By Shirley Hawkins
Sentinel Contributing Writer
It was a parent’s worst nightmare.
Fourteen years ago, Gardena resident and mother of four Debra Reid was awakened at 1:30 a.m. by a phone call.
“A nurse from Pomona Valley Hospital called to inform me that my son, Jonathan, an asthmatic who had been placed in foster care, was dead,” she recalls.
Reid, who at the time was embroiled in a bitter custody battle, said that she complained about two social workers who had falsified information about Jonathan, which damaged her custody case. The social workers claimed that Reid was negligent in giving asthma medication to Jonathan. Reid wrote letters to dispute the allegations, but despite her efforts, the Department of Children and Family Services removed Jonathan from Reid’s home.
Jonathan’s foster caretakers, who had not been informed of Jonathan’s medical history, mistakingly forced Jonathan to take a high dosage of asthma medication which resulted in his death.
Reid said she will never forget the words that her son uttered before he was placed in foster care.
“He said, ‘Mama, if they take me away, I’m never coming back,” Reid recalls sadly.
Reid was also battling to get her youngest son, Debvin, who was also in foster care, returned to her home.
Reid sought help during her efforts to navigate the foster care system, but was stunned to find that no organization existed to help parents whose children were placed in foster care.
Instead of succumbing to grief, Reid filed a wrongful death and civil rights violation lawsuit against the DCFS, which eventually awarded her an out-of-court settlement for her son’s death. After furnishing a mountain of paperwork to the courts, she also won a ruling to have Debvin returned to her home.
Realizing that many families were not aware of their rights once their children were placed in foster care, Reid became an activist for parent’s rights and established the non-profit Jonathan Reid Family Rights Coalition.
The organization offers a myriad number of services, including parental educational training, domestic violence counseling, batterers intervention, legal document services for child support, custody and visitation, divorce and other family legal issues.
Reid apprises parents of their rights before they appear in family court, adding that the courts are especially harsh on fathers who are seeking visitation rights with their children. “The courts often rule in favor of the mothers, whether the mother is fit to take care of the children or not,” said Reid, who added that she has been successful in helping fathers gain visitation rights with their children.
On the 14th anniversary of Jonathan’s death, Reid held an Anniversary Memorial Service in memory of Jonathan at Rowley Park in Gardena. Public officials showered Reid with numerous commendations, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Inglewood Mayor James Butts, Assemblyman Steven Bradford, Senator Rod Wright, Gardena City Mayor Pro-Tem Rachel Johnson, Gardena Councilwoman Tasha Cerda, Gardena Councilman Dan Medina, Lawndale City Councilman Robert Pullen-Miles, and West Basin Board Director Gloria Gray.
Reid said parents should not hesitate to seek help if their children are in foster care. “You can’t fight for your rights if you don’t know your rights,” she said.
The Jonathan Reid Family Rights Coalition is located at 13913 Van Ness Avenue in Gardena. (310) 856-9498.