By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Where is Joy Johnson? The little "Wednesday's Child," whose thwarted adoption was profiled in last week's New Times, has been moved to Oklahoma by her current foster parents.
The couple who had wanted to adopt her are now asking, is this the "stability" the Arizona Department of Economic Security promised for the child when it fought to leave her in foster care, instead of returning her to their home?
Pauline and Cedric Johnson had Joy in their home for seven months before DES pulled the child out, claiming the couple no longer wanted her. The Johnsons fought back, claiming DES soured the adoption by failing to provide therapy to help Joy overcome the abuse that had blighted her early life. The Johnsons went to court, attempting to regain custody and complete the adoption--an unsuccessful process that took over five months and was concluded in August.
DES insisted in Maricopa County Juvenile Court that the four-year-old child, who had been moved at least six or seven times since becoming a ward of the state when she was fourteen months old, needed stability above all. To return the child to her adoptive home would be just one more disruption, DES argued, noting Joy was finally receiving therapy. Maricopa County Juvenile Court Judge Pro Tem Thomas Jacobs was persuaded by agency claims and ruled in its favor, saying, "Risking the unknown as opposed to continuing the present known situation is not . . . consistent with common sense."
What the judge wasn't told by DES is that the agency was about to wipe out what little stability existed in Joy's life.
Within weeks--possibly within days--of the judge's decision, DES officials approved a request by the foster parents to take Joy with them when they moved away from Arizona, New Times has learned.
The Johnsons are outraged at the agency's action. "How are they going to oversee Joy's welfare when she doesn't even live in the state?" asks Pauline Johnson. "How can they allow her counseling and therapy to be disrupted this way?"
The child is in the Oklahoma City area where, her foster parents tell New Times, DES has approved their request to adopt her. According to sources close to DES, the foster parents have moved at least twice since leaving Arizona in August or September.
It is unclear if the move was approved by the Juvenile Court, which is supposed to authorize such transfers in advance. And Oklahoma child-welfare authorities, who are supposed to provide "courtesy supervision" of the child in her new home, say they have no record of the child or her foster parents.
DES officials refuse to comment on Joy's whereabouts, citing state confidentiality laws. The agency-approved changes, however, contrast starkly with representations DES made to the court in early August.
Judge Jacobs says he cannot comment on the case or confirm or deny that he was aware of the child's move, but he says, "Any intentional withholding of information would be of concern to the court. That's why cases are brought back before the court because there's been a major change of circumstance."
The Johnsons attempted to adopt the child after seeing her on the "Wednesday's Child" television segment. DES officials, who happily united the Johnsons with Joy in August 1988, removed the child in March, claiming the couple no longer wanted her and were not prepared to raise a troubled child. The Johnsons say they had appealed to DES to get help for Joy during most of the seven months she lived with them, but the agency did not provide counseling for the child until after she had been removed from their home.
In August, DES told the court that the foster family met DES licensing requirements and offered a stable environment. The foster parents were "very motivated" to help with the child's therapy, said her counselor, Phoenix psychologist Sheryl W. Harrison.
DES assistant director Marsha Porter acknowledges that it is unusual for Arizona to maintain foster-care placements outside the state, but says it sometimes is done if the agency's plan is to have the child adopted, or kept long-term, by the foster parents. She asserts that several safeguards exist to prevent the state from losing track of a child.
"If the move were to be for more than thirty days, it would be done with the court's prior approval," Porter says. "The move would be recorded through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children and must be approved by the receiving state. DES would maintain jurisdiction but the receiving state would provide courtesy supervision and file reports with us."
It is unclear, however, if either the Maricopa County Juvenile Court or Oklahoma child-welfare authorities are aware of Joy's move. The Johnsons, who are legally entitled to receive all court documents relating to this case, say they've seen none indicating the court was aware of the move or had approved it. New Times questioned Judge Jacobs about the possibility that the court could have approved it without the Johnsons being informed. The judge again refused to discuss the case, saying only "the Attorney General's Office [which represents DES] knows the law on out-of-state travel and knows who needs to receive notification in connection with cases before the court."