Eleven months ago, an Arizona court terminated the parental rights of a California father who, known to the AZ Department of Children and Families, the AZ Attorney General’s Office and at least one judge in the case, had been described by California authorities this way:
California’s child-welfare investigators, asked by DCS to check him out, gave the man a glowing report. His ex-wife called him “a good father, who cares and provides for his children.” A California social worker wrote that it “is obvious that (the children) feel loved and cared for by their father and that he is very involved in their lives.” (AZ Central, 5/29/19)The child’s mother didn’t want the father to have custody of her and neither did the state Department of Child Safety. The scheme nearly worked. It may yet. For now though, an Arizona appellate court has overturned the termination of rights and excoriated caseworkers, the Attorney General’s Office and the judge.
The father and the mother of the little girl named Melody had a brief affair in Sacramento. While pregnant, the mother moved back to her native Arizona. That was in 2014. The man told her that he wanted to play an active paternal role. Mom was apparently unfit to care for the child who was taken from her by DCS immediately after birth.
But DCS wasn’t interested in doing either the right thing or the simple thing. That would have meant ascertaining whether the father, who’d called the agency and told them he wanted to care for his child, was fit and willing to do so and, if he was, handing her over to him. Case closed.
But the agency that has routinely (and rightly) complained in the past about having too little money and too few caseworkers wasted both in its headlong effort to deprive a child of her father and a father of his daughter. If that meant lying to multiple courts, the caseworkers were happy to do so. If it meant placing obstacles between the father and Melody, they were willing. If it meant going to court to swear that Dad’s failure to clear those obstacles indicated his unfitness and abandonment of his child, that too was acceptable. DCS did all that and more.
The AG’s Office pitched in too as did juvenile court judges.
[Appellate Judge Paul] McMurdie also questioned the ethics of the Attorney General’s Office, which represents DCS, for even filing the dependency petition given that there was no evidence that the father was unfit.
"The lack of factual support for the allegations in the petition relating to Father’s unfitness creates significant concerns about the ethical propriety of filing the dependency petition claiming Father abused or neglected and abandoned Melody,” he wrote.
He also dinged the judges for rubber stamping a “baseless dependency petition” and severing a father's rights with no evidence to support DCS's claims.
“The petition’s generic assertions failed to support the conclusion that an out-of-state parent – seeking to establish paternity of a less than one-month-old child, who has been in DCS custody since birth – abused, neglected, or abandoned the child… ,” he wrote. “Moreover, the record is devoid of any evidence supporting the unfitness allegations in the petition, a fact DCS acknowledged at oral argument before this court.”The case and the child are now over four years old. Melody has been with her foster parents for almost all that time. She doubtless thinks of them as her parents but, solely because of DCS’s determination to wrongfully keep her father out of her life, will be forced at this late date to forget them and look to her father for her care.
In short, a child welfare agency is guilty of gross child abuse. By doing everything in their power to thwart a fit father in his quest to assert his rights and his daughter’s welfare, DCS and the rest have damaged an innocent child, quite possibly permanently.
Antipathy for fathers is a well-known phenomenon among CPS caseworkers nationwide. Back in 2006, the Urban Institute studied caseworker behavior and found that, in barely half of cases in which a child was taken from its mother was any attempt made to even contact the father. One Ninth Circuit opinion held that the failure to do so is a violation of the father’s civil rights.
Of course the Maricopa County caseworkers couldn’t very well avoid contacting Melody’s father. He’d made that impossible by contacting them and following their every instruction. Still, it took over four years for him to overcome their recalcitrance in court.
The case is far from over. Just because a court has overturned the order terminating the father’s rights doesn’t end things. After all, the lower court will likely order a transition period during which Melody spends more and more time with her dad and less with her foster parents. How long that will go on is anyone’s guess as well as whatever new impediments will be dreamed up by DCS authorities who will be none too pleased to have been shamed by the appellate court.