These courts must protect kids' privacy. They also must be public. Can it be done?
- Type of protection : Granting release
- Category: Child protection propaganda
- Created: Tuesday, 06 August 2019 21:20
- Written by Diana M Nanez, Mary Jo Matza - Arizona Republic
Corrections & Clarifications: Previous versions of this story misspelled the first name of Judge Sara Agne and gave an incorrect title for Judge Stephen Rubin.
On a bench near the double doors of the courthouse, a mother tries to process how she lost her son.
“They didn’t even look at this,” she says, pointing at a stack of documents. Her voice shakes, “I didn’t get to talk at all.”
It's late May, four days since Arizona Department of Child Safety workers removed her 10-year-old son. The state alleged neglect and substance abuse, she says. She denied both accusations.
“We entered a plea,” she adds, referring to the lawyer she’d met a few minutes before her hearing. “But it felt like we didn’t get very far.”
The woman is petite and has cigarette-stained fingertips. She walked into the courthouse with low expectations. She didn’t understand why her son had been taken from her. Her lawyer had tried to calm her nerves, but then she saw a half-dozen strangers in the courtroom.
“I felt like everyone was against me,” she says.
She watched as lawyers and the judge spoke about her son and her parenting. The hearing was soon over and Judge Scott McCoy announced the case’s next step — another hearing in late August.
Until then, her son would stay in a group home. The mother could see her boy for two hours each week.
As she waits for a taxi, she counts on her fingertips the months until the next hearing.
“Do you understand that’s three months away?” she asks.
Every day, cases like hers are debated in juvenile courts. A judge decides whether a child goes back with her parent or stays in a foster home, a group home or some other form of state custody.
The proceedings are the equivalent of life-or-death decisions for a family. Parents and children can be reunited, families preserved. Or, parental rights can be severed in the name of child safety, families ended.
Some parents and parental and child-rights advocates say if there's a corner of the justice system where laws and lines can't be blurred, it's in these courtrooms.
In these hearings, there is no jury of peers. A judge alone decides a family's fate. Given the judge's pivotal role in balancing parental rights with child safety, it's important for the public to be able to observe court proceedings.
In most states, hearings like these are closed to the public to protect child privacy. In Arizona, amid revelations of a broken system, lawmakers mandated the courts be open to the public more than a decade ago.
But despite those seminal laws, often no one's watching.
In May, 12 Arizona Republic reporters spent a day fanned out on both floors of courtrooms in the Durango court building, the largest juvenile court complex in the state's largest county.
The goal: Observe every juvenile-dependency case.
The hearings revealed moments of kindness and humanity in a system where bureaucracy often reigns, and cases can last two years or longer.
What the Republic reporters observed raises questions about the rights of parents and children. Court rules require that their privacy be guarded, but the reporters witnessed those rules were not always applied. State law requires public access to courts, but some attorneys sought to have hearings closed, seemingly as a matter of course.
The result is a system where the rules intended to balance the opposing principles of privacy and scrutiny are only intermittently enforced. In the middle are parents who wonder how — and whether — they'll get their kids back.
ONE DAY, 69 HEARINGS
Durango Juvenile Court's 12 courtrooms each year hear thousands of cases alleging abuse or neglect.
During The Republic's May review, 11 courtrooms held 69 hearings, and all but two were open to the public. Republic reporters observed:
♦ Judges didn't precisely follow court mandates intended to guard the privacy of children. Rules require every hearing start with a warning — known as "the admonition" — against observers releasing "personally identifiable" information. The admonition was invoked in just six of the 69 cases.
♦ Judges' definitions varied on what “personally identifiable” means. That causes confusion about what parents can say about their case, and what advocates or the media can say about courtroom developments. It also calls into question whether the admonition works against free-speech rights and the spirit of an open court.
♦ Judges rarely required attendees, other than the parties to a case, to identify themselves, although doing so is part of the training judges receive.
♦ Some courtrooms seemed unprepared for observers and unaware of the rules. In one case, a court worker concerned by the presence of a reporter summoned a guard and two sheriff's deputies to a public courtroom before the situation was resolved in favor of the reporter remaining in the courtroom.
♦ State law specifies six factors a judge must consider before closing a court. But in two hearings, judges closed the courtroom without addressing all of those factors.
♦ While the courts by law are open, dockets listing cases to be heard, and when, are not publicly available, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the public to observe a case.
♦ The laws and rules that apply to a child welfare case vary depending on which court has the case. Final decisions of juvenile-dependency judges are sealed. But if a case is appealed, appellate court opinions are public and protect identities by referring to children by first name only and parents by first name, last initial.
Court officials past and present couldn't explain the inconsistencies in procedures. It might simply be that practices evolved at different times, and no one has taken a look at the bigger picture.
In Judge Karen Mullins' courtroom a reporter notes that the judge only asks parties in the case to identify themselves and never announces the admonition.
But the judge is steadfast on other matters. When the state claims a mother isn't complying with DCS' order to take her children to receive services, Mullins weighs the allegation and in an uncharacteristically contentious moment scolds the state's lawyer and DCS for not providing proof.
INCONSISTENCIES INSIDE COURTROOMS
Judge Michael Gordon sweeps into Courtroom 2 still pulling on his black robe. He checks a computer monitor on his desk, then announces the first case on his morning docket: severance of parental rights.
The parents aren't there. The child is, with her foster mother.
"Hi, sweetie. How are you?" Gordon asks the toddler.
"Cheese!" she replies, beaming at the judge.
"She thinks you want to take her picture," the foster mom explains.
The hearing proceeds with Gordon entering a finding that the parents failed to appear. He sets a status conference for a trial and testimony on the matter.
What he doesn't do is issue the required admonition against disclosing information that would identify anyone in the courtroom. Across 11 courtrooms on this day, the admonition is rarely given.
Court Rule 41 (F) requires that the admonition be given at the start of a hearing that is open to the public. It is intended to protect the privacy of children involved in a case, as well as their siblings, parents, guardians or caregivers, or anyone else mentioned during the hearing.
The court shall explain contempt of court to all attendees, including observers, and the possible consequences of violating an order of the court. For the purposes of this subsection, “personally identifiable information” includes name, address, date of birth, social security number, tribal enrollment number, telephone or telefacsimile number, driver license number, places of employment, school identification or military identification number or any other distinguishing characteristic that tends to identify a particular person.
Federal law requires the admonition, and Arizona has observed it in its court proceedings since the late 1990s, said Stephen Rubin, former president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and a former judge of the Pima County Juvenile Court.
“It’s very specific language,” Rubin said. “It’s the same in every case and it’s supposed to be read in the courtroom in that way. It’s right on the form of order the judge uses for any hearing.”
Rubin said it’s up to the judge to decide how the warning applies to a case. For his part, Rubin said it’s as simple as not disclosing details that would specifically identify the children, parents or others involved in a case.
“It doesn’t seem that hard to not give out the name,” he said.
But Judge Bruce Cohen, who served three years on the Maricopa County juvenile court bench, said the admonition can go beyond names, addresses or dates of birth.
“There are also facts that can identify who people are," he said. For example, references to the crime that put a child in DCS custody could identify the child—at least to certain people.
However, Judge Timothy Ryan, Maricopa County's juvenile courts presiding judge, recently issued a ruling in which he described a crime in a case that put a child in DCS custody.
The fact that juvenile-court proceedings rarely draw anyone who is not connected to the case could explain the ambiguity surrounding the admonition, said Robert Brutinel, chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. Brutinel served as a juvenile-court judge in Yavapai County before joining the state's high court.
“It may be so few people are interested in these cases other than the litigants, you might get tired of talking to an empty room,” Brutinel said.
That appeared to be the case in the hearings that Republic reporters attended.
Judge Pamela Svoboda presides over her morning calendar without issuing an admonition.
But in the afternoon, after learning through her bailiff that a reporter is in the courtroom, she reads the admonition. She mistook the reporter for one of the attorneys or case managers who frequent the court, she explains, implying that these regulars are all well aware of the admonition.
Concern over what might be happening behind closed courtroom doors fueled the drive to open juvenile courts more than two decades ago. But it took government silence in a string of child deaths to prompt a crusade by state lawmakers to open the juvenile courts to the public for good.
In 1997, lawmakers approved a bill that allowed one county to open its courts. In 1999, legislators expanded that to two more counties. But no court used that authority, according to legislative research.
In 2003, lawmakers launched a pilot program to open the juvenile-dependency courts in all 15 counties; months later, in the midst of a child welfare overhaul, they expanded the pilot program.
The result: A follow-up study in 2006 found open courts had “minimal” impact on the process. But because so few people, other than those directly associated with the case, entered the courts, researchers from Arizona State University who evaluated the pilot program cautioned not to read too much into the findings.
Two years later, in the midst of reports of horrifying child deaths due to abuse, lawmakers mandated juvenile court proceedings be open.
Jonathan Paton, a Republican who represented Tucson, said he was appalled by the deaths and angered by his inability to get access to what was going on in the then-Child Protective Services (the forerunner to DCS) and the courts.
“We never knew what was going on in these hearings. Again, it was to protect the children,” Paton said, echoing the reason that CPS repeatedly gave for privacy. “I said you’re not protecting anybody with these closed hearings.”
Recently returned from a tour of duty during the Iraq War, Paton said he was shaken by the stories of Ariana and Tyler Payne, who died after CPS defied a court order to return the children to their mother and left them in the care of their father. Ariana, 3, was found dead in a storage locker. Tyler, 5, has never been found.
The death of Brandon Williams, 5, also drew widespread attention. CPS had been searching for the child, fearing for his safety. But the agency never notified police. Only after the boy's death was it discovered that a Pima County sheriff's deputy had seen the child but, unaware of CPS' search, left the child with his mother at a Tucson motel. A week later, he was dead.
“I’d just seen awful things in Iraq, and I was seeing awful things in my home town,” Paton said. “I didn’t understand why it was looking like a war zone.”
DEPUTIES CALLED, A REPORTER QUESTIONED
It's just after 8 a.m. when a bailiff pins the day's docket to the courtroom door as she does every day.
She eyes a reporter and another woman reading the list of child welfare hearings before Commissioner Joshua Yost's courtroom.
The bailiff questions the reporter and woman: Who are you with? The reporter says she works for The Republic.
A few minutes later, while the reporter is writing down hearing times and case numbers, the bailiff returns and again questions the reporter.
Inside the courtroom, before Yost arrives, a court worker says someone spied the reporter writing down names from the case docket.
The reporter responds that she did not write down any names and that child welfare hearings are open to the public.
The worker tells the reporter she lacks clearance to be in the courtroom and needs permission from "downtown" to remain in the public hearing.
The staffer leaves the courtroom. Someone calls law enforcement. And a few minutes later, a security guard and two armed sheriff’s deputies rush into the courtroom. They pass the reporter and exit through the same back door the staffer used.
When the court worker returns, she tells the reporter: "You’re good. I called downtown. It’s been a minute since I’ve dealt with them.”
Having an open courtroom does little good if the court doesn't know its own rules, or state laws that mandate public hearings, or if the court prevents the public from knowing information as basic as when a case is going to be heard.
In other court divisions, such as civil and criminal, a docket of when and where cases are scheduled for hearings is posted online.
In the juvenile-dependency court, the docket can’t be found online, nor can the public get information over the phone. It's only available by personally showing up at the courthouse.
Electronic screens in the courthouse lobby list the day's cases, each identified by the first name and last initial of the child or children involved.
Paper dockets with first names and the first initial of their last name are also posted on each courtroom door, often minutes before the court begins its daily session. Signs on some doors warn that photography and recording isn't allowed in the courtroom.
Rubin, of the national judges’ council, suggested the state Attorney General’s Office should be allowed to disclose information about a given court hearing, as the AG is the prosecutor in those cases.
But the AG’s office, as well as court officials, point to state law and court rules that make private documents related to a juvenile-dependency cases. Dockets are included among those confidential documents although no one could explain why dockets are then posted in public hallways outside courtrooms.
Commissioner Yost walks into the courtroom and takes his seat on the bench. He asks the reporter, "who are you?"
This isn't the same line of questioning as earlier: no suspicion, no summoning of armed deputies.
Yost asks about the reporter's work, chatting during breaks.
The day’s hearing, the ones listed on the docket include guardianship and juvenile delinquency cases.
The reporter is allowed to remain for each hearing.
TWO CASES CLOSED TO THE MEDIA
Judge Jo Lynn Gentry’s first juvenile dependency hearing of the day has been underway for several minutes. The father hadn’t shown up and the attorney representing him is asking to be released from the case.
The mother explains that the father has a new job with a strict attendance policy.
Gentry listens, then reaffirms the woman’s upcoming trial date, telling her that if she doesn't show, it could be grounds for severing her parental rights.
Just then, an attorney with the state Attorney General’s office points out a reporter in the courtroom, the only person in the public section of the courtroom.
Gentry says that all proceedings in Juvenile Court are confidential. Asked if she is referring the rule 41 admonition against revealing personally identifying information about the children involved, Gentry says yes.
“We don’t get a lot of observers,” she says.
What we saw inside the Durango Juvenile Court Center
Six Arizona Republic reporters report on what they saw inside the Durango Juvenile Court Center in Phoenix on May 22, 2019.
DAVID WALLACE, THE REPUBLIC | AZCENTRAL.COM
Before the next case starts, the reporter seeks clarification about whether Gentry’s admonition meant the reporter can't write anything that has transpired in the courtroom, or whether the judge is specifically referring to personally identifying information.
Gentry says she is reluctant to give blanket permission to report on everything that happens in court. The judge offers to contact the court’s media relations staff for the court's exact rules. But one of the judge’s assistants intervenes, telling the judge that the confidentiality rule only applies to facts that identify the children involved.
The hearing remains open. The reporter sits in the back, observing DCS officials, state attorneys and the judge overseeing the case.
Arizona is one of 22 states that have open courts for juvenile proceedings, although some like Arizona allow judges to close the courtroom in certain circumstances.
The open-court movement got a boost in 2005, when the National Council of Juvenile and Family Courts passed a resolution endorsing the concept, saying open proceedings would “lift the veil of secrecy,” increase public awareness of child-welfare operations and enhance accountability in the handling of juvenile and family court issues.
Rubin, who at the time was the presiding judge of the Pima County Juvenile Court, said, “I do think the transparency issue is important, given some of the lack of transparency of the agency some of the time."
Gentry has two cases on her afternoon calendar.
In the first, an attorney representing a mother asks that Gentry close the courtroom because a reporter is present. It's unclear how the attorney knows about the reporter given that he's not identified himself.
Gentry cites a provision that allows her to close the courtroom if all parties to a case don’t agree to have an observer present. Then, she orders the reporter to leave.
However, the judge allows a court worker — who is observing the case for training but is not connected to the case — to stay in the proceeding.
Typically, if a hearing is closed, then only parties to a case, parents, attorneys, caseworkers, are allowed to remain.
Gentry does not say whether she’s following a state law mandating a judge consider six provisions before closing a court, including whether it is in the child’s best interests.
The journalist leaves the courtroom, unable to report on the family's case against the state.
In the second afternoon hearing, another attorney for a parent asks that the courtroom be closed, citing her client’s request for privacy.
The attorney who requested that the previous hearing be closed is representing a different party in this case and says he takes no position on the reporter’s presence.
Other observers are present, all of whom say they are connected to the case — but the judge hasn't asked them to identify themselves.
The reporter tells the court he has agreed to obey the court’s admonition about not revealing any personally identifying details.
But Gentry orders the hearing closed and again tells the reporter to leave while all other observers are allowed to remain.
KIDS IN CRISIS: What's going wrong, and how you can help
'WARDS OF THE STATE'
In another courtroom, Judge Jose Padilla questions a mother's attorney about her ability to parent, a grandmother's past and DCS' demands of the family.
Because the judge's opinion will be sealed, once it's released, as state law requires, the public won't know what influenced Padilla's decisions. Unless they show up on a hot day in May and watch the hearing.
Chit-chat before Padilla's 10:15 a.m. case centers on the mother's hearing.
An attorney announces: “I don’t even have the case yet.”
The lawyers try to figure out where the father is. Did he get notified of his children’s hearing? Did dad serve prison or jail time?
A lawyer with the state Attorney General’s Office representing DCS types on her laptop. “I found him,” she says. The state, she says, will notify the father that his children are wards of the state, as required by law to protect parents' rights to regain custody.
The mom turns to her attorney and shakes her head no, apparently concerned the father will learn she has lost custody of their children while he was in jail.
“It’s OK,” her attorney says before turning attention back to the state attorney.
The mother closes her eyes while the attorneys use the minutes before the judge arrives to talk.
The attorneys’ emotionless banter about the father, mother and children seems at odds with what's at stake: A child’s safety and parents’ rights.
The courtroom turns quiet as the judge slowly makes his way to the bench. Padilla asks parties to the case to announce themselves. He pays no attention to a reporter, a man in a suit who appears to be an attorney, and a grandmother with cropped gray hair and sunglasses on her head.
It’s the initial dependency hearing for the mother’s children.
“Wards of the state,” the judge says, reading the mother a legal notice about the custody of her children.
The mom’s attorney objects to the state's request for a hair-follicle test, saying the mom has already “admitted to meth,” is drug testing and has agreed to treatment. But the guardian ad litem, assigned to represent the children’s best interests, says the test would help identify all drugs and all treatments she may need.
The mom’s attorney asks for an immediate psychological evaluation of the mom. The state attorney objects, saying DCS wants to adhere to steps that would call for a consulting appointment to determine whether an evaluation is needed.
The mom’s attorney lets loose a long sigh and tells the judge that the state just wants to draw out the case. The state, she says, would ask for a psychological evaluation after the consult because that’s what DCS always does. So why, she asks, her voice getting louder with each word, delay when the mother’s willing to undergo a psychological evaluation now.
The judge patiently listens to the frustrated attorney, his face blank, not hinting at any decision he may make.
A judge’s final decision in a case involving child neglect or abuse gets treated differently depending on which court is handling it.
In the county juvenile courts, state law requires these rulings be sealed. Sealed cases mean there's no way to determine how many cases go a certain way depending on which judge, or which attorney, or which caseworker handles them. It means there's effectively no scrutiny of how the representatives of the state handle a case.
But if a parent or DCS appeals the finding to the state Court of Appeals, the appellate ruling is public, as state Supreme Court rules require. The same applies to Supreme Court rulings on child-dependency cases.
Aside from the rules and the statutes, it’s unclear why the rulings are handled differently by the courts.
Colleen McNally, a former presiding judge of the Maricopa County Juvenile Court, said it might be simply that no one has taken a comprehensive look at the process, from lower court to Supreme Court. That could change.
The state Supreme Court, under Brutinel, has formed a task force to review and update juvenile court rules and procedures. The current rules were created in 2001 and, although amended over the years, need to reflect changes in state and federal law, the court announced. The task force report is due in January 2021.
The state attorney tells Judge Padilla that the mother can only have a two-hour visit with her children because of a lack of available aides.
“Mom has not seen the children since they’ve been in DCS care,” the mom’s attorney says. A four-hour visit, would help maintain parent-child bonds and make up for visitations the mom is entitled to, the attorney says.
The mom’s attorney says the grandmother could serve as a monitor for the visits, relieving the need for an aide and giving the children time with their mother. But that won't happen, she says, because DCS would block the grandma's involvement given a 2004 felony.
The judge turns to the attorney and asks what the felony was for. Car theft, the mom’s attorney says.
“That makes no sense to me,” Padilla says, furrowing his eyebrows. He could understand DCS’ objections if it was a drug or child-abuse felony.
“It’s taking a car,” he says.
The grandmother presses her hands against her cheeks and cries silently. Padilla tells the state that the grandmother should be assessed for parent monitoring. Then, he sides with the state on the hair-follicle testing, the psychological consult before the full evaluation and the shorter visits.
Padilla says the department “is having a problem of case aides. It’s a problem of manpower,” he says.
Padilla asks why the state has placed the mother's children, ages 5 and 6, in separate group homes.
“Thank you. Thank you, God,” the grandmother whispers, relieved to hear her grandchildren might be together while they're away from their family.
The mom whispers to her attorney, who then asks if someone with the state will take the little girl her favourite blanket.
“If we’re going to take and remove children, we should take care of the needs they have,” Padilla says.
Padilla says he’s required to warn the mother that the court could terminate her parental rights or have her child adopted. But “this whole process is aimed at preventing that,” he says.
The judge asks the mom if she understands.
“Yes,” the mother says softly.
DCS has removed nearly 2,000 Arizona kids from their homes with a judge's approval in the first four months since a new law took effect.
Judge Sara Agne is reviewing the progress of a father who was working to regain legal custody of his daughter.
She asks people involved in the case to identify themselves. But she doesn't question anyone in the audience. There aren't introductions or admonitions for any of the judge’s nine cases that day in May.
The father, who had finished a prison sentence, has a strong case: DCS and the guardian ad litem vouch for his hard work. He deserves to have his daughter returned, they say.
When Agne rules in his favor, the courtroom bursts into applause; case workers stand and cheer for him. Agne urges the father to select a stuffed animal from a collection on her desk to give to his daughter.
He picks a pink one and carries it out of the courtroom.
In Judge Gordon's courtroom, a mother chooses a different path for her child.
The attorney for a young mother tells Gordon her client has decided to not fight the state's motion to cut off parental rights. Dealing with the case had taken a toll on the mother's mental and physical health, the attorney says, and the mother has concluded it would be in the best interest of her two children to give them up.
Gordon leans over his desk and looks the mother in the eye. He probes the mother's motivations.
Have you used any drugs or alcohol that might prevent you from thinking clearly? Are you thinking clearly? Has anyone coerced you into making this decision?
“No," the mother says quietly.
Gordon advises her that if she sticks with her decision, it's likely her parental rights will be severed and her children adopted.
"The sacrifice you make in these proceedings is really monumental in your life," he tells her as he sets a date for a severance trial.
The final decision will be his, based on whether severance would be in the children's best interest. But, he adds, "You are at least considering the right thing."
In courtroom 4, Judge McCoy is weighing whether a toddler will stay with her foster parent or her father.
The 2-year-old girl has never lived with her dad and their short visits have never been overnight, never unsupervised.
The girl's father is 30 years old and has lost track of the number of times he has appeared in juvenile court, trying to get his child from the state. He wasn’t married to her mother, who he said has struggled with methamphetamine use.
The mother doesn’t have custody of her other five children. They live with foster parents, as has his daughter since she was 3 days old. When he showed up at the hospital after his daughter was born in April 2017, he said her mother refused to let him in. He took a DNA test to establish paternity and started the court process.
This hearing was to weigh evidence about whether his past drug use and current marijuana use made his home unsafe for a child, as his daughter’s foster mother contends.
An attorney for the foster mother ticks off everything wrong. He has skipped some drug tests. His name appeared in 28 police incidents in the past decade (though sometimes as the victim). He was recently on probation for violating a protective order from an ex-girlfriend. He sometimes cancelled or cut short visits with his daughter. He allegedly told an ex-girlfriend, “I will send my cousin over there to do whatever he needs to do with your family.”
His attorney ticks off everything right. He had gone through counseling, submitted to regular drug tests. The tests came back positive only for marijuana, which he uses with a doctor’s prescription to treat back spasms after a car accident.
Under questioning, he denies having a substance-abuse problem. He used meth in the past but said he stopped six years ago.
He denies having an anger-management problem, but said he once did. He denies threatening an ex-girlfriend or her family. Everything changed, he says, when his daughter was born.
His daughter’s foster mother wants the girl to stay with her, for now. She has four other children, all former foster children she has adopted.
While she is with her father, “in my opinion, I am concerned her best interest and safety are not being looked out for,” she tells the judge.
She says he has exhibited aggressive behavior toward them. Despite drug tests showing he only uses medically-prescribed marijuana, she worries scabs on his face are a sign of meth use. He has not expressed interest in attending his daughter’s doctor visits. She tells the judge the father declined mid-week visits with his daughter because he said it interfered with his work.
“I have concerns about how he will afford daycare,” she says. She wants the child to be safe.
His attorney says DCS subsidizes day care. The father lives with two relatives, who will help care for the child. Scabs on the face don’t mean he is using meth. DCS wants her reunited with her father. So does the guardian appointed by the court to protect the child’s interests.
McCoy says he had heard all he needed to. Closing arguments weren’t going to sway him.
The father had met the burden of proof, he says. No dad is perfect. But given the standards the court applies, he is entitled to parent his daughter.
The father’s shoulders started shaking. He wipes his eyes, turns and squeezes the hand of his aunt, sitting behind him.
McCoy asks the department to come up with a transition plan to reunite the father with his daughter. Drug tests will continue but there is no need for a psychological evaluation.
“Thank you, your honor,” the father says between sobs.
Outside the courtroom, his attorney congratulates him. His aunt hugs him.
“I’m excited,” he says. “I’m a little scared, too.”
He says his daughter should have been reunited with him long ago.
Being a single father won't stop him from raising his child, he says, walking out of the hearing. Soon his daughter will be home.
ABOUT THIS REPORT
A three-year grant from the Arizona Community Foundation supports in-depth research on child-welfare issues, such as foster care, at The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com.
Are you part of the child-welfare system? We want to understand your story. Share it with us at http://static.azcentral.com/child-safety-form/
Have you been in juvenile court, either as a parent, an attorney or an advocate? For more stories like this involving the child-welfare system, subscribe to azcentral.com.
Contributing to this report were reporters Lauren Castle, John D'Anna, Craig Harris, Pamela Ren Larson, Rob O'Dell, Agnel Philip, Justin Price, Anne Ryman, Dennis Wagner and Alden Woods.