Ties That Bind

Should DNA always trump TLC?

Maybe not, but at the moment, that’s the law in Florida child custody cases.

But not for Rafael Izquierdo just yet.

Although the judge ruled the farmer/fisherman is a fit father, though he is diligently following a case plan to reunite with his five year old daughter, though his home in Caibaguan, Cuba has passed official inspection, Izquierdo can’t have custody just yet.

Now the state social service agency and the girl’s foster parents will argue she will be emotionally harmed if she is taken from their home and family. There is certainly compelling reasons not to rip a child from the only home she has known, or take her away from the people she knows as mommy and daddy. But in this state, the law sometimes requires it.

The place we call juvi court has seen countless custody cases in which the Department of Children and Families bends over backwards to get children back to the biological parents who lost them or gave them up – to some who couldn’t possibly have deserved to be called a parent. But DCF’s oft-stated priority, its mandated goal is to reunite families. Always. Unless a parent is deemed unfit. In this state and in this country, a parent has a fundamental right, some say God-given right, to raise his/her child.

But in this case, a DCF attorney told the judge the state’s goal was to place the girl permanently with her foster parents. Why? What don’t we know?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the case of “Baby J” more than a decade ago. The similarities are there, if you take away the conflicts of politics and culture.

A South Florida woman named Kathryn Reiter had been fostering “Baby J”, whose drug addicted mother had already given up three other children and whose father was no where to be found. From the start, Reiter and her husband hoped/planned to adopt her as a sibling to their son, whom they had also fostered and adopted. They raised her for two years before the state, then HRS, awarded custody of Baby J to a cousin of her mother who had come forward. Of course, there are many more details to the story, including a desperate Reiter taking both children and disappearing for three weeks to protect her “family”, but the upshot is this: A loving, nurturing woman raising a little girl who knew no other family– had to relinquish that child to a biological relative she didn’t really know and move away to a new home, new caregivers, new everything, and never go back.

I will forever remember the day state social workers tore a screaming Baby J away from Reiter, away from her “mommy”. It was one of the most heart wrenching scenes I have ever covered.

Baby J would be about 14 years old now. I wonder how she adapted, recovered, developed.


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