A three year old girl met her father for the first time this past Wednesday. Little Maria Ramirez was united with her father, Jesus Ramirez in his home town of Salamanca, in central Mexico. That ends a case in which the Idaho Supreme Court earned its stripes for standing up for the rights of fathers and children against the depredations of the state’s Department of Health and Welfare that was bent on having the girl adopted.
I first wrote about the case here. And here’s a follow-up piece (ABC News, 8/24/12).
Jesus Ramirez, like so many people from Mexico and Central America, came to the United States illegally in search of work. That was in 2007. He found work and met and married an Idaho woman. His wife became pregnant, but Ramirez was caught and deported to Mexico. Maria was born, and Ramirez was determined to return to Idaho and care for his daughter. He tried again, was caught in Arizona and deported again. Soon, Maria was taken from her mother by the Department of Health and Welfare due to abuse and neglect. Caseworkers put in place a 12-month plan to reunite mother and daughter, but the mother never completed the plan, so, in the time-honored tradition of every child welfare agency, Idaho DHW decided to bypass the father and place Maria for adoption.
That was despite the fact that Ramirez had contacted the department asserting his rights. As I’ve pointed out many times before, the Urban Institute did a study showing that in over half of the cases in which a child is taken from a mother and the agency knows who the father is, no effort is made to contact him as a possible placement for the child. As of 2009, that constitutes a violation of civil rights law in all states covered by the federal Ninth Circuit, of which Idaho is one. So, from the start, the DHW’s behavior apparently violated federal civil rights law as that law is interpreted by the Ninth Circuit.
So Ramirez hired a lawyer and the local Mexican consul got involved to win back his child from the clutches of a state agency that’s paid to look out for children’s welfare. In the meantime, Ramirez went to social workers in Mexico and had himself evaluated as a parent. He has no criminal history in Mexico and was ruled a good and loving father who’s fully capable of caring for his child.
All that notwithstanding, the Idaho lower court ruled against him, but in the process, developed an interesting fact. The foster parents attempting to adopt Maria just happened to work for – can you guess? – the Department of Health and Welfare. That’s right, the department just happened to oppose unification of father and child in favor of adoption by parents who just happened to work for the department. Funny how it worked out that way. You could almost say that the department trafficked a child for the purpose of adoption.
Traffic a child? A state agency? I know what you’re thinking – “no way they’d do that!” But think again. That old devil Federal Money is driving the child welfare bus. For every child taken into care, there’s a fat check – thousands of dollars – coming to the state from Washington. Now, supposedly, the state has to match what Washington pays, so theoretically, it’s a wash. But, as this article I did back last October shows, in fact the state of South Dakota gets about three dollars from the feds for every dollar it spends itself on children taken into care. Is Idaho any different? If they are, it’s their loss, and someone isn’t doing his/her job. Just look at how the former chairman of the South Dakota Senate Appropriations Committee described what happened when federal funds started flowing to that state for kids taken into care:
He says he remembers when the state first saw the large amounts of money the federal government was sending the Department of Social Services in the late 1990s.
“When that money came down the pike, it was huge,” Napoli says. “That’s when we saw a real influx of kids being taken out of families.”
He said there was little lawmakers could do to rein in the department. This was federal money, and it went straight to social services.
“I’m sure they were trying to answer a public perception of a problem,” he said. “And then slowly it grew to a point where they had so much power that no one — no one — could question what they were doing. Is that a recipe for a bureaucracy that’s totally out of control? I would say so.” (emphasis mine)Whatever the case, the Idaho Supreme Court smelled a rat.
“It makes one wonder whether the real reason for seeking termination of (the) father’s parental rights is the fact that a department employee wanted to adopt (the) daughter,” said Justice Daniel Eismann, who authored the court’s unanimous opinion.Indeed it does. To its great credit, the Idaho Supreme Court saw the injustice that was being perpetrated by state officials in clear violation of Ramirez’s rights, and rectified it. It ordered the adoption stopped, the father’s rights reinstated and the child handed over to him. It’s that rare example of the courts standing up for the legitimate rights of fathers and children.
Now, I’m sure there are readers who will say “True, but what about the child’s welfare? She’s been taken from the only parents she’s ever known. Surely that’s disturbing to her.”
It likely is. But there are many things wrong with that argument. First, who caused the trauma to the child? Who, even though they knew about the father and that he was fit to care for his child, decided to cut him out of his child’s life by the exercise of sheer, arbitrary power? That’s right, the Department of Health and Welfare could have handed the little girl over to her father at any time, from the day it terminated the mother’s rights onward. But it didn’t. Second, and equally important, if the Supreme Court had let them get away with child theft in this case, why not others? As the Urban Institute showed years ago, it’s common practice by child welfare agencies to ignore fathers’ rights to their children and children’s rights to their fathers. Third, why should a court allow a state agency to violate the law for the sole purpose of placing a child for adoption who doesn’t need to be adopted? After all, there are over four times the number of children in the United States needing adoption than there are adoptive parents. Qualified adoptive parents are a scarce resource, so why use them on children who already have a fit father who wants to care for them?
As we see all too seldom when it comes to fathers and children, a court did the right thing and a child was united with her father.