Tuesday, September 4, 2007

About Fathers (Part 2)

Gordon E. Finley astutely points out one factor that may be influencing motivations in the Cuban child custody case. A recent and unrelated case involving the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) may provide some insight into another factor.

Late last month, a mother and father finally got a court victory after their children, ages 2 and 5, were wrongly taken away by DCF last year. According Jon Burstein of the Sun-Sentinel, a Broward county judge found "state [DCF] was negligent in failing to properly investigate two children's medical histories before accusing their mother of intentionally making them sick", despite the fact that "[t]he children had detailed medical records from California, where the family had lived, and the family's doctors gave sworn statements rejecting the abuse allegations."

The DCF abuse allegations in court (based on the theory of Munchausen syndrome by proxy) dragged on for 6 months! The children ended up in shelter care for at least 77 days where they were not allowed to see their parents. Now, with a victory over DCF, the parents, Donald and Sara Evans, plan to sue three DCF officials in federal court for taking away their children. According to one of the Evans' lawyers, "[t]he family now lives in a constant state of paranoia, fearing they could be separated at any time."

The motivations by DCF in the Evans case are puzzling. One advocate (Lary Holland) believes that DCF (like other state departments of human services) are motivated by federal grants to separate families. This argument follows that "a relationship exists between the federal funding of state welfare programs and the determinations made by state family court judges presiding over child-custody and domestic relations matters." Specifically, federal grants under Title IV of the Social Security Act operates as the "external economic factors that... drive judicial discretion and influence professional judgment in domestic relations matters" in state cases. Holland's personal experience, being declared an "absent parent" by the state of Michigan, has made him lose full custody of his two children. He is now an advocate for equal custody rights for parents, part of a growing movement in the United States for separated families.

If DCF is found to be negligent in the Cuban child custody case, aside from the trauma already produced by the case, there may very well be lawsuits ahead, with additional personal impacts on BOTH families in the dispute. This reality must be weighed by DCF (and most likely it is) before it continues to drag the case any further with its controversial arguments. Still, the Evans Family case presents a foreboding scenario.

[Photo by Lary Holland]

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