In Loving Memory of Daisai Derzon Who Died in Foster Care Aged 3

I am writing my story to clear up some information that is published on this page. Here is my story:

121111082424_daisai_derzon[1]We became foster parents on 12/05/2001 in the small town of Canon City, Colorado. We had one biological daughter and wanted another child. We had suffered numerous lost pregnancies and it had taken it's toll on me physically and emotionally.

I was married to a sheriff's deputy and he would come home from work and tell me the stories of children he had assisted the Department of Social Services in removing from their home. My heart always broke for both the children and parent, because I could relate to their loss.

After some soul searching, we decided that we could offer these children a safe and stable family until they could be reunified with their parents. If for some reason the parents could not reunify with these children, then we would like to be considered to adopt. We were not of means, and could only offer love and what we had to share with them.

On the day we became officially certified as foster parents, we were placed with a bouncing, red haired, freckled faced, one year old boy. Then another beautiful baby boy, and our fair share of beautiful teenage girls. We were specialized in at-risk teenage girls. We were overwhelmingly blessed. We had adopted two little boys and had a house full of teenage girls. Our family was complete or so we thought.

Like I had stated my husband was in law enforcement and that career took us to Cortez Colorado where we moved all of our children with us, including our foster children. We had already adopted two by this time and filled up a five bedroom home with beautiful faces when we got the call. I will never forget that call. One of two that would change my life forever.

First, let me tell you about the first call. My husband and I had stolen a few rare minutes to ourselves and had slipped off to breakfast while the kids where at school. Our two youngest (you know those two beautiful boys that we had been blessed with) were now three and four. The call came in on my cell from what I would call my caseworker. Foster parents have a coordinator that works for DSS. She said that Kerri Orr, a caseworker that I knew very well, had just been given a case where two small children had been abandoned in a local hotel.

At first, I honestly need to admit I said no. I was just so busy with all the other beautiful faces that I had been blessed with to take two small ones. Then I say that God spoke to me. I told my husband that we had to go and get them.

We reached the hospital where the two had been taken to be checked out and met Kerri Orr. She was there with one very young little girl named Daisai Derzon and one little boy not much older than her named Addy Derzon. When I saw them at the hospital they were the worst case of filthy you can imagine. Just picture that these two little babies had been left alone in a hotel. It still gives me chills when I think of it.

We took them home that night not confident on their name and age. They were trying to find the parents because the only information was from a drunk that they left with the kids. I want to change the direction of where that is going though. This is not a story about how bad the bio-parents are or were. This is my story about one of the most beautiful little girls.

The day after I received Addy and Daisai, I received the call that DHS in Montezuma County had discovered another child in a neighboring town, the kids' brother. Cassius Derzon came to me the next day. Wow, now I had three small kids on top of my two small children. I was worried that I would not have enough, give enough, love enough, and all of those fears that come along with children. I told the caseworkers that this would need to be a short-term placement. Well needless to say, one week turned into a month, then a year, and next over two years.

This is the part of the story I would like to correct from the article on Daisai Derzon. Her, Addy, and Cassius was with me for well over two years, not the two weeks that you reported. These kids were loved!!! That is the most important piece that I want to stress. They may have been technically foster children but they were never treated that way. I was totally and am still are completely in love with these children. Granted at times I was overwhelmed and wanted to cry, telling myself that the good outweighs any of the bad. All was going along well.

The kids were thriving. Addy who is autistic was talking, and making connections. Cassius was in school and was described as being so well adjusted. Then there was Daisai Derzon. She was the only little girl in a group of six under six. She was my shadow. She loved Dora. She was a mommies girl. She loved tea parties, and dress up. Anyway, back to my story.

We had moved from Cortez Colorado to Parachute Colorado in 2007. At that time, we took all of our children with us again including our foster children. We had some housing issues shortly after we moved. We were in a battle with the home builder because we had black mold and our house was ruled toxic.

DHS decided that they had found a placement to adopt all three children. They fed us the same lines about Michelle and Robert Baber that was all over the news. She was college educated in child services, they had a huge family network, but most importantly they were financially well off. Kerri Orr called me that summer day to tell me about the Baber's. I exchanged emails with the Baber's and they attached pictures of their family life along with the emails.

Call it mother's intuition but I knew that something was not right with them. I begged for the kids to not go to the Baber's, but DHS had made up their mind. They were sending the Baber's to my home in a few days to get the kids. The caseworkers would not be there through the exchange since we lived in Parachute CO and they were in Cortez Colorado.

The Baber's came to my home that summer day to pick up these children that I had loved and parented for a couple of years now and I had to place my beautiful babies in their truck and tell them goodbye. Of course, there were the promises that we would be allowed to keep in contact with the kids. That never happened. Michelle Baber blocked all attempts to speak with the kids after they left out home.

Then came that day in January, the day I received the other call I was telling you about earlier. I had just gotten home from work when I saw the light on the phone. I changed clothes and went about my usual nightly routine of homework, dinner, and chores knowing that I needed to check the messages.

I know this may seem weird, but it was like I somehow knew that the light on the phone on that day meant something bad. My father had been very ill after receiving chemo for prostate and colon cancer. He was gravely ill and in the hospital so I was dreading the call.

Well, after the kids were all bathed, fed, and homework was done I made my way to the phone. I can pinpoint my life changing to that very instant that I heard the message. It was one of my friends from law enforcement and was also a foster parent herself. I can still hear Amy's voice saying, "Debbie, it is Amy and you need to call me ASAP. It is bad. It is the kids. Just call me". That was it, That was when it all started.

Frantically I searched all over for numbers that were right in front of me all along. Not hardly able to catch my breath I called Amy.

What do you mean it is the kids I remembered screaming at her. What happened. What happened???

She explained, that my beautiful baby girl Daisai Derzon laid in Children's Hospital in Denver with a head wound. Crying, Amy begins to tell me, "It is not good. She is not going to make it. She did this to her".

What I screamed. What did she do.

Amy then told me that Daisai had suffered a head injury at the hands of Michelle Baber. We in the law enforcement family knew right from the beginning that it was Michelle Baber who had done this to Daisai. We knew she was claiming some bogus story about Daisai hitting her head or having a seizure, but she had never had anything even close to that the whole time she was with me. Again, let me stress that it was years not weeks like reported previously on here.

Well after I got the call I called my husband home to be with me. He was just hearing about it through his law enforcement connection.

The next thing that happened was I received a call from Dennis Story the director of Social Services in Montezuma County. I answered the phone because I was hovering over it waiting for any word or I was hoping that someone would call and tell me that they had made a mistake. It was not her. It couldn't be, right? Then the call came in and on the other end I heard Dennis say that she was gone. That was all I heard from then on.

I started screaming Dear God, please no, please do not take her from me. Please no, please no!!! I threw the phone at my husband and he finished talking to Dennis as my world came to a screeching halt.

I thought I had known loss from all of the numerous pregnancies, but there was nothing that could prepare me for this. The next few weeks were a blur. I honestly do not know how I made it through those days.

We buried her on a cold January morning in Cortez Colorado. I have told so many people since then that when they lowered that tiny casket covered in white cloud like material in the ground, that I went with her. Here I was a woman so richly blessed. One biological daughter, two adopted sons, and several teenage girls that we were lucky enough to call our children. How could I possibly think that a piece of me died? But it did.

I changed. I became bitter and angry. My marriage failed. My children were hurt by losing Daisai, the divorce, and their mother was a broken woman. I was so angry at so many people for so long. Angry at Kerri Orr, and Dennis Story from social services (who honestly loved Daisai too), angry at my husband because he didn't stop them from moving the kids, and angry at God. Being angry at God was the hardest. How could this happen? How could someone bash in her head? How/Why?

I did not go to Michelle Baber's trial. I asked Kerri Orr to speak for us on what Michelle had taken from us, but most importantly from Addy and Cassius.

Michelle was sentenced and as they say, life has to move on. It seemed like life was moving on for everyone but me. I was being held hostage by all the anger and pain I felt.

It has taken me all this time but now I can say that I have found forgiveness. I forgive Michelle Baber. I forgive Dennis Story and Kerri Orr. I forgive my husband, and most importantly I forgive myself. I blamed myself for the longest time. I thought that I should have protected her. I should have taken the kids and ran with them when we found out they were being moved. I ran through all of the what if's. Now I know that my beautiful girl waits with Jesus and we will be together one day.

I just wanted you to hear a different prospective on the Daisia Derzon case. When I read the court records and she was referred to as a ward of the state or parentless, I want to set the record straight. Daisai and her brothers we not my biological children granted, however make no mistake that they were my children and I love them.

RIP Daisai and all of my love goes out to Addy and Cassius. I hope one day you will find the other mother you had in your life that thinks about you each and every day. I will always love you and I pray that one day we can be together again. Thank you for letting me share my story.

Redemption For A Mother

My wife is my best friend. I’ve never know a women to handle persecution with such grace. I created this page in efforts to give my wife a fighting chance to be a part of her children’s lives.

Redemption For A Mother
4 years ago, while giving birth to our son, who weighed 12 lbs, Elijah apparently received fractures to the ribs due to the stress and strain of doing the delivery naturally.  While in NICU, due to being such a large baby, and possibly having meconium aspiration, the doctor and nurses approached us and informed us that he had some swelling and bruising.  But, that it would resolve itself.

We took their word for granted.  Over the next month, we reported to the hospital, and his pediatrician, on three seperate occasions, that Elijah had been showing signs of discomfort and grunting.  Every time, we were told that it was gas.  Again, we took their word for granted.

The Nightmare Begins

When Elijah was a month old, his older brother picked him up and tried taking him from his hammock to his baby seat and dropped Elijah on his knees. Elijah’s calf began to swell.  We took him to the E.R. where doctor’s noticed that he had a fracture on his tibia.  But, they also noticed some old, healed, fractures in his ribs.  They immediately began to interrogate us, and called CPS.  When we offered up suggestions that they were from when he was born, they shot us down and stepped up the pressure on us, hoping to get one of us to confess to child abuse.

My opinion, looking back on it, is that they became defensive because he was born in the same hospital in which we were visiting the E.R.  We felt helpless. Here we were, two concerned parents for their baby boy, and we were being treated like criminals.  The mood in the E.R. drastically changed.  We were found guilty in the hearts of the staff and it showed in how they dealt with us.

CPS was able to open a case against us under the cause from an “unknown perpetrator”.  They used a ton of legal jargon that convinced us that they had the power to take him and that we had no say.  It was the worst experience ever.  Our idea of freedom and the justice system was taken from us and our innocence would be changed forever.

Drug & Parenting Classes, Counseling

Over the next ten months, CPS had us taking every parenting class, counseling session, and drug class (even though we never tested positive for any drug use) that they could throw at us.  We were given psych evaluations and home visits.  Meanwhile, Elijah was placed with my father.  We could only see him when a CPS caseworker could meet us at his house.  I was now restricted from going to my own father’s house for the first time in 30 years.

After everything that CPS had us complete, including a clear and normal write up from counseling, the psychiatrist and drug counseling, CPS, on the last day of court, threatened to place Elijah with my father permanently, due to the fact that no one was ever found to have injured Elijah.  [Side fact: the doctor that delivered Elijah, was willing to speak up for us, as well as his pediatrician, that his injuries were caused at birth.]

We were so tired of going through the process with CPS, and felt like we did not have the support behind us, especially financially, to go up against the hospital and the overwhelming threats from CPS, that we sign permanent placement with my dad.  We had planned on going to court, in another district, and request Elijah back into our care.

CPS never accepted any of the findings during our service plan (the requirements like counseling, and classes) and they never introduced the testimony of the doctor into court.  They wanted a guilty parent so bad that they rejected the truth all the way, to the last day in court.  Don’t let me get started on the politics in court, and how the lawyers and judges are all friends and how that can affect how you are dealt with in court.  But, we were hoping that approaching our case in another court district would allow us to introduce evidence on our behalf and get our son back.

A year later, still crippled from the traumatic year with CPS, both emotionally and financially, the event that is causing me to create this Go Fund Me happened.  We had another son, Fallon.  CPS was out of our lives, we had our baby, and were working on getting Elijah home.

One afternoon, after being at the zoo all day enjoying a family outing, our oldest daughter jumped onto the bed and stepped on Fallon’s arm…panic set in.  I freaked out and fainted.  Our family was not the same anymore because of our experience with CPS.  Our family was never to be like other families where children will be children, things happen, and kids just get hurt sometimes.  This is the day that I will never be able to live down.  I still have a hard time, even as a believer in Christ and his mercy, being able to forgive myself.  I would give anything to go back and change this one thing.

I was so afraid of Fallon possibly being hurt that I did not say anything to my wife.  After a day, he had no bruising or swelling in his arm, so I convinced myself that this would just pass.  I felt so heavy inside that I told my wife the next day what had happened.  We had been getting onto the older kids the previous weeks because of jumping on the bed and couches.  They had been addicted to watching, “How To Train A Dragon”, and they loved jumping around like they were flying dragons.

So, we sat them down and talked to them about how they needed to be careful around their baby brother.

A family member, who does not care for me, for reasons I do not know, decided to call CPS on us.  And, this time, I admit, they had a reason.  We were charged with medical neglect for not reporting Fallon’s injury.  They were really swift in their actions this time.  It was only a week and they had the full extent of their powers laid on us and Fallon was removed from us.

I let my family down.  It does not matter that our interaction with CPS the first time put a bitter taste in my mouth for the whole “system”.  I allowed that experience to cloud my judgement and put my fears in front of my son’s health.  It was later ruled that Fallon’s arm was not a bad injury.  If I would have just taken him to get checked, our situation would have never happened.  We would have been well on our way to getting Elijah back home and making up on lost time together.  Instead, we were further separated, and now I put me and my wife in a situation where we were now convicted felons.

I sometimes think that I am the worst parent, husband, friend, and man that has ever existed.  But, God has been good.  He is a God of redemption.  He has used this situation to help us see just how much we really love our children.  We have come so far in seeing how much our character has changed for the better.  But, the past few years on probation have been tough financially.  They demand quite a bit from us each month that it is hard to maintain any kind of stability.

Since on probation, we have had two cars stolen from us, I have been injured at work twice, which required surgery, putting me out of work, and subsequently meant losing a stable job due to the loss of transportation.  We have had no consistency in payments at the probation office, but we have kept on fighting.

If you have made it this far into the description of this page, bless you.  I know it’s a lot to take in.  I’m really leaving out so much that has happened to us, but the point is this…

Alicia is eligible to get off probation in January.  This is great!  She can start working on getting the kids back.  I will still be on probation for another year, but Alicia has a chance to live normally in just a few months.  But, in order to get released, she has to have all probation and court fees paid 60 days prior to release.

We have one month to raise the funds or she could face going to prison for 2-3 years.  The system just wants the money and will let her off.  I’m pleading with you, humbly, as a man who put his wife in this situation, to help her.  I am the leader of the family, and one bad choice has sent my wife’s life into an uncontrollable spiral.  I already have to live with this decision for the rest of my life, but please, stand with my wife and help her from facing further punishment.

I wanted to note, that if we are able to raise more than we are asking for, the money will be used to retain a lawyer and approach the courts to get custody of our boys.

Thank you in advance.  I owe you all an endless debt of gratitude.


A version of this column originally appeared in:

Family wages 5yr Battle to get Kids back from AZ CPS / DCS

Sara Ybarra-Johnson with son Jayden just prior to his removal from her custody this past February.

Every day, more and more Americans are exposed to the horrifying child removal campaigns being carried out by state and county offices of the Dept of Health and Human Services. Each year, more than 300,000 children are taken away from their parents by the government. Many for little or no reason, or just by mistake. One of those families is currently waging a desperate fight to get their four boys back, and after five years, they’ve nearly exhausted all their options, but they refuse to quit.

Imagine it’s you and your children

Imagine you’re a young 19-year-old new mom. You’re not wealthy, but you have a solid support system and family to help. Yet some behind-the-scenes Child Protective Services employee doesn’t think you’re a good enough parent, regardless of how well you’re caring for your son. So, the agency removes your child from your custody. You fight back, thinking you’ve been vindicated when the agency’s own medical experts refute the allegations of abuse and report that there was no evidence at all. But that only makes the CPS caseworker angry.

They refuse to return your son, and instead spend the next five years taking away your next three children just to punish you for tirelessly fighting to get your first child back. That’s the heart-breaking five-year nightmare that one Arizona mom, 24-year-old Sara Ybarra-Johnson, has endured. It’s a young mom, a grandma and four small boys fighting to be reunited as the family they are and should be, against the most powerful government on Earth, determined to demonstrate that the state is in charge of America’s children, not their parents.

Karla Johnson, Sara’s mom and the boys’ grandmother, first reached out to us here at Whiteout Press for help a couple weeks ago. We did as much research as a vigilant one-man operation can and came across a report from a grassroots parents’ rights organization detailing Sara and her sons’ case. Zed McLarnon of Justice for Families looked into the accusations and was horrified by the abuse of power and seemingly endless violations of the law and of the family’s rights.

In a video the organization produced about the ongoing battle, McLarnon explains their findings saying, “We chose Karla and Sara’s case to demonstrate that Child Protective Services use false allegations of abuse. Police departments break into houses to snatch children without a warrant or pick-up order. Attorney Generals prosecute parents they know to be innocent. And judges suppress evidence and manipulate the court records, all to take into custody as many children as possible.”

Sara’s story

In Sara’s case, one would think that a non-stop five-year campaign to get her child back would be enough to prove her dedication, sincerity and capability as a parent. But to Child Protective Services, it only indicates a failure to submit to government authority, even when those government employees were proven to be wrong. And as punishment for fighting for her parental rights and the return of her son, Sara Ybarra-Johnson has had all four of her children removed from her by CPS.

Zed McLarnon from Justice for Families explains his group’s findings after looking into Sara’s story. “What intrigued me about this case is the fact that the Judges in Superior Court, once they had appointed Sara a Public Defender, claimed that she was no longer a party to the case,” McLarnon reveals, “Imagine, a mother being maliciously prosecuted to terminate her parental custody, not a party to the case. Why did they do this? So they could refuse to give her any court documents, including the allegations against her.”

Even worse, the various Public Defenders assigned to represent Sara in her effort to keep her children have all refused to introduce the evidence that proves her innocence, including the government’s own doctors’ reports of her son showing there was absolutely no evidence of neglect or abuse. According to Justice for Families, that’s no accident and one of the most common tactics the government uses to thwart parents’ attempts to keep their children. Most parents give up eventually. But not Sara.

Retribution and revenge

Most Americans know by now that it’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. You will get arrested if you push your case hard enough, regardless of how right you are. That seems to be how this whole horrifying five-year episode began back in 2009. That’s when Child Protective Services was investigating Sara Ybarra-Johnson and her 1-year-old son Isaiah for, according to the CPS report, ‘Medical Neglect - Seizures.’ Examining doctors quickly ruled out any neglect or abuse and Isaiah should have been returned to Sara that instant.

Instead, during the vicious and terrifying interrogation by CPS officials, Sara’s mother and Isaiah’s grandmother Karla Johnson fiercely argued and fought for the return of the 1-year-old baby. But according to Grandma Karla, that only enraged CPS caseworkers and their supervisor. Karla explains that while the agency did their investigation, they put Isaiah in a state foster home where he ended up being physically abused, and they have pictures.

One of the more shocking parts of this ongoing tragedy comes from a police report, where CPS supervisor Rhonda Cash is quoted explaining to Sara why the agency is keeping Isaiah and not giving him back. “I don't care what documentation you have of doctors care for Isaiah,” Cash reportedly says, “I am taking Isaiah because your mother has pissed me off.” How many readers have ever been arrested for breaking that law? Your author has, a few times. Like we said, it’s dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.

Keep in mind, the official reason for removing Isaiah from his mother Sara was the accusation that she wasn’t providing Isaiah with enough medical care to treat what the agency erroneously believed were recurring seizures. In June 2009, just five weeks after CPS seized the child, they took Isaiah to neurologist Dr. Kevin Chapman at the Barrows Neurological Center who examined Isaiah and ruled that the child hadn’t had a seizure in more than a year. His suspicion was that Isaiah may have had a seizure at the time of birth and not since. That should have been all the evidence the family needed to get their child back.

A Maricopa County Detective carried out an impartial investigation. His findings concluded, “Dr. Chapman’s report should have resolved this case in 2009. Isaiah should have been returned and the other boys should have never been removed.”

Taking all of Sara’s children

Over the course of five years trying to get her son Isaiah back, Sara and her mom Karla have accumulated a mountain of evidence regarding CPS misconduct, abuse and outright lies. One example comes from Sara Ybarra-Johnson’s CPS case file. Karla Johnson explains, “My daughter’s CPS file has an email from Cash to Kara Vanhise - Arizona Ombudsman’s Office - on June 9, 2009. Cash admits CPS did not conduct a removal review and Cash states, ‘It was based upon evidence submitted by DDD.’”

When Karla and Sara reached out to the Department of Developmental Disability (DDD) regarding the alleged evidence they supposedly submitted to Rhonda Cash, the CPS supervisor who removed Isaiah in the first place, the reply was stunning, but not surprising in this case. DDD’s official response reads, “Please be advised that the Department of Developmental Disability has no record indicating that Isaiah E. Johnson is or ever was a client of the Division of Developmental Disabilities.” In other words, the evidence Rhonda Cash fraudulently cites for removing Isaiah from Sara’s custody simply doesn’t exist. But this and all the other evidence from the government’s own agencies have been banned by the Judges in Sara’s case.

If fighting for the return of your 18-month-old son isn’t traumatic enough, try doing it while being six months pregnant with your second child. Five months after Sara’s horrifying ordeal began with the removal of her son Isaiah, she gave birth to her second son Wilfredo. Eight days later, Child Protective Services sent the Phoenix police to forcibly enter the Johnson’s home and remove the new baby - no warrant, no charges, no reason. The agency only gave two causes for taking Wilfredo. One was that they already had Isaiah. The second, cited by Judge Christopher Coury in his removal decision, detailed, “Termination of the parent-child relationship would benefit the Children because these Children are adoptable.”

Flash forward two years. Sara is expecting her third child and visiting the state of Oklahoma. She goes into labor and gives birth to her third son Josiah. Somehow some way, the state’s own Child Protective Service is alerted to Sara’s ongoing legal battle to force Arizona to return her two sons. Like an unthinking and uncaring machine, local Oklahoma CPS officials take Josiah away from Sara and place him in state custody for his own protection. 14 months later, Oklahoma Judge Brian Ishikawa terminated Sara’s parental rights of Josiah, even though CPS’ own investigators testified there was no abuse or neglect of the child. Instead, Josiah was admittedly taken simply because the government had already taken Isaiah and Wilfredo, and like the other cases, because “A termination of these parental rights would further the plan of adoption.”

Flash forward two more years to 2013. Sara and the boys’ grandmother Karla are still fiercely fighting for the return of the children. They’ve filed appeals and even lawsuits, only to find that justice has not only been unattainable, but vengeful and vindictive. In June 2013, Sara gave birth to her fourth and youngest son Jayden. Eight months later, Child Protective Services removed him as well.

Threats, terror and injustice

The campaign to remove Sara’s youngest son Jayden from her custody began at 1am on January 11, 2014. That’s when Phoenix Police and CPS caseworkers showed up at the Johnson’s home demanding to be let in so they could strip and examine the 6-month-old baby. The family refused to let them in without a warrant or court order, which the raiding party apparently did not have. Over the next three weeks, the Johnson family was terrorized by CPS employees, some of whom threatened to arrest the whole family for refusing to cooperate and for secretly tape recording the agency’s threats and intimidation.

On February 5th, Phoenix Police and CPS caseworkers again besieged the Johnson home, demanding they turn over Jayden or they would all be placed under arrest. The family cooperated, but emphatically argued that the agency had absolutely no legitimate reason to remove the child as there was no evidence of neglect or abuse, which the police report confirmed.

The agency also admits in its own documentation that it didn’t conduct any investigation of abuse of Jayden. Its own pick-up order showed the wrong child’s name on it. And it wasn’t even signed by a Judge as required by law. CPS actually filed a police report citing Jayden as a ‘missing child’. The report was later amended to reflect that it was an error and the child was in his mother’s physical custody all along.

The CPS official at the heart of Jayden’s removal, Michael Messinese, has recently testified that he did not write a case report to the court which bears his signature. He also admits in court documents that he never even interviewed Sara or Jayden or conducted an investigation before ordering the confiscation of her child. On August 7th and August 15th of this year, Sara testified in court in her never-ending nightmare to get her children back. According to her mom Karla, “Sara literally kicked CPS' butt in the court.” So much so, that the CPS official in charge of Jayden’s removal repeatedly responded under questioning, “I don’t recall.”

Next steps

Sara Ybarra-Johnson’s nightmare is far from over in her effort to regain custody of her children after a five-year legal fight. And while local police officers have been seemingly behind the family, unwilling to document evidence of abuse where there was none, CPS and court officials have doubled-down on their obsession with taking all of Sara’s children away from her for no legitimate reason but simply because they refuse to admit they made a mistake in the first place.

After five years of waging a very public publicity campaign to shed some light on their horrifying ordeal, some of the government officials at the heart of the injustice are feeling the heat, and they don’t like it. Karla, the boys’ grandmother, has been so outspoken that the Arizona courts actually printed up a ‘Be On The Lookout’ poster bearing her picture and personal information in an attempt to bar her from court proceedings. She’s obtained emails from the court and from CPS where employees discuss secret investigations of the grandmother and the data-mining of her Facebook and other social media accounts.

Karla says that never before in the five-year ordeal has she been banned from the courtroom and unable to be there to witness the proceedings and support her daughter, until now. She also reports that the Judge presiding over Sara’s case, Judge Bradley Astrowsky, suddenly and mysteriously recused himself from the hearings. The family reports that Sara, Karla, their supporters and all witnesses were inexplicably ejected from the courtroom by Sheriff’s deputies and court officers, while CPS officials were allowed to stay.

After exhausting all their legal options in Arizona, including the rejection by the Arizona Supreme Court to hear their case, Sara and Karla filed a federal lawsuit alleging the violation of Sara’s civil rights. But rather than even look at the content or merits of the case, the federal court in San Francisco threatened Sara to drop her lawsuit or face “sanctions both punitive and financial.”

The culmination of this ordeal is mind-blowing considering there was never any evidence that showed any neglect or abuse of any of Sara’s boys. By contrast, all of the government’s own experts and evidence unanimously admit there was never any abuse or neglect. But for some bizarre reason, all the doctors’ and caseworkers’ reports stating such have never once been allowed to be introduced as evidence by any of the 23 state and federal Judges that Sara and Karla have appeared before over the past five years in their vain attempt to get the boys back.

Taking children from parents for profit

Zed McLarnon and Justice for Families insist Sara and her sons’ tragedy isn’t unique. He argues that millions of American children are being taken away from their parents by government agencies across the country for absolutely no reason other than for profit. The grassroots parents’ rights organization introduces case after case after case where officials across the country have been caught falsifying documents and perjuring themselves in CPS child removal proceedings.

They also point to a recent announcement from Arizona Child Protective Services that offers one possibility of what this widespread epidemic of child removal is all about. Just three months ago, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer announced the creation of a stand-alone Department of Child Safety and a check for $60 million to the very same individuals that have terrorized Sara and her boys for the past five years. Officials actually confirmed that the new mega-agency was in response to a state investigation showing there were an estimated 6,500 more children Arizona CPS could have removed from their parents but didn’t for some reason.

Sara and Karla Johnson have their own problems however. They’ve exhausted all their options on the state level and the federal Judge, Judge Snow, appears to be ignoring the law, case precedents, and ignoring the evidence of the warrantless seizure of these boys and CPS' omission of evidence from the proceedings in state court.

As grandma Karla explains after this exhausting and heart-breaking ordeal, “My daughter Sara had barely turned 19 years old when our fight began in May 2009. She just turned 24 in December 2013. Five years of her life, our lives, the boys’ lives, have been stolen because of CPS' criminal activity.” As far as Sara’s concerned, she just wants her children back. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask considering she never did anything wrong in the first place.

Just in the past couple months, the family has opened two ‘Go Fund Me’ accounts, one to help pay the legal costs of trying to get the boys back and the other to help support the family after nearly bankrupting themselves with a five-year legal battle against the unlimited resources of the government. From one victimized parent to another, we at Whiteout Press wish Sara and Karla all the best in their fight. We wish there was more we could do to help.

The Surrogacy Factor

Alain Large-newest“I’m never leaving this place.”

I will never forget the discouragement and hopelessness behind Marcus’ words. He and I had bonded during our time at MacLaren Hall – an asylum-like facility for Los Angeles County’s abused and neglected children. He had just heard the news that I’d be leaving in a week, to be placed with a relative. I would stay in this arrangement, known as kinship care, until I emancipated at age 18.

Even though our lives took different paths, Marcus and I are both alumni of a peculiar academy, where graduates receive no diploma and the optimism of the future is replaced by an inexplicable apprehension. The academy is called foster care. The commencement process is known as aging out. And for so many that cross its proverbial stage, it becomes a journey down a difficult road.

My journey began with an all-too-familiar narrative for foster children: I was born to two drug-abusing parents and, along with my four siblings, would spend most of my childhood surrounded by gang violence, prostitution and poverty. My mother frequently was incarcerated while my father, though present, was physically and verbally abusive when not under the influence. I was at risk of becoming a statistic: gang member, incarcerated or dead.

However, my trajectory changed because of the opportunity to live in kinship care. Unlike many foster children, I had an older sister who was willing to take in my siblings and me. I also had a Christian community that became an extended surrogate family. I was able to graduate from high school and college with a support network I obtained because of my sister’s sacrifice.
In many ways I am viewed as a foster care “success story.” I agree. I have been fortunate enough to impact foster care policy as an intern at both L.A. City Hall and Capitol Hill. However, even with the support of others, it was still extremely difficult to be in foster care and even more difficult when I emancipated. I was a young man dealing with the residue of a broken childhood and the constant reminder I would never return home to my parents.

And as lucky as I was, kinship care isn’t perfect, particularly because the caregivers often don’t get resources adequate enough for raising the children in their homes. That is why it is essential that children who spend a substantial amount of time in foster care or emancipate from its system obtain support specified to meet their needs.

Many times foster children are like nomads, kept in a limbo of foster and group homes with little stability. For too long children have been told “be patient,” “wait,” and that their desire for a forever family has to be delayed until the process of lawmaking runs its course. How can we tell children the bureaucratic process is too difficult and the resources too scarce to provide them with safe, loving and permanent homes?

Our nation lays witness to the outcome for thousands of children who exit foster care with no consistent support network. We are essentially subjecting them to a system that, more often than not, produces ill-prepared men and women. Fewer than 50 percent of former foster youth are employed 2½ to 4 years after leaving foster care, and only 38 percent have maintained employment for over one year. Statistics concerning education for foster youth are even more dismal, with only 2 percent of foster youth obtaining a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Every child who ages out of foster care without a support network is a child that our system has failed.

The term “foster” is synonymous with temporary or makeshift. What children aging out need isn’t temporary care – they need surrogates. They need a host of long-term, stable connections with individuals committed to improving the educational, emotional and vocational outcomes of these youth. I would call this process “Systemic Surrogacy.” Advocating for surrogate care at a systemic level would not only improve outcomes, but identify a sustainable network for children to help support their aging out process. This system, tailored to individual youth, could help alleviate some of the adverse outcomes associated with emancipation.

I think of Marcus often, wondering what became of him. What I do know is that thousands of children like him age out of a system with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and the uneasiness of their futures. I couldn’t bring Marcus with me then, but I believe I can make the transition process much more successful for others now.

Published on May 29, 2014 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign.

A version of this column originally appeared in:

A Release Date From the Past

Cherish - Large-use this oneOver 13 years is what I served in our nation’s foster care system. At an early age, I was removed from my birth mother. She was just a teen, and already struggled with an addiction to men and drugs, which she sold and used. My father, well, he was non-existent. At the time of my birth he was in prison. I didn’t grow up knowing what a father was, neither did I realize I missed having one.

I was born an orphan. I may as well have not existed to my parents as they were caught up in their addictions. My needs and my life weren’t significant enough for them to change. When you grow up not having a set of parents to give you a portrait to reference love, truth and purpose, you feel like you missed something. I grew up watching the examples of other people’s lives, feeling I was looking from a doubled-sided glass mirror that I could see out of, but no one could see into.

From around ages 1 to 4 I was bounced from one home to the next. I was adopted by the time I was 5. But instead of a bright beginning it was another road filled with instability, insecurity, abuse and loss. It is like I never left the system. At around 11 I returned to foster care, moving between foster homes, shelters, group homes and detention centers, from one failed placement to the next failed adoption. I was shipped from the south to the north, and lived in care in two different states.

I had approximately 20 different placements. I carried all I owned in black garbage bags. In between placements I was homeless—I slept on random couches or in abandoned apartments, and spent sleepless nights wandering in parks dark enough not to be spotted. Sometimes my homelessness was self-imposed because I knew no one wanted me. I ran from the abuse and the callus that grew from not being able to even feel anymore. Honestly, I was tired of being reminded that I was unwanted.

No one wanted to foster a teenager, unless it was for supplemental income, a babysitter, to do chores or serve as a placeholder for their pain–the punching bag of their emotional wounds, a sexual toy for their pleasure. I attended 14 different schools. Nothing in my life lasted very long. Nothing was predictable except constantly feeling rejected and unloved.

My life was marred by pain that seemed to get deeper and deeper. I remember many people saying “I Love you,” but rarely did I ever feel love. I suffered in silence repeatedly through sexual, physical and emotional abuse. It seemed like a cycle from which I could not break away, no matter what home I was placed in or whom I encountered. No safety came from the arms of the system.

I went through so many experiences, my memory had been impaired to the point that I had no timeline of the things that occurred in my life—memories seemed to bleed into each other. I didn’t have pictures or a recollection of memories reinforced throughout my childhood because even they were scattered among the multiple people and places I had bounced between.

Still, thanks to the kindness of a friend and her family, I was able to fight my way through and finish high school. My early adulthood was spent trying to put the pieces of my life together so it could make sense, give me some frame of reference, and help me find me, find who Cherish was. I had to read about a lot of my life in foster care from documents that I requested when I was 18. It is funny having to learn about yourself through written assessments from workers who visited you for not even an hour a month, if they showed up at all.

Then there was my release. I had finally grown out of the system. I found my birth parents, and while they weren’t what I expected, I learned to forgive and I have a relationship with each of them. I was blessed with a full ride to a Big Ten school. I became the first in my family to complete high school, college and graduate studies. I work in the field that I felt kidnapped and imprisoned me, to make a difference and represent hope for children who feel unloved and marred by negative experiences. I was just like them, but I was determined I WOULD NOT be another statistic, or represent the demeaning title of “state ward” or “system child.”
It is not what you go through, it is about not allowing your circumstances to become your future. Just like a camera takes new pictures, you can create new memories that develop a better portrait of the life you choose to live. There is a release date on your pain and freedom from your past.

A version of this column originally appeared in: