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Feds order baby returned after DCF takes custody due to mother's disability

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BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) -- In an unprecedented move, the federal government has ordered the Department of Children and Families to return a child to her mother. And on Tuesday, we are hearing for the first time directly from the child's family about their 2-year battle with the department.

FOX25's Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh examines allegations the state discriminated against this young mother because of her disability. A newborn girl had yet to leave the hospital when DCF decided the 19-year-old mother, with an intellectual disability, was incapable of caring for her. The mother is publicly known by the pseudonym, Sara Gordon. Her battle to get her baby back is now seen as a victory for people with disabilities.

For the family, the two-year fight was excruciating.

To protect the child's identity, Kavanaugh spoke with the child's grandmother, Kim Gordon, over the phone. She described weekly, one hour, supervised visits and says the state needed Sara to prove she was able to raise the child on her own, despite the grandparents plan to be there every step of the way.

"When I tried to help her to support her, they wouldn't let that happen either," Kim said.

Mark Watkins, the attorney for the mother, said, "Nobody parents on their own."

He went on to say the discrimination began in the hospital, which contacted DCF concerned about Sara's interactions with her baby.

"The department's attitude, unfortunately, never changed from that first moment," Watkins said.

When asked if DCF prematurely judged this mother, Watkins said, "They did. It certainly appears that way."

That's not just Watkins' opinion. Two federal agencies say not only was the state wrong to take the child, but, that DCF acted based on "discriminatory assumptions and stereotypes based on her disability."

Watkins asked, "If a person can't walk, should they be deprived of their children? If a person doesn't have arms, should they be deprived of their children?"

The investigation laid the groundwork for mother and daughter to be reunited, and Kally Walsh, attorney for the baby's grandparent's said, "It's the first time it' ever been done."

She says this is the first time law that prevents discrimination against people with disabilities was applied to parenting and that the federal investigation revealed how DCF failed to see the big picture.

The investigation also revealed, while DCF was concerned with the child's safety with her mother, the agency "repeatedly overlooked numerous safety concerns" in the baby's foster home. The baby had a black eye, bumps, bruises and scrapes during that time, according to the investigation.

"The department's response to that was almost nothing," Watkins said.

DCF wouldn't discuss any of the specifics of the Gordon case, but did send a statement saying their primary responsibility to ensuing children are "able to grow and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment while acting in their best interest."

DCF says it's collaborating with federal government about their decision.

Kim says she wants her family to move on, not focusing on time lost.

"It's just those little things that I hold onto that are forever going to be a memory in her life as well," she said.

To see the entire letter that summarizes the joint investigation by the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, click here.