Relatives of one local three-year-old girl are fighting to regain custody of her after they said officials with Catawba County Department of Social Services wrongfully removed the child from their home earlier this month.
DSS placed Jocelyn “Josie” Jackson in foster care just one day after they handed her over to live with her aunt Laura Burchette and boyfriend Rob Kohila, the couple said.
DSS officials originally pulled the child from her Maiden home following a drug bust at the property.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said Maiden Police and Sheriff’s narcotics investigators uncovered ingredients for making methamphetamine inside a vehicle June 11 at the Biggerstaff Road residence and arrested three total women in the incident.
One of the suspects in the incident is Sara Jackson, Josie’s mother, Kohila said.
He said that he knew Jackson had been doing drugs for some time, but that he never witnessed the activity.
He said Josie’s mother occasionally used prescription painkillers, drank alcohol and smoked marijuana but never touched meth due to a heart condition. Kohila added that Dustin Jackson, Josie’s father, frequently used the drug and even admitted to it in a letter this month to him and Burchette.
Kohila was shocked when DSS decided to pull the little girl from him and his girlfriend’s home and placed her in foster care, especially after the agency approved them for kinship placement both the day of the arrests and in April while Josie’s parents worked to get clean and straighten up their living space.
Josie arrived at her aunt’s home in April filthy, full of lice, behind on vaccinations and without many clothes or other necessities, Kohila said.
After just a week, DSS returned the child to her parents.
While Kohila said he and Burchette provided ample food, clothing and medical care for the child during that time, DSS officials have since changed their minds about the couple, now calling them a “liability” to Josie.
Kohila said an incident from more than seven years ago involving each of the couple’s sons “is now coming back to bite” them, despite the fact they obeyed DSS orders at the time and have not had another incident since then.
According to SavieJosie,com, a website the couple established to spread word of their plight to get Josie back, the misunderstanding with DSS occurred after Burchette’s son told his teachers his mother bit him on the ear.
The boy was mad at Burchette the day school officials questioned him about the markings, the site said. The couple said Kohila’s son had hit his girlfriend’s child with a curtain rod, producing the noticeable abrasions.
Seven years ago, the agency told the couple if they complied and took parenting classes, officials would close the case. However, the incident is still haunting Kohila and Burchette.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to us,” he said.
DSS officials refused to comment on the old case along with details of Josie’s kinship placement.
They said in an email earlier this month the agency is not at liberty to discuss or even affirm their involvement in the case due to confidentiality laws.
More than $1,300 in donations have already been made to the “Save Josie” site. The family’s target goal is $5,000.
“The outpouring of support from everyone has been phenomenal,” Kohila said.
DSS recently told the couple they may soon be granted weekend visits with Josie. However, her permanent placement has yet to be determined.
Kohila and Burchette said they are awaiting a home study, which DSS noted they will not conduct until completing background checks on the couple.
In the meantime, the pair has child-proofed their home and deactivated several social media accounts in order to better their chances of getting Josie back.
The family will return to court in mid-July, days before Josie’s fourth birthday.
Kohila and Burchette hope the home study will take place prior to the court date so they can potentially have Josie back to celebrate her special day.
Burchette has also filed a separate lawsuit for custody along with a motion to intervene in the current DSS custody case.
“We assume they aren’t used to folks fighting back,” Kohila said.
Sara Jackson has since been released from the Lincoln County jail while her husband remains behind Catawba County bars under a $15,000 bond for meth-related charges.
For more information and continued updates on Josie’s situation or to make a donation to the family, visit SaveJosie.com.