In Dependency Court, a Judge Comes Face to Face with the Biggest Threat to Children – Their Moms and Dads

In reporting this series, New Times staff writer Paul Rubin spent months at the Maricopa County Juvenile Court in downtown Phoenix. He focused on the work of two Superior Court judges, Michael Kemp and Ronald Reinstein, and on their delinquency and dependency calendars, respectively. Delinquency Court judges hear cases about minors accused of committing crimes. Dependency Court judges hear cases about children who may have been abused or neglected and have the power to sever a parent's legal rights in so-called "dependency hearings," usually long after the child has become a "ward" of the state. Until July 1, 2008, Dependency Court was closed to the public. But Judge Reinstein, who since has retired from the bench, agreed before that date to allow New Times access to his courtroom, with the stipulation that no names or other identifying information be disclosed. Names of juveniles in these stories have been changed, except for those whose criminal cases were transferred to adult court."I'm adopted! I'm adopted!"

JUDGING JUVIES: Second in a series

Six-year-old Megan lets loose after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronald Reinstein tells her and her older sister, Jenna, that their foster parents have officially become Mom and Dad.

To emphasize that she really gets it, the youngster slowly spells out her new last name for all to hear.

The girls are dressed in their Sunday best, pretty bright dresses and shiny black shoes.

Their "new" parents, who are in their late 20s, beam with pride. They met at a Bible-study class for singles and, after getting married, took a stab at being foster parents before having their "own" kids.

They did not reckon they would fall so much in love with the sweet little girls, one of whom has significant medical problems.

The judge's courtroom in downtown Phoenix is empty but for the girls, their new parents, court personnel, attorneys, other advocates involved, and a reporter.

Legally, this courtroom is supposed to be closed to the public. But months before Megan and Jenna bounced into court, Judge Reinstein already had pulled back the curtain on a part of the legal system that long had been shrouded in secrecy.

He did so by allowing New Times to observe the proceedings in his courtroom, asking only that the newspaper not identify the children involved by their real names.

This is Dependency Court.

One of two prongs of the county's juvenile-justice system (the other is Delinquency Court), its judges consider abuse and neglect allegations made by state Child Protective Services against parents or guardians.

Federal law provides a broad definition of abuse and neglect as "any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

Unlike Delinquency Court, where judges try to sort out what is best for juveniles and for public safety, Dependency Court is all about the kids.

Its judges rule on whether children should stay in CPS custody after the agency removes them from their homes, and for how long. The children are put into shelters, group homes, or foster homes or, if possible, placed with "safe" family members.

Under Arizona law, the judges also may order severance of parental rights.

CPS had taken Megan and Jenna from their birth mother, Maggie, four years before this final adoption hearing, after a fire at her trailer home killed the girls' 7-year-old half-brother and injured another half-brother. (The girls' surviving half-brother and a half-sister were placed with different foster parents.)

The blaze ignited after Maggie and her sister, high on crack cocaine and meth­amphetamine, had left the premises, leaving the young boys alone.

Police reports said the fire probably was caused by burning drug paraphernalia.

The little sisters were with their mother during the fire.

Only one of the three men who had fathered Maggie's five children still was around. The other two were in parts unknown.

Maggie somehow evaded criminal prosecution for her young son's eminently preventable death.

Yet CPS caseworkers continued to list "family reunification" as its goal for the woman and her surviving children for several months after the fire.

Perhaps that should not have come as a surprise, as CPS policy and practice long have been to try to reunite parents with their children, if at all possible.

But some mothers and fathers clearly are not fit to safely parent their children.

One monumental task of a Dependency Court judge is to figure out which ones these are.

Over the fiscal year that ended June 30, there were 343 cases in Arizona in which the rights of parents were severed.

Maggie would have to negotiate an array of hurdles — drug testing, counseling, and other requirements — before CPS and Judge Reinstein would let her reunite with her surviving children.

She never did make the grade.

"It's so hard for parents to succeed in doing what they are ordered to do in dependency cases," the judge said later. "Trying to maintain a job and do all the other things is much more taxing than even being on probation for a crime. And when substance abuse is involved, it's a real uphill struggle."

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8 comments
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friedland_law_center

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Juvenile's Rights
Juvenile's Rights

This should give the public an idea of what is going on in the juvenile and family courts:

Editorial: Judges SentencedKids for cash

The setting is Pennsylvania coal country, but it's a story right out of Dickens' grim 19th-century landscape: Two of Luzerne County's most senior judges on Monday were accused of sending children to jail in return for kickbacks.

The judges, Luzerne County President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., 58, and his predecessor, Senior Judge Michael T. Conahan, 56, will serve seven years in jail under a plea agreement.

They're alleged to have pocketed $2.6 million in payments from juvenile detention center operators.

When a federal judge reviews their plea, though, the question ought to be whether the punishment is adequate - along with the judges being bounced from the bench, disbarred, and losing their pensions.

If the allegations are true, Ciavarella and Conahan were involved in a disgraceful cabal far worse than one that merely lined their pockets.First, the judges helped the detention centers land a county contract worth $58 million. Then their alleged scheme was to guarantee the operators a steady income by detaining juveniles, often on petty stuff.Many of the kids were railroaded, according to allegations lodged with the state Supreme Court last year by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group.

In asking the court to intervene in April, the law center cited hundreds of examples where teens accused of minor mischief were pressured to waive their right to lawyers, and then shipped to a detention center.One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online. Such unwarranted detentions left "both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized," center lawyers said.

"Very few people would stand up" to the Luzerne judges, according to the law center's executive director, Robert G. Schwartz.Fortunately, Juvenile Law Center was willing to do so, along with backing from state Attorney General Tom Corbett's office and the state Department of Public Welfare.

The blind justices on the state's high court, though, took a pass. Only last month, they offered no explanation in declining to take up the law center's request that the court step up.

Now, the state Supreme Court should revisit the issue, since the scope of corruption alleged at the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre could further undermine confidence in the courts statewide.Authorities need to redress running roughshod over juveniles' rights - a process also likely to bring damage suits. While the local district attorney pledges to "do our best to right the situation," this calls for an independent, outside review.

The two judges' downfall may have rooted out the worst perpetrators of this evil scheme, but the abuse of power alleged in Luzerne County is so startling that it should send shock waves for reform around the state court system.

Comment by Juvenile's Rights from East Valley on Feb 1st, 2009, 17:47 pm

Family Court Needs Independent
Family Court Needs Independent

This comment from above says it all --"Now if we can just get Paul Rubin to do a story on the cesspool that is "family court" in Maricopa County"

This destructive court needs independent investigation and the relationship of the judges to the county attorney's office and the use of the legal system, trumped up serious charges to throw the other spouse's life away, one step short of a gun. Family lawyers who get rewarded with Judge positions in the Family court and how they are linked to cases they handled. Those who abuse the family court system in this way should be given harsh mandatory sentencing like that the "other side" is facing. How many family court / child custody / child support cases end up with the other parent in jail / prison silenced for years and isolated from their children. The public is very uniformed about the abuses going on in the family court. The parent with the most money wins -- it's obvious why.

Follow the money, the pay-offs, the destruction to the children by vengeful spouses.

Keep up the great series, Paul, the family court needs it's own series. It's a place of destruction of families, the children's lives and the future of the society.

A parent
A parent

Now if we can just get Paul Rubin to do a story on the cesspool that is "family court" in Maricopa County.

Tom Mixx
Tom Mixx

An Inconvenient Truth about Child Protective Services, Foster care, and the Child Protection "INDUSTRY"

Child Protective Services Does not protect children...It is sickening how many children are subject to abuse, neglect and even killed at the hands of CPS.

every parent should read the free handbook fromconnecticut dcf watch...

http://www.connecticutdcfwatch...

Number of Cases per 100,000 children in the USThese numbers come from The National Center onChild Abuse and Neglect in Washington. (NCCAN)Recent numbers have increased significantly for CPS

Perpetrators of Maltreatment

Physical Abuse CPS/Foster care 160, biological Parents 59Sexual Abuse CPS/Foster care 112, biological Parents 13Neglect CPS/Foster care 410, biological Parents 241Medical Neglect CPS/Foster care 14 biological Parents 12Fatalities CPS/Foster care 6.4, biological Parents 1.5

Imagine that, 6.4 children die at the hands of the very agencies that are supposed to protect them and only 1.5 at the hands of parents per 100,000 children. CPS perpetrates more abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse and kills more children then parents in the United States. If the citizens of this country hold CPS to the same standards that they hold parents too. No judge should ever put another child in the hands of ANY government agency because CPS nationwide is guilty of more harm and death than any human being combined. CPS nationwide is guilty of more human rights violations and deaths of children then the homes from which they were removed. When are the judges going to wake up and see that they are sending children to their death and a life of abuse when children are removed from safe homes based on the mere opinion of a bunch of social workers.

THIS IS AMERICA'S HIDDEN HOLOCAUST

Currently Child Protective Services violates more constitutionally guaranteed liberties & civil rights on a daily basis then all other agencies combined, Including the National Security agency/Central intelligence agency wiretaping programs�

"It is the closest agency we have to the Gestapo in our society."-District Judge R. Darryl Mazur

THE CORRUPT BUSINESS OF CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICESBY: Nancy Schaefer Senator, 50th District of Georgia

http://www.senatornancyschaefe...

The Business of Child Stealing in Florida

http://www.nolanchart.com/arti...

This is Child Protection?By Gregory A. Hession, J.D.

http://www.accessmylibrary.com...

Mercenary Motherhood: "Memoirs of a Babystealer."

http://www.latimes.com/news/op...

FOSTER CARE IS A 80 PERCENT FAILURE:. A Brief Analysis of the Casey Family Programs. Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study. By Richard Wexler

http://www.nccpr.org/reports/c...

http://www.nccpr.org/index_fil...

HOW THE WAR AGAINST CHILD ABUSE BECAME A WAR AGAINST CHILDREN

http://www.nccpr.org/issues/1....

http://www.nccpr.org/reports/a...

Adoption Bonuses: The Money Behind the MadnessDSS and affiliates rewarded for breaking up familiesBy Nev Moore Massachusetts News

http://www.massnews.com/past_i...

Ted Gunderson Speech to Congressional Hearing on Child Protection 3/13/04

http://educate-yourself.org/tg...

Phoenix New TimesOutrageous FortunePrivate lawyers in Maricopa County child-dependency cases are soaking us for unbelievable bucksBy Paul Rubin

http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com...

When The State Becomes Parent by Mollie Martin.

http://www.ejfi.org/family/fam...

A recent study has found that 12-18 months after leaving foster care:

30% of the nation�s homeless are former foster children.27% of the males and 10% of the females had been incarcerated33% were receiving public assistance37% had not finished high school2% receive a college degree50% were unemployed

Children in foster care are three to six times more likely than children not in care to have emotional, behavioral and developmental problems, including conduct disorders, depression, difficulties in school and impaired social relationships. Some experts estimate that about 30% of the children in care have marked or severe emotional problems. Various studies have indicated that children and young people in foster care tend to have limited education and job skills, perform poorly in school compared to children who are not in foster care, lag behind in their education by at least one year, and have lower educational attainment than the general population.*Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support

80 percent of prison inmates have been through the foster care system.

The highest ranking federal official in charge of foster care, Wade Horn of the Department of Health and Human Services, is a former child psychologist who says the foster care system is a giant mess and should just be blown up.

http://abcnews.go.com/Primetim...

Four rigorous studies have found that at least 30 percent of America�s foster children could be home right now if their parents had decent housing.

These studies found thousands of children already in foster care who would have done better had child protection agencies not taken them away in the first place.Read the studies online.

Front-page story in USA Today.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/n...

Casey "alumni" study: "Improving Family Foster Care: Findings from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study,"

www.casey.org/Resources/Public...

MIT study: "Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care,"

www.mit.edu/~jjdoyle/doyle_fos...

http://www.cftl.org/documents/...

Texas comptroller's "Forgotten Children" reports:

http://www.window.state.tx.us/...

www.window.state.tx.us/forgott...

Chosen Children: how the Foster Care and Adoption industries fuels the Prison industry.

Billion Dollar Babies in America's Foster Care, Adoption & Prison Systems by Lori Carangelo

http://www.thechosenchildren.c...

http://www.thechosenchildren.c...

Statistics of Adoption-2005 Edition-Compiled and edited by Lori Carangelo

http://www.amfor.net/statistic...

The bottom line? - Child Protective Services and the Foster Care system for the most part turns out young adults that are nothing more than Walking Wreckage...

CURRENTLY CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES VIOLATES MORE CONSTITUTIONALLY GUARANTEED LIBERTIES & CIVIL RIGHTS ON A DAILY BASIS THEN ALL OTHER AGENCIES COMBINED INCLUDING THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY/CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY WIRETAPPING PROGRAMS....

CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES, HAPPILY DESTROYING THOUSANDS OF INNOCENT FAMILIES YEARLY NATIONWIDE AND COMING TO YOU'RE HOME SOON...

BE SURE TO FIND OUT WHERE YOUR CANDIDATES STANDS ON THE ISSUE OF REFORMING OR ABOLISHING CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES ("MAKE YOUR CANDIDATES TAKE A STAND ON THIS ISSUE.") THEN REMEMBER TO VOTE ACCORDINGLY IF THEY ARE "FAMILY UNFRIENDLY" IN THE NEXT ELECTION...

"SAVE THE FAMILY AND YOU SAVE THE CHILD"

Pennyrichter
Pennyrichter

how true! I just listened to one thing alex jones may be right about on his show Friday May 18.2012 I just could not believe it cps and peoples poor little children and I know for a fact that kids can be hurt from both sides of the situation. I sugest people listen to that one day about the middle of the show it is worth the time spent God Bless all the Children and the people who are really help to all! The evil ones may Gods Rath come to you and the devils lies.

 
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