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Justice for Justyce: A baby left without a name, finally, gets one



When we think of joyful endings, we don’t usually think about offices where paperwork is exchanged. But when Yolanda Allen-Little walked out of the D.C. Vital Records Division on Friday, she would have done a cartwheel if she knew how and, she noted, if she were younger.

That day, the retired civil service employee finally got what she had been waiting more than four frustrating months to receive: a birth certificate for a baby who ended up in her care after the child’s mother left her at a D.C. hospital.

Having that piece of paper in her hands marked the end of a bureaucratic saga for the family and the beginning of possibilities. Without that birth certificate, there was no official document listing the baby’s identity, leaving her nameless. With it, the 5-month-old, whose first name is Justyce, can get a social security card, health care through Medicaid and benefits she’s entitled to receive.

“I feel like a burden has been lifted,” Yolanda said about getting the birth certificate. “This was really worrying me. I didn’t know what to do.”

How a baby, now 4 months old, was left without a name

When I first told you about Yolanda two weeks ago in a column, she and an attorney who has been helping her had tried repeatedly to get that birth certificate, a task that was made difficult because the baby’s mother had left the hospital before filling out paperwork that would have listed her name. They had asked several D.C. agencies for assistance and had filed motions in D.C. Superior Court requesting a judge order the Vital Records Division to issue the document.


They agreed to speak publicly about the situation only after they saw no other option and the death of the baby’s biological mother left Justyce facing the loss of medical coverage, which she needs for regular physical therapy after a birth complication caused muscle paralysis in her right arm.

“We were sort of in a holding pattern, where we didn’t know what else to do,” Marla Spindel, the attorney who has been helping the family, said. “Our last resort was to go public. We felt like we had already done everything else we could do.”

Spindel is the executive director of DC KinCare Alliance, a nonprofit organization that serves relatives and family friends who take on caregiver roles for children who can’t remain with their parents. She got involved with the family after a judge recommended that Yolanda contact the organization.

Yolanda had served as a foster parent to the baby’s biological mother, Jessica, when she was a teenager, and in the decades that followed, the two remained in contact, even as Jessica struggled with mental illness and drug addiction. Shortly before the baby was born, Yolanda visited Jessica in a psychiatric ward and begged her to stay there. Jessica promised, then left that night. Not long after that, Yolanda received a call from the hospital telling her that the baby had been born; Jessica had told a social worker she wanted Yolanda to take the child home.

Court records show that D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency got involved with the baby after she was born with cocaine in her system, and at the agency’s direction, the hospital released the child into Yolanda’s care 10 days after her birth. Spindel said CFSA never told Yolanda she could serve as a foster parent to the baby — an arrangement that would have allowed her to receive financial support and get that birth certificate without delay. Spindel said the baby was instead placed with Yolanda informally, which is a common practice, leaving her to navigate legal and financial challenges on her own.

D.C.’s hidden foster care practice is harming families, advocates warn

Court records show Yolanda went to court to get temporary custody, then permanent custody and visited Vital Records several times. Other people, Spindel said, “would have given up way before Yolanda. They would never have gone all those extra steps.”


When Spindel and Yolanda spoke to me about what they were going through, they hoped that sharing their experience would compel city and court officials to help them. What ended up happening was more than either of them expected. People who had never met Yolanda or Justyce started asking how they could help. They wanted to know whom they should call and where they could donate. A GoFundMe page titled “Justice for Justyce” was created for the family, and as of Friday, it had drawn more than $29,000. People donated as little as $10 and as much as $10,000.

“I’ve gotten so many calls and emails from people who want to help,” Spindel said. “Some people are dropping off diapers and formula at our office. There are people who have just called to see what happened with the baby or what they can do. People have really just shown their humanity, and it’s amazing, the outpouring of love and support.”

Yolanda, who worked for 39 years at the U.S. Postal headquarters, was in Turkey when she got the call telling her Justyce was born, and as soon as she returned to the country, she had to take care of her elderly mother who needed to undergo surgery. That delayed her in getting to Justyce, and during that time, Yolanda wondered whether the newborn was getting held enough. She knew Jessica wasn’t visiting her and that the nurses were busy.

“It just made me feel bad to know she was waiting up in there, with no one to love her,” Yolanda said.

But that was five months ago. Recent weeks, Yolanda said, have shown her that Justyce is far from alone.

“They say it takes a village and the villagers have been coming through,” she said. “She has really created a serious village.”

Spindel said in the last two weeks she was contacted by an official with the Department of Health, which oversees Vital Records, and was told exactly what a court would have to order for the birth certificate to be issued. She also heard from a judge who scheduled a hearing and issued the needed order. On Friday, the document was ready and waiting for Yolanda, who arrived early that morning.


Yolanda said she has talked to an attorney about putting the GoFundMe money into a trust for Justyce. Since she is older than most new moms, she wants to make sure that if something were to happen to her, Justyce has those funds.

She said when Justyce is old enough, she plans to tell her about her mother and how those funds came to exist. She said she will tell her that she loved Jessica as a daughter and that Jessica loved her baby enough to make sure she was taken care of at a time when she was too sick to take care of herself. She will also tell her about all the people “who came together to love on her and support her.”

In that earlier column, Yolanda said she wanted Justyce to “know she matters, that her life matters.” Those strangers, she said, have reinforced that message.

“They are showing her,” she said, “that she matters.”

Source: Washington Post


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