UK girls held in NYC orphanage after mother gets ill

The Guardian has a hard-to-believe story about a mother and her two daughters who traveled from the UK to New York for a vacation. The mother caught pneumonia and the teenaged girls were taken to a municipal orphanage, "where they were separated, strip-searched and questioned before being kept under lock and key for the next 30 hours."
The two sisters were made to shower in front of security staff and told to fill out a two-page form with questions including: "Have you ever been the victim of rape?" and "Do you have homicidal tendencies?"

One question asked "are you in a street gang?" to which Gemma replied: "I'm a member of Appledore library."

Their clothes, money and belongings were taken and they were issued with regulation white T-shirt and jeans. Katie said: "It was like being in a little cage. I tried to go to sleep, but every time I opened my eyes, someone was looking right at me."

Eventually Bray discharged herself, and -- still dressed in hospital pyjamas -- tracked down the girls.

When the family returned home, the US Administration for Children and Families mailed her a letter to let her now that she is now "under investigation." Link (Thanks, PeaceLove!)


  1. “Under investigation”, huh?

    …Lessee, she’s at home safe with the kids in Englandland. It’s not like NYC’s excuse for CPS has any jurisdiction over there, so they can probably go take a flying fuck.

    …On a side note, in situations such as these, when a CPS organization starts “an investigation”, it’s usually an effort to frame the parent and make themselves look as if they were in the right all along.

  2. Ahh, thanks for reminding me why the wife and I have decided not to visit the US again…

    After all these insane incidents (detainments, strip searches and taserings), not to mention the danger of having to get medical help there (financially) we just decided it’s not worth it.

    As have countless others.

    Having young children also makes me rather want to travel to other parts of the world. No orphanages for my kids!

    How long till the US authorities realise that they are doing long term financial and cultural damage to their country?
    I know most tech savvy folks already know, as do a lot of other ordinary citizens.

  3. Wow. I wonder why they didn’t give the kids the option to be flown home. They are old enough to travel without an adult, as long as one meets them at the other end.

  4. I’ve been to Appledore Library–it’s no joke. She’d eat the New York street girls for breakfast.

  5. That’s okay. By the time Bush and his cronies are done building their anti-immigration wall, you won’t be able to get into our country, anyway. And we won’t be able to get out. Except for our military of course, who will still be able to go anywhere and bomb whoever we consider terrorists. Which is everyone who is the slightest bit brown and lives in one of those foreign countries which aren’t America. For our own safety, of course.

  6. Who decided we’d all be better off if every aspect of our lives is examined and managed? 8 yr olds in handcuffs, grandmothers arrested for not moving their cars– and nobody even seems to remember that as a nation, we used to be proud NOT to have to “carry papers?”

  7. “…Lessee, she’s at home safe with the kids in Englandland. It’s not like NYC’s excuse for CPS has any jurisdiction over there, so they can probably go take a flying fuck.”

    There’s a treaty between the two countries whereby a US judge can request that a UK subject be extradited to the US. The converse being not true.

  8. Snipped from the Devon article:
    Despite finding themselves in such unusual circumstances, the girls made the best of their situation and happily chatted to other girls at the home the next morning.

    “They wanted to know all about England and whether we knew the Queen,” said Gemma.

    “Most of them were at the home because they had been taken away from their families for whatever reason. We were lucky to be able to leave after just one night.”

    So while the adults were slaves to a bureaucracy, asking terrorizing questions and generally being knobheads, the children were being actual humans.

    I’d love to read the NYC protective services report.

    “Suspect removed her children form protective custody and subjected them to a night on the town and Mary Poppins”

  9. Wait, so they actually mailed a letter to the United Kingdom to tell the mother that she was “under investigation?” They didn’t see anything odd about that? What are they planning to do, get Interpol involved? Are they going to try to extradite the mother and her daughters back to the US so that they can put the mother in prison and the daughters in a proper foster home?

  10. Plucky mom and kids!

    Someone has too much of the wrong kind of power to screw with tourists with money and a paid for hotel room. I’d sue the Child Protection Agency, the state, the mayor and the hotel for not stepping in and protecting the kids from all this.

    And the mom will get a bill for it – I’ll give odds on that.

  11. Why do comments never include what should have happened? or what would have happened in another country?

    From the link #1 posted it sounds like the girls didn’t have an awful time but where instead freaked out initially(who wouldn’t be, their mom was in the hospital after being rushed there via ambulance and didn’t even have the strength to wave goodbye)

  12. the snide implication being New York is place you go to when you have to. Do try to keep up, I have a limited supply of snark. Scarcely enough for the planet.

  13. #3 posted by arikol:

    Ahh, thanks for reminding me why the wife and I have decided not to visit the US

    US? You mean the United States? No, that place died some time ago, there is no longer a United States of America to visit anymore. Just a broken shell left in its place that more resembles a fascist state lately with all kinds of goodies… no transparency, torture, security “hassles”, secret prisons, illegal spying on all Americans, little or no Govt. accountability for mistakes no matter how tremendous in scale and…. did I mention, torture? The USA is gone, hopefully we can bring it back someday.

    The theatre is closed.

    #13 posted by Spoon:

    Why do comments never include … what would have happened in another country? From the link #1 posted it sounds like the girls didn’t have an awful time …

    Spoon, you raise a curious question about how another country (like the UK?) would handle the same situation… but, does it really matter? The US claims (often and loudly) to be the shining example to the entire World in human rights, freedom and pretty much everything else of that nature. Is this a shining example?

    Between you trying to deflect the attention to other countries and saying that the girls “didn’t have an awful time”… I wonder, what is your point? Are you OK with this shit?

    Or…. are you just OK with it until it happens to YOU or your family?

    Just curious.

    Personally, I think we as a country owe a very public apology and reparations to the family. I plan on trying to see if there is a way I can personally apologize to them for not doing more as a US citizen to change our Govt. ways. I am utterly embarrassed.

    Yep, I feel responsibility. You know, that platform that the conservatives always laughingly run on? Personal responsibly?

    I just hope and pray I’m not alone and they get flooded with apologies from American citizens.

    No, I’m not OK with this shit.

  14. I suspect that with the mom incapacitated (she was travelling alone?), the hospital didn’t know what to do with the kids, and did the default thing: call Children’s Services, or whatever it’s called. And Children’s Services ran their default intake script, which is pretty hardcore because most kids who come into their care are from messed-up families.

    Here’s a poser: what should the hospital have done?

  15. Hopefully the woman in the article will use the proceeds from her lawsuit to pay for the hospital stay.

    On a side note, it was once stated America would need a revolution every times to keep the government honest…I think we are a bit overdue.

  16. Those who think that broken city bureaucracies are the domain only of the US are fools or liars. Stay where you are, we don’t need your kind of foolishness here.

  17. I suppose because they are British the US authorities thought they were ragamuffin pickpockets right out of Oliver Twist.

    “Why yes, sir. . . we belong to Fagin’s gang, sir. Now may we have more gruel?”

  18. Hmm, I think it’s not exactly the nightmare that the Guardian are painting it to be.

    I mean, let’s look at a few quotes from the other (local) paper, which is most likely the source.

    “It was quite scary at first but everyone was really friendly.It was a good experience – just not really what we had gone on holiday for.”

    “They also had some great fun tales of all the other girls they met in the orphanage and said they were treated like mini celebrities from England.

    Sure, not a brilliant couple of days, but they seem to have enjoyed it in that way that we Brits enjoy a bit of deprivation. Character forming, etc. Heh.

    Next year they are booking into some place called ‘Guantanamo’ apparently, sounds interesting.

  19. @24… agreed…it appears the Guardian is using the Devon story as a source and then adding its own unique embellishments.

    Notice, for example, how the Guardian story makes it sounds like she’s walking around New York in her pajamas trying to find her kids after leaving the hospital, whereas the Devon article is very clear that she tracked down her kids by making phone calls from her hotel room once she got back.

    Also notice how the Guardian says the children were “strip-searched” but all the Devon article says is they were “frisked.”

    The Guardian story makes it sound like the girls were traumatized, whereas in the Devon story the mother is very nuanced. In fact it’s interesting how little the Guardian actually lets the mother tell the story but rather summarizes the Devon article fairly selectively.

    I call bullshit on the Guardian story. Certainly this wasn’t what these three planned for vacation, but it sounds like the New York authorities kept the girls safe and well taken care of under rather surprising and extreme circumstances.

  20. When has the Guardian ever been known to exaggerate? Ha Ha This is a horrible occurrence, and although tempting, should not be conflated with the current rash of civil liberties violations. Children’s Services everywhere in the US have been making tragic decisions for decades with no thought given to the Constitution let alone the public interest. And yes, this type of bureaucratic ineptitude, incivility and blundering are universal. I’m not saying this to defend or detract from the administration’s copious missteps, but the New York CPS doesn’t have a hotline to Dick Cheney’s evil lair. They probably even vote Democratic for the most part. They deserve an apology from the Department and City of New York. We should get back to the many other real problems we have let get away from us. Just sayin’

  21. @Cowicide

    It’s pitiful that you can complain about how horrid a couple of chavs who didn’t like the pants they where given where treated when they where treated just like any American in their situation would be treated. And how more humanly can one be treated? should they have taken the special delicate foreigners to the Hilton and gotten them the presidential suite? because they’re foreign and should be treated better then the locals amiright?

    If you where to complain about how social services treats incoming cases I could understand that complaint, and suggest that you take time to volunteer at a local facility to better understand why questioning abandoned children, or children taken from their negligent parents might be asked if they had ever been sexually abused. They might even explain why they ask if the children are in gangs, or why they make them shower and don’t leave them alone for a few days (perhaps the incoming kids could be suicidal?)

    so really now, what should have been done? you need to draw up a step by step plan on what should be done for incoming children who have been abandoned/have no one to take care of them(for whatever reason).

  22. Tak-kun,

    A limited supply of snark? You sell yourself short. Besides, you know as well as I do that the more snark you give away, the more you have for yourself.

  23. @28 Why are you calling the girls “Chavs”?
    They don’t seem to be complaining either:
    “It was quite scary at first but everyone was really friendly.
    “It was a good experience – just not really what we had gone on holiday for.”
    quite stoic really considering what happened.
    It also sounds like the hospital and social services in NYC did their job. The mother was cured of her illness and the girls were looked after. The “under investigation” letter just sounds like routine followup.

  24. Hmm, bit difficult to know the truth about this with all the exaggeration. I want to know whether the British consulate in New York was informed as it should have been up to them to sort out the care of the children shouldn’t it? Us Brits (usually) pay a lot of tax so our diplomats should have been doing their job. I’m certainly going to be more reluctant about travelling abroad with my kids if the first reaction of the UK diplomatic staff to any emergency is to pass the kids straight to the local authorities.

  25. US consulates certainly don’t do anything to help US citizens in emergencies abroad. I know from experience. The consulate in Cairo was perfectly prepared to let my best friend die on the sidewalk. It was American Express that ended up saving him.

  26. WaveyDave @32: Eh, the consulate couldn’t do anything if they didn’t know about the situation. As to why the staff at a hospital in a cosmopolitan city like New York didn’t think to contact the consulate is another question. It can’t be the first time that a tourist has fallen ill in the city needing their kids to be looked after.

  27. They went shopping the last night. I’m not dissing them as some here surely will. With the dollar exchange rate, I would also get out of my hospital bed for some shoes, even with my euros.

    Here’s the article. It’s not as doom and gloom like the Guardian painted it out to be. I do agree that the UK consulate should have been called. How frightening though. I’ll try and be a bit more systematic about what to do when I get ill on holiday.

    I’m still wondering why #28 called them chavs. Because they are from Devon?

  28. To all you assholes… (not anyone in particular, just those of you who in their own gut know they are assholes)

    So far, let me get this straight…. there was NO “strip search” or other overly harsh treatment because we can’t trust anything the Guardian says? Check. So those are the facts, then? Check. Ah, yes… that’s right, the Guardian has been completely discounted by the ThisIsLondon entertainment guide… I see. Check. Thanks for clearing up teh facts dere.


    you need to draw up a step by step plan on what should be done for incoming children who have been abandoned/have no one to take care of them(for whatever reason).

    Yes, I work right on it… I deserve that, since I dare be critical of the current system. Welp, here’s a start…

    STEP 1: Use more fucking common sense and open lines of communication when dealing with situations, especially those involving children.

    STEP 2: (See step 1)



    It’s pitiful that you can complain about how horrid a couple of chavs who didn’t like the pants they where given where treated ….

    I don’t think you goddam understand. This very possibly irrational response to this incident by the blogosphere is “blow back” for all the rights destroyed under American citizen’s noses thus far.

    This angst is coming from citizens who have put up with this same kind of shit way TOO long already (when it all too often really happens to visitors all over the country who end up in orphanages).

    We are losing rights almost every year now that would make our founding fathers grab their guns and conspire an overthrow.

    At the rate we are going, if our citizens are worth a shit… we are going to live in a country where the citizens are downright fucking paranoid of authority because of all the rights that we’ve already lost…. in real time, right in our faces… as if we don’t matter for shit anymore.

    Unfortunately, part of this “blow back” will make a lot of authority figures suspect. You know, “guilty until proven innocent” like average American citizens are being treated by “their” govt. right now? (especially to the Chavs amongst us)

    I’m not saying it’s right… but, you can only push a strong people so far… before they push back.

    Expect more of these hyper-reactions till things cool down. (i.e., regime change, etc.). Or, expect… much, much worse reactions if we don’t get proper regime change and soon.

    Some shitheads in America may be “shocked” to know that there is still a deep, seething resentment about Katrina… it’s not forgotten.. and all the other things like stripping our rights “for our own good” is just become a thicker and thicker icing on the heaving shit cake of loathing and serious resentments.

    The bewildered herd has become quite restless and downright spooked in some quarters. Our govt. needs to back the fuck off and back off NOW… for the sake of everyone… including the elite themselves. They have already stepped too far, even for them.

    Oh, behold! The pendulum is a swingin’ back..!!!… and hard… very hard… like a throbbing meatpuppet of hate.

    Beware, govt. … you keep stepping on us and we’ll keep bitching about shit on the internets and maybe even post tons of rants on blogs.

    Then you’ll be sorry.

  29. Ken (#28) and others suggest that the worst thing that happened is that they were asked traumatic questions about “homicidal tendencies.” Did you miss the part about being STRIP SEARCHED? They’re teenage girls. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind your teenage daughters being strip searched in a foreign country? Oh, and made to shower in front of guards. Just in case they had some tendencies…

    Here’s an idea… ask the mother what should be done. Get a sitter and have the mother pay for it. I think she would prefer that to having her 2 teenage daughters strip-searched. If she would prefer strip searching to a sitter, THEN call Children’s Services on her because she doesn’t have the best intentions of her daughters in mind.

  30. @Cowicide, I’m sorry but before you start the online revolution and put those ‘responsible’ up against the wall you better be able to do a better job then them, otherwise the next revolution will only be a couple of weeks away and you’ll be up against the wall. So either come up with what ‘common sense’ would have been or essteeefyou.

    Calling them chavs just seemed like the right thing to do, this bein the i’nernet and all, I suppose if I have to back the claim up then as noted they are from Devon and from the article: their mother is under investigation by The US Administration for Children and Families… nuff said? but seriously it sounds so unreasonable but is also reasonable if you think that she checked herself out of the hospital against doctors stern warnings so that she could go shopping and to a show, all a day after collapsing and being rushed to the hospital without the strength to wave goodbye to her kids, seems kinda irresponsible to me. I would hope they investigate American parents who act like that (note: investigate, which does not mean ruin their lives)

  31. #38 posted by Spoon , January 25, 2008 6:09 AM

    So either come up with what ‘common sense’ would have been or essteeefyou.

    I’m very sorry, Spoon. Common sense isn’t something I can explain to you. It’s something you have or don’t have. I can’t give it to you no matter how badly you need it. If you can’t see how that situation could have possibly been handled better, then you are useless.

    As far as getting arrested in a couple of weeks or whatever that was you were alluding to about me… I really doubt they’ll catch me on my long horse… I’ll probably even lop off a few heads on my way to my escape win. Besides, if the authorities happen to be as good as you are at catching things, I think I’ll be safe.

  32. RE: #39 posted by Ken Hansen

    Did you miss the part about being STRIP SEARCHED? They’re teenage girls.

    No, I didn’t miss it – we can’t give anyone a free pass when they enter “the system” (Child Protective Services) since no one knows their history. Should we assume because they are girls they couldn’t be dangerous? Their cute accent eliminates the possibility they are dangerous? Their age?

    Ken, you’re sounding pretty insane right there. Why on Earth would anyone with common fucking sense ASSUME those girls were dangerous…. at all? What was it about that situation that could have possibly led anyone (in their right mind) to worry that these girls were some kind of national security threat? It has nothing to do with those “cute” accents that seem to turn you on or something. It’s the situation, stup… ok, I’ll stop there…

    Thank God people like you aren’t running this country… oh, wait…

    Perhaps you wouldn’t mind your teenage daughters being strip searched in a foreign country?

    … Were I in this situation I wouldn’t want to have Pnemonia, I wouldn’t want to be travelling without my spouse/adult companion, and I would have tried very hard (as I assume this mother did) to keep my children “out of the system”.

    Ah, I see, Ken… Even if diagnosed with Pneumonia…. you’d NOT have Pneumonia if you were in that situation and you’d have a spouse, etc. whether you had one or not. You’d just categorically deny your reality until the reality changed, right? That’d fix things.

    Um, and I don’t think you really answered Terra’s question. At all.

    Oh, and made to shower in front of guards. Just in case they had some tendencies…

    The shower was not to wash away suicidal tendencies, it was to clean them up, it was standard procedure, and again, I assume it was done according to US policy where the guards monitoring the shower were women.

    Thank Jesus policy was followed. Let’s throw common sense out the window at just about every step of the process and just “follow policy”. That’s how ya’ do it.

    Here’s an idea… ask the mother what should be done. Get a sitter and have the mother pay for it.

    Let me get this straight, you think this mother would hand over her two teenage daughters to a complete stranger and pay that stranger instead of having the authorities take care of her children?

    YES, it’s called a sitter. And not all of them are rapists from what I hear. Then again, if you live in a constant state of paranoia and fear, you might think that everyone is a pedo turned on by “cute” accents and stuff. But in reality, most people aren’t twisted like that.

    I mean, c’mon… wouldn’t it have been common sense to have the daughters wait for her at the hospital in a room or two? There’s food, security, etc. and they would NOT have been strip searched, hosed down in front of guards, forced to stay in a jail-like atmosphere, scared shitless, humiliated, etc….. then again, I guess that wouldn’t be “following policy” now, would it?

    Also, what the hell did that link you posted about that teen boy have to do with these girls… AT ALL? Do you tremble with fear and tuck your head between your knees whenever ANY teenager gets on board with you on an airplane now? You know, because there is now “proof” that they can be “dangerous and stupid”?

    You’re hilarious…

    BTW, yo! Spoon!… maybe you can borrow some common sense from Terra? She seems to have some extra for you.

  33. he American government has it’s problems with family law:

    While I’m not a lawyer, even if mom were incapacitated, it was probably illegal for the government to hold the children and not contact their father, or prevent them from contacting their father themselves, although states often bend the rules.

    The agencies make more money when they have more children in custody. See Title IV-E:

    The US has constitutional protections on the rights of parents (including legal residents such as tourists).

    “The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” We have long recognized that the Amendment’s Due Process Clause, like its Fifth Amendment counterpart, “guarantees more than fair process.” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 719 (1997). The Clause also includes a substantive component that “provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests.””

    However, enforcement is sometimes problematic, as federal courts often decline jurisdiction on family matters, and local courts sometimes have close ties to child welfare agencies, making participants less than confident in their objectivity.

    In this case, mom could contend that she stayed at a hotel with a good concierge service, with the intent that the concierge would take care of this. Therefore, the state had no justification in interfering with her family.

    Which is probably exactly what would have happened if the nurses or the girls had simply called their dad or the hotel. The concierge would personally see to the children’s safety, including hiring a nanny as appropriate, and dad would rush to care for them.

    PS: Note that the Canadian government actually reserves the right to take children from their parents without cause and hold them permanently, so don’t expect peace and joy in Canada:

  34. Takuan@43:

    It’s a classist Brit-snob neologism. As a Brit who left the UK some 8 years ago (before the word took off) and who used to own a Burberry jacket, of which I was fond, I was quite surprised to find that said clothing label had become emblematic of Chavs.

    I see no reason (or humour) in throwing this particular jibe at these particular girls.

    Of course the Guardian exaggerated the story. Duh. It gets a lot of traction out of these topics: petty US bureaucracy, failures of the US medical system, mistreatment of tourists.

    For those who say “this could happen in any country”, I suspect most of you are typical US world travelers, i.e. you once spent two weeks out of the country and now consider yourselves Authorities on the Cosmopolitan Globe. Yeah, there are other countries that rate poorly in all those areas (bureaucracy, xenophobia, crappy welfare) but believe me, the US does have the edge.

  35. ‘Chav’ seems to be a widespread epithet all over the UK now. It’s been used in the North-East for much, much longer (alt. spelling ‘Charva’). The kids originally described by this word would give what most people consider ‘chavs’ (i.e. working-class english people below the age of 30) a run for their money.

  36. It’s not just the orphanages in America, and it didn’t /start/ with Bush.

    It’s also little wonder that Tom Riddle became Voldemort…

  37. …and when I get around to adoption, if there are no children in Canada that needs a home, I would adopt form a third world country; U.S.A.

  38. Just saw mother & daughters interviewed on UK tv. The facts as originally reported seem correct. Mother was taken ill & after a few hours the girls were taken away, strip searched, interviewed and placed in an orphanage. Mother wasn’t told where they were & was given an incorrect telephone number. British consulate was never called by the staff & the mother was sent a letter to her UK address advising her that she’s being investigated for child abuse.

  39. They flew from the UK to the US for a weekend shopping holiday? Are they very rich, or are the air fares these days way too cheap? I hate to attack the victim, but it does seems a bit wasteful to me, to fly 5500km for a 2 day holiday.

  40. Daniel.

    With the US $ so low, and the £ high. If the plane is booked months in advance, and the spending into the thousands of dollars primarily on ipods and brand name clothes. This will indeed save money, and is fun.

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