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Court removes children at center of protest from Carlton County foster homes

The ruling Tuesday led one mother, Ashley Roy, to say: "I'm ecstatic."

news conference for alleged child abuse in a foster home
Jessica Gidagaakoons Smith, center, speaks between Danielle Martineau, left, and Ashley Roy during a news conference for alleged child abuse in a foster home in Cloquet on Jan. 11, 2022, outside of the Carlton County Courthouse in Carlton.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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CLOQUET — The children at the center of a child protection firestorm in Carlton County were ordered removed from their foster homes Tuesday.

Alleged abusive treatment of 10 children in two homes — one in Cloquet, one on the Fond du Lac Reservation — had been the subject of two weeks of ongoing protests in both communities, as well as outside the Carlton County Courthouse.

“I feel relieved to the point I started crying right away when I heard the judge was removing all children,” said protest organizer Jessica Gidagaakoons Smith. “We’ve been standing out here in the cold fighting for these children to be removed to safety.”

In removing the children from the foster homes, Judge Rebekka Stumme ruled Tuesday in State District Court in Carlton County that the children continued to be in imminent danger. Protests began earlier this month after videos and photos emerged on social media of children being abused in the homes.

Carlton County Child Protection had removed the children for 72 hours earlier this month before later returning them to the foster homes. It’s been unclear why, and the county has not explained its actions, citing legal and privacy matters.

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“I am ecstatic,” said Ashley Roy, mother to two of the children. “This has been beyond difficult being out here every day and not knowing what’s going on with my children. It’s been heartbreaking.”

Roy said she and others are working to get her children, a boy and girl ages 8 and 5, respectively, into the care of other family members, and, ultimately, back into her care. Her son appears distressed in one of the circulated photos as he's being grabbed by the skin of his neck by a caregiver.

Gidagaakoons Smith said the legal proceedings will continue until the children are returned to their families after, in some cases, several years away from parental custody. Some of the children in question had been adopted by the foster care provider, she said.

“Ideally, we’d like to see the children back with their biological families,” Gidagaakoons Smith said.

Protesters say it's time to act to remove 10 children from two homes where they say social media posts depict ongoing abuse.

Gidagaakoons Smith said one mother has been sober and fighting for the return of her three children for six years.

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and one of the family's attorneys filed three separate petitions seeking the children’s removal from the foster homes. The judge addressed all three petitions in the hearing. The Fond du Lac Band did not respond in time for this story.

The Cloquet Police Department said last week it was investigating the social media posts and alleged abuse.

The News Tribune generally does not identify criminal suspects until charges have been filed. The protesters have described the foster care operators as longtime caregivers, including one who worked inside child protection on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

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Gidagaakoons Smith said protest fires in lots adjacent to the foster homes would be put out, but that the situation won't end with the court ruling.

"This fight is far from over," she said. "We as a community are going to continue to stand in solidarity to show the system we're not going to let this go. We want justice. We want charges pressed against both of the people who harmed these children."

Asked if the protests outside the homes and the Carlton County Courthouse helped impact the current outcome, Gidagaakoons Smith answered affirmatively.

"It definitely made an impact," she said. "We expanded awareness and people now have knowledge of a situation they wouldn't have had knowledge of before."

Brady Slater is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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