Pair embroiled in custody nightmare
By Sharon Kiley Mack, Of the NEWS Staff e-mail
Last updated: Saturday, October 2, 2004
VAN BUREN - After spending 15 months in Maine trying to obtain
custody of their four grandchildren, Yvonne and Norman Thibeault packed up their
van last month and headed to their winter home in Maryland without them. Once
there, they were faced with the reality of bedrooms that have been carefully
decorated and prepared for their grandchildren but will remain empty.
"He made us give up," Norman Thibeault said, speaking of Judge
Ronald Daigle of Caribou District Court, who denied the couple custody and
shattered their dreams of reuniting their four grandchildren, who are now in
four foster locations.
The children are two girls, ages 14 and 15, and two boys, ages 10 and 11.
Court documents from the latest in a series of hearings show that the judge
ruled the children had undergone severe trauma by their mother and father and
would continue to need extra therapeutic services.
He ordered the children to remain in the custody of the state Department of
Health and Human Services. "Said services shall be arranged for and paid
for by [DHHS]," the court order states.
Newell Auger, spokesman for DHHS, said he could not discuss the situation
without written permission from the Thibeaults.
"There is no way we would do that," Yvonne Thibeault said recently.
"The court could use that against us in the future, saying we did not
have the best interest of the children in mind."
But the Thibeaults felt their family had been torn apart by DHHS and felt
compelled to go public with their story.
They sought and were granted intervenor status, which allowed them to obtain
DHHS paperwork that indicates the children may have been abused while in DHHS
"The abuse in the system has been one hundred times worse than the abuse
in the home," Norman Thibeault said.
As a result, the Thibeaults have spent three years trying to pry the children
from DHHS custody.
Yvonne Thibeault said the children were removed from her daughter's care in
February 2001, a move she said was necessary. DHHS documents indicate that
physical and sexual abuse were taking place.
The Thibeaults themselves had reported their daughter's neglect when the
family lived in Canada. "There were over 150 pages of complaints,"
But once her daughter and the children moved to Van Buren, the U.S. system
moved quickly, she said. "Those kids were basically taking care of
themselves," she said. "They were removed, torn apart and placed all
Though the Thibeaults stepped forward immediately and offered to take the four
children, DHHS denied that request and retained custody, according to the
In the three years since, the couple has been working tirelessly to gain
custody. Yvonne Thibeault has taken training courses regarding the care of
emotionally challenged people. Her training credentials fill a 1-inch thick
At their two-story home in Maryland, the couple fenced in the back yard,
installed swing sets and other toys, and decorated the two bedrooms with
Their home was inspected and passed by the Maryland equivalent of DHHS, and
they lined up therapists and psychiatrists to help with the children's care.
In January, they took the foster parents' course for the state of Maine and
were denied a Maine license only because they already hold a Maryland foster
They also moved back to Maine, as requested by Judge Daigle, taking expensive
leaves of absence from their jobs. The move was supposed to be only three
months long but stretched to 15 months.
Their frustration has boiled over into anger, and they are contemplating a
lawsuit against the state of Maine for what they have documented as abuse
within the system.
"My grandchildren were taken from an abusive home to be put in a safe
place," Yvonne Thibeault said. "They were put into a system that was
worse. I want the abuse to stop. I don't believe in this system. The healing
has to start."
The Thibeaults maintain that one of the children has been placed in 16
locations in the past three years and they were all separated from each other.
She said one child ran away 12 times in an attempt to reach her grandparents.
"They placed her near us at Grand Lake and once she could see us all the
time, she stopped running," the grandmother said.
The couple said both of the boys have been sexually and physically assaulted
while in foster care and both girls have had sexual relations, one when she
was 12 years old with another foster child.
DHHS documents obtained by the Thibeaults contain repeated references by the
children to alleged abuse while in foster care. The Thibeaults were unable to
get documents from DHHS confirming the abuse.
However, they have discussed the issue with their grandchildren, they say, and
the grandchildren are adamant that the abuse occurred.
Several reports in 2002 detail one of the boys telling his caseworker how
another foster child repeatedly hit him. According to DHHS documents, a
caseworker recommended that the child be removed from the foster home, and he
was, according to the grandparents.
In a treatment summary, prepared in May for DHHS by Community Health and
Counseling Services of Houlton, social worker John Pasquarelli wrote that the
separation of the two brothers has been particularly damaging.
"[The child] has always had a strong attachment to his brother ... and
this separation from him continues to be traumatic," the social worker
Another caseworker reported that one of the girls, at age 12, claimed having
lesbian encounters with another foster child. Toxicology reports on one of the
girls, who at the time was 14 and in a state-run high school, indicated she
tested positive for both amphetamines and marijuana.
The Thibeaults maintain that these reports document "only a small part of
the abuse these children have gone through.
"How can the state possibly believe they wouldn't be better off with
us?" Yvonne Thibeault said.
Last December, the Thibeaults appealed to Gov. John Baldacci for help.
"Our grandchildren are becoming institutionalized because they have not
been permitted to spend significant portions of their formative years with
family," they wrote to Baldacci. "DHHS considers the availability of
family of no consequence in matters of our grandchildren's placement. I firmly
believe that the department's continued disregard of appropriate family
placement is causing my grandchildren irreparable harm and that such disregard
flies in the face of existing law."
Though they have returned to Maryland, the Thibeaults haven't given up. They
also have contacted U.S. Senator Susan Collins for help and written to
President George W. Bush.
"We will never, ever give up the fight for our grandchildren,"
Yvonne Thibeault said.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK
Yvonne and Norman Thibeault of Van Buren have accumulated dozens of boxes of
paperwork in their three-year quest to obtain custody of their four
grandchildren. "We will never, ever give up the fight for our
grandchildren," Yvonne Thibeault said