The Massachusetts Department of Social Services had reason to be concerned about Breianna Moore.
The eight-year-old was dirty, despondent, self-destructive, showed extreme signs of neglect and, according to a battery of state-ordered therapists, talked of suicide.
But it wasn't Breianna's home life that had so transformed the once-happy, well-adjusted little girl her family knew. It was the foster home assigned to her by the state of Massachusetts after she had been taken from her parents.
"My daughter didn’t even understand the concept of suicide before they got their hands on her," charged Nev Moore, who was forced to helplessly witness her daughter's deterioration during weekly supervised visits. "Of course she was depressed. She had been ripped from her home and sent to live with strangers."
Nev and Tom Moore of Barnstable, Mass., lost custody of their daughter in 1997 after Tom pushed Nev during a fight. The Moores founded the Justice For Families organization, beginning a journey that has propelled the family to the frontlines of what some see as a national backlash against the child protective services establishment.
"We thought we were the only ones," Ms. Moore recalled of those first frantic days without her daughter. "But the more we got involved, the more and more cases and people we came into contact with," she said.
The non-profit group has provided legal assistance and advocacy services to hundred of families, testified before state and federal committees and legislative panels and published reams of manuals and materials. Chapters have opened in Alaska, Florida and Wisconsin, and Moore is regularly invited to testify before and participate on state committees investigating child services reform.
One of the organization's top activists is Breianna Moore herself. After being returned to her family in 1998, she spoke with her mother to the National Press Club in Washington. She has become an experienced speaker over the years, beginning with the letters she wrote to a judge as an eight-year-old.
As executive director of Justice For Families, Nev Moore has authored and lobbied for child services reform, and currently has nine pieces of reform legislation before the Massachusetts legislature.
Moore jokes about her persistence and relentlessness, but there's no debate she has had an effect. The organization won a series of hearings at the Massachusetts State House; and the Massachusetts Committee on Human Services & Elderly Affairs initiated an ad hoc investigation of the Department of Social Services. Moore also testified before an ad-hoc committee putting together Massachusetts' new adoption laws.
Her group's latest effort is an investigation into the costs of care and protection trials - proceedings that can drag on for years, at taxpayer expense.
"Nev and I do not condone child abuse," Tom Moore said. "We would be the first to turn someone in," he said. Nor do they deny the need for state services, he said. But services should help parents raise their own children, he said, adding that his dream is to open and run a home for teenage mothers.
"There has to be a place where these teenage mothers can go and ask for help--not have them take their baby, but give them help," he said.
The Moore's may find an unlikely ally in their fight for reform: The Massachusetts Department of Social Services. Harry Spence, the department's newly appointed commissioner, told Fox News that he too is committed to improving the system and enacting reforms that better recognize families.
"We should be asking if the state is taking kids too often," Spence said, who called the controversy surrounding child protective services "an important debate that must continue."
Moore acknowledges that she does have a better "dialogue" with DSS, law enforcement and government officials.Yet for all the success, the cases keep coming, and the fight remains fresh.
So too does the memory of Brieanna's internment in foster care and the family's treatment by the system.
"My husband tried to tell her he loved her and reassure her and he was threatened with termination of visitation," Ms. Moore recalled. Brieanna would show up for those visits filthy, her hair smelling, begging in her eight-year-old syntax, "Mommy, please make me go home."
Like so many families before and since her, Moore wasn't allowed to explain to her daughter why she couldn't.
Her hope is that, some day soon, that will no longer be the case.