Arizona DCS Needs Reform…AGAIN

Arizona Child Protective Services/ CPS sucked so much it had to rebrand. As a result, in 2014, the Arizona Department of Child Safety was born and has yet to prove itself different.  

There sadly isn’t enough mainstream media coverage about the injustices done at the hands of this Department. There is no shortage of news reports about how parents have harmed their kids. However, the stories about parents beating the system are few and far between. 

Most parents won’t understand until the Department of Child Safety has legally kidnapped their children, and by then it’s too late. The Department leaves parents totally confused at the process, flabbergasted at their lack of rights, and traumatized by not knowing where their offspring are and what they are going through without them.

Children get shuffled around more than a deck of cards under DCS’s watch. There are 3 options available to the Department when considering placement. The first is with family/ friends for kinship. However, those to be considered for kinship have to jump through hoop after hoop, background investigations, in home inspections and drug tests. 

Foster care is the more common option, this is because background investigations and in-home inspections have already taken place. This is a home sometimes with more than one foster child. The foster parents act as normal parents, by taking your child to school and church, etc. You, as a parent, do not have many rights or say in what happens to your child. They have to ask the parents for permission for a haircut, but not if your child can attend church or to take your child across state lines.

The third option is a group home or emergency home until placement can be found. When all else falls from stealing too many kids and your organization is running out of space, hey, why not have the kids crash in DCS offices.

Nothing is better than having a stranger watch and judge how you interact with your kids. This happens during visitation that allows parents to see their children, either one, 4-hour visit or two, 2 hour visits a week. Of course, under the watchful eye of an employee that will report back to the Department about your conduct.

Why does this happen in the first place? Arizona DCS has a history of overzealously breaking up families and removing children. In Maricopa County, parental rights are terminated 17.5 times* more frequently than in New York City. Does Arizona just have more negligent parents than New York? 

A dependency case is unlike the normal criminal process. In a criminal case, you have Miranda rights, which is the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney present while interrogated. In a DCS dependency/ severance case, anything you say and don’t say will be used against you in the court of law. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t adhere to their questioning without legal counsel. 

That’s right, the Department does not provide parents with a lawyer until the first court hearing, which is after an investigation has taken place. 

Just because mainstream media doesn’t report on the issue much, doesn’t mean it’s not apparent. There is a recent case which is calling attention to DCS reform here in Arizona. 

The Kush Kronicles has been following Lindsey Ridgells case for over a year. Her argument is simple; battle DCS against being entered into the Central Registry, for using medical marijuana while pregnant. Yet, her situation is perplexing, why medical cannabis use is even an issue. 

Although Ridgell kept the placement of her newborn son at home, she still had to jump through hoop after hoop to close her DCS case. She still continues to fight against DCS for being entered into the Central Registry for 25 years. The Department considers this a “safety precaution” and that she should not be allowed to work with children and vulnerable individuals. 

Do the punishments set forth by DCS fit the crime? In more cases than not, NO! 

Ridgell’s case caught the attention of 49 organizations that filed an Amicus brief on her behalf in the Arizona Court of Appeals. 

Because of this case, more and more parents are reaching out to Ridgells attorney Julie Gunnigle. Gunnigle states, “that the time for DCS reform is now.” Gunnigle is the Director of Politics for the Arizona chapter of NORML, 

“DCS has shown that it is either unable or unwilling to follow the law. By separating families and placing people on the Central Neglect Registry, DCS is continuing the war on cannabis and our families and children are the casualties.”

States Gunnigle. 

For those feeling helpless or hopeless in this face of this unaccountable punitive bureaucracy, I invite you to join  ARIZONA NORML’s DCS taskforce. This task force will advocate for an end to prohibitionist laws that fail Arizona families and serve as a working group for legislative action. 

To join: https://forms.gle/Pdr5gVcMSk14uuAR8 or email storyinfo420az@gmail.com

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