A single father whose parental rights were wrongly terminated won an appeal against the Arizona Department of Child Safety based on the agency falsifying evidence and interfering with the reunification process.
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According to AZCentral.com, the mother of the child had her rights terminated shortly after birth in 2015. The father, known in court documents as Donald W., immediately petitioned for custody from his home in California. Instead, the child, Melody, was placed with a foster parent in Arizona as DCS manufactured allegations of neglect and abandonment to keep the child in state care.
Attorney General, Judges and DCS Under Fire
While the initial report turned in to the Arizona court concluded Donald W. was guilty of abandonment and neglect, no one had interviewed him. The case highlights a lack of checks and balances within the system. The Attorney General’s office accepted the false allegations as fact without any evidence to back them up, as did the judges overseeing the case in juvenile court.
DCS Seeks to Terminate Father’s Rights, Round One
We’ve talked before about establishing a bond with your child whether or not you’re able to spend time together. Donald W.’s efforts aren’t just keeping his daughter in his life. They’re helping him prove DCS is corrupt.
Fifteen months after Donald W.’s daughter entered care, DCS attempted to terminate his rights, claiming abandonment. This was despite Donald W. using what money he had to visit Melody a state away. With the help of her foster mother, he also regularly exchanged photos and shared videos with his daughter. He was actively trying to reunite with his child.
It’s unclear whether the agency interviewed Melody’s foster mother at all before filing or if the woman possibly gave them bad information. While she wants to adopt the girl, according to AZCentral.com, father and foster mom have maintained a good relationship.
Meanwhile, California’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigated Donald W.’s relationships with his other children, to glowing reviews! According to court documents:
“The ICPC noted:Father’s ex-wife stated “[he] was a good father, who cares and provides for his children”; it was “obvious that [his children] feel loved and cared for by their father and that he is very involved in their lives”;Father’s references “all stated that [he] is an excellent parent to his children”; and the ICPC caseworker observed “it appears that he has a positive relationship with his children and they look to him for attention and affection.” The case manager testified that “[Melody] does do well during scheduled visits with Father.” Dr. Oakley reported that she saw no “obvious risks” with his parenting, Father likely had the skills to be an adequate parent, he appeared to care for Melody, he was appropriate with her, and Father seemed to be bonded to her.”
The judge in the case denied the petition to terminate his rights and established a reunification schedule to help father and daughter bond more closely before releasing her from state care.
DSC Seeks to Terminate Father’s Rights, Round Two
Instead of working to help reunite this family, as planned and instructed, Arizona DCS pushed for termination again. The father hadn’t been making regular trips, they said. It was obvious the child was abandoned. Again, this information might have come from the foster parent, but the outcome is serious enough for social workers to require some proof before assuming these kinds of claims are the truth.
During a review by the Foster Care Review Board, neither the social worker involved in the case nor her supervisor showed up to answer questions, as reported by AZCentral.com. And in court, when the judge asked the social worker why transportation assistance hadn’t been made available to the father for him to come visit Melody, or why Melody had not been sent to him to visit (both of which Arizona provides), the social worker claimed she wasn’t aware of such a program.
The judge in the case denied the petition to terminate the father’s rights and instructed DCS to provide him with the transportation assistance needed to bond with his child.
DCS Fails to Offer Assistance and Files for Termination, Round Three
Once again, instead of providing Donald W. with the help ordered, DCS drew proceedings out by filing for the ability to reimburse him for expenses instead of paying for his transportation. Then, when the dad began making the trips, reimbursement was delayed.
Six months after their last petition, DCS sought to end his rights a third time, again claiming abandonment. This time, not only did they criticize the dad’s efforts to visit Melody but they lied and said he also hadn’t made contact by phone either.
With a new set of judges on the case, who once again blindly believed DCS instead of requiring proof, the court terminated Donald W.’s rights.
Super Hero Dad Refuses to Back Down
If you don’t think Donald W. filed an appeal the second the courts released that decision, you haven’t been paying attention. This is one champ of a dad who is determined to keep up the good fight.
The appeal postponed adoption proceedings long enough for Appeals court Judge Paul J. McMurdie to comb through the case, starting at the first filing in July 2015. What he found was appalling. The agency repeatedly misled the courts and actively worked against reunification. Judge McMurdie vacated the order terminating Donald’s parental rights, and sent the case back to juvenile court where, hopefully, this time they will get it right.
Working Together to Make It Stop
We wrote last week about foster adoption and how single fathers have new paths to parenthood. Unfortunately, heartache is a risk whether you’re a birth parent, a step-parent, a foster or adoptive parent, or just a friend of the family a child has claimed as their own. While Donald W. and his daughter were kept apart, there is also a foster parent who took this child in at birth and raised her for four years thinking she would be her daughter.
When DCS is allowed to lie and run amok unchecked, families get torn apart. Talk to your legislators to ensure checks and balances are in place to prevent these tragedies from happening in your area.