TAMPA — A judge ruled Monday that a 4-year-old boy with leukemia will remain in the custody of his grandparents because there is “imminent risk of neglect” if he stays with his parents.
Joshua McAdams and Taylor Bland-Ball will be required to undergo a psychological evaluation with a parenting index after which point they may be able to be reunified with their child. If they don’t comply, the out-of-home placement could become permanent. They have 30 days to appeal the judge’s decision.
“Parents have a fundamental right to parent their child, but that is not one without limits,” Judge Thomas Palermo said as he issued his ruling.
The long and winding legal battle began in April, after 4-year-old Noah was diagnosed with leukemia and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office issued an endangered child alert after the family couldn’t be located and missed appointments. The family, which wanted to pursue natural remedies over chemotherapy, was found in Kentucky, and said they were on their way to Ohio, to consult with another doctor.
Child protective investigators obtained a court order to take Noah into custody, and in May, a judge ruled Noah would be placed in the custody of his maternal grandmother and would have to resume chemotherapy.
His parents have fought to regain custody of their son, who they wished to treat with cannabis therapy, oxygen therapy, an alkaline diet and herbal remedies. At a hearing, their attorney stated they may continue with chemotherapy, but the court did not deem their testimony credible.
Noah’s parents initially said they were on their way to see Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an alternative medicine doctor, when they were located in Kentucky.
Palermo said Tenpenny was neither a hematologist nor oncologist, but someone who had commented on one of Bland-Ball’s public social media posts. In testimony, Bland-Ball said no appointment had been scheduled with her , but they planned to do so upon reaching Ohio. McAdams said they did have an appointment scheduled.
Bland-Ball had also written a note to friends and family members, leaving instructions and gate codes to their storage units to take her possessions, indicating they would be gone for an indefinite amount of time because they could not “morally justify .... watching them kill our child and pay for it" and had exhausted all options in the United States. She mailed it to her grandmother en route to Kentucky.
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“We don’t know how long we may be gone for or when or how we may be able to reach out,” she wrote.
When confronted about the letter, Palermo said Bland-Ball denied the intent was to go overseas.
Palermo said the court was convinced that “if given the opportunity, the parents would only flee again.”
He pointed to their abandoning a car in a Target parking lot, dumping their cell phones to avoid being tracked, sending a letter of intent to leave effectively forever as evidence beyond a reasonable doubt they were trying to flee. He said their testimony against that could not be deemed credible.
Further, he said, the letter proved they were “intentionally depriving their son of necessary medical care, endangering his life” by rejecting chemotherapy — the only treatment option the court deemed to have sufficient scientifically reliable evidence.
“Without law enforcement intervention, Noah McAdams would still be deprived of necessary medical care,” Palermo said.
At the hearing, McAdams’ domestic violence history was also under scrutiny: a 2016 incident where he was arrested after throwing a plastic toy bucket at Bland-Ball, cutting Noah’s face.
McAdams completed a counseling program after the incident, but Palermo said McAdams’ continued pattern of aggression was of concern to the court, and multiple people testified he demonstrated controlling behavior to Bland-Ball, though she denied it. Particularly striking, he said, was a case manager who reported on a home visit being “intimidated, nervous and scared” by his behavior and noted Noah crying afterward.
Whether his issue is with “women or about control or both” is unknown, Palermo said, but it places Noah at imminent risk of harm.
“All parents have a constitutional, and even sacred, right to parent their child,” he said. “But with that right comes equally powerful duties and responsibilities."