To anyone involved with the Arizona Child Welfare System! Please Pay Attention To This:



Our Federal Government has created basic requirements that individual State laws must include in order to receive federal funding for a child who is in out-of-home care or placed for adoption. One of the Federal requirements is giving preference to relative placements provided that the relative meets all State standards required for potential placements. This means that if a relative of a child being placed for adoption is willing to care for the child and meets all of the State’s qualifications then that relative is to be given preference over a non-relative for placement. The enforcement of this requirement  is left to the Juvenile Courts and the judges that preside them.

If this is, in fact, a requirement that is enforced how can Pima County, Arizona explain why they denied Grandmother, Carol Hanks, custody of her Grandson, Dakota Dewayne Smith, even though she had no criminal history, not been the subject of any prior CPS reports, had no history of drug or alcohol abuse, is in good health, was able to financially care for him, and had even been a placement for her Granddaughter for a year through Texas CPS.  The list of objections presented by Assistant Attorney General Rene Castro and CPS included:

  • No evidence to support Carol’s claims of being involved since Dakota’s birth and the onset of the case

  • Limited physical contact was barrier to developing a meaningful relationship with Dakota

  • Carol did not file a Motion to Intervene as quickly as she should have

  • Carol was seen at the front desk with her daughter, Dakota’s biological mother, and her son-in-law, Dakota’s  biological Father, who’s rights had been terminated a month earlier.

  • Length of time with current placement has developed bond with foster family where Dakota has a foster brother

CPS case worker, Edward “Bud” Howard, testified they never had any issues or concerns with how we cared for Dakota or with our parenting skills. The only issue or concern was that we may have been using drugs, though we were testing clean and consistent as documented at the TDM held after removal.

So, this raises the question of how was Dakota neglected to such an extent that Grammi Carol having contact with her only daughter should be an issue? Better yet, how is it that there were no concerns with how we cared for Dakota, but our rights were severed based on the grounds that “chronic history of substance abuse made us unable to delegate our parental responsibilities”?

Let’s take a look at the list of objections raised by Mr. Castro:

Objection 1) No evidence of Grammi Carol’s involvement

  • Fact:) Grammi Carol’s presence for the birth of Dakota was documented in the hotline report

  • Fact) Grammi Carol spoke with investigator from CPS, Katherine Pestonjee at hospital

  • Fact) Attendance sheets for TDM and CFTs reflect her attendance in person or telephonic ally

  • Fact) Visitation Reports document phone calls made to Grammi Carol and her attendance for visit’s held while she visited me, her daughter

These are all facts that had been disclosed throughout the life of the case by the Attorney Generals office and CPS, so how could they say there was no evidence of her involvement?

Objection 2) Limited physical contact barrier to meaningful relationship between Grammi Carol and Dakota

  • Fact) Visitation Reports document visit between Grammi Carol and Dakota reflecting Dakota very comfortable with Grammi

  • Fact) Pictures taken during visits show Dakota sitting in Grammi’s lap reading a book

Objection 3) Motion to Intervene not filed quickly enough

  • Fact) Grammi Carol and we had been told on multiple occasions between July 2010 to March 2011 that provided the ICPC Report was positive Dakota would be placed with Grammi Carol

  • Fact) Our Attorneys, Belinda Bremiller (M) and Chuck Lagattuta (F), failed to inform us that Grammi Carol should file the Motion despite knowing it was our wishes to have Dakota placed with her

  • Fact) Although we had been requesting Dakota be placed with his Grandmother since June 2010, their attorneys, Belinda Bremiller and Chuck Lagattuta, did not file a Motion for Change in Placement until just before the Contested Severance Trial was set to begin resulting in the Change in Placement hearing and the Contested Severance Trial being held at the same time

Objection 4) Issues with Grammi Carol and me continuing to have contact causing concern for Dakota’s safety

  • Fact) Never raised issues our presence putting Dakota in danger despite visitations being held at our home from August 2010 till Termination Ruling in July 2011.

  • Fact) On July 7, 2011 Judge Aragon ordered all day visit to be supervised by Grammi Carol with us attending. This decision was against Assistant Attorney General Rene Castro and CPS wishes.

  • Fact) Parenting Skills and how Dakota was cared for was never a concern of CPS

Objection 5) Bond developed with Foster Family Dakota has been with for over a year

  • Fact) Dakota was placed with current placement on March 4, 2010 despite previous Foster Mother being willing to be a unlicensed non-relative placement for Dakota

  • Fact) We began requesting Dakota be placed with Grammi Carol in June 2010, after being with current placement only 3 months

  • Fact) CPS Case Manager Edward “Bud” Howard testified that in his opinion changing Dakota’s placement to his Grandmother would be less detrimental to him than cutting off all contact with us

  • Fact) FCRB documents that Case Manager Edward “Bud” Howard was aware of Grammi Carol’s desire to be a placement and that we were requesting Dakota be placed with her after only 3 months with the Foster Family yet it took another 6 months before the ICPC Home Study request was made

Furthermore, this case went through 3 more Case Managers from January 2011 to the final Termination ruling on July 7, 2011.  These Case Managers had the following limited interaction with either us or Grammi Carol while assigned to this case:

  • Barbara Mondragon-1 phone conversation with me, the biological mother and 1 meeting with both of us, Mom and Dad in March 2011

  • Michele Duarte-Supervisor spoke with us 1 time after Petition to Terminate Parental Rights Hearing

  • Nicole Abrams-spoke 1 time on phone with me and corresponded by E-mail with Grammi Carol several times before abruptly ceasing communication 

Both Ms. Mondragon and Ms. Abrams testified that in their opinions it was in Dakota’s best interest to remain with his current placement yet this opinion was based on a handful of visitation reports out of over 200 written and observation of Dakota interacting only with the Foster Parents.

Mr. Howard’s opinion, however was based on observations made during multiple occasions where we were interacting with Dakota, concerns we expressed over the months Mr. Howard was our assigned Case Manager, information gathered by the Parent Aide from us, and two Visitation Reports submitted per week by two different supervising agencies while he was assigned to the case.

The most appropriate ending to this segment of this discussion would be to relate the official reason given for denying the change in placement and custody of Dakota being awarded to people not related by blood to him. However, this cannot be accomplished because that information was never clearly stated in court, or sent in a Court Minute Entry or Judicial Ruling. Grammi Carol e-mailed Case Manager Nicole Abrams inquiring about when Judge Aragon would make his final decision concerning placement, and the only response received was very rudely stating that it had already been made and Dakota would not be going anywhere. This would be the last response from CPS we or Grammi Carol would receive.

In fact, CPS Case Manager Nicole Abrams did not even have the common courteous to notify us when she canceled the visitations supervised the Blake Foundation and AVIVA. Ms. Nicole Abrams did not show even a hint of compassion for the mental and emotional anguish we were going through as parents or as human beings. Rather than inform us when the visits were canceled, she chose to allow us to continue to expect Dakota to arrive for the regularly scheduled visit which he never arrived at. After becoming extremely worried when he was 20 minutes late, we called AVIVA to find out why and were then informed that the visits had been canceled. A short time later, the Parent Aide/Visit Supervisor from Blake Foundation called to let us know she had just been notified of the cancellation and wanted to check on how we were holding up. She was surprised that Ms. Abrams had not notified us herself and could not believe we had been allowed to find out the way we did.

Through mediation meetings with Grammi Carol and the Foster Dad, it was agreed to allow Dakota to continue to have contact with Grammi Carol. However, the Foster Dad was very upset when Grammi Carol’s Attorney John Gilmore suggested having the contact/visitation agreement Court Ordered and was very adamant about not wanting anything court ordered. He stated, at one point, that if anything was court ordered; he would not comply with it. This statement would prove to be an indication of what was to come.

Over the following year, Grammi Carol would text message the Foster Dad once a week or so and when he felt like allowing Dakota to call, Grammi would get to talk to Dakota. Sometimes shortly following the text message, other times it would be a few days. It has been almost 3 months since Grammi has received a call from Dakota, although she does still receive an occasional reply when she sends a text , and when she asked for recent pictures of Dakota, she did receive one single picture. It leaves Dakota’s family to wonder how long before even this comes to an end and they lose contact for good.

This is what Pima County CPS has determined is the most appropriate family to raise Dakota. What was so wrong with his family that he should be separated from them completely. And, how can they have such authority when their responsibilities had not been fulfilled due to incompetence, laziness, or intentional delay tactics by the Case Managers, and the failure of the Courts and the Judge to enforce the laws meant to prevent this from occurring.

Won’t someone notice the reality of the CPS System and take action to change the injustice that has been done to not only our family, but to many others , as well. We are not asking to be exceptions to the rules, on the contrary, we ask that the Courts (and the Judges who preside them) to enforce the laws created to prevent innocent families from being destroyed.  If it actually is “the best interests of the child” and “protecting children from abuse and neglect” that is the primary intent of the Child Welfare System, there is no other acceptable solution.  When CPS Case Managers do not have to explain there actions and provide evidence to support that explanation to the Courts, the Assistant Attorney Generals are allowed to overlook facts of the case disclosed by them at will, and the Attorneys assigned to represent the Parents have no consequences for unsuitable representation of their clients, and the GAL’s and Attorneys for the children can provide opinions on “the best interests of the child” that simply mirror the opinions offered by the State at any given time, while the Parents lose their rights and oftentimes all contact with the child because they haven’t completed all the required classes quickly enough, or worse because of the amount of time the child was kept in out-of-home placement. This can be used as grounds for termination even when the parents are in full compliance with the case plan and CPS is not fulfilling their duties.

So, now I am asking what made it necessary to destroy this family completely in order to keep Dakota safe?  Why was this allowed to occur and how many families have experienced this nightmare. And, most importantly, what is it doing to our children? Isn’t the purpose of CPS to protect our children from harm, yet even with the knowledge of the harm from severance being greater than that without, severance still occurs? 

Why do we continue to refuse to acknowledge that the solution to fixing the problems within the child welfare system is as simple as enforcing the laws society is led to believe protect us. A simple solution to a very widespread problem that no one wants to admit, can you?


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