not been an objective investigation in the first place. They want to adopt the children out, because they get money for adopting children out.”
A DYFS spokesman refused to comment on the case, citing “strict confidentiality laws.”
“This is a good, Christian homeschooled family. They’re being persecuted,” said the Jacksons’ lawyer, Grace T. Meyer, a New Jersey attorney affiliated with the Home School Legal Defense Association. “They’re homeschooled and they don’t fit the pattern for most DYFS cases. Most cases involve parents who are on drugs or in jail … in these cases you’re guilty until proven innocent.”
“We were told we’re ‘excessive Christians’ by our therapeutic supervisor,” a DYFS contractor, said John Jackson.
During a visit with the children, a DYFS supervisor told Jackson he was not allowed to pray with his children for reunification of the family. Jackson recorded the following conversation with a woman he identified as Denise Hollerbach:
Jackson: I was told by Mr., ah, [unclear] that we can’t pray about reunification?
Hollerbach: No. Not about reunification. You can pray, I can talk to you in the other room away from the children if you’d like.
[sounds of movement]
Hollerbach: Can you tell me what the prayer is about?
Jackson: Yeah, the prayer is about our family and restoring our family.
Hollerbach: OK, and that’s what – because we don’t want the children to feel guilty about anything that’s going on and we’re afraid that would inspire guilt in their heart, which we’re trying to, you know, we’re trying to keep that out of it. [garbled] We’re talking in terms of prayer, not about reunification
Jackson: OK, you’re telling me what I can and can’t pray about.
Hollerbach: Well, for the kids’ sake, the psychologists have recommended that we not discuss reunification right now.
Jackson: That you not discuss it or …
Hollerbach: No, that you not discuss reunification.
Jackson: All right, so I cannot pray about reunification.
Hollerbach: Correct. It’s for the psychological benefit of your children, because we don’t want them to feel guilty about anything that’s going on. We don’t want them to – that will inspire guilt in their hearts and we don’t want that to occur.
Jackson: I just don’t understand. How can that inspire guilt when reunification means restoring the family? They didn’t do anything to separate the family, so they shouldn’t feel guilty about separating the family…
Hollerbach: But they feel that, so we’re trying not to …
Jackson: Well, I don’t see how they feel that because they’ve done nothing
Hollerbach: We agree wholeheartedly
Jackson: And the evaluators know they’ve done nothing.
Hollerbach: We agree wholeheartedly on that.
Jackson: So they can’t feel guilt about something that they haven’t been …
Hollerbach: Well they can, they can, and that’s been discussed with us, as far as that …
Jackson: So I cannot pray about reunification.
Jackson: Is there anything else I can’t pray about?
Hollerbach: Right now that’s one thing that we’ve been told that there shouldn’t be a prayer about. You can pray about other things, pray that, you know, they’re happy in their placements. You could pray about, umm, you know, but that you can’t pray about.
Jackson: So DYFS gets to tell me how I can pray to God with my family?
Hollerbach: Well right now, right now for the benefit of your children, we’re asking that you not pray about reunification because we don’t want the children to feel guilty about anything that has occurred and when parents talk about reunification, that sometimes even though we tell the children, and I’m sure you’ve told the children that this is not their fault, they feel that it is.
Jackson: All right, I understand. We don’t pray about reunification. Got it.
Hollerbach: All right, thank you.
The following week, DYFS withdrew the prohibition on praying for reunification.
After another supervised visit, Carolyn Jackson said the DYFS supervisor told her, “It was a good visit today because there wasn’t much God talk. We have a problem with your believing in the part that talks about spanking.” Jackson added, “They are changing our children’s words, ‘if a man loves his child he’ll beat his child.’ They will skew any words they can to fit their own purpose.”
Allegations of abuse disproven
The Jacksons’ problems with DYFS trace back to 2008 when their adopted two-year-old son Joshua died of a seizure. The Jacksons had provided foster care to several medically at-risk children while living in Oklahoma and adopted Joshua, who was born with birth defects and a drug addiction.
According to John Jackson, when possible abuse of Chaya emerged, a hospital social worker claimed Joshua had died at home under suspicious circumstances and was cremated rapidly so his death could not be investigated.
John Jackson replies that Joshua was cremated only after his body was examined and released by a medical examiner, and the family was cleared of any wrongdoing by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division.
“He died of a seizure disorder in the hospital,” said Jackson, who asserted in a court document that Joshua died at St. Clare’s Hospital in Dover, N.J. The Army major then observed that, as an active duty serviceman, he has no permanent home.
“I [cremated Joshua] so we can take him with us. When we have a permanent home he will be buried there, with us.”
After the Jacksons brought two-year-old Chaya to Morristown Memorial Hospital with a high fever and heavy sweating, they were accused of “medical neglect, malnourishment and salt poisoning,” said Jackson. He added that the hospital “manufactured evidence” of broken bones to prove Chaya had been physically abused.
The hospital found that Chaya was very small for her age and had abnormally high levels of salt in her blood. X-rays revealed evidence of a healed fracture in the wrist.
“All five children were taken away, right away, ” said Meyer. The five children include the Jacksons’ three natural children, 13-year-old John Jr., 10-year-old Cameron, 9-year-old Chavon, and two adopted children, four-year-old Jana and Chaya. The two adopted children are daughters of a cousin of Carolyn Jackson, and were classified as medically at-risk when they were adopted. Chaya, in particular, has not grown in length since she was one year old, and has been diagnosed with “failure to thrive.”
“When the kids were in custody, they said ‘Yes, we were spanked,’ and they quoted the Bible, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’ So DYFS said they were beaten with rods and are ‘over-religious,’ and took their Bibles away,” said Meyer.
In addition to physical abuse, the Jacksons have been accused of abusing the children through corporal punishment and depriving them of TV and video games, and of harming their social development through home schooling.
According to Meyer, a pediatric nephrologist has found that Chaya’s excessive salt is caused by a medical condition called hypernatremia, not by “salt poisoning.” Another specialist will testify that Chaya’s broken bone may have occurred at birth, not resulting from abuse by the Jacksons.
“Many of the reasons they took the children in the first place have been disproven,” Meyer added. “Now the case is just about spanking.”
Jackson children allegedly mistreated in foster homes
As the legal battle drags on, the five Jackson children have been bounced around between several foster homes, and currently live in three separate homes.
“We have relatives willing to take all five children, but DYFS told us that family is not an option for placement for our children,” said Carolyn Jackson.
“They put our children into homes completely opposite to our lifestyle … It has just been a constant barrage of them coming against our faith,” Carolyn Jackson continued.
“They went through a process of forcing our children to assimilate, trained our children to defy authority, and tried to break down their resolve,” she added. “Foster parents encouraged kids to do ungodly things. [DYFS] wouldn’t put them with the family we chose whose values were consistent with ours.
“They’ve been ridiculed for praying before their meals, their Bibles have been taken away from them. I made up books of pictures for the kids. They took away pictures of all their parents, brothers and sisters, stripped them of any memory of home.
“Two of our kids, Cameron and Chavon, have been moved to relative care after being moved around in four different homes,” added Carolyn Jackson. “In the fourth home, the man picked my daughter up off the floor, slammed her against the wall and screamed at her. They stripped our children of any comfort food, only water and cold cut sandwiches. They were 10 and 8 at the time, Chavon is now 9.”
Chaya is living in a special foster home for “medically fragile” children. According to John Jackson, she has put on weight, but still hasn’t grown in length.
John and Jana are living with foster parents who “told them they had been abused,” said Carolyn Jackson. “They told the kids we are religious fundamentalists who didn’t allow the children to socialize because we homeschooled them. This unmarried couple has put out documents saying we were religious fundamentalists, enrolled our daughter in public school and refused to bring her out to the Christian school.
“The foster father threatened my husband, so he filed a police report. DYFS won’t see it is a hostile home environment. They moved instead to cut off our phone access to our kids. DYFS successfully got our daily phone contact cut to two times a week.”
John Jackson added that the foster family enrolled John and Jana in public schools in defiance of a court order allowing the Jacksons to enroll their children in Christian schools.
“We were told we don’t have a right to know what school our child is going to, after we won in court the right to keep our children in Christian schools.”
The case returns to court Monday, when the Jacksons will present their defense.