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West Hartford Girl in Mass. Custody Could Return to Connecticut

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A Boston judge ruled Friday that 15-year-old West Hartford girl Justina Pelletier will remain in Massachusetts DCF custody for now, but sources say he may give custody back to her parents as early as February.

With the judge-issued gag order still in place, the Pelletiers are not supposed to comment directly about details in the case, but on Friday, for one of the first times since the custody battle began, they left the courthouse smiling.

Fox CT’s Beau Berman spoke with the family as they left the building, accompanied by West Hartford mother Heather Harwood.

Berman: “You are smiling today for the first time in a long time, it looks like.”

Linda Pelletier: “I feel hopeful and I think I can say that to you guys. We’re hopeful right?”

Heather Harwood:  “Yeah, it’s going to work out.”

Sources say the judge ruled that the State of Massachusetts will not receive permanent custody of Justina.

On a day that marked 11 months since the West Hartford teen was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital and then held against her will, the judge reportedly said he would like Justina to eventually return home to Connecticut.

It’s unclear where she will be until the next hearing, which is set for Feb. 4, according to sources close to the situation.

The judge would like Justina to be placed in what’s called a “step-down” facility where she could get therapy and rehabilitation.

While Justina was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease years ago, which causes muscle pain and weakness, there has been debate over the last year about what she really has.

Since last February, her parents have been fighting for custody after doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital said she didn’t have mitochondrial disease, but instead had a mental condition called “somatoform disorder.”

The Pelletiers say the hospital essentially accused the parents of “medical child abuse” and called in DCF, which was later awarded custody by a judge.

But now, multiple sources close to the situation say it’s very possible that Justina could be back home with her parents as early as next month.

However, those close to the family say her condition has deteriorated and they fear she is very ill.

Berman:  “I see a little smile leaking out there.”

Lou Pelletier: “There is a smile leaking out. Finally justice, maybe finally prevailed.”

Lou Pelletier:  “Basically positive. Proof will be in the pudding in a couple weeks.”

Berman:  “Is Justina going to make it that long?”

Lou Pelletier:  “That’s the million dollar question.”

Dozens of supporters stood outside the courthouse during the hearing, with some of the coming from as far as California. All of them said they were relieved to see the Pelletiers smiling.

“To have them smile, a glimmer of hope to get their daughter back, that’s all we can ask for right now,” said Ginger DeShaney of MitoAction.org.

Sources say the Pelletiers will be back in Boston court in early February.

Boston Children’s Hospital spokesman Rob Graham sent the following statement to Fox CT News, after Friday’s hearing:

“Boston Children’s Hospital is deeply concerned by misinformation surrounding this case, but the hospital is unable to comment on specific patient care matters or any situation in which state child protective services is involved. 

Boston Children’s role is to provide our patients with quality healthcare; we do not serve as the legal guardian of the patients in our care, nor are we affiliated with any state agency.  The Hospital does not keep patients in its care against the direction of the custodial guardian. Our staff are dedicated professionals who provide the highest standard of medically necessary care to every patient. 

Though Boston Children’s is required by state law to report cases of suspected child maltreatment to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), DCF is solely responsible for investigating reports of suspected child maltreatment and for deciding whether to go to court to request temporary custody of a child.  The Hospital never decides who has custody of a child in any case of alleged child maltreatment. 

We respect every family’s right to be heard by the judicial system. The Hospital appreciates that cases involving allegations of child maltreatment are emotionally difficult for all involved.  We make every effort to treat the patients and families involved in these cases with compassion and respect, while focusing on the medical needs of the child involved.”

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