Rewriting Rules On Reunification Of Troubled Florida Families

The Legislature’s child welfare overhaul bill, awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, would make it harder for the state to reunify children with dangerous, drug-addled parents.

Over a dozen turbulent years, Kaylee Ann Rice was in and out of state care as her troubled mom parented in a fog of drugs and violence. Courtney Coughlin’s rap sheet stretches 19 pages, peppered with weapons, battery and drug charges. She had been to jail twice, attempted suicide twice and wascommitted once.

Yet Kaylee, who first came to the attention of state child welfare authorities as an infant, was always returned to her mother.

The cycle ended when Kaylee was killed. Three days after her 12th birthday, she died after her mother hurtled through a red light at 90 miles per hour while fleeing police. She was trying to cash a stolen check. The girl was not wearing a seat-belt.

When Florida lawmakers overhauled the state’s child protection laws this session, they also took aim at the state Department of Children & Families’ sometimes ill-fated decisions to return vulnerable youngsters to drug-abusing and dangerous parents.

The child welfare bill, still awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature, gives Community Based Care groups — private organizations contracted by DCF to provide child welfare social services — a chance to raise objections if they think reunification will leave a child in danger.

“We wanted to have a role in the conversation about reunification,’’ said Kurt Kelly, who heads the Florida Coalition for Children, which represents the state’s CBCs. “Because we are providing the services, we are often the closest to the families and can contribute to the decision about whether a child can be safely reunified.’’

Over the past five years, more than two dozen children have died after either they or an older sibling were reunited with volatile, lawless or drug-using parents. The parents were shown mercy. The children weren’t.

In the most recent case, a Sanford toddler, Tariji Gordon, was killed three months after she was returned to her troubled mother, who had been stripped of custody after smothering Tariji’s twin brother. The first death was originally ruled accidental, but it appears to be under investigation again.

“The decision to reunify is similar to the decision to remove; it’s the most important decision we make in the life of a case. Sometimes we make the decision to reunify parents because they have completed the list of tasks that was given to them,’’ said DCF interim Secretary Mike Carroll. “But there is not a whole lot of analysis to determine whether the tasks resulted in a change in behavior, or mitigated the safety concerns that led us to remove the child in the first place.”

He added: “We have to get better, particularly when the case is high risk.”

The story of DCF reunifications is not as much in the numbers as the quality of some of the investigations and the decision-making that preceded them. Even when the agency takes a child away from the family — a rare occurrence — it will often return the child to his or her abuser after a parenting class or the signing of a promissory pledge.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who co-wrote the overhaul bill, said she didn’t realize the state had an issue with risky reunifications until recently, following Tariji’s death. Representatives of Central Florida private foster care agencies visited her, and expressed deep concerns about DCF’s reluctance to give them a seat at the table when decisions were made on whether to return children to their parents.

“They were telling me how many cases they had where they would recommend that a child not be reunified, yet the data and documentation was never heard in court. They would submit it to DCF, and they would not be able to make it available” to a judge, said the Republican, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. “I was horrified by what was going on.”

Tariji’s death

That conflict came into sharp focus with the death of Tariji. The 2-year-old and her surviving siblings were returned to their mother, Rachel Fryer, after two years of living in a foster home. Early on, a court-appointed guardian ad-litem in the case expressed concern about Fryer’s ability to provide for her family. Tariji was dead within three months of moving back with Fryer, who is now in jail, charged in her daughter’s death.

Fryer is accused of killing the girl, then stuffing her body in a suitcase and burying her in a shallow grave in Putnam County, 50 miles from her Sanford home. Fryer denies the allegation, saying she found Tariji unresponsive and tried to save her with CPR and asthma medication.

Less than three years earlier, Fryer suffocated Tariji’s twin, Tavont’ae, as mother and son slept together on a couch. After the 2-month-old’s death, DCF asked a judge to permanently sever Fryer’s parental rights to her four surviving children — she had surrendered her rights to two other older children in an earlier, drug-related case. After the infant’s death was ruled an accident, Tariji and the three siblings were returned to their mother in November, 2013. She died in February.

In January, the guardian — tasked with advocating for the best interest of the child — requested a hearing on Tariji and her siblings’ reunification, citing “pressing concerns.” It was never scheduled.

In a court hearing weeks before, on Dec. 9, the guardian told a judge she believed the children were content and showed Fryer affection, but she was concerned about the mother. “The children are happy to be home with their mother. There are some concerns about the mother’s stability. Her income, I believe, is based on student loans...she has been having difficulty paying rent and having funds for food in less than a month that the kids have been home,’’ the advocate said.

At the same hearing, a DCF lawyer said there were no issues related to the reunification or the children’s safety. The judge signed off on DCF’s plan to reunite Fryer, 32, permanently with her four children, but said she wanted the case to be closely monitored. A final review of the case was to be set for this month.

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A version of this column originally appeared in:

Problems in OC Child Welfare System Get Statewide Scrutiny

Ruby Dillon

Ruby Dillon claims Orange County child welfare officials failed to properly investigate alleged abuse of her nine year-old daughter.

A high-profile case, a judge’s stern warning and a critical state audit have made Orange County a recent statewide example for critics who say child welfare systems suffer from chronic mismanagement and poor oversight.

The audit, by the California State Auditor, revealed that child welfare agencies here and elsewhere can fail to do basic background checks and assessments needed to ensure that vulnerable children, who have been neglected or abused, are not again put in unsafe situations.

“It’s really hard to even put into words how many changes need to be made, but certainly there needs to be a tremendous amount of oversight and accountability,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), a Republican candidate for governor who identifies closely with the Tea Party.

“I think the system itself is flawed and needs to be fundamentally reformed from the ground up.”

The audit of agencies in Orange, San Francisco and Butte counties found a series of problems that, it says, could lead to children being wrongfully kept in dangerous homes or removed unjustifiably.

“This report concludes that these agencies must provide better protection for abused and neglected children,” State Auditor Elaine Howe wrote in an April letter to Gov. Jerry Brown accompanying her report.

While the three counties rely on safety and risk assessments, she wrote, “the agencies’ social workers frequently did not prepare these assessments in a timely manner, or at all, and the information used in these assessments was often inaccurate.”

“This led to flawed evaluations of safety, risk, and needed services and, at times, led to poor decisions related to child safety.”

The audit also found cases in which there were long delays by the agency in trying to contact children who couldn’t be reached on the first attempt; and a failure to perform background checks on caregivers.

Orange County fared the best among the three counties, though auditors still found that county officials didn’t always adhere to their own policies and they need better training and oversight.

In one Orange County case, officials investigating neglect of a young medically vulnerable child learned that a neighbor was taking care of the child because the mother was homeless.

But a history check wasn’t performed until 10 days later, after the neighbor failed to take the child in for “vital medical appointments,” auditors found. That check revealed that the caregiver had “a 10‑year history of violent crime and drug‑related arrests” and had lost custody of her own children.

Read more at: Problems in OC Child Welfare System Get Statewide Scrutiny


A version of this column originally appeared in:

Arizona CPS Exposed discusses the placement of children

Last week we discussed the disclosures of documents and what family can expect. This week we will discuss what the options are in the placement of your children.

It is rumored than Gov. Jan Brewer is going to call a special session specifically to address the problems with CPS. It is anticipated to start sometime in June.

Make sure you listen to next week’s show when we discuss the CARE team’s report. Is the state moving in the right direction this time?

CPS has decided that in order to protect your children they must be removed from your care. What happens to the children and what was happening at the time your grandkids were taken?

This is where CPS makes no sense and is also where the kidnapping for profit scheme takes hold.

You would think with all of the problems of getting and keeping foster care homes that CPS and the state would welcome family placements. But no. They would prefer to have children sleep in the CPS offices instead of placing them in a home setting!

Ironically at the beginning of our case an article was published in the Arizona Republic, “Many Arizona foster children live far from home.” September 2, 2012

The article reported on the lack of foster homes for children. Often times children were placed far from home, which causes issues with schooling and visitation. It was because of this article that we became aware and started paying attention to the CPS issues in Arizona. The rise of children being removed from September 2012 to January 2013 was about 1,000 children a month, until it peaked at around 15,000! Currently in Arizona there are over 16,000 children in foster care, up from 11,000 in September 2012 when our grandkids were taken.

CPS is also supposed to try to keep siblings or sibling units together. If you have a small family this might happen. But with a large family this is unlikely. In our case only the twins were placed together, everyone else was placed with no other siblings.

ARS 8-824 states:

“G. The department must make reasonable efforts to place a child with siblings and, if that is not possible, to maintain frequent visitation or other ongoing contact between all siblings.”

“H. If the child is in the temporary custody of the department, the department shall submit not later than the day before the hearing a written report to the court and the parties that state:

7. What efforts the department has made to place siblings together, and if they are not placed together, the specific reasons why this did not occur.

8. If the placement of siblings together was not possible for all or any of the siblings, efforts the department has made to facilitate communications among siblings and a proposal for frequent visitation or contact pursuant to subsection G of this section. If frequent visitation or contact with siblings is not recommended, the department shall state the reasons why this could be contrary to the child’s or a sibling’s safety or well-being.”

So the AAG and CPS are using an extremely broad scope of the law claiming an “open police investigation” as the reason they are justified in keeping siblings from being placed together as well as prohibiting visits without any other independent reasons. Later in the case it was more or less just a check box. When they were to report on the placement of children it was stated "least restrictive" placement with no explanations why the children weren't together or placed with family. No one with any power questioned it.

Further ARS 8-821 A states that “the child’s sibling shall also be taken into temporary custody only if reasonable grounds INDEPENDENTLY (emphasis added) exist to believe that temporary custody is clearly necessary to protect the child from suffering abuse or neglect.”

So CPS goes in and takes all children, using this language in the law, and substantiates their actions based on the word and statements from the CPS case manager only, who we know doctors their reports to justify the removal of the children. And you wonder why the number of children in foster care is increasing!

What really shows the lack of compassion for children by the agency and the AAG is in our case when the judge ordered two of the boys to be placed with grandparents. He signed that order on December 13th, yet CPS refused to move the boys until after the 1st of January. They kept these boys with strangers over the Christmas holiday when in fact they could have been celebrating with family.

What placement options are there?

These options are important for family to know and understand so they are prepared if this decision has to be made. Options for your children are:

  • Staying in your care with a safety monitor
  • Placement with immediate family within the state
  • Placement with immediate family outside the state
  • Foster care placement
  • Group home placement

The ORDER of this placement is set by law in ARS 8-514-B:

“The department shall place a child in the least restrictive type of placement available, consistent with the needs of the child. The order for placement preference is as follows:

  1. With a parent.
  2. With a grandparent.
  3. In kinship care with another member of the child’s extended family, including a person who has a significant relationship with child.
  4. In a licensed family foster care.
  5. In a therapeutic foster care.
  6. In a group home.
  7. In a residential treatment facility.”

Is that what really happens?

The state does not want your children leaving the state, even if or especially if the case plan is severance and adoption. The reason is that if the child leaves the state the funding goes with them! If the children are adopted out the state will not receive the adoption bonus. So that option is unlikely, UNLESS you are Native American, which has some special placement requirements.

ICPC’s to place children with family outside the state in our case were never processed and no one could obtain the status of these. (The ICPC is the interstate agreement to place children in CPS custody with out of state placements.)

A safety monitor is also not a likely outcome. That would require a family member or other adult to live in your home to ensure the safety of the children. The outcome of this case would be expected to be a successful reunification since the children aren’t leaving the physical custody of the parent. Once again if the goal is severance and adoption this is not likely to be a recommended option.

Isn’t family supposed to be considered as placement options for the children?

Yes, by ARS 8-514, family is supposed to be sought out as placement options. In fact throughout Arizona law it states that CPS is supposed to make reasonable efforts to locate family for placement. But they didn’t do that. Using a broad definition of “reasonable” I guess they figured obtaining the names was enough of an effort. The only effort they put forth was to DENY family as placement.

In fact they were using the “open police investigation” as the reason why family wasn’t being considered in our case at first. Then they claimed in numerous court documents that they had sought out family and deemed everyone unacceptable. In some cases this was just days after the children were removed and they hadn’t done ANY checks on the family.

We then discovered the grandparents were under investigation, so we contacted the detective on the case to clear up any questions they may have on us. The detective was not even aware of who we were! When we told him we were part of the CPS case, he then refused to speak to us, telling us that he could not verify who we were over the phone. We offered to meet him at his office and show him ID in order to clear this up. Once again he refused. To this date we have no idea what investigation, if any, we were under.

All grandparents were denied custody of the children and each one filed an appeal. Once again laws, procedures and deadlines were not followed by CPS. The paternal grandmother was denied a second time during her appeal because of allegations she was trying to protect her son. The paternal grandfather was able to get his appeal completed by December, about 3 ½ months into the case. We were finally able to get our appeal HEARD 5 ½ months into the case, but only after we got a legislator involved.

Further, in an email exchange we discovered that the AAG had absolutely no intention of placing the children with grandparents when she stated “under no circumstances will we consider grandparents as placement options.”

Against the laws of Arizona (ARS 8-514 B), the AAG was refusing to consider placement with grandparents.

We felt we were living a nightmare. We were facing the real possibility that our grandchildren would be taken away forever. We had no one to speak with about the process to understand what was happening. We tried to get assistance from our government officials, the governor’s office and even the ombudsman for CPS. We found all roads lead to CPS. There is no help for families stuck in the process.

Have you seen any other placement issues?

We have noticed a disturbing trend when CPS places children with family. They often place the child with the abuser or the abuser’s side of the family!

We cannot explain this phenomenon, but a large number of our calls are because CPS placed the children with the abuser or the abuser’s family. The child continues to be abused and the non-abusive parent must fight to gain custody. Often times the court and CPS are aware of the abuse!

In our own case the victim is living with the alleged abusers mother. So while they were all concerned about the mother having contact with the father and risking the safety of the children, they now approved the alleged abuser’s mother to have custody of the daughter. She still maintains contact with her son. So somehow it isn’t okay for the child’s mother to have contact with the alleged abuser but it’s okay for his mother to maintain contact with him and have the victim in her custody.

Also, his mother had similar accusations against her as the mother in the case. She learned of the alleged abuse just after the mother did, if not before.

In another case the father was the abuser. He was abusing the children as well as their mother. During the divorce she begged the court to not give the father visitation rights. But the judge didn’t listen and granted the father unsupervised visitation. So during the court ordered visitation the children were abused. When CPS got involved they removed the children from the mother’s custody because she “failed to protect.” She had a no-win situation. They placed her children in foster care. Eventually she gained custody of the children, but not until several months later.

These are the cases where you really have to question the motives of CPS. Why would they knowingly place the child with the abuser?

Sometimes it is other family members wishing to get custody of your children that make the initial report. Perhaps you’ve recently experienced a divorce and the custody battle extends to CPS. Often times it is a grandparent wishing to gain custody of the grandchildren. This is why anonymous reporting should never be permitted.

Only you know your situation and relationship with your family or ex’s. This dynamic could create issues in your CPS case so be prepared.

If the children aren’t placed with family what happens in a foster care placement?

Foster care is a more likely placement for your children, especially if they are infants or pre-school age. These children are highly adoptable and families are seeking to foster these children with hopes of adopting them. When we took the orientation class to become foster parents, we were told that only 50% of the children removed from the family are actually returned to the family in Arizona. We were also in the minority in wanting to foster. At least 75% or more of the families in our orientation class were fostering in order to adopt.

That was definitely the case with the 5 month old in our family. That foster family had been told upon placement that the child would be adoptable. They fought the family over everything, kept the child from attending visitations, wouldn’t permit the mother to attend doctor appointments for the child, and even refused to allow her to see him on his first birthday! They lost him 5 days later when the mother was granted physical custody.

The quality of foster care varies from family to family. Some are very good, others are worse than the situations the child was removed from.

While the state is supposed to consider cultural compatibility for placement it has been ignored. For instance an English-only speaking child was placed with a Spanish-only speaking foster family. Similarly religious and ethnic difference can cause conflict between the child and foster family.

What kind of payments do foster families get?

In Arizona foster families get a minimum of $600 per month for each child. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, on top of that all of the child’s medical expenses, dental expenses, therapy sessions, and other necessary services are paid for by the state. If the child is old enough transportation to their appointments is also provided. A clothing allowance is given for each child and school supplies are also provided. Discounts or free passes for activities are also available for foster families. So while they whine about not getting “paid enough” to foster children, the only additional expenses they have is an increase in food cost plus the daily expenses of maintaining a home, which they already have.

Foster families can take up to 5 foster children – so a foster family could be getting a minimum of $3,000 per month to foster children!

Legislators and others are advocating to raise this payment. When I was on a tele-townhall meeting with Doug Ducey and Bill Montgomery they both indicated they were in support of raising this monthly allotment.

I have family out of state that fosters children. They only foster and will never consider adopting a child. They receive their monthly payment and tell us that there is no way they can spend all that money on the child. They use that money to buy the child toys, clothing and have even used it to purchase Christmas and birthday gifts for the child that they allow the mother to give to the child when she can’t afford it. They get $650 per month, which is only $50 more than Arizona.

Fostering should not be a career. Families should be fostering to truly help the child and work with the family and CPS to encourage a successful reunification. Unfortunately far too many families are fostering for profit or fostering to adopt.

What’s the difference between a foster home and a group home?

Group homes are another placement option. These are homes specifically created for foster children and have a staff to provide supervision and guidance. Older children are often placed in a group home setting.

The group home setting was actually recommended as the best placement for older children, not by CPS but by probation! It was the first thing that made some sense in the whole case.

Older children are bonded to their family and parents and are not as likely to accept foster parents as family. They often resent them, especially if the foster parent is trying to take the place of the biological parents. This happened in our case and the foster mother complained the children were disrespectful and often didn’t want to be involved with their “family.” The foster mom was trying to compete with the bio-mom and the children were rejecting her. They stated “they already have a mom.”

So the group home can provide a setting for the children that doesn’t involve a conflict with the parental role. In fact, our oldest grandson liked the group home he was placed in. While it did turn out okay, it was this group home that kept him out of school for 6 weeks and permitted him access to the internet which he wasn’t supposed to have.

However, group homes are often staffed with young, inexperienced people who have no idea how to “parent” and often just become friends, and not always the best role model.

The lack of supervision in a group home can lead to all sorts of negative behaviors and experiences.

  • Our granddaughter pierced her lip while living in a group home
  • Our grandsons were often bullied in group homes
  • We suspect one or more of the boys were molested in a group home
  • The children often didn’t feel safe from the other children in the group home

As with everything, you can have a good group home or bad ones.

I understand the children are supposed to have certain rights when placed in foster care. Is this true?

Yes, but it’s a well kept secret and apparently only the attorney’s know this secret. We were not aware of it until I was looking through the legal files.

Children are supposed to have certain rights per ARS8-529. But just like everything else they don’t follow the law. These rights are posted on our website under the tab “Understanding the Issue” under “Parental Resources.

For instance the law states the child has the right:

  • To know why the child is in foster care and what will happen to the child and to the child's family, including siblings, and case plans.
  • Didn’t happen. None of our grandchildren knew why they were removed from the family, except the victim. They did not know what would happen to them, the family and had no knowledge of the case plan. In fact, the older children were told that they would be going home on Tuesday, just 4 days after they were taken. One of the boys spent all day that Tuesday waiting by the door with his bags packed waiting to go home. It never happened. Just imagine how he felt.
  • To comply with any approved visitation plan, and to have any restrictions explained to the child in a manner and level of details deemed age appropriate by the foster parent in agreement with the caseworker and documented in the child's record.
  • The children were all denied visitation of any type for the first two months. They then had sibling visits and finally 2 ½ months into the case started visits with mother. But they didn’t have any knowledge why the visits were restricted.With the younger 3 children especially, the visitation plan was not being adhered to, especially with the baby.
  • To attend the child's court hearing and speak to the judge.
  • This didn’t happen until the children’s attorney finally spoke up and insisted. CPS was trying to keep the children out of court. They claimed that attending a court hearing would violate the visitation order. When the judge made the ruling to permit the children to attend court the case manager failed to arrange the transportation.
  • To be free of unnecessary or excessive medication.
  • This one is especially important. Far too many times children are medicated for the wrong reasons. We will cover this more in detail when we cover services and therapy.
  • To report a violation of personal rights specified in this section without fear of punishment, interference, coercion or retaliation, except that an appropriate level of punishment may be applied if the child is proven to have maliciously or wrongfully accused the foster parent.
  • When the children disclosed the abuse happening in their foster homes, we informed our attorney. We were told we could say nothing. The children were supposed to disclose the information to their attorney, we couldn’t discuss it with them. We don’t know if that happened. But in any case, we were told that any complaints against the foster parents would be held against the bio-family. No one told the family that the children had this right. Once again while looking through legal documents I found the information.
    But what is even more hypocritical is that if a child falsely accuses a parent, the system is rigged so that the child MUST be believed at all costs. After all, children do not lie. If the child comes forth later and admits they lied no punishment can be applied to the child and the family has a CPS call on their record.

Next week’s show

Next week we will discuss the CARE team’s reports. Is Arizona going in the right direction this time?

Arizona Republic article links:
Many Arizona foster children living far from home, .” September 2, 2012

Arizona CPS Exposed discusses the disclosure of documents – fact or fiction

Last week we discussed the Team Decision-Making Meeting and the first court hearing. This week we will discuss what might happen next.

So you’ve had your preliminary hearing and the judge has signed their first set of orders. What happens next?

Typically this is where the orders from the judge would kick in. If services were ordered then referrals would be made to get those started. If visitation is ordered then the services to get those set up would be started. Parents would begin to resolve the issues that brought them to CPS in the first place.

A dependency hearing is supposed to be set for 21 days after the dependency petition was filed.

“An Initial Dependency Hearing will be set within 21 days after the petition is filed. At this hearing the court can declare the child “dependent” or set other conferences or mediation. When a child is declared “dependent”, it basically means the court has ruled that child is in need of parental care and control and that the state of Arizona is legally responsible to provide that. At the same time, a CPS case is now filed in the courts (called a dependency) and CPS will work with the family providing services to address the issues of concern so that the family can reunify if possible.” from the AZDES website

Also during this time the evidence will be disclosed. BE PREPARED. What you read about your case will anger you. Sometimes you even question if they are talking about your family or children.

Is this what happened in your case?

No, in our case there was nothing. No services had been ordered. We had no direction or goals. The case plan was severance and adoption.

There were a number of hearings scheduled at the beginning of the case, including one filed for a change of judge. The one thing we heard over and over was “Will you wave time.” Of course all parties generally agreed so the time restrictions set forth by law can be ignored if the parties agree.

As we reported before, CPS and the AAG were using an “open police investigation” as the excuse to prohibit contact with the children by all family members, as well as placement with grandparents or family. At the first hearing the police investigator told the judge he had not yet spoken to some of the children and were granted an additional week in order to complete this investigation.

But once the police reports were released we found they had lied in court. All of the interviews had been completed with all verbal children prior to that first hearing!

What we find disturbing is that the CPS case worker’s report of his initial interview with the mother did not actually get documented in the computer until 12 days later. This would have been AFTER he had spoken with everyone. When we read his summary, our daughter stated that she had never said many of the things he documented. So after 12 days did he report what was actually said in the interview, or did he create a summary of what he believed was true based on all the information he had? This is why it is so important to have EVERY interview videotaped and released to the parties, including the parent’s attorney.

Your case was severance and adoption from the start. Can you share with us the allegations they were making against the parents?

While we agree the father should have been prohibited contact with the children until the investigation was completed, we did not agree with CPS keeping the children from the mother, the family or each other. The initial allegations against the mother to justify removing the children were bogus. They claimed:

  • Inadequate housing, even though the family lived in a 5 bedroom, 4 bathroom home.
  • Afraid the mother was home schooling, even though they removed the 5 school aged children from public school.
  • Inadequate food and clothing for the children, even though they had plenty of food and clothing in the home and none of the children were undernourished. In fact the foster family for the baby thought he weighed too much so they put him on a diet!
  • Failure to vaccinate the children, which is not illegal in Arizona.
  • Failure to protect, even though CPS was informed of the alleged abuse PRIOR TO the mother being told by the daughter and even then the daughter refused to disclose the information. CPS had far more knowledge of the allegations than the mother. To this date the daughter still refuses to tell the mother what happened.
  • And all of this was due to an underlying issue of drug abuse. Yet the drug test taken the day the children were removed was negative.

As we read through the documents we felt we were reading fiction. These CPS workers must hold a degree in creative writing! They certainly weren’t reporting the truth or facts.

Can you give us some examples of the fiction they were reporting?

The AAG was trying to paint a picture of the family based on lies and twisted half-truths. Every disclosure brought a new set of allegations. For instance:

  • They used prior unsubstantiated CPS calls to claim a history of abuse. You may not even be aware you have prior calls. You may have had one or more calls because of a ticked off neighbor or relative which was unsubstantiated. Keep in mind, unsubstantiated calls/reports are those calls or reports that have come in to CPS, where a case worker has investigated the case, which could include a home visit, and they could NOT prove the allegations against the parent. So the AAG and CPS are using these unproven calls against the parent in such a way to imply these allegations were true.
  • They used one referral, which never materialized, to claim that CPS had previously provided the family with all the services they could and therefore they were under no obligation to provide any more. The AAG even listed numerous classes that supposedly CPS had provided to the family, yet this documentation was never in any of their previous reports nor had they provided them with any of these classes.
  • They were using the mother’s learning disability as a reason to justify their claim that she could not parent. The AAG even had the nerve to state that the mother “after all these years failed to fix her disability.”

If learning disabilities are somehow “fixable” then you would think the child’s education and school district would somehow play an important role in fixing the disability. Ironically, the superintendent of schools at the time our daughter was in school was Tom Horne. And it is now Tom Horne’s office that is claiming our daughter didn’t “fix” her disability.

  • They used the children’s learning disabilities against the parents and claimed it was the school that had to initiate services when in fact it was the parents that requested testing and services.
  • They claimed snakes and rats/mice were living under the house and CPS was concerned about them getting in the home. The family at the time was living in the country in a mobile home, and I don’t think people can control nature. Maybe they expected the family to put up “No snakes, rats or mice” signs! However, apparently they have no understanding of nature because snakes, rats and mice won’t live together, not if you understand what snakes eat.
  • They claimed the parents had “fled the county” during a previous CPS encounter. Yet it was in their own records that the parents informed the CPS case worker they were moving and where they were going. “Fleeing” implies you do so without informing anyone, not announcing it to everyone.
But here is one prime example of how the AAG used the information in a previous CPS call and exaggerated it.

The oldest son had gotten on his father’s motorcycle even though he had been told not to. In the process he received a small burn from the hot exhaust pipe. Around this time the son also received a spanking with a belt intended for his clothed behind. But the son moved and the belt hit is leg, leaving a small red mark. The son decided to report the incident to the school nurse. This resulted in a CPS call and the referral for services that never took place.

So now 8 years later this incident is being reported by the AAG as “an on-going history of severe beating and burning” by the father against two of the children, while the mother was aware and did nothing to protect the children.

Their own reports didn’t justify these accusations by the AAG, but they still wrote them anyway. And for anyone interested, this incident was brought up in court during a hearing and the AAG and CPS had to admit in court that based on the legal definition of abuse in the state of Arizona, this incident was NOT abuse! Yet it continued to appear in the AAG’s court motions, even after it was determined in court not to be abuse.

So is there anything the family can do to dispute these false claims?

Yes, but you have to be willing to put in the effort.

Every time we read another report, motion or disclosure was another reminder of how out of control the agency really is. They kept stating the same lies over and over as if by putting them in documents it would somehow make it true. But NO ONE would listen to us! They all assumed that because CPS put it in writing it had to be true. We just wanted someone to listen and actually read the documents, someone who would be unbiased, and someone that might be able to see how the lies were being perpetuated to meet the agenda of CPS. But we could find no one. So we knew we had to prove it ourselves.

When the disclosure were made, the first motion/report CPS disclosed about the case had numerous falsehoods in it, and many of them could be proven with additional documentation or information within their own CPS files. We went to work to disprove the allegations against the mother.

  • Taking each statement we knew was false, we found the supporting documents, research, or information in CPS reports to discredit their claims.
  • We organized it and referenced each page and line on the CPS motion to make it clear what allegations we were disputing.
  • We then submitted this research to the attorney.
  • It took us about 9 hours to complete the 12 page report, but it helped save the attorney time and the majority of the report was submitted to the court in the attorney’s rebuttal.

We separated the mother’s allegations from the fathers. The abuse allegations were against the father only. They alleged “failure to protect” against the mother. This is why it is important to try each parent separately as they may not be equally at fault in the case, especially when the case plan is severance and adoption.

The father’s attorney wanted to do the same for his case but he never took the time or effort to get it done. The father and his resources also didn’t get it done. So it is important for you to put in the time and effort to get things done to help YOUR case.

This is also where your prior documentation of the case as you went along comes in handy. CPS may claim you failed to show for meetings, visits, testing…whatever suits their case. But your documentation will be important to disprove their allegations.

You have a right to see the motions and documents from CPS and the AAG. Many attorney’s are reluctant to share these with their clients, but we found by being able to actually read the motions and allegations (even though it may make you frustrated or angry) we were better equipped to assist our attorney in the defense. I would especially recommend getting these documents if you have a court appointed attorney.

What else can the family do?

If the extended family does not have custody of the children then file the appeals. If you cannot get your interview on the appeal, contact your legislators. Document everyone you speak with, when you talked to them and the results of those conversations.

Remember, there is no guarantee how the case is going to turn out. If you can get your children with family they will be more likely able to adopt them if severance is the final outcome. Depending on what the recommendations and court orders are in your case at this time will determine what you need to do.

  • If visitation with your children is ordered make sure you show up for each and every visit and be prepared with appropriate snacks/food, supplies and activities for the children. Far too many parents lose custody because they don’t even show up for visitation!
  • If therapy is ordered make sure you attend all the evaluations, intakes and therapy sessions and be engaged. You have to prove to the therapist that you want your children and can care for them.
  • If there are other issues in the case that need to be addressed don’t wait for a court order. Seek community resources.
  • If there are housing issues, take care of them.
  • If there is a substance abuse issue, find treatment. The court will order treatment at some time during a reunification case, but if you can get started and show you are serious you increase your chances of getting your children back.
  • Parenting classes are generally a given in most cases. We had an extremely difficult time finding classes that were free to the public without a court order. However, we did find two resources that offered classes and other services – Family Resource Center and Family Involvement Center. Both of these are listed on our website under “Listings”.
  • If you have a no contact order take it seriously. They can and will at some point subpoena phone records, emails, or other records to attempt to show you have violated this order.
  • Keep contact with your attorney and do not miss any hearings! Dress appropriately for court, be on time, sign in when you get there, and listen to your attorney. Court is not the time to argue with your attorney about the case.

Can you share with us one thing you did that you think made a difference in your case?

Get yourself organized! Far too many of us are dealing with every day issues that we don’t have time to get ourselves organized. Organization will help your case.

I’m putting together an article “Organizing for CPS Success” which will be posted under “Parental Resources” on our website. These are suggestions and if you have organizational skills put them to use. Other families we met who were involved in a CPS case shared their organizational ideas with us. They are included in the article.

Remember, you will be required to attend meetings, therapy sessions, educational classes, court hearings and other appointments. Anything you miss will be used against you in the case. You are also required to understand and be engaged in these activities. Your attorney will need information from you in order to prove your case. CPS will be asking you for information about your children and their education, especially if they have been identified as special education. By having this information organized you will be able to provide it quickly.

Our CPS case manager got a little ticked off when we could actually produce the information requested at different meetings. At first I think they believed they could trip the mother up, but after a short period of time when they saw the notebook they knew we would be ready to answer questions or provide documentation. In fact we were able to provide the document needed when CPS couldn’t. Eventually they had to admit the mother was organized and we believe this also helped the case.

We may be able to cover this in a future radio show, but we wanted to make sure the listeners had this information to help them immediately, especially if they are involved in a current case. It is never too late to get organized!

Next week’s show

Next week we will discuss placement options for the children and the children’s rights while in foster care.

Maine Legislators Spar Over Judicial Appointee, Corruption in Family Courts

maine[1]CONNECTICUT, May 9, 2014 – Maine legislators have called for a review of the State’s family courts following the complaints of parents dismayed by the news of the recent promotion of family court Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz to the position of Deputy Chief Judge of the Maine Districts Courts.  Legislators say the appointment comes as a shock to many members of the public, who consider Judge Moskowitz “the least likely candidate” for appointment to this very important, pivotal office within the Judicial Branch operations.

Judge Moskowitz is one of 4 family court judges about whom we consistently hear significant complaints from users of his court, victims of his actions,” said Senator David E. Dutremble (D-Biddeford) last Friday in an an email that was addressed to several dozen of his legislative colleagues, as well as many other members of State and Federal law enforcement units. Dutremble, a divorced father of five children whose father was a local sheriff, currently sits on the State Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

“Who was party to making this decision?  Why was he chosen over other candidates?  What was the objective basis for choosing him in terms of knowledge, skill and experience leading to this decision?”

While some of Maine’s leaders and taxpayers have called for a top to bottom investigation into the way the State’s Judicial Branch does business, others say other State officials are fighting just as hard to snuff out these concerns and conceal evidence of Moskowitz’s misconduct.”

According to recent media reports, Maine’s Judicial Branch leaders and the State’s Attorney General Janet Mills may be [at best] asleep at the wheel when it comes to addressing the concerns of Maine’s taxpayers and legislators over corruption in the State’s family courts. Last week, Maine’s Attorney General and Mary Ann Lynch, a spokesperson for the Judicial Branch, defended Moskowitz in the Portland Press Herald.

Lynch told the Press Herald that she was “unaware of any formal complaints against Moskowitz or any other judge,” nor the reasons why the State’s judicial oversight authority has never chosen to take any action against Moskowitz in response to prior complaints filed by Maine consumers.

Last Friday, Representative Dutremble and Representative Lisa Villa (D-Harrison) attended a public forum in South Portland where over 40 parents recounted horror stories about their experiences in Maine’s family courts. According to Michael Doyle, editor of Falmouth Today, the hearing was long overdue, which is why he secured the attendance of the local Community Access Television to broadcast the public meeting.

Following the hearing, Doyle made an open records request seeking copies of the tapes, which Doyle says contain footage of dozens of Maine consumers who have been “broken, bankrupted and destroyed by the train wreck that is Maine’s family courts” airing complaints about Maine’s courts, specifically concerning Judge Moskowitz.

In a strange twist of events, Doyle says that this week Representative Villa went to South Portland Town Hall and successfully obtained all of the copies of the Community Television tapes of the Open Forum on Maine Judges to prevent the forum from being aired. In response, Doyle immediately went to court and sought unsuccessfully to obtain a protection order preventing Villa from further concealing the public records from disclosure, or possibly tampering with or destroying the record’s integrity.

“Justice Thomas Humphrey refuses to sign an Emergency Restraining Order to protect an original video of highly critical comments about fellow Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz,” says Doyle, who is outraged at the lack of systemic transparency in what he says is nothing short of a climate of corrupt cronyism and intimidation in Maine’s courts.

“This is simply another case where one Maine judge protects another from what I believe are the public’s honest and accurate criticisms concerning instances where that judge has violated the law, and may have violated a few open records laws himself during that process.”

Read more at: Maine Legislators Spar Over Judicial Appointee, Corruption in Family Courts

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