A mother and child reunion

Eight years after the state took away their children, an Albanian Muslim couple take their first, bitter steps toward rebuilding their broken hearts and family

On the stand, Sam did admit that he realized Americans might view the way he touched his daughter as inappropriate.

"I understand now," he said.
The caseworker testified that if the children were returned to their parents, they would surely be abused again. The jury found that by clear and convincing evidence, the Krasniqis' parental rights should be severed.

Sam Krasniqi would be found innocent of indecency with his daughter four years later. Collin County Judge Nathan White made his ruling largely on the strength of the testimony from anthropologist Barbara Halpern, a Massachusetts-based expert in the peasant culture of the Balkans.

Halpern had lived with her own family in villages such as Sam's on and off for 40 years. She testified that the Krasniqis came from a "very physically demonstrative culture. Children are universally adored. Until they attain school age and venture beyond the household gates, they are the constant subjects of hugs, caresses, and overt displays of affection.

"Children are kissed full on their lips," Halpern continued. "Children are kissed on their buttocks. Genitals and buttocks have pet names. We do in our culture, too, sometimes, and children are kissed there...The children's genitals were a great source of interest and pride, especially because they represent the ongoingness of the family, the ability to procreate."

Halpern also testified that she knew of not one case of child sexual abuse in this culture. If true sexual abuse were uncovered, Halpern said, it would be considered so dishonorable that the family would kill the offender or he would kill himself.

Judge White found Sam innocent in February 1994. "I can't say what Mr. Krasniqi did was right," Judge White told the Observer. "But I didn't believe beyond a reasonable doubt he did it for sexual gratification. I'm not a multicultural type of guy, but the expert from Massachusetts convinced me that the behavior, while not an acceptable demonstration of affection in this country, was at least explainable."

The acquittal came almost a year after Sam and Kathy had lost the final appeal of the verdict that terminated their parental rights.

During the three years that the Krasniqis' appeal wound its way through the courts, Family Court Judge Hal Gaither allowed Kathy to visit her children. These visits were held every two months in a room inside the Department of Human Services former headquarters on Maple Avenue. A police officer and at least three DHS workers supervised these visits, as well as a psychologist appointed by the court.

Kathy's videotapes of the meetings capture two confused children torn between cultures, religions, and families and a mother who desperately tries to stay connected to them. Each visit ends with the children tearfully demanding to know the date of the next visit.

After the Krasniqis lost their children at trial, Tim and Lima lived for several months at the Buckner Baptist Children's home, where they were taken to Baptist revival meetings until the Krasniqis complained.

For the next year, they lived with a foster family in the Dallas area. Their foster father is a Baptist minister, who took them to church three times a week and gave them crosses to wear. During one visit with Kathy, Lima cried because she had eaten food that contained pork, which is forbidden in the Muslim faith. She was afraid her mother would be angry.

"Don't worry," Kathy reassures her. "Do you know how much Mama loves you?" Lima nods her head yes. "A lot."

In June 1991, the children were moved once again, this time to a Baptist family that lived three and a half hours from Dallas. This was their fifth foster placement in less than two years. To each visit Kathy brought her children's favorite Albanian dishes. She brought them stacks of photos of family members and friends.

"Do you look at the pictures when you miss Mommy?" Kathy asks Lima, who is curled on her lap. She nods her head yes.

As the years pass, the tape captures in chilling detail how her children begin to slip away. The children strain to remember Albanian--the only language they spoke at home. They forget names of cousins and even the Albanian first names of their parents.

Jan Delipshy, the psychologist who was assigned by the court to supervise these visits, had grave concerns that DHS was not doing what was in the children's best interest. In an affidavit she filed with the court, she wrote: "Both children evidence a strong and clear attachment to their mother, Kathy Krasniqi. They often state fears of not being allowed to ever see her again and evidence confusion about their future. Interaction in the visitation without DHS workers present changes remarkably, with both children laughing, playing games, and expressing love to their mother...

"...Continued foster placements that do not respect their different cultural upbringing and values are proving to be harmful to them," Delipshy added. "For example, both children continuously request ethnic foods for the visit and to take back to the foster family. The religious heritage of these children is Muslim, but no action has been taken to continue their learning about this religious tradition. No placement has been obtained which shares similar cultural, language, religious, and family traditions."

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