Dutch Family Justice – the tragic case of Jose Booij
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It is important to look at the reasons that Julia Lynn was taken, and the supporting evidence. Concerns had been first raised by a neighbour and then by the district nurse, over Jose’s psychiatric health and the baby’s feeding regimen. The family doctor, asked for his assessment, diagnosed Jose as ‘borderline’. On the strength of these reports, submitted to the General Child Abuse Hotline (AMK), the Council of Child Protection ordered the child’s removal from the home.
But none of these points were based on any reasonable evidence. Julia Lynn was examined in the hospital and found to be perfectly healthy, well fed and well cared for. Nevertheless she was put into foster care because of the Council of Child Protection’s concerns about Jose’s psychiatric state and because of their objections to Jose breastfeeding rather than bottle-feeding.
The neighbour’s motivations in raising concerns need to be questioned. Jose maintains that there had been long-standing ill-feeling between them. She states that the neighbour owned the land adjacent to Jose's house and was obliged to build an access road, but refused to do so. Jose also says that during her pregnancy this neighbour had already threatened to have the baby taken away from her.
The doctor’s diagnosis of ‘borderline’ was shaky indeed. He had only seen Miss Booij on, at most, two brief visits to mother and baby. He admitted that he only made the diagnosis under pressure from the AMK. He was not allowed to testify in court and then for two years refused to answer any questions from the judges about the case. Various psychiatric assessments subsequent to the removal stated that Booij did not have any psychiatric disturbance at all. Booij has stated, “The one time that the doctor saw me was when he came to the house and said that the government agency was going to bring the baby to the hospital to check her out. He stated that something in connection with my breastfeeding was not in order – the neighbour had reported that. I screamed that they had to go away. I stood in front my baby’s bedroom to protect her. They went away and two hours later there were five police cars in my front garden. Police officers entered my house, threw me on the floor and ran away with my baby”.
Concerns over the feeding appear similarly flimsy. Jose was breastfeeding on demand every three hours rather than bottle feeding to the district nurse’s specified four hour schedule. She was falling foul of Holland's rigid policy in favour of bottle feeding, and this was subsequently brought up against her in court. The nurse stated, "I saw Booij getting thinner, she was getting increasingly exhausted and confused. If anything had happened and I had not done anything, then I would have been sorry".
This response hints at what may have been the real reason for the removal. There had been a number of child murders in North Holland in the recent past. The Council of Child Protection, and its agency the Bureau of Youth Care, had been aware of the families involved and their problems, but had not prevented the tragedies. This had resulted in a determination by these agencies to prevent such a thing happening again. Cees Wierda, the Director of the Bureau of Youth Care (Drenthe region) responsible for the case, stated that murders of babies in recent days had certainly played a role in the decision to remove the baby. “It has increased our workload and we must minimise risk”.
Perhaps only such a climate of reaction and fear can account for a healthy and well cared for baby being removed from a competent and loving mother in an advanced Western country such as Holland.
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During the weeks following the baby's removal, Jose was locked up by the police several times for a few days at a time over allegations made by neighbours. Her neighbours dug a ditch around her house to prevent her from being able to reach it. Finally Jose was locked up for several weeks over alleged threats, and only released on condition that she never return to her house. She sold her house at a loss that rendered her bankrupt. Her car was now the only roof over her head.
From this point onwards, Jose's life spiralled inexorably downwards. Not only had her baby been taken from her, but also the belief that the traumas of her childhood were consigned to the past. On the contrary, they surfaced uncontrollably, making it impossible for her to respond rationally to events as they unfolded. Contacts with the Bureau of Youth Care inevitably resulted in outbursts of anger. Her lawyer at that time, Jaap Groen stated, “Youth Care has treated Miss Booij from the start as if she was demented. The way things were done would not have done her psychiatric health much good, and I don't think that is a great surprise.”
Estate agent Henk Kroezen and his wife were friends of Jose who gave her emotional and practical support in the weeks after Julia Lynn was taken. According to Kroezen, “My wife took her in straight away at the beginning to the Council of Child Protection to see her baby daughter, but Jose made everything quite impossible there. She got so extremely angry with Child Protection”. Regional Youth Care Director Cees Wierda said in 2006, “We would like to talk about the conditions under which the mother can communicate with the baby, but this is impossible with this mother”.
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Julia Lynn's removal became the subject of a traumatic, confusing and expensive sequence of court trials. At her first significant trial Jose was confronted with what could be considered stark primitive prejudice. She relates, “The judge told me that I was too slim, too fragile, and that being slim was a sign of being too stressed. My gynaecologist told the judge that this was completely untrue and that I was perfectly healthy. Her subsequent reward for this was to be dismissed from her post. The judge also said that a man should be the head of the family, and that I was a bad mother because I worked. She told me that I had to give up my career as a medical doctor to stay at home and look after my baby, and that I should have a man. I had been intending to take my baby to a day-care centre so that I could resume my career when my maternity leave came to an end, but the judge told me that this was not acceptable. There was just one judge, and this was her first case. I felt that she hated me because I had a career and a baby. Her message to me was that I could have one or the other, but not both. My lawyer protested against the judge using simple prejudice as a justification for my baby being taken away, but the judge flatly stated that she made the decisions in her court. This was a closed court; no journalist or outsider is allowed in the court in Holland. There is no jury system in Holland. There is no stenographer, you are not allowed to make tape recordings or write down a transcript of the proceedings. The courts accept without question anything a government representative says. They took as proof that I was insane the fact that many years earlier I had received counselling from Dr. Bakker. They didn't understand that you could go into counselling because you wanted to develop and grow”.
The Appeal Court in Leeuwarden ruled that the Bureau of Youth Care was incompetent and should have no further involvement with the baby. But this and subsequent trials over the following two years did not lead to the baby being returned. Typically each trial called for a further investigation and simply postponed making a decision. Typically also, nothing would come of the called-for investigation. Furthermore, as far as the Justice Department were concerned, the passage of time effectively destroyed the possibility of the child bonding with the mother. Jose has definite views on why she has been denied justice: "In Holland there is no separation of powers. The judges are not independent, they are appointed by Minister of Justice, they work for him and they take direction from him. The agencies that took away my baby are part of the Ministry of Justice. The judges said that this case must be kept out of the newspapers. It is clear that they wanted me shut away and my case hushed up". Jose herself was becoming more and more desperate and traumatised.
Jose had met up with her mother again after her baby had been taken. She had felt she needed to ask her mother how she had managed to stay alive after she herself had been taken all those years ago. Her mother's answer was to have another baby. This was the same answer that Dr. Bakker had also given Jose.
Jose decided to try for another baby by artificial insemination, and became pregnant again in August 2007. But she was now in desperate financial circumstances. Her trauma had left her incapable of managing her own affairs, and a lawyer was supposedly looking after them on her behalf. The government had frozen her bank account and confiscated her income, which by this stage was a disability allowance. At the end of October 2007, Jose wrote to the Queen of Holland, telling her that she was pregnant and being threatened with eviction, and asking for help. But Jose miscarried a few days later, exactly twelve weeks and a day after conception, as a consequence of her water supply, electricity and heating having been cut off. A few days after this she was evicted and began living on the streets.
Jose fled the country shortly afterwards. She stayed for a short time in Belgium and then in France and Spain. Each embassy that she asked for help would ring up the Dutch authorities, who would tell them that Jose was mad and should be locked up. Finally Jose arrived in Portugal and ended up staying for two years. She says, “When I got to Portugal I needed to find a job, and found one very easily working as a translator. I rented a house and had a new life. But then they evicted me in Portugal. The police came knocking on the door with a warrant: ‘Order of the Dutch Justice Department: Miss Booij is not paying her debts in the Netherlands, so take away her possessions in Portugal’. So I was thrown back into the streets again”.
In the summer of 2009 Jose returned to Holland with the intention of renewing her fight to win back her daughter, and was immediately arrested. She was locked up at the Delta Psychiatric Centre near Rotterdam by order of a judge, on the basis of being schizophrenic and psychotic; she had been telling a story about a baby and a letter to the Queen. It was merely the latest of twenty times she had been arrested and nine times that she had been thrown into a mental institution. In no other country is she considered to have these mental problems.
She continued to be held at Delta in a locked cell and injected with antipsychotic drugs, because the psychiatric staff did not believe her story. She was denied contact with the outside world. Only after seven months did the Institute make the necessary phone calls, to Beata Bakker and Richard Gill, that proved that Jose was telling the truth. Richard Gill is a professor of statistics at Leiden University, who knew Jose and was aware of her story. With the help of Professor Gill and others, Jose was able to leave Delta in July 2010 and rent an apartment in the Hague.
In October 2010, Jose returned to Portugal and accumulated a quantity of diazepam medication. On returning to Holland in November, she attempted suicide by overdose of diazepam.
Jose had fought to win back her daughter for six years. She has not seen her daughter since March 2005.
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