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A single mom and combat veteran, ‘scared to death’ about losing daughter, is suing CHFS social workers

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

Nikkie Holliday is an army brat who followed in the footsteps of two career military parents to spend 10 years in the Army, rising to Staff Sergeant. She spent 27 months in Iraq and Afghanistan, unafraid to serve her country in the most dangerous places.

But she was “scared to death” the day a social worker threatened to take away her three-year-old daughter unless she signed a “Prevention Plan” with the stamped warning: “ABSENT PREVENTIVE MEASURES FOSTER CARE IS THE PLANNED ARRANGEMENT FOR THIS CHILD.”

U.S. District Senior Judge William Bertlesman will hear her lawsuit against social workers for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services on Thursday, challenging “qualified immunity” and citing egregious actions toward the single mom and her young daughter.

The lawsuit has been filed in the Eastern District of Kentucky in Covington by Maureen ‘Nikkie’ Holliday against Alecia Leigh, Danielle Sneed, and ‘Jane Doe(s),’ supervisors and others in CHFS.

Nikkie and her daughter.

At issue are the arbitrary actions of Leigh and her supervisor Sneed and forced imposition of a pre-defined ‘Prevention Plan’ provided by CHFS.

These same issues were cited in another lawsuit decided recently by Judge Bertelsman in favor of Holly and David Schulkers of Fort Thomas and five of their minor children. Bertelsman denied “qualified immunity” to two social workers, a practice growing from “sovereign immunity” of the state. He ruled that the case against the social workers could proceed. The Cabinet has filed an appeal which will take the case to the 6th District. (See the NKyTribune’s story here.)

Attorney Paul Hill, who represented the Schulkers, is also Nikki Holiday’s lawyer. He is joined by Gail Langendorf and E. Andre Busald.

Nikkie’s story

This is Nikkie’s story, according to the lawsuit filed with the court.

In October 2016, Nikkie dropped off her daughter, aged 3, at a Florence daycare center. Nikkie was working two jobs and going to school to become a social worker. (She has since graduated and is working with a homeless veterans’ group.)

She was planning to go to a family dinner party that evening at her grandmother’s, but she got sick and asked her grandmother to pick up her daughter at daycare so she could attend the dinner party and spend the night.

The next morning, her grandmother was bathing AH and noticed bruises on her backside. AH said she had been bitten by another child at daycare. Grandmother phoned Nikkie who requested she report the bite to the daycare and ask for an ‘incident report.’ The grandmother obliged when she dropped AH off that day. But there was no ‘incident report’ as no one had witnessed AH being bitten and AH had not complained.

Nikkie got a call from the director of the daycare that afternoon asking her to come to the facility to meet with a Cabinet social worker, Alecia Leigh. The daycare center was obligated to report the bruises to the Cabinet.

Nikkie went to the center and, instead of being the aggrieved parent, found herself facing a lengthy barrage of questions about her discipline practices, her drug and alcohol use (none) and whether AH had been abused in any way by family members.

Leigh presented Nikkie with a “Prevention Plan” in which she would be limited to “supervised contact with AH until notified by CHFS” and was only permitted to have contact with her daughter when an “approved supervisor” was present. The supervisor had to be “18+, mature, pass a background check and not abuse substances.”

“I asked why I needed a ‘Prevention Plan,’” Nikkie said. “I was honest in my answers – and I was the concerned parent. I started getting anxious and worried.”

She refused to sign.

“This is ridiculous,” Nikkie told Leigh. “My child was bitten by another child. She told you that. She told my grandmother that. We were the ones who notified the daycare of the bite.”

Leigh told her if she didn’t sign that her daughter would be “taken into custody right now.”

“I was really scared-to-death then,” said Nikkie. “I didn’t want her to take my daughter. I didn’t know what my rights were.”

As soon as Nikkie signed the paper, Leigh left. And that left the single mom in a big pinch.

What does a single mom do?

She couldn’t ask any of her family for help because they had been with AH the night before and therefore were not “eligible” to be her supervisor. They too were suspect. But the plan she had just signed required her to take her daughter to Children’s Hospital to be evaluated.

The combat veteran holding down two jobs while going to school was desperate. Several family members came to the daycare center but they, too, were helpless. She finally called her cousin – who had missed the family dinner – who came from her job in north Cincinnati to take Nikkie and AH to Children’s Hospital. There, they waited for two hours to see a doctor.

“I was emotional and humiliated,” Nikkie said. “I had to strip my daughter in front of a group of people so they could take pictures. But my daughter was just laughing and unconcerned. She’s a happy girl.”

The doctors and medical staff were confused. The discharge instructions read:

“AH was seen and evaluated by the emergency department. She explained that she was ‘bitten on the butt’ by her friend Lola. My exam was consistent with bite marks on both butt cheeks. The marks were simply minor bruises and no puncture marks. There were no other injuries noted. AH otherwise appears to be a healthy and happy child. Images were taken for her medical record.”

By now, it was late Friday – and there was the “Prevention Plan.”

Nikkie tried numerous times to reach Leigh by phone. She wanted to report what the Children’s Hospital had said. She wanted to know if her cousin was ok to supervise. She had a lot of questions. She was understandably upset. Despite trying all weekend to contact Leigh, there was no response.

The college graduate and her happy daughter

Leigh would later tell Nikkie that she didn’t work after 5 p.m. or on weekends.

Weeks into weeks of limbo — and transient living

For two weeks, Nikkie was forced to sleep on her cousin’s couch in Cincinnati, miles from her home and her jobs and her daughter’s daycare. Getting around was problematic – and she was getting no answers. She could not rely on her usual family support system.

“Essentially the Cabinet took a family doing well, abused a veteran who fought for her country, and turned that family into transients taken from a stable environment,” said attorney Hill. “I am amazed at how little Alecia Leigh cared about what was happening to Nikkie.”

Nikkie appealed to Leigh’s supervisor, Danielle Sneed, but there was no relief from the “Prevention Plan.”

Despite the favorable and immediate report from Children’s, the Cabinet’s “investigation” continued. Two young cousins of Nikkie’s are questioned at school, without their parents’ knowledge, about the family dinner. Daycare workers were questioned extensively. Other doctors’ opinions were sought, even though none of them had examined AH. Friends and associates of Nikkie’s were questioned.

Thanksgiving and Christmas passed.

Over the three-month period, Nikkie and AH lived in three homes, were denied their normal family support system – and were stressed to the max to keep things together. Nikkie feared losing her jobs and falling behind in school.

On December 27, 2016, Leigh and Sneed decided to close the case as “unsubstantiated” although Nikkie was not notified until January 13, 2017.

Attorney Hill asks in his filing, “Is it about the money?” – the reimbursement of administrative costs from the federal government. He cites coercion and right to family integrity and the emotional toll on a single mom deprived of a support system — and threatened with the loss of her child. He asks for compensatory and punitive damages and a trial by jury.

Judge Bertlesman will hear the case on Thursday.

Nikkie, the combat veteran, is clearly a survivor.

She got her degree in social work from the University of Cincinnati and now has one full-time job working with homeless veterans. She is buying a house in Springfield Township.

Her happy daughter is now a first grader.

* * * * * *
See the full text of the lawsuit filing here.

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  1. Holly S says:

    Good luck tomorrow Nikkie! We are rooting for you and wish you all the best!!

  2. Kenzie Davis says:

    I sincerely wish you the best!

  3. Sandy H says:

    I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this. I, too, have had a nightmare CPS experience. It’s heartbreaking.

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