by Michelle D. Chan, California Families Rise
Dionna Peterson’s granddaughter was born tox positive and placed in the full custody of Dionna’s son by Sacramento Child Protective Services (CPS). Dionna and the rest of the family rallied around their newborn granddaughter to ensure she had all the love and affection and material items she needed.
The family bought wipes, formula and clothing, and the baby stayed with Dionna several nights a week. During that time Dionna had the opportunity to truly bond with her granddaughter.
“She was absolutely amazing and perfect in every way. And to see my son hold her and bond with this little girl that he just met was so amazing and we were so overjoyed,” said Dionna. “I had been waiting so long to be a grandmother. It was such a joy to have her with us during her first Christmas and we had extended family come from all over to meet her.”
Then, one night at 3 a.m., CPS came and took the baby. Their reason? They claimed that the noncustodial mother was living with Dionna’s son and baby. However, Dionna says that this is not true at all. In fact, Dionna’s son had been living and renting from an elderly lady who was going through chemotherapy.
After the removal, Dionna was denied for kinship care because she had a domestic violence arrest on her record that was reduced to a detain and release. But Dionna, her husband, and her daughter never gave up hope and never stopped fighting.
They all went through the Resource Family Approval process to get the baby placed with them as a foster family: CPR classes, filling out all the proper applications and submitting payroll stubs, drivers’ licenses, rental agreements, collecting character reference letters. The family was diligent in ensuring that they had a very strong application and in working to show that their home was suitable for the baby.
“Our home was clean and we had clothing and a crib. The house was clean and we were drug-free and no criminal backgrounds other than that one detain and release – which was not a conviction,” said Dionna. “They came out to do the home check and we passed and we were then referred to do all the foster care classes, which we did.”
But then, even after passing all the classes with flying colors, the family was still denied due to a CPS referral from years earlier when her son was 17, which was ruled as unfounded. Dionna’s son had been in a skateboarding accident and one of the neighbors called because she had mistaken the road rash on his face for abuse.
Grandparents’ rights and a child’s right to be raised by biological family
We must ask ourselves where the fairness and justice are when a single, false allegation – which was ruled as unfounded – can be used years later to deny a child’s right to be raised by her biological family?
Dionna had a pre-existing relationship with her granddaughter prior to applying for guardianship; the bond they had was arguably as strong as any bond the baby had with anyone. Family separation is incredibly traumatic, and studies show that that trauma may linger for a lifetime.
ASFA amended the Title-IVE funding of the Social Security Act to pay out gross financial incentives to state and county governments if their child protection agencies reach specified quotas on children that are adopted out.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, family separation can cause irreparable damage to a child’s developing brain, which could lead to both short-term and long-term impacts. Why then, was the so-called “child protection” system so quick to dismiss Dionna and her family as guardians?
ASFA and Title-IVE federal funding: perverse incentives to destroy families
The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 shifted the focus away from family preservation and reunification to instead focus on “permanency” based on the flawed premise that children are better off being adopted out by strangers than living in limbo for extended periods of time. ASFA amended the Title-IVE funding of the Social Security Act to pay out gross financial incentives to state and county governments if their child protection agencies reach specified quotas on children that are adopted out.
But ASFA fails to include provisions to keep child welfare agencies accountable and transparent. Moreover, ASFA also has a provision that requires states move to terminate parental rights for children who have been in foster care for 15 out of the last 22 months.
However, parents’ services, visits and access to support from their system was interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and during that time, the 15-month clock did not stop ticking. Dionna’s son was one of those parents. Dionna Peterson’s son was never given a fair chance to reunify with his daughter.
. . . at the end of the day, it is the baby girl who will have to suffer most due to these injustices.
Although he was offered reunification services, because his case was transferred from Sacramento to Amador County, he was unable to get his reunification services through his Medi-Cal since his Medi-Cal was registered in Sacramento County. When Dionna’s son attempted to then get his services through Sacramento County, he was told he couldn’t because his case was in Amador County.
Had this been any time other than the Covid-19 pandemic, her son would have been able to transfer his Medi-Cal. And finally, according to federal law, the state had a duty to provide reunification services to the father. There is so much that went wrong with this case, and at the end of the day, it is the baby girl who will have to suffer most due to these injustices.
California Families Rise Sacramento chapter leader
Dionna has not and will not ever stop fighting for her granddaughter. Not only has she learned how unjust and oppressive this system is for low-income parents who cannot afford high-quality legal representation, but she has come to see the importance of family activism in holding the system accountable.
Dionna is now Sacramento chapter leader of California Families Rise. Dionna’s hope is that she can provide guidance and hope to others who are currently struggling through similar issues and to bring light to the damage that is done not only to families but also to the children by the family regulation system.
Michelle D. Chan is a writer and founding director of California Families Rise and can be reached at email@example.com. To find out more about their cause, visit CaliforniaFamiliesRise.com.