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November 16th, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The article Father sues CSB in death of child (Youngstown News, 11/8/11) highlights what appears to be another example of child welfare agencies preferring foster care over father care. Would little Tiffany Cross be alive today if Trumbull County Children’s Services had been less eager to cut her father out of her life?

Back in November of 2008, Thomas Cross had his parental rights to his daughter, Tiffany Cross terminated at the request of Trumbull County (Ohio) Children’s Services.  Tiffany was 15 months old.  We don’t know just why his rights were terminated, nor do we know where the girl’s mother was at the time.

What we do know is that Cross couldn’t afford a lawyer to represent him in his bid to maintain rights to his daughter.  He also wasn’t informed of his right to have counsel appointed for him.  Obviously, having an attorney to represent him might have made all the difference in the world to keeping or losing his daughter.

Whatever might have happened, we know what did happen.  Children’s services made sure Cross lost his daughter who, five months later, lost her life in foster care.

Tiffany Banks Cross was 20 months old when her foster mother, Bonnie Pattinson, 30, carried her to a neighbor’s house April 2, 2009, because the girl was not breathing. The girl later was pronounced dead…

The coroner ruled that the girl died of asphyxiation, and a county prosecutor said there were marks on the child’s neck consistent with the rings Pattinson was wearing.

Pattinson was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to serve nine years in the penitentiary.

More importantly, according to Cross, Trumbull County Children’s Services knew that Tiffany was in danger in Pattinson’s “care.”  Cross had supervised vistiation with his child for a time and so was in a position to know how she was faring.  He’s sued the child welfare agency for ignoring reports he himself made about the conditions in which his child was living.

In the lawsuit filed by Boardman lawyer David Engler, Cross said he warned children services that the girl might be in danger, telling children services he saw bruising on her and dog hair in her baby formula.

Cross’ lawsuit claims the child had multiple bruising, both old and recent, on her body when she died.  The county coroner disputes that saying the only indication of injury was what killed the little girl.  The coroner’s report suggests strangulation.

I’ll take a guess at what happened in this case:  I’ll say that Cross and Tiffany’s mother were never married, and that she played the part of single mother most of the time.  Somehow she lost her parental rights early on, possibly at the outset due to drug or alcohol problems or prior child abuse.  After all, she’s out of the picture by the time Tiffany was 15 months old.  She kept Cross out of the child’s life for the most part, although he made some efforts to be with the girl.  With the mother out of the way, children’s services made the argument to the judge that Cross had essentially “abandoned” the child by “failing” to be more of a hands-on dad.  He didn’t have a lawyer to represent him, so he was unable to effectively assert his rights and the child was whisked into the “care” of Bonnie Pattinson.

Would Tiffany Cross be alive today if Trumbull County Children’s Services had been less eager to cut her father out of her life?  We’ll never know.  But the pattern of child welfare agencies across the country is to bypass fathers when children are taken from single mothers.  That’s the express finding of a study done by the Urban Institute entitled “What About the Dads?”  Of course that practice by child welfare agencies is encouraged by massive federal funding for foster care.  The more children placed in foster care, the more money flows to the state.  That means the more children placed with dads, the less federal largess.

We’ll follow the case of Thomas and Tiffany Cross.  It’s not the first time a child welfare agency has been sued because it kept a child from its father with horrible consequences.  Sadly, it won’t be the last, either.

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