Christal's choice: A mother's decision to give up her child

To be able to see her son, she may have to give up custody.

- After months of fighting with Ramsey County Social Services to keep her son, a young mother has voluntarily terminated her parental rights in hopes she will get to keep a relationship with the boy. This comes after her first child died in what an autopsy showed was an accidental death.

Ramsey County Child Protection took Isaac away from his mother, Christal Brown, just five days after he was born. The boy has been living with relatives, who are serving as his foster family. He is currently 2 years old.

"He's very, very active, smart and curious, loves to read books," Brown, 21, said. "I say to him 'I'll see you next week Isaac' and he cries, there's nothing I can do."


Brown, lost custody of her son a year after her three-month-old daughter died in December of 2013. 

The mother was only 18 at the time, and living with the father of both her children, Lamontre Logan. Brown said she put Cassandra in a stroller, but said she didn't strap her in. Brown believes the child wiggled out and ended up on the floor. In the morning, she found Cassandra face down on a piece of plastic, about four feet from her stroller.

The St. Paul Police homicide case file shows detectives thought it may've been neglect or worse. According to police reports, the father had a long history of domestic violence with Brown and was bothered by the baby's crying, having allegedly said off-handedly once,"it only takes a couple minutes to suffocate a child."

Brown had issues of her own. 

A month before her daughter's death, she went to the hospital because of "voices telling me to harm myself and baby,” and felt detached from her body, according to court records. 

She was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, given Zoloft  and placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold.

According to the autopsy report, Cassandra died from "probable positional asphyxia," in other words, she suffocated to death, unable to lift her head off the plastic. The medical examiner, Michael McGee, found "no evidence of trauma," and testified that "abuse was not the cause of the child's death."  The Ramsey County Attorney declined to file charges.


Brown said she did not struggle with postpartum depression with Isaac.

Yet, she was still an extraordinarily anxious mother.  Four days after her son was born, she brought him to the emergency room at Children's Hospital, but Isaac was fine, according to doctors.

She brought him back to the hospital the next day and this time the doctors were worried about Brown.

According to reports from Social Services: "she wouldn't speak to a social worker." She became "uncooperative with the staff." Doctors saw severe mood swings.

After leaving the hospital, she dropped Isaac off with his father, then left. 

When St. Paul police arrived to take the baby, people were smoking marijuana in the apartment. 

But according to a Ramsey County social worker, "the findings showed there was no maltreatment." Although they were "concerned with Ms. Brown's mental health" and "reports of domestic abuse."

But the county still moved to terminate Brown's parental rights. 

"The social worker told me for herself she doesn't want to give me back my baby because of the death of my daughter," Brown said. 

In March, Ramsey County Judge Pat Diamond denied the order calling for termination of Brown's parental rights, citing insufficient evidence.  He said while Cassandra's death may always be a mystery, "it had affected many of the decisions of RCCHSD (social) workers in this case."

Isaac stayed with his foster family, and the judge wanted Brown to continue with therapy. He also wanted her to stay away from the father, but that did not happen.

Child protection workers discovered Brown had met with Logan for dinner and suspected they were still together.


Last week, Brown was at family court, alone.  She'd made a decision to give her son up and not fight the court system any longer.  

"I feel like it's a good choice. I get to see him and then I would be able to have a baby in the future," Brown said. "I'd rather do this than lose at trial and not get to see him at all."

Isaac will be placed permanently with the foster family, and Brown will get to have 26 unsupervised visits a year with him. The father gave up his parental rights.


The Ramsey County Community Human Services Department (RCCHSD)  would not comment on this particular case, but a spokesperson provided a statement:

"Termination of parental rights can be one of the most difficult and intensive aspects of the child protection case workers’ responsibilities. Moving to terminate a parents parental rights – especially when involuntary on the part of the parent – is one of the most serious decisions child protection can make and must always be done in the context of the child’s best interests."

"If a child is found to have been endangered by a parent by abuse or neglect, the case worker is responsible for assisting in the development of a case plan for the parent with the court. Case workers then monitor and work to help the parent achieve the goals in that case plan, and also to achieve needed behavioral changes.  This process generally takes a number of months. Case plans often have many separate aspects to them that each require measured progress. Sometimes a parent will be successful in some areas of a case plan, but not successful in others. Child protection needs to look at the case in totality when determining the fitness of the parent and whether termination of parents' parental rights is in the child’s best interests. Even in instances where a parent previously neglected or abused another of their own children, ultimately each case must be determined and assessed on its own based on the parent’s execution of all aspects of the case plan and displayed authentic behavioral changes."

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