Fresh off of the high of receiving a $12,000 windfall of public support, homeless parents Angelique Roland, 27, and Michael Jones, 54, were hit with a heartbreaking low: losing custody of their two young children.
The family’s gut-wrenching saga began Friday night, when the Philadelphia couple’s 2-year-old son, Jeremiah, wandered away from the cardboard tent where his family was living. The foursome, which includes Jeremiah’s 4-year-old sister, had been sleeping in a city park after they somehow lost their lodging and weren’t able to find space in a shelter.
“We went down to LOVE Park, because a couple people that work for [the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority] know my family, but they weren’t on shift,“ Roland told NBC 10 on Monday. “So the best thing that we could do is get boxes and get behind the welcome center, where we could find a corner to actually block [the kids], to actually keep them warm.”
Michael Jones and Angelique Roland (Photo: NBC 10).
But shortly before midnight, concerned citizens spotted Jeremiah wandering around — wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a diaper but no shoes or socks — and alerted authorities, according to a Philadelphia Police spokeswoman. Roland and Jones had fallen asleep, and when the parents awoke to find the boy gone, they reported him missing — though at that point, the toddler was already in police custody.
Authorities promptly launched an investigation into the incident, during which the couple’s daughter was taken into custody as well. “It wasn’t our fault that we ended up in that predicament,” insisted the father, who was not charged with anything. “There was nothing that we could do but do our best.”
After the family’s story hit the news, though, do-gooders did them one better and offered a stunning show of support. A charity group, Chosen 300 Ministries, held a fundraiser for the family that raked in $12,000 to pay for housing. Marriott Hotels also offered the family a free week’s stay, and a thrift store offered to furnish their future home.
But family court was less generous. On Tuesday, a judge ruled that the children should remain in the custody of the Department of Human Services but be allowed visits with their parents twice a week. Yahoo Parenting reached out but was not able to reach anyone at the DHS for comment.
“The court’s first concern is to keep the kids safe, not to keep the family together,” Margaret Brinig, a professor at Notre Dame Law School who specializes in family law, contracts, and dispute resolution, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Hopefully, they will reunify the family as soon as they can. If they have a temporary problem — like a big medical bill that they couldn’t pay or were suddenly out of work — and that’s why they landed in this situation, the court will probably clear it up very soon. But if this family has been struggling for a long time, and the parents haven’t responded in way that you’d like parents to respond, that’s a different issue and may take a while to resolve.” Generally speaking, Brinig adds, “Kids are better off with their parents than any third party, but if the parents can’t provide for their children and keep them safe, then the state’s got to do something.”
Difficult dilemmas such as Jeremiah’s family drama “unfortunately happen more often that you’d think,” New York City family lawyer Evan D. Schein tells Yahoo Parenting. And in the eyes of the court, having a roof over their heads is the least parents need to be able to show that they can provide for their kids. “What steps are these parents taking to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?” asks Shein. “Are they in a position to properly care for their kids?” These are the things that the family is going to have to demonstrate to prove that they’re ready to be reunited, he says.
“A judge needs to see that enough has changed, and that can take a substantial amount of time to show,” Schein added. “But when it comes to kids, the court is always going to err on the side of proceeding with caution.”
(Top photo: Bill Newbold/Twitter)