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Arizona Family Rights Project

THE COURTS The judge probably has the most difficult job in the process. It is the judge that makes decisions, places orders and makes the final determination in the case. If a wrong decision is made the children could be put in danger or they could be kept from family members forever. We fully understand the responsibility of the judge, and while we did not always agree with the decisions ons made, we also understood that under the circumstances the judge needed to “err on the side of child safety.” However, with inadequate reporting, failure to complete police investigations in a timely manner, intentional false information given, fabrica fabricated ted evidence, intentionally withholding documents from the court, failure to follow court orders, failure to provide reports in a timely manner as ordered, to perjury, the court system needs to be evaluated also. It is downright maddening for the parent tto o be doing all the steps required of them in the reunification process,, only to have CPS, CPS police, and the AAG violate the very ry trust the state has given them in court. The family sees what is happening but is unable to respond. Other than filing additional motions, the attorney and family endure the abuse from CPS and the AAG. If parents only have a court appointed attorney, they are at an even bigger disadvantage. We heard throughout the case that we couldn’t get information because they had to “protect the children,” or it was “confidential information,” information ” or “you aren’t privileged to the information.” information Yet in court there were numerouss people involved that were never introduced and we had no idea what their role was in the case. Apparently the information only needs to be protected from the family. During the court proceedings, especially at SEF (Southeast Facility in Mesa),, the acoustics acous are so bad and the people speak so softly you cannot hear what is taking place during the court hearings. The Durango facility does not have the same issue unless someone is intentionally speaking softly. The acoustics were so bad in one of our hearin hearings gs that when the recording needed to be accessed for a subsequent hearing, that hearing had to be postponed because of recording issues. Somehow it was finally remedied. While the state has given foster parents the “right” to attend these hearings, we found it was detrimental to the case and the reunification process. Foster parents used the information they heard in court, some of which was downright lies, and assumed it was correct information. They then used this derogatory information against the parent when speaking to the children in their home. They formed their own opinion of the parents from biased information – you know what the state has to say about the parent iss all negative – and it reflected on their relationship with the children. It is even more apparent when the desires of the foster parent is to adopt the child.

Arizona Family Rights Project

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THE COURTS Further, if the information is supposed to be confidential, then people outside the court and immediately family should not be privy to any of the information. When the court makes an order to the parent the parent is expected to obey. If they do not they will face consequences or could lose their rights to their children. When the court makes an order to CPS, the police investigation team or the AAG you are lucky if they choose to follow it. If they do not there is no consequence. The court threatens to hold them in contempt but it doesn’t happen. This delays the case and the return of the children to the family. The children in the case should be able to attend court if they so desire. It should not be considered “visitation” by CPS and they should not be permitted to use that as an excuse to keep the children from attending. Children of all ages should be permitted in court for their own hearing. Foster parents, CPS and the AAG should never be able to keep a child from attending a hearing. If the children are to be represented in this case, then those tasked with that responsibility need to be in court and have done their job ahead of time. Children old enough to have an attorney assigned should be able to speak with this attorney prior to each hearing to voice their concerns and desires and to be heard in court. Often times this attorney is busy with other cases and shows up just in time to enter the courtroom when the case is called. Children represented by the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) only should have also had the opportunity to speak to the GAL prior to all court hearings. If the child is not going to be in court, the GAL must have made a visit to the child’s foster home or placement prior to each hearing. The GAL in our case rarely attended the hearings in person, often only attending by phone. Except for the first hearing, the GAL never spoke with the children prior to court so the GAL’s recommendations to the court were based on her bias only and not the wishes, desires, and expressed requests and opinions of the children. It is the GAL’s role to represent the children, but if the GAL never meets with them then they are not representing the child. No one other than the CPS case worker visited the foster placement, except at the on-set of the case. At each report and review hearing, information regarding each child was based on the CPS case worker only, and often times even that wasn’t accurate because the case worker also didn’t have or didn’t report up-to-date information. Recommendations: •

The level of evidence used in court must be raised to “clear and convincing.” Without clear and convincing evidence, no child should be removed from their family. It is the judges that must hold CPS in check.

All people in the courtroom need to be clearly introduced with name and their relationship to the family or their authority in the case. Even those in some type of observation status should have to be introduced.

Arizona Family Rights Project

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The sound in the court room must be at a level that everyone can hear. Attorneys may know what is happening because it is “just a review hearing” and they already know what will take place and what will be said. This is not the same for family. Family should be able hear what is taking place.

Children in the case should be able to attend the hearings if they want. Any children not directly related to the family in the case (i.e., foster family’s other foster children) should not be permitted in the courtroom.

If the child wishes to attend the hearing, transportation will be provided for the child. The court hearings will not be considered visitation and therefore any restrictions on visitation will not be considered while at court. If special precautions need to be made to prohibit contact between family and children, then there should be an area in which children can wait with the GAL or children’s attorney prior to actually entering the courtroom.

The GAL and the children’s attorney, if child is of age to be assigned one, must meet with the children prior to each court hearing. This may be done prior to court when the children attend court but ample time must be allowed for this meeting. If the children are not attending court, then a visit to the foster home or placement must be made prior to each court hearing.

The GAL and the children’s attorney shall represent the wishes of the child, even if those wishes and desires go against the objectives of the state. Any attorney failing to represent the child’s requests shall be subject to disciplinary action, including potential disbarment.

Foster parents shall not be permitted in the courtroom, unless the case plan has changed from reunification to severance and adoption, and only after the severance hearing has taken place and a decision has been made by the judge.

If CPS, police or the AAG fail to file with the court the required reports or documents as ordered by the judge or as required by state regulations or statues, the judge will hold that person in contempt of court.

Any restrictions put on the parent with regard to disclosure of information regarding the case, shall also be placed on the foster parents, group homes, or other placements.

Arizona Family Rights Project

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