Mother says DCF may take child because she is seeking alternative treatment to child's cancer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax is investigating parental rights following a call from a local woman who has a dying daughter.

She claims the Florida Department of Children and Families may try to take her daughter away because she wants to discontinue chemotherapy and use natural remedies for the child.



Jessica and Mike Cleveland’s 4-year-old daughter, Makayla, has stage 4 cancer.  She was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumor in June 2018, the most common type of kidney cancer in children. The tumor and kidney were both removed during a long hospital stay, but the cancer came back in her chest in March 2019.

“What was it like when you first heard she had this?” asked Action News Jax reporter Ben Becker.

“Shocked, devastated, did not know how to feel,” said Jessica Cleveland.

Makayla has been through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, but her mother wants to seek a natural remedy. It’s because her prognosis isn’t as good this time.  When Cleveland told doctors she wanted no more chemotherapy for her daughter, she received a visit from a DCF caseworker.

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According to DCF, neglect includes when a child is deprived of, among other things, medical treatment.

“You are the parent of the child, but in today’s world, you do not own the child,” says Action News Jax law and safety expert Dale Carson. He says DCF has broad authority - and in some extreme cases, it doesn’t even need a court order to remove children from a home - which puts parents in a difficult spot.

“It’s a hard choice for a parent to make. I’m not sure everyone agrees DCF knows best,” said Carson.

Becker went to DCF to get its side of the story and they sent him this statement:

"There are multiple factors involved when to comes to making decisions on whether or not to put children into protective custody."

“What’s your message to DCF?” Becker asked Jessica Cleveland.

“They need to mind their business unless someone is being harmed and she is not being harmed in any way,” Cleveland said.

Becker spoke with a local doctor who said the benefits of chemotherapy outweigh the risks of unproven treatments.

Cleveland says if push comes to shove, she will get the chemotherapy for her daughter.

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