CRIMES AGAINST NURTURE

CLAIMING A RARE DISORDER MADE JAN BROOKS AN UNFIT MOTHER, THE STATE TOOK HER DAUGHTER AWAY. THE DIAGNOSIS WOULDN'T STAND.

Brooks' difficulty in getting Ashley to eat, Thal wrote, is likely "the result of an emotionally distressed and nearly overwhelmed young mother attempting to care for a vulnerable and seemingly high-risk newborn without much support. It is not unlikely that this very distressed young mother was unable in her emotional condition to provide the comfort and security vital to the care of an infant with feeding problems."

He wrote that Ashley and Brooks appeared to be well-bonded, and recommended reunification when Ashley was medically stable, along with counseling and parenting-skills training. Thal added, "Those working with Ms. Brooks need to keep in mind that she is extremely sensitive to virtually . . . all criticisms. A far more beneficial impact with this woman will be seen if she is approached in a supportive fashion and those with important resources and knowledge are seen as allies in her efforts to care for her young daughter."

Along with a psychological workup for Brooks, the court ordered a second opinion for Ashley, which was provided by Mesa pediatrician Albert Schwartz.

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Schwartz, who declined to speak to New Times, advised the return of the child, according to court documents dated September 17, 1993.

Ashley and Brooks were reunited on September 27, monitored closely by CPS for six months, and then taken out of CPS' control. They've been on their own for about a year.

Hopkins, who worked closely with Brooks during the struggle to get Ashley out of custody--including securing review of the case by a legislative joint oversight committee--says she "never, ever, ever" doubted Brooks. She leans across her dining-room table and smiles. "I mean, the fact remains they're wrong, aren't they, because look what we have today."

Jan Brooks and Ashley, now 3, live in a government-subsidized apartment in Mesa. Brooks is in school full-time; she still wants to be a social worker. Ashley goes to day care, and she's still underweight. Not dangerously so, Brooks says. She takes her to Schwartz--now Ashley's regular pediatrician--often, more often than may be necessary, Brooks admits. She blames her British upbringing. "I do go to the doctor's a lot, but I'm also from England, and have been told that you don't medicate over the counter, you go to the doctor to get it diagnosed and then do what the doctor says. I've just always done that."

Brooks treats her rambunctious daughter with humor and good-natured discipline. Brooks threatens to send her to the corner if she doesn't stop misbehaving, but Ashley seldom pushes it that far. She races around the living room, stops to cuddle with mom, then she's climbing on chairs and opening cabinets to show off her Barney tapes. Then she disappears into the kitchen.

Brooks laughs as her daughter emerges, cramming a miniature 3 Musketeers bar into her tiny mouth. "I guess you can use the calories," she sighs, pushing Ashley's hair back from her face. Fifteen minutes later, it's a bagel, then some 7-Up.

Ashley's the "spitting image" of her father, Brooks says. They're not in touch. She doesn't even have a photograph of him. He's Pakistani, she says; that's where Ashley gets her deep-brown eyes and dark complexion.

The four-month separation took its toll. Kathryn Flores first met Brooks at a volleyball game shortly after Jan and Ashley were reunited. She says Ashley wouldn't leave Brooks' side; finally, after about six months, Brooks told Flores her story.

Flores recalls, "She had this article about [Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy], and so I read it, and I just started laughing because I thought it was hilarious because it was so off, so far from the truth of her case, that I thought that it didn't make any sense how they came up with that conclusion."

Flores worked at the day-care center where Ashley stayed for a while; now she baby-sits when Brooks has classes at odd hours.

Sometimes Ashley asks for second helpings at mealtimes, Flores says. "There's other times where I can't get her to eat anything on the plate, not one bite of anything. She's really a picky eater."

Mother and daughter never part easily, Flores says. "Even [now] when she leaves her, [Ashley'll] say, 'Are you coming back, Mommy?' She's worried that Mommy's not coming back.

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