Oregon couple Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler lost custody of their son Christopher about four years ago, shortly after he was born. Fabbrini gave birth to their second son in February — and he was taken by the Department of Human Services before leaving the hospital. Fabbrini and Ziegler claim the state took these actions because of their low IQ.
Tuesday on radio, Glenn spoke with Fabbrini and her advocate Sherrene Hagenbach, who was appointed by the state as a volunteer supervisor during the couple’s visits with their children. Hagenbach was relieved of her position after siding with the couple. She’s on record as saying there’s “no sign of abuse” and that Fabbrini is “perfectly qualified to have and hold and love her children.”
“I am so bothered by this story. I think you will be, too,” Glenn said.
The story unexpectedly hit Glenn hard.
“I don’t know what you expected her to sound like, but she sounded perfectly normal to me. She is a mother who loves her children. Sorry this . . . hits close to home. I have a daughter with cerebral palsy who is a wonderful . . . and would make the best mother ever,” Glenn said emotionally, following the interview with Fabbrini.
The couple has gone through rigorous testing to prove their competency, but their children remain in foster care, awaiting adoption.
To learn more or get involved:
• Visit Sherrene Hagenbach online at aktionnow.com
• SIGN THE PETITION to get Christopher and Hunter back in their parents’ care
• DONATE via GoFundMe to assist with the family’s legal expenses
The Oregonian / Oregon Live
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: In light of Charlie Gard and now Alfie Evans, and in the past, it was Justine Pelletier, governments and hospitals are taking children from their parents. And we want to make sure that you are aware of this. We welcome Sherrene Hagenbach, her mentor, and Amy Fabbrini, the mother who is going through this in Oregon. Amy, how are you?
AMY: I’m doing good. Thank you.
GLENN: Tell me — tell me what’s happening to you and what’s happening to your children.
AMY: So Christopher, my oldest, he was taken — he was taken into CPS custody almost four years ago. And we have been fighting the state for almost four years now to get him back, trying to represent him as best as we can, trying to get our story out there, trying to get a lawyer, an attorney that will represent us in court so we can get our — get Christopher back. We have a trial coming up in December to terminate our rights for Christopher.
And then Hunter, he was born in February. He was two days old. CPS came. Took him right from the hospital. I didn’t even get to bring him home. So since then, we’ve been fighting for him as well. We’ve been getting our story out there to try and find someone that can represent us so we can go up against the state to get our kids back. And we just — we want our story out there so they know that you can get your kids back.
GLENN: Amy, are — are you a good mom?
AMY: I’m a wonderful mother. I love my boys. I would do anything for my boys.
GLENN: Sorry. This has caught me off guard. I have a daughter of special needs. And so this has caught me off guard. I’m sorry to be emotional with you.
What does it feel like to now have to be on national radio with people discussing your IQ and saying that you’re not smart enough to be a mom?
AMY: It’s — it’s been hard. But it’s worth it to get my story out there so that people know that you can get your kids back, as long as you just fight. Fight for everything you have because your kids are worth it.
PAT: Has a lawyer stepped up to help you, yet, Amy?
AMY: I have a court-appointed attorney and an appeals attorney. But I would like to see if I could find someone that’s out of state that can better represent me.
SHERRENE: Hi. I’m doing good. Thank you.
GLENN: You worked for the state of Oregon?
SHERRENE: So, yes. Actually, I was a volunteer. So I’m a professional mediator by trade. And I went there to just volunteer my time in the community. And because of my credentials and education, they put me in the role of a caseworker that came into the home and observed visitations with the children.
GLENN: What did you observe?
SHERRENE: Well, first, I should preface this with I’ve had over 20 years’ experience working with children, youth, and families.
So my undergrad is in psychology. And I have, you know, a ton of certificates regarding safety and health and abuse. And what I found when I came into the home is a home. I found two parents that just loved their child. It was just Christopher at the time. It was last summer.
And definitely, my first impression was that Amy, in particular, didn’t speak to me very much.
GLENN: Didn’t —
SHERRENE: She was very insecure.
GLENN: She didn’t, what?
SHERRENE: She didn’t speak with me at first. It took about four weeks at least to gain her trust in me as a caseworker.
And once she felt comfortable with me in the home, you know, it was — it was clear to see that she had had years of — you know, just this unhealthy relationship between her and the state of Oregon when they came in. So, you know, I just had to build that trust up with her. But I just saw a loving environment. There was — you know, they’ve got the same dog apparently for the last five years. There’s really nothing going on, at all, that I discovered other than maybe they were depressed and, you know, that was — that was the only thing that I could see. And obviously, if they had their children back, that depression would have lifted.
SHERRENE: In the ten months I had worked with her after — she’s just. She’s got her voice now. She’s fighting. You know, she’s — she’s really looking for more than an advocate. Because we live in a small town here. And that’s been the hardest thing for me is, one, to speak out against Child Protective Services and care for my family. My stepdad is a lawyer and judge in town. And my mom has got a pretty high position. So I wanted to protect them. But also stand up for people that don’t feel like they have a voice and they’re not being heard. So I’m pretty much the lone star out here. (chuckles)
And their attorneys are representing them. But, you know, they all know each other here. So I know that they’re not being fought for properly.
GLENN: So — can you hang on just a second. I need to take a quick break. I’m going to come back after a commercial break. We’ll continue our conversation.
GLENN: Welcome back to the program. We’re talking about Amy Fabbrini, who the state has decided — the state of Oregon that she does not have a high enough IQ to be able to have her two children. Her first child was taken from her after being fine in the home and living for two or three years with mom and dad. And her second child has just been taken from her at the hospital at birth. Go ahead, Amy. Did I get something wrong?
AMY: Yeah. Christopher was only in our home for like four days when CPS came and took him.
GLENN: So, Amy, what is the thing — talking to the mother, who, remember, is not smart enough to have her own children, according to the state of Oregon — Amy, what caused this? Why did the state come over to your house? What was the complaint?
AMY: The initial complaint was that we had an ex-friend that was living with us. And they called CPS and reported that the father, Eric Ziegler, had been neglecting Christopher. He hadn’t been picking up on his keys (phonetic). He wasn’t cleaning him properly. And then there was also put in the report that he wasn’t properly feeding our dog. That was the first report. And that’s why CPS came in and took Christopher.
GLENN: Okay. And so the woman who came out — Sherrene, you were the person that came out with that report?
SHERRENE: I am not the first person that came out with the initial report.
GLENN: Okay. And what did that first report say? That report took the child away?
SHERRENE: Yeah. The first report was called in supposedly by a roommate of theirs. And the second report was actually from Amy’s father who was upset that she decided to move in with the father of her child.
SHERRENE: So they’ve just gone with that for, you know, the last almost four years now.
GLENN: Okay. Now, Sherrene, you have been with Amy over the last couple of years. You see her quite often, or not?
SHERRENE: Yes. So I was placed in the home as a volunteer. I gave my time. So I was placed in the home last May of 2016. And performed weekly visitations for three hours a piece with Amy, Eric, and their child Christopher.
GLENN: Over the last — over the last year?
SHERRENE: So it was from May of 2016 until August of 2016, when their attorney asked for my — my observations, because Child Protective Services was not releasing them. So —
GLENN: And, Amy, when was the birth date of your second child?
AMY: February 16th of 2017.
GLENN: February of 2017?
AMY: Yes. Yes.
GLENN: So, Amy, I have to ask you a tough question because this is what the people who are against you say, that you didn’t know that you were pregnant until you had your child. And they find that unreasonable. It has happened before with people who are supposedly intelligent. But it is difficult to not know that you’re not pregnant. Can you tell me about that. Is that true? What happened?
AMY: So that was with — that was when I was — I didn’t know I was pregnant with Christopher. And I didn’t. All I thought was — because I have — I have kidney issues. It’s been passed down through my family. So when I was getting these — when I was getting these pains in my side, I just thought it was my kidneys acting up. I had no indications that I was pregnant. I didn’t have any movement or anything.
GLENN: And when you had no — when you weren’t having your period, is that normal for you?
GLENN: And were you — were you growing in size? Did you look pregnant?
GLENN: Sherrene, can you help me out on that.
SHERRENE: Yeah. So, Amy’s figure has just — it’s just always been the same ever since I met her actually. And when I came into the home last summer, she actually — we didn’t know at the time, but she was beginning, you know, her pregnancy for the second child. And she had stayed the same since the first time I’ve met her until today. She looks exactly the same. So — and she just gave birth in February. How big are you? What is your size about?
GLENN: We don’t have to get into that — we don’t have to get into that. Please.
AMY: It’s something where you just — you just can’t — you don’t notice. It’s just — it’s the way that she’s built. But she did know she was pregnant with Hunter, the second child. And we discussed extensively about her coming forward. But they just had an incredible amount of fear that they would take their child. So —
GLENN: Which they did.
SHERRENE: Which they did, yeah.
GLENN: So your aunt, Amy, agrees with you and your husband and Sherrene, that —
AMY: Yes. She does.
GLENN: Your children are now up for adoption by the state.
AMY: Christopher is.
GLENN: How do you feel about that?
AMY: I don’t feel it’s right. He shouldn’t be put up for adoption. He should be with us. It’s completely wrong.
GLENN: Sherrene and Amy, how can we help you? Is there anything, first of all, that I’ve missed?
SHERRENE: Well, I would like to advocate that Amy and Eric have remained together. They live in a three-bedroom, two-bath home. It’s owned by Eric’s father. And they’ve taken extensive courses on parenting. What abuse and neglect looks like. Health and fitness. I mean, they are very proactive in showing the courts that they want to learn what they want them to learn. And that — and they’re proving to the courts and to everybody around here that they’re very capable of learning. They’re — the IQ that is given, you know, is debatable anyway. That can be subject to depression, all kinds of things.
SHERRENE: But she’s very articulate. They’re very sweet. They’re very kind. And what could help them is finding good representation to help them advocate for their rights to have their children. That is truly what we’re looking for, for this family.
GLENN: How do they get in touch with you?
SHERRENE: They can go to either my website or they can contact me via email.
GLENN: Okay. Give me the information right now. Yeah.
SHERRENE: Okay. So my website is www.aktionnow.com. But it’s spelled with a K. So it’s A-K-T-I-O-N-N-O-W.com.
SHERRENE: And my email address is email@example.com.
GLENN: Sherrene, thank you for — you know, you’re in a small town, and you have apparently a very visible family. And it takes guts to stand up and to do it with class and grace. And it sounds like you’re doing that. And God bless you for standing up.
Amy Fabbrini, we will not forget you, and we will further this story on any platform that I have to do with. And I will do everything I can to help you out. And I wish all of the best. And we’ll talk to you again soon.
Back in just a second.
AMY: Thank you so much.
GLENN: God bless you.
GLENN: On a personal note, if you just joined us, we did an interview with a — a mother of two children in — in Oregon that have just been taken. One of them had been taken from them a few years ago. They have been fighting to get their child back. A — a mother and father.
Father has a borderline on the higher end IQ of mental disability, 66. Mom has an IQ of 72. I don’t know what you expected her to sound like. But she sounded perfectly normal to me.
She is a mother who loves her children. Sorry this is — this hits close to home. I have a daughter with cerebral palsy who is a wonderful — and would make the best mother ever.
And I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to defend your intelligence and to have everyone calling you stupid, when most likely, that’s the way you have felt your whole life anyway. And all of the cruel remarks that probably came your way through your whole life, to now have a child and have it taken from you at the hospital, when there is no sign of abuse nor neglect, is an injustice that is beyond comprehension to me.
As I started this break, on a personal note, last night, I have these sweet women who — who come to the studios. And they pray. And they pray for us. And they pray for me. And we’re in my studios or office last night. We had a great conversation. And the last thing they said was, “What can we pray for, for you?”
And I said, “Two things.” And I would like to ask you to pray for the second thing more than the first. But I said, “Empathy and courage.”
We can’t solve anything unless we can feel one another, unless we really have empathy for what people are going through, and we can stop seeing things through the prism of policies or even the Constitution. But start to feel where other people are.
I need more empathy for people. And I have been praying for that gift. But at the same time, I know that we will find things like Amy. And I need the courage and the — the spine to be able to walk through it. And not because it’s difficult, but because it’s hard on the heart after a while.
And so if you would join us in — in that prayer, I would appreciate it. I would appreciate it.
So what they’re looking for is an attorney that can represent them. They’re in a small town, and it sounds a little incestuous this town. No, I don’t mean to speak ill of this town. I don’t know anything about it. But we all know how small towns are and can be. And once people make their mind up about a person, it’s hard to reverse that. I found very early on, the great joy, which in some ways, was so hard. And I didn’t like it. Moving away from my family and my own hometown, you become that — whatever people have known you as — you know, I was — you know, I — to my sisters, I was their stinky little brother. And, you know, you — you just grow up, and people have this image of you.
By going away, you can start fresh. And so I don’t know Amy’s story in this small little town and what they thought of Amy. But I know what the state worker thought when they went in and they found no abuse and no neglect. So we need somebody — and would Kelly Shackelford — would this be something — he is, what? Is the Liberty Counsel? I mean, he does more religious freedom, but he might know somebody that could take on a case like this.
STU: Yeah, that would be interesting to hear. I mean, because there’s a lot to this story. But if you back up for a second — and I don’t mean to get scientific, but it’s like, this is just completely bonkers. Like this woman — you expected to hear something completely different from that interview. At least I did. And I know that’s totally judging a book by its cover, but…
GLENN: We never — we had never talked to her before.
GLENN: Our phone screeners had never talked to her. Our producer had not talked to her.
GLENN: Talked to the mentor or the state advocate who was her state advocate until the state fired her. Talked to her. But we didn’t — I mean, I did not expect that conversation.
STU: It’s similar to the Charlie Gard thing in a way, that, you know, there is a line you can find with a story like this. Where if they are so disabled that they can’t do basic functions of life, there may be — you know, there’s an argument to have. This is not that case. I mean, she’s smarter than 80 percent of the people I interact with on a daily basis.
GLENN: And they’re taking parenting classes. And his parents are around. And they have help. And the — the people are aware of them.
I mean, this is why you — I mean, I will tell you, I feel like adopting their children and building a house next to mine and giving them the house and we would be the adoptive parents. But we would right next to them and they could keep the — I mean, that’s what families are supposed to do. Not state. That’s what the family is supposed to do.
You have your child live close enough to where the grandparents help. You don’t just take the children away. And, again, the state found no evidence of neglect.
STU: And it’s important to note too, IQ is one of those things that has been beaten into our heads for decades and decades and decades as this actual measure of intelligence, that it has some level of accuracy to it. There’s no real — you cannot decipher. These are not accurate enough measures to decipher the difference between someone who has a 72 and a 78 IQ.
Listen. This is from a Canadian university. Dr. Adrian Owen did a huge study, the largest study ever on IQ and the accuracy of it. He was the senior investigator in the Canadian Excellent Research Chair in cognitive neuroscience and imaging at the university’s Brain and Mind Institute. When we looked at the data, the bottom line is the whole concept of IQ or of you having a higher IQ than me is a myth. There is no such thing as a single measure of IQ or a measure of general intelligence.
And we’re taking people’s children away based on some random test they took on some day. Some number that has no real basis in science anyway. And just the sniff test here. You listen to this woman speak, and blatantly she has the intelligence to raise children.
How many people have you met in your life and you think, “Those people shouldn’t have children?” This is not one of them. I mean, this is an absolute horror show. A complete outrage!
And how have we not heard more about this story? How does she not have the help that she needs? I mean, look, you may look deeper into this story and find something that indicates something different. But, I mean, so far, we have not found it. And I think just by — on its face, you listen to that interview, if you heard that interview, I mean, there are times — and you could not tell the difference if it was the mother or the mentor. Speaking.
GLENN: There was at least one time that that happened. I wanted to ask who is speaking.
GLENN: I could not tell the one who had their master’s in — what did she say it was? And the one who just graduated from high school. The one whose kids are being taken away because they’re not smart enough and the one who has all the degrees and certificates to be hired and sent in by the state to do family counseling and observations. I mean, when you can’t tell the difference between the two, there’s a problem.
STU: And do we live in a country in which the state decides whether they’ll allow you to have your children? Or do we live in a country in which they’re your children and with only the most incredible exceptions and incredible circumstances would the state even consider stepping into — into a parent/child relationship. That is the country we’re supposed to live in. And if we live in — I mean, I know Oregon is a lot different than other states. And maybe this wouldn’t happen in other states. I don’t know. But this is a complete outrage, on its face.
GLENN: So here’s what I want to say to you: Have you — my aunt was — she married an abuser. And he wasn’t abusing her at first. Not physically. Before they got married. Mentally, he was. My grandfather spotted him a mile away. And all the way down the aisle, my aunt told me, my dad, I thought at the time just wrecked my ceremony. Because grandpa was walking her down the aisle and said, “Please. Please, Joanne, don’t do this. Please, don’t do this. Please, don’t marry him. Please turn around right now and come with me. Please, I’m your father. I’m begging you.”
And she said, “Dad, stop it.” When they got to the end of the aisle, he kissed her on the cheek and said, “I will always be your father. And I will always be there. But I cannot be there to watch my daughter be abused. When you are done, you let me know.”
And he gave her to this abuser. She would come over to my grandfather’s house from time to time with a black eye or whatever. And she would come crying to my grandmother, her mother. And grandpa would answer the door. And his heart would break. And he would look at her, and he would hug her. And she would cry. And then he would look at her and say, “Are you done yet?” She’d say, “Dad, no. You don’t — he stopped listening. And he would walk away. And grandma would spend the time.
Until that time came when she came home and said, “Dad, I’m done” — we never saw the abuser again. He went away. And they had a very easy divorce.
I think it involved my grandfather and the man who became my uncle and her husband later showing up at his door with a shotgun or two, but I could be wrong. But here’s why I tell you that story: Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are we done arguing politics? Are we done making that the center of our universe? Because I’m done. I’m so done.
That’s not getting us anywhere. This, we can make a difference on. This, we can do. This is a noble cause. This is something we should be spending our time on.
I’ll pick this up tomorrow. But today, I just want to ask you that question. Are you done yet?
If you are, when you are, let me know. Because we have to focus on other things.