We are seeking assistance in injustice and discrimination we were victim regarding the custody of our niece. This kinship custody dispute, which involves the Department of Children and Families in West Palm Beach, was mishandled by the 15th Circuit court. Please help us cry out for justice by signing this petition.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) took our niece into custody when she was 3 months old in August 2009. While the parents underwent investigations and trials with the possibility of reunion, DCF never contacted any relatives for possible placement. In December 2010, we approached the agency and requested that our niece be placed with us. DCF told us it was not known that there were any family members willing to care for the child and that she was in a medical foster home, but we assured the case manager that we loved our niece and wanted to have her placed with us. The same day, the case manager sets up a visit with us and the child. The foster mother seemed delighted that our niece had family and appeared eager for us to bond with the child. DCF then started the process of screening all family members in Palm Beach County where our niece resides before considering our petition. After seemingly endless calls, we were told that our “name was at the bottom of their list and that we needed to wait”. After reviewing and rejecting all the other relatives, the Children's Medical Services (CMS) signed off and we were allowed to visit with our niece several times, at the foster home, the park and the mall. She came twice for overnight visits (we live in a different county). DCF has held the case in limbo for four (4) years now. We were working with all the appropriate people to adopt our niece, and all parties seemed favor our adopting her. We had background checks administered and were approved in two home studies done by DCF, one in September 2011 for placement and the other for adoption. DCF stalled the case for no apparent reason and no explanation offered; we were just waiting for our niece to come home.
In April 2012 the judge made a decision to terminate the parental rights (TPR) of our niece’s biological parents. One of the clauses in that decision states, “It is not likely the she will remain in long-term foster care upon termination of the parental rights of the mother and father due to any emotional, medical, behavioral problems or any other special needs of the child. There is a relative out of county interested in adopting her that is being considered” (clause 36-D).
Following that TPR decision, the adoption agency representative who previously told us that no matter how long the child has been in foster care, we should have priority in adopting her, advised us to consider seeking legal assistance. The adoption supervisor told us that all of a sudden the foster mother, who had previously seemed so pleased that our niece might be reunited with us, wanted to adopt her as well. That same foster mother who once told us: “It was very comforting for me, to know that the child loves you and is well accepted and will fit right into your wonderful family.” During one of the overnight visits, the foster mother and her daughter went to church with us and confirmed we have a great support network. The foster mother told her daughter she cried during that service because “it was an overwhelming feeling knowing that the child will be home and she will be OK.”
Since then, we have retained a law firm to assist us in this matter, incurring many legal fees and other debts, over $22,000. In December 2012, the agencies decided in favor of the foster mother, giving our niece to her. According to a conversation we had with the foster mother, she informed us that DCF/GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) made the decision to give her our niece even before we approached the agency in December 2010. The foster mother stated she was asked to cooperate, allowing visits and everything. The adoption specialist who informed us of the outcome of the agency’s decision told us she "doesn't understand why they made that decision" and wished she handled our case from the beginning. We challenged the decision in January 2013. On March 21, a court hearing was held. The judge denied our request to speak, present evidence, or provide expert testimony to support our position, but allowed the government agencies (DCF, Child Net, GAL, CHS, etc.) to present their experts and witnesses. Our attorney was not even given the opportunity to cross-examine the state’s witnesses! I never thought that any judgment could be reached by listening to only one party’s side if the story. However, the judge later reviewed his decision, allowing our counsel limited input at the next hearing.
A hearing was scheduled on May 9, and then moved to May 30, 2013. THIS HEARING WAS A COMPLETE SHAM! A panel of 3 attorneys and a judge convened to have the agencies parade their witnesses and experts before them, while we were once again denied the right to present evidence, or provide our own witnesses. During that hearing, we learned that the agencies' vote had been close, (43 to 40), but a deciding factor was the length of time our niece had lived with the foster mother. This was especially troubling, because we had been trying to get our niece into our care for over 2 years! When we started actions to get our niece, she had been with the foster mother for only 1 year; all of this precious time had been wasted because of DCF.
The GAL representative, whom we only met once, said she was mostly concerned by the fact that we were not raised in the US and that they did not know if we had committed any crimes in our native country. The Foster Children Project testified that the foster mother is taking care of a 15/16 year old disabled male to whom our niece can relate because they have the same cultural background, and that he is the one my niece plays with most of the time. We were not allowed to speak of the great natural bond already built between my niece and her two 6-year-old cousins (my children) who are always asking us when their cousin will be home. It is utterly unjust to keep our niece away from us primarily on the basis of the bond she has with the foster mother, when she built this bond while we were kept away in spite of our efforts, complying with all requirements, for over 3 years.
We were told we could present witnesses in this hearing, but the only witnesses we would have are the same foster mother/DCF/GAL employees. That’s correct, we could only present the state’s own witnesses, upon whose testimony the court had based the decision we were fighting. While communicating with these state employees, we had many interactions with the case worker and the foster mother, but when we requested to depose the case worker (who expressed opinions that conflicted with the other witnesses), the request was denied.
After listening to all their witnesses, the panel allowed my wife to testify. This was a complete waste of time. The very first question our attorney asked after she stated her identification was her relationship with the child and she said, “She is my niece”, the judge sustained the chorus of objections. When our attorney tried to ask some factual questions, like from what time we started the process with DCF in December 2010, the judge refused to listen to her testimony and left the court room. Read that again; the judge got up and literally left the courtroom, lest he be exposed to the other side of the case.
After the attorney made some comments, the judge came back in the courtroom and both he and his panel of attorneys sustained all lines of questioning our attorney had presented and asked the parties to send him their recommendations. We knew we had been discriminated throughout the whole process but for those last three hours in that court room we were not feeling we were living in America.
We do not know what to do now. We believed the government agencies would work with relatives as a priority to transfer the cultural values, the heritage and love to the child, but the administration has not considered this in defiance of its own regulations! We believe that judgment should be rendered after a judge hears both sides of a story, but such justice was not applied in our case. We strongly believe we have been victims of injustice and discrimination. We do not have faith anymore in the judicial system of Palm Beach County and lack financial means to go forward. It will take us years to pay all the debts we have incurred already. The last time we called my niece, she broke my heart asking "I want to go home, I want to go to the mall, I want to go to merry-go-round."
We complied with all the Department requirements; so we demand that our niece be returned to us. This injustice costs us already over $22,000 of legal fees; we ask that those fees be reimbursed. We want to have this case heard before a court outside of Palm Beach County whose impartiality has proven to be measurably lacking. We further hope to have the Palm Beach County child welfare agencies and their judicial counterparts investigated for collusion and malfeasance.
Oh, HELP PLEASE!