US Adoption Law Tears Family Apart
United States citizens who are naïve to the ways of the Child Protective System and the courts, or perhaps not wealthy or connected, may inadvertently find themselves subjected to a nightmare. Many entities profit from the time a child first enters the “system”. What are some of the techniques CPS and the courts use, why does nobody hear about this problem and what is the outcome for the children and their families? Below is one family’s encounter with CPS.
Clayton, MO (PRWEB) October 23, 2004 -- In 1999, Sonja De Vivo’s parental rights to her daughter Alexandra were terminated. The state of Missouri severed all contact between her youngest daughter and the rest of the family, including Alexandra’s older brother and sister.
De Vivo said, “Alexandra was removed from the custody of my ex-husband after he admitted to ‘unspeakable acts’ ”. Despite her mother’s pleas, Alexandra was not returned to her care but kept in foster care.
Why was Alexandra not given to her mother after being removed from her father’s care? “They accused me of not protecting her once her father openly admitted to his wrongful and inappropriate acts. But it was them who gave her father custody after he made many calls to the hotline with false reports of abuse. He knew just how to do it, make the calls and then go immediately afterwards and get a restraining order. The calls were made sometimes one right after another with different and multiple claims of wrongdoing that were fabricated. Since they gave him custody, how could I protect her?”
De Vivo agreed to every requirement placed on her, hoping to get her daughter back. As time dragged on, she recounts: “It surprised me how often cancellations were made. Both attorneys from both sides canceled and rescheduled, the judge canceled and rescheduled, the guardian ad litum (GAL) canceled and rescheduled. Everybody participated in recommending adoption, not one person stood up for what was right. I have two older children and they didn’t seem to be at all concerned about leaving them in my care. I didn’t know then about the ‘time law’ that after 15 months in the system the parent’s rights may be terminated and the child adopted.”
The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act allows states to terminate parental rights and find an adoptive family if a child has been in foster care for 15 months or longer.
According to De Vivo: “I owned my own house when all this started. But the guardian ad litums both demanded pay and even though I made the payments within the time frame requested, following receipt of payment and unknown to me they both put a lien on my house. Because of all of the programs I was required to attend, the meetings, the counseling, the court appearances, I lost jobs and pay. With the resulting drop in finances, I had to sell my house. When I found a buyer, I discovered that there were liens on my house so I was unable to sell it, placing me into a position that would put me into foreclosure. I had to prove to the court the money was paid to get the GALs to release the liens.”
“I had completed all counseling and even went beyond the requirement. My counselor at the time told me that I was finished and really did not need to keep coming back and that she would do a telephone counsel with me if I wanted to. Later in the court room the GAL kept pressuring the counselor to say that I was not finished. She kept demanding and saying things to the effect that because Ms. De Vivo called you on the phone that she was not showing up for her counseling, correct? Then she would get the counselor to say ‘yes’ for the record and using that as a means to say I was not finished.”
“They all knew what questions would be asked in court and each individual had set up situations to create a story for their testimony. No one prepared me for what would happen and the questions they would ask in court.”
“The transcripts state how impressed the counselors were with how well my daughter’s father and I got along and there is no proof of arguing between us. Yet the testimony in court was that we could not resolve our differences and no progress had been made. The statement that I was unable to set age-appropriate boundaries and meet the behavioral and emotional needs of my daughter was made based on testimony by the social worker that she didn’t believe I knew my daughter, by then 5 years old, was to begin kindergarten. Of course I know what age a child goes to kindergarten.”
“After it was all over, the termination papers stated that there was no evidence that the mother has abused any child that she has in her custody or the child in the court’s custody, there was no evidence of drug abuse, there is no evidence that any other person did anything wrong that the mother knew about or should have know about. They proved only one thing I had actually done wrong: One late child support payment for the foster care. But all the money had been paid in full.”
“I was later told that $4000 went to the governor’s pool treasury when my daughter was adopted.”
The $4000 De Vivo is referring to is a federal incentive provided to get children adopted out of foster care. The 1997 Adoptions and Safe Families Act provides a $4,000 bonus for each child placed in an adoptive home, and an additional $2,000 for a "special needs” child. On Dec. 2, 2003 President Bush signed legislation increasing the bonus by $4,000 for children adopted at age 9 or older.
Said De Vivo: “I’m not sure the bonus was their only incentive. They were making money off her anyway while she was in foster care.”
“When I told the Judge that the guardian placed a lien on my house, I remember looking at one of the guardians and her beginning to laugh about it. A sheriff that sits in the back of the court room in a corner raised a newspaper above his face while he was uncontrollably snickering and laughing. My impression was that he was so amused by how ridiculous the testimonies of the social worker and the CASA Worker were. The social worker committed perjury under oath while the Judge clipped his nails and allowed her to continue on to terminate my rights. She lied about and admitted lying about ‘who told her what to do’ but she did say that that person is in Jefferson City. It may be a coincidence, but Jefferson City is where our governor is.”
De Vivo has tried contacting the press repeatedly in the years since. She says: “This is the least talked about subject in the news. I hear the head of social services once in a while on the radio present their side of the story but do you ever hear a mother on there, or a parent?”
When De Vivo attempted to contact the governor her call was forwarded to social services.
It has long been known that separation from family has ill-effects on children.
In “Uphold Rights of Parent and Child” published in The Child, Vol 13, No. 2, August 1948, Inez M. Baker (Parish Supervisor, Children’s Division, Orleans Parish Department of Public Welfare, Louisiana) wrote this: “Except in the rarest cases of physical danger we might go so far as to say that no home is better than (a child’s) own. It is our responsibility to help him use it….We know what separation means to children; that it is akin to death and carries with it anger , disillusionment, despair and a deep sense of ‘badness’ ”.
The effect on children separated from adopted-out siblings is rarely publicized. De Vivo recounts: “I think it is even worse for the kids than for the adults. My son Jacob, a close sibling to his youngest sister, often spoke of how he was going to take care of his sister when she started kindergarten, but they never returned her. I think he suffered deeply. He sat on the couch and cried about it, now I think its just grown into a silent anger that he holds within. He does talk about it, but the only thing he will really say is ‘they lied’ the courts made stories up. He still asks ‘Mom are you going back to court and are the courts going to give her back?’ All I can say is I am trying.”
The internet is full of information and books on how to handle social services, family rights and children’s rights contacts in various states, what to do when Child Protective Services comes to your door, how to fight false allegations and restraining orders, how to find the right lawyer or defend yourself, how to prepare children in advance for their own protection.
Association with one’s family is a human right. Being educated about the realities of the “system” might help you to retain that right.
Note: The names of the children have been changed for their protection.