Family Court Delays Leave Family Without Answers And A Little Girl In Limbo

The Children’s Rights blog previously covered California Judge Michael Nash’s decision to open Los Angeles County family court proceedings to the public. Since the change, Jim Newton of the Los Angeles Times has been following one child’s journey through the system and the hidden costs of court delays on her foster family. Newton chronicled his experience in an op-ed for the paper:

Judge Tim Saito presided as birth parents challenged foster parents for custody of a 2-year-old girl taken from her birth parents when she was just a few days old because they had a previous record of abuse.

The girl was placed with a caring and quiet couple (I’m not naming them here because doing so might identify the little girl). Indeed, the decency of these foster parents is about the only uncontested fact in the case. They decided to build their family by coming to the aid of children who needed a home; just over two years ago, the county delivered them an infant girl.

However, the girl’s birth parents–who had already been forced to give up other children over accusations of abuse–appealed for the return of their baby. The case dragged on for more than a year as the birth parents underwent counseling and dismissed multiple lawyers, which created further delays.

The foster parents hoped for a resolution when the county recommended that reunification efforts end and they be granted custody:

…the case dragged on. Time after time, the foster parents would be asked by Saito to appear in court. The foster father would miss a day of work — and, with it, wages. And then the day would slip away with barely any progress. One of the days I attended, Saito had asked the parties to be ready at 1:45 p.m. He didn’t actually call the case until 3:55 p.m. Once inside the courtroom, the birth father again asked for a new lawyer, so the judge had to hear that matter. Ruling against that request this time, Saito resumed the trial. It lasted 20 minutes before Saito called it a day.

Last month, Judge Saito agreed with the county’s recommendation and decided that the girl should remain with her foster parents. The birth parents responded with another appeal and are allowed visits with the girl while the appeal is resolved.

There’s no telling how long it will take for the girl’s future to be decided by the courts. Deboarh Dentler, lawyer for the foster parents, feels that the situation is unfair for everyone involved:

Indeed, her hope is that the press coverage allowed by Nash’s order opening the courts will encourage judges and others in the system to be more mindful of those whose lives are at stake. As Dentler noted, “Justice delayed is justice denied to families and children.”