(844) 627-8267 | Info@NationalCyberSecurity
(844) 627-8267 | Info@NationalCyberSecurity

They Followed Doctors’ Orders. Then Their Children Were Taken Away. | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

The first chance they had to plead their case came the following day at the “team decision-making” meeting with the D.C.S. investigator and a facilitator. An agency pamphlet describes these meetings as an important opportunity for parents to present their perspective and discuss a plan for regaining custody. “DCS needs to listen to what you have to say,” it reads. “Your opinion matters!”

Dass took the directive to heart. As she researched the efficacy of Suboxone and the importance of the mother-baby bond, she thought about her own experiences growing up in Phoenix. Her mother, who is Native American and a member of the Gila River tribe, struggled with drug-and-alcohol addiction. For a time, the family lived in a warehouse without an oven or bath. Dass often took care of herself and her younger sister, Asacia, shopping for food and cooking their meals. “She basically raised me,” Asacia told me. Sometimes the sisters were sent to live with extended family or placed briefly in foster care, which Dass only vaguely recalls. As she got older, Dass started getting into trouble with the law. Those experiences left her with a lingering distrust of any adult in a position of authority: teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers.

In that first team meeting, which took place by phone, Dass tried to paint a picture of herself and Bieniasz as responsible parents. Living at the campground while saving up for an R.V. was a conscious choice, she said — a short-term sacrifice that would give their daughter longer-term stability. Dass insisted that the baby was healthy and that she hadn’t witnessed any withdrawal symptoms. “People should not be shamed for being on Suboxone,” Dass argued, according to the D.C.S. notes from the meeting.

But Pugliese, the D.C.S. investigator, seemed unconvinced. If the parents were trying to save money, Dass remembers her asking, then why did she have a full set of manicured nails? (“They were press-ons from the dollar store,” Dass told me.) In her report to the court a few days later, Pugliese said the couple was suspected of using “illicit substances,” even though more tests, including one examining the baby’s meconium, or first bowel movement, confirmed the absence of any substances other than buprenorphine. Pugliese also indicated that Dass had no “protective capacities” and had failed to “set aside her own needs for her child.” The baby would be at serious risk of injury or death if she remained with her parents, she reiterated.

A few days after the team meeting, the couple drove their new R.V. to court, confident that by demonstrating that they now had a place to live, the judge in their preliminary protective hearing would return their baby. But the judge said the only way they could reunite with their daughter was if they completed the case requirements and showed they could be “responsible adults.”

Dass was ordered to undergo a substance-abuse assessment, individual counseling, parenting classes, a psychological consultation and to attend weekly sessions in family-treatment court. She was required to sign over all of her medical, mental-health and Suboxone-treatment records, submit to eight to 10 random drug tests per month and resolve any open criminal cases — namely, several shoplifting and related charges from her earlier bout of homelessness and a probation violation from before she was pregnant. Bieniasz also had to complete anger-management classes and, in an order that felt particularly cruel to the couple, to pay the state a monthly fee charged to parents of children in foster care. If they followed the rules, they could see their baby three times a week, but they would have to do so in D.C.S.’s Yavapai County office.

The judge also ordered D.C.S. to begin “concurrent planning.” In most states, including Arizona, caseworkers are required to plan for adoption as soon as a child enters foster care, even if parents are working to regain custody. The idea is to prevent a child from languishing without a permanent home. Several states, including Arizona, have faster timelines for infants. If Dass and Bieniasz did not show enough progress on their case plan, their parental rights could be permanently terminated after the baby turned 6 months old.


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