Minnesota on the Map for Two International Custody Battles Involving Japan

It is evil to take the children away from loving parents, the only home they’ve ever known, and then proclaim, because we’ve landed on an airplane, that this is where they live now. My question is how long are we going to put up with this? How long are we going to allow this to happen?” ~ Daniel Larson, father involved in international custody dispute

Minnesota has become the center of two international custody battles, that represent a much larger problem happening in every state of the U.S., involving international abduction and international child-custody litigation. Cases of international custody are notoriously complicated, in many cases the laws and rights of American citizens, and their children, no longer apply – or court orders can not be enforced abroad. 

In Minnesota, two fathers have been ripped from their children’s lives and forced to live in limbo between two countries, fighting to regain custody of their children who have been taken to Japan, a foreign country in which they previously had no ties to. 

The first story involves Daniel Larson, a father of two children, who is a U.S. citizen while his ex-wife holds Japanese citizenship. The Larson family made their home in Hennepin County, where both children were born and raised, attended school, developed friendships, and were part of a close loving family…until an attempted international abduction, followed by an unjust family court order turned their lives upside down 

Angie Banga was appointed as Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to the Larson children; this recommendation would be the last of her career. Banga is a former business partner with Jamie L. Manning, they have owned several businesses in Minnesota that involved family court services. One complaint raised about Bangas says this,“Angie tries to come across as very nice but is known to play to the courts and other attorneys so she gets more referrals.  They trade business back and forth, play to the judges so they keep the gravy  train flowing so everybody wins at the expense of the family.”

Both Banga and Manning have had numerous complaints raised against them by parents complaining of unprofessional conduct, and actions that unfairly robbed parents of the right to raise their children, and be a part of their lives. In many of these cases, children have been endangered or actually injured as a result of Banga and Manning’s recommendations. Angie Banga has now retired and lives in Pinellas, Florida; enjoying her life while families and children suffer as a result of her actions. Jamie L. Manning continues to work as a Guardian ad Litem, and performs side jobs in family court. The Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Board has been made aware of complaints and has yet to do anything to address serious issues and allegations surrounding Manning.

Angie Banga

In 2011, Larson’s ex-wife told him that she was quitting her job, taking the children, and moving to Akita, Japan to live with her parents. In a desperate attempt to save the marriage, and keep the family together, Larson agreed to move to Japan – with the provision that he could return to the States within 6 months to either visit or move back permanently to Minnesota.

When Larson arrived in Japan, he describes his wife’s behavior as hostile; and that she was verbally and emotionally abusive. She stole the children’s passports and hid them, and made it clear that she had no intention of remaining in the marriage any longer.  Larson’s wife kept the children (who are U.S. citizens) with her. Larson was forced to navigate a foreign country all alone – while fighting to bring his children home.

After 7 agonizing months, Larson was able to obtain replacement passports and return to Minnesota with his children, where he filed for divorce.  The wife tried to sue Larson for International Child Abduction – which both parents were cleared of since they are married, and there was no formal custody agreement. However, since the children had remained in Japan for over 6 months, the courts would now consider their permanent residence in Japan.

Daniel Larson and Children (Source: CrowdRise)

The real nightmare began when the Larson family entered family court, and Angie Banga was appointed as GAL. In August 2013, Banga decided that the Larson children needed to be raised “bilingual” and recommended the children move back to Japan. Banga’s recommendation stated Larson could either have joint custody if he moved to Japan, or would be granted visitation 8 weeks a year in Minnesota. However, in Japan, joint custody is not recognized and can not be legally enforced.  Second, 8 weeks a year is not nearly enough time to appropriately parent, and be a part of a child’s life… such a recommendation amounts to court-ordered parental alienation.

The family court judge quickly sided with Banga. According to Larson, the judge stepped off the bench, and personally came to pressure him into making a deal that involved allowing the children moving to Japan, and threatened “you make a deal where the kids go to Japan or I’ll make one for you, and you won’t like the one I’ll make...”  Though Larson had a formidable legal team on his side, overcoming a GAL and a judge would be difficult, if not impossible. Under duress, Larson signed a custody agreement. 

In January 2014, Larson says his children were forcibly taken, in an incident that involved the judge and the police who demonstrated a show of force to uproot the children from the only life they have ever known and whisk them across the world.

Larson says he has made efforts to abide by the court order, and remain in the lives of his children, as best as he can under this very difficult situation. The cost of legal litigation has taken a devastating financial toll, as has flying across the world to see his children. Larson lost the house he owned in Minnesota and now  spends all of his earnings to afford visits to Japan, the support of family and friends has helped him to survive. Larson has captured many of these visits on video to keep his children close when they are apart, how fast children grow up… especially when they live a world away and with each passing day, their former life becomes more of a passing memory.

Daniel Larson shares his story online at: 

Kids Living in Japan (CrowdRise) by Daniel Larson

 

In a second case, from St. Louis Park, father, James Cook, is involved in an international custody dispute with Hitomi Arimitsu, wife, involving 4 children. 

In July 2014, the marriage hit a rocky point so Cook and family took a vacation to Japan to take a needed break. Cook went home first, with the understanding that Arimitsu would visit her family then return with the children. What was supposed to be a six week visit turned into a tumultuous international custody battle – for the last two years, Cook has not had contact with his children.

When Cook filed for divorce in a  Minnesota court, he was granted temporary custody. Arimitsu has refused to abide by the order, which left her in contempt of Minnesota and Japanese courts.

In February 2017, Arimitsu won custody through a court in Osaka, claiming Cook did not have the ability to care for the children in Minnesota, and their lives would be in “grave danger” if returned to his care. Cook denies the allegations and says he will continue to fight for the return of his children.

Read More on James Cook’s story:

Bring my kids back from Japan (James Cook Go Fund Me)

International law tangles Minnesota custody battle (MPR News)

Japanese courts rule Minnesota children will stay in Japan (MPR News)

James Cook, Hitomi Arimitsu and Children (Source: Go Fund Me)

Posted in Family Court, Guardian ad Litem, Jamie L. Manning, Parents in Family Court | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

(Minnesota) Rep. Paul Thissen Fights for Government Transparency

statecapitol

Minnesotans expect and deserve a government that puts them first, but too many people are disconnecting from a political process that they see as disproportionately benefiting the wealthy and well-connected.

 Minnesotans I’ve heard from are frustrated by a lack of transparency and sense that special interests are pulling strings behind the scenes. We owe it to those Minnesotans and all of our constituents to make our legislature more transparent and more open to the public – even if it causes discomfort for us as legislators.” ~ Rep. Paul Thissen, 2016

(Minnesota, Feb 2017) Speaker of the House, Paul Thissen (DFL, 61B) and Representative John Lesch (DFL, 66B) introduced a bill HF1065 to make the Legislature subject to the Minnesota Data Practices Act and the state’s open meeting laws. HF1065 as introduced – 90th Legislature (2017 – 2018)

In a Facebook post dated February 9th, Rep. Thissen wrote: “Today I introduced a bill to make the legislature subject to the Minnesota Data Practices Act and our state’s open meeting laws. For decades, the Legislature exempted itself from these laws.

Too many Minnesotans are discouraged and believe that state government is working for insiders and the well-connected rather than working – as it should – for regular people. I believe sunshine leads to trust and accountability. By opening the Legislature up to the same data practices and open meeting requirements we demand of all other elected officials, we can start rebuilding trust and create better laws too.”

 The bill would make ALL meetings and conferences held within the Legislature open to the public, with advance notice. Advance notice means that public will be informed of issues and proposals facing the Legislature; and be able to follow legislation or provide feedback. In the current system these discussions are too often held behind closed doors, meetings are rarely announced or the public is not generally unaware of what the Legislature is doing.

Opening meetings and conference to the public would also increase government transparency, and accountability. Another benefit is that it would also encourage increased participation from the public, and community leaders, in the Legislative process.

Provisions of the bill include:

Letters, emails and other communication and documents (but not individual constituent correspondence) will generally be available for public review;

All legislative schedules will be public so citizens know who their representative is meeting;

All meetings – including conference committees — will be open to all Minnesotans with sufficient advance notice to allow real public participation;

Requirements for transparent information and open meetings will be enforced “with real teeth”.

This bill builds on the legislative reform package Rep. Thissen introduced in January 2016, which can be read here: Rep. Thissen releases Legislative Reform Package to make Minnesota’s government more open and accessible to the public

Sources: 

Press Release Rep. Thissen introduces bill to subject Legislature to Data Practices Act (2/10/2017)

Minnesota Opinion: Kill Legislature’s ridiculous secret-meeting exemption (Duluth News Tribune)

Our Opinion: Support open government, transparency (Austin Daily Herald)

Posted in Legal and News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maine and Minnesota Conduct Surveys on GAL Program (2017)

 I am posting a comparison two recent surveys conducted on the GAL program in two different states – Minnesota and Maine — because I believe that it is helpful to study the efforts different states have made to improve the quality of Guardian ad Litem (GAL) services, and to hear the public response (if available). The importance of surveys is that they are anonymous and give parents a way to raise their concerns without recrimination.

The following is provided for informational purposes only and is NOT meant to evaluate or criticize the GAL program in either state.

If you have found other states offering surveys, please post the link in the comment section and I will include it for discussion. Thank you!

The Surveys: 

The Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board has issued a survey to allow the public to give feedback on the program’s complaint process, used to file grievances against GALs (**survey closed 2/24/2017**).  MN State GAL Board

The State of Maine recently issued a Vendor Survey so that the parents and their attorneys can offer feedback about their experiences with Guardian ad Litem services (**survery closed 2/15/2017). The survey is offered as part of a  LD 872 An Act To Improve the Quality of Guardian ad Litem Services for the Children and Families of Maine – meaning the survey is just one part of the state’s efforts to address the performance, and quality of GAL services. State of Maine Guardians ad Litem Services Survey

Public Notice of the Survey:

Minnesota: Survey seems to be hidden, it is not publicly advertised. Survey is placed in an obscure location on the State GAL Board webpage and is difficult to find. Survey does not show up in online search results.

Maine: The survey is widely publicized in a number of places, including online. Survey shows up in online search results.

A good sign the survey has reached public attention is when people are blogging about the survey, and related subjects, or posting on social media. This has also happened with the Maine GAL survey.

 Language:

Minnesota: Survey is comprised of 6 questions that deal exclusively with the complaint process or complaint appeals process. The survey questions are simple, and easy to read. There are two surveys available – survey one is for BOTH CPS and family court issues, and to be filled out by parents. Survey two has not been released at the time of this article, and I believe it is to be directed towards GALs (? Please comment if you have updated info!).

The language is confusing  because the two terms are used interchangeably. It is hard to understand if the survey deals with the complaint process overall, or just the appeals process. 

The introduction to the survey is confusing:”The GAL Board implemented a Complaint Investigation Appeal Panel process in 2015 to allow an additional layer of complaint review, if the complainant or GAL is unsatisfied with the resolution of the standard complaint process. In an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the complaint process, your input is requested.

It would be hard to answer the survey if you did not understand what is being asked. Some questions I had – What is the Complaint Investigation Appeals Panel? Who sits on the Appeals Panel, and how are they chosen? The GAL can also appeal a complaint made against them? What is the rights and/or options of a parent if the GAL appealed? Were there any other changes to the Complaint Process made in 2015? How can the Board determine how effective the revised Complaint Process is if they have not gathered information about the complaint procedure prior to 2015… and if the Board has gathered information, where is it?

The language of the Minnesota survey gives the impression that people who did not participate in the Appeals Panel would not be eligible for this survey. If that is the case, information regarding the Complaint Process overall would not be gathered; which makes absolutely no sense because the Complaint Process and the Appeals Panel are all part of the same procedure. To understand how the Appeals Panel is working, you would also need to understand and study the Complaint Process where the complaint originated, and what happened to send the complaint to Appeals.

Katherine Johnson, a reporter with KSTP News, recently reported on the Complaint Process that:” In a 15-month period that ended in November, only four complaints made it all the way up to the appeals panel out of 10,265 new cases where a guardian ad litem was assigned. That’s not even one percent.” Guardian ad Litem Board Works to Improve Complaint Process

SO if the Guardian ad Litem Board is ONLY taking surveys from people who made it to the Appeals Panel, that means only 4 parents are eligible to respond?!? You also have to wonder if the GAL appealing the complaint is part of the reason why only 4 complaints made it to the Appeals Panel. The lack of information offered to the public, and lack of communication overall from the MN GAL Board, raises more questions – and contributes confusion about the program. 

Public Domain: pixaby.com

Public Domain: pixaby.com

Maine: Survey is comprised of 12 questions.

The language of the survey is neutral but also encourages feedback. The Guardian ad Litem Services Survey provides “quick links” to the left of the page that offer additional information for parents including Maine Rules for GALs, Complaint Form, Fee Schedule for GALs (and more). The links offer information that clearly state the role and responsibilities of a GAL, which is helpful when doing the survey, and describing the role of a GAL on an individual case.

There are four surveys – because the CPS and family court cases are separated there is a survey offered for parents and attorneys in each category. The questions for each surveys is the same. The public can click on the links and see the questions asked for all surveys (which is nice, and demonstrates transparency).

Opportunity for Feedback:

Minnesota – The GAL survey is open to parents who have worked with GALs in family court or CPS. The survey ONLY deals with one issue –  the Complaint Investigation Appeals Panel.

Maine – The survey is open to parents, and their attorneys, who have worked with GALs in family court or CPS.  The survey offers participants to provide feedback on several issues, and encourages participants to share their own thoughts or experiences by providing blank comment boxes.

Accountability:

Minnesota – The Guardian ad Litem Board will review survey responses, no further information provided. In Minnesota, the last statewide GAL program audit was conducted in 1995 and the last time public feedback was asked for with comments being publicized was around 1997.

Maine – Survey responses will be anonymous. Results will be summarized in a report that will “be used in the evaluation process of Guardian ad Litem services”. The Judicial Branch is supposed to be making a presentation to the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 15, 2017. As part of that presentation it is expected that the Judicial Branch will be showing what statistics they have collected on their vendors.

The State of Maine has worked overall to increase transparency, and accountability in the GAL program, and has made reports and audits publicly available, including posting results online.

*************************

A Call to Action applauds the efforts of the GAL program to conduct a survey, and gather public feedback. We encourage efforts to increase transparency, and accountability, in the GAL program. And to welcome the participation of parents and professionals in these efforts.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? PLZ POST BELOW!

Additional Reading: 

Maine GAL Alert: Guardians ad Litem (GALs) Vendor Services Survey – Ending 2/15/2017

Is the New Maine Guardian ad litem Complaint Process Fair to Parents?

After 20+ Years Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Board STILL Working to Improve Complaint Process

 

COPY OF THE MINNESOTA GAL SURVEY FEB. 2017

Complaint Investigation Appeals Process Review

The GAL Board implemented a Complaint Investigation Appeal Panel process in 2015 to allow an additional layer of complaint review, if the complainant or GAL is unsatisfied with the resolution of the standard complaint process. In an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the complaint process, your input is requested.
Deadline for public input: Friday, February 24, 2017
The following questions are designed to provide you an opportunity to share information regarding your experiences.

1. Have you been through the complaint investigation appeal process?

Yes
No

2. If you have chosen not to utilize the complaint process, please explain why.

3. What has your experience been with the complaint process?

4. Were you clear about your role and responsibilities with the process?

5. Are there specific recommendations for changes to the process?
If yes, what are the recommendations and what are the reasons for changes?

6. Type of Case?

Juvenile
Family
Comments:

7. Optional Information

Name
District/County
Posted in Child Protection/CPS, Guardian ad Litem, Legal and News, Parents in Family Court | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Meeting Reminder Minnesota State GAL Board Meeting – Feb. 16, 2017 – 9 am

Upcoming Meeting Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board Meeting

Date: February 16, 2017

Time: 9 am

Place: 

Northern Service Center, Room 430

1 Mendota Road

West St. Paul, MN

Website: Minnesota GAL Meeting

Please visit MN State GAL Board website for meeting agenda, and more detailed information 

_______________

 

** OF INTEREST ***

State GAL Board Policy on Public Comment

The purpose of having a time for public comment is to allow members of the public to speak to the GAL Board as a group.

The time for public comment is limited to 15 minutes to allow the Board to have time to get through each meeting’s agenda items.  The 15 minute time limit may be extended to 20 minutes at the discretion of the Chair depending on the number of speakers. Board members are volunteers and some have full-time jobs so their time is limited.

The GAL program has a complaint process outlined on its website for individuals who believe a specific GAL has violated some policy of the program or a statutory duty.  The Board approved the complaint process as part of its policy making duties.  The Board does not take action on complaints outside the complaint process.

We understand that litigation is highly contentious and emotional, especially when dealing with family relationships.  It is ultimately judges who make decisions about custody and parenting time and the welfare of a child or children who are the subject of a court matter. The duties of a GAL are established by court rule, statute, and case law.  The Board has adopted policies regarding training to help GAL’s perform their duties competently. 

The Board will not allow members of the public to interrupt its meetings or cause disruptions to the orderly process of getting through our agenda.  Individuals who are disruptive will be asked to leave.

Thoughts on this? Please Post in Comments Section Below!

 

 

Posted in Family Court, Guardian ad Litem, Legal and News, Meetings & Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Former Montana CASA/GALs Work to Reform System

Public Domain: pixaby.com

Public Domain: pixaby.com

(Montana, 1/31/2017): The Gallatin County GAL/CASA program is to advocate for abused and neglected children involved in the court system. CASA volunteers work directly with children and also gather information from records, and interview those involved in the child’s life, to make recommendations about what is in the best interest of children. Gallatin County CASA/GAL

Recently, two of Gallatin County GAL/CASA’s co-directors, Nancy Mitchell and Anita Nybo, retired from their work in the program because they felt that the system did allow them to keep children safe; and only by leaving could they find a way to better advocate for and protect children. Mitchell worked for the program for 16 years, and Nybo for 30 years. Women who advocate for abused children leave lasting legacy

Mitchell and Nybo are now advocating in a different capacity – by publicly speaking out about the system’s failures, and it’s devastating impact on children. Montana favors parents’ rights over kids’ safety, advocates charge

Nybo says the system is broken and the state places a higher priority on reuniting children with a dysfunctional family than protecting a child from an abusive or harmful situation. Nybo says,”Reunifying families is a worthy goal but the emphasis should be on the child’s health and safety.”

Mitchell says the safety of child is not being made a priority, and even in cases where there have been multiple reports of abuse, the state rarely intervenes to remove the children from an unsafe home. Instead, abuse allegations are often dismissed as “unsubstantiated”.

At the same time, concerned parents say the State wrongly removes children from fit, loving homes – and places them into situations that are dangerous. In the eyes of these parents, the State should be taking children into its custody less often and working harder to keep families together.  

So what is going on?

Public Domain: http://eskipaper.com

Public Domain: http://eskipaper.com

My opinion – based on my experiences after having been involved with family court and CPS, both who both have failed to protect my children from abuse and worked to give custody to a dangerous abuser. I have also met, and worked alongside, parents (both mothers and fathers) from all over the country, who have experienced similar and are now fighting to reform the system.

What Mitchell and Nybo are reporting and what the protective parents are reporting is the SAME problem. They are just looking at it from different vantage points of being involved in the system. 

Complaint: The family court system and CPS is taking children from fit, loving homes and giving custody to abusive or dangerous parents. Children are then re-abused.

CPS is wrongly taking children from fit, loving families and putting them into State care, never to be returned.

Another complaint is that CPS is failing to protect children from truly dangerous parents, and returning them to the abuse.

In each of these complaints, the safety and well-being of children is not being met by those charged with their protection, or not being met by those who have the responsibility to intervene.

In each of these complaints, the system is failing to recognize child abuse or is covering up child abuse. Instead of protecting the children, the state is protecting the abuser.

When the system fails there is no avenue to protect children; and protective parents are stripped of their rights, and ability to defend themselves or to protect their children. 

When the system fails, even dedicated and knowledgeable professionals are helpless to protect children and families. There are also instances when professionals are retaliated against for raising complaints, or not going along with the status quo.

And then there are the differences in the experiences and perspectives of CASA workers like Nybo and Mitchell, and those belonging to concerned or “protective” parents.

The point I want to make is that despite the differences, both perspectives have valid concerns, and have valuable insight to offer from being involved with the system, and experiencing it’s failures first hand. And both have a stated mission to put the safety and well-being of children first. Both are whistle blowers.

So what keeps professionals and parents from working together?

One of the failures of the CPS and family court system is that it is adversarial – promoting division, taking sides, tearing apart families and making parents somehow “prove” (like it’s a reality show!) they are more deserving to win custody. As a result, too often professionals are suspicious of parents. Or parents are suspicious of professionals. And a history of negative experiences – dismissing child abuse allegations, giving custody to dangerous parents, punishing those who raise concerns, lack of accountability, lack of public transparency etc – can cause bias, tension and painful emotions that keeps both parents and professionals from bridging the divide, even when they have the same interests at heart. 

What I learned from this article is that there are truly dedicated, concerned people working in the system who want to make a positive difference in the lives of families, and children.

I didn’t hear it so much in the article but what to emphasize, from my own experience- that there are parents who have been victimized by the system, and whose children have been unjustly taken from them. When these parents speak out or attempt to get help, they are often looked upon with scorn and suspicion. Parents are able to find support in other parents who have been through similar experiences but finding professionals to offer help or support has been more difficult. It is time to stop judging protective parents and instead, take the time to listen and consider their evidence or documentation, and consider how their lives have been devastated by the loss of their children. Their efforts to regain children should be supported.

Instead of continuing the strife, mistrust, suspicion instigated by family court or CPS into our private lives.. look at what the failures and corruption happening in the system overall. Examine how society is being negatively affected by these failures. How children’s lives are being permanently affected by abuse and trauma, some do not survive to adulthood. Only then will you see how families, children and professionals are all ensnared.

What I learned from this article is that professionals, parents, family members and concerned community members need to work TOGETHER to fight for needed change in family court and CPS. All need to come together to be a voice for the children involved. 

 

Posted in Child Protection/CPS, Family Court, Legal and News, Parents in Family Court | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hennepin County CPS Pilot Project Focuses on Prevention, Support

(Minnesota, 1/26/2017) Katherine Johnson of KSTP News reports that Hennepin County is participating in a pilot program aimed to assist at-risk families to prevent their children from entering into the Child Protection system. The program would include offering support and community resources. 

Jennifer DeCubellis, the Deputy County Administrator for Hennepin County Health and Human Services says,”Instead of removing those kids, putting them through the court system and taking apart families, we really want to find where can we invest in families differently and ensure the success of families and the successful development of these kids…” Hennepin County Child Protection Pilot Program Aims to Shift Focus to Front End

A CALL TO ACTION: PLEASE go to the KSTP link (above) to read the article and then leave your comments or share your experiences with Gov. Dayton, Rep. Flanagan and Senator Hayden. Look for the blue “Take Action” box in the middle of the screen. Click the buttons, and follow instructions, to either send a video of the KSTP coverage or to leave your own personal message. 

Additionally, the William Mitchell College of Law offered a report with recommendations from its Child Protection Clinic to the CPS Task Force. I found the following information online: Child Protection Program at William Mitchell College of Law Comments to State Task Force on Protection of Children

At this time, it is unclear what the Hennepin County pilot project would offer. However, William Mitchell offers detailed recommendations in its proposal for a pilot project.

The emphasis of the proposed recommendations offered by William Mitchell is keeping families intact and increasing their chances of stability and success.

I am posting the recommendations from William Mitchell to provide an idea of what is possible:

  • Offering attorneys/legal representation to parents at risk of entering the system.
  • Additionally, attorneys would be provided with, and encouraged to utilize, supportive services (parent mentors, social workers, experts, community supports, material resources) rather than rely solely on the legal system
  • Increased training for attorneys working with CPS cases. This would also include case load limits for attorneys so they are not over burdened.  As well as increased oversight of attorneys working CPS cases (this would make sense since the attorneys would likely be paid through tax payer dollars, and would be providing a public service).
  • Parent mentoring programs. William Mitchell defines a “parent mentor” as,”Parent mentors are individuals who have successfully navigated the child protection system and who seek to help and empower parents with open cases.Parent mentors provide emotional and material support (providing advocacy for families, transportation, helping fill out forms, attending meetings with parents, etc). There was no mention if mentors would be financially compensated, or how parents would be recruited. The recommendations did suggest that parent mentors work alongside or in conjunction with existing social service programs.
  • William Mitchell recommended that the Minnesota Legislature provide $500,000 in funding to initiate a pilot program in two counties for parent mentor programs, and to include an evaluation of the programs. 
  • Creating an independent board to provide oversight and regulation of contracting practices of parent representation. 
  • Enacting legislation to provide access to parent mentors for all parents in the child protection system before and during court involvement.

On a personal note, I hope similar reform efforts will be directed towards family court, and its practices as well. Parents are routinely deprived of custody, and estranged from children, as the result of family court proceedings. Most families face similar challenges of lack of legal representation or being unable to afford legal help. The emphasis on keeping families intact, and empowering parents rather than tearing them down, is also greatly needed in the family court system.

Efforts made to initiate needed change, and the work it requires to secure funding are more than worth the investment in our children, who are not born in care of that state, but rather placed in families by divine design. Only in extraordinary circumstances should children be removed from families. The system as it is now is liberally removing children, while denying parents the protection under the law that they are Constitutionally guaranteed… the result is not only destroying the lives of children and families, but destroying society as a whole.

Reform in CPS, family court, will not come easy. And will require an honest look at the system’s failings, and the devastation caused on families. But only through honesty can we hope to address the needs that are there while also making the well-being of children a priority.

Great work to parents, professionals, and lawmakers working to improve the Child Protection system! And thanks to Katherine Johnson (KSTP) and other media sources raising awareness of these important issues!

 

Posted in Child Abuse, Child Protection/CPS, Legal and News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After 20+ Years Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Board STILL Working to Improve Complaint Process

Minnesota, Jan. 2017:  The Board that manages Minnesota’s GAL program has absolutely failed to address serious issues that have put children’s live at risk, caused children to be placed in the custody of unsafe parents and then be re-abused, and contributed to families being torn apart and children, estranged from parents…as documented in complaints raised by parents. 

Families have been coming forward for 20+ years to raise complaints about individual Guardian ad Litems in regards to unprofessional conduct, and conduct that violates their mandated duties.

Many concerns have been raised about the use of guardians ad litem. Most complaints have centered on guardian actions in family court cases, primarily in contested divorce actions. Complaints have focused on guardian bias, lack of oversight and accountability, inadequate training, and inappropriate communication between guardians and judges. Parents have also complained that there is no place to seek relief if they have a problem with a guardian.” GAL Executive Summary (95-03) February 28, 1995

A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a person appointed by a court to advocate for a child in court proceedings, and be a neutral fact finder that reports to the court. GALs became commonly used after 1974 when Congress required states to pass legislation to appoint a guardian in every judicial proceeding raising concerns about the abuse or neglect of a child. Family court cases where a GAL is appointed due to allegations of abuse or neglect are called “mandatory” appointments because a GAL is required in these situations. A judge may also appoint a GAL at his discretion which is called a “permissive” appointment. In Minnesota, GALs are comprised of both volunteers and paid staff.

The Guardian ad Litem Board was created to improve accountability in the program. However, complaints have also been raised against GAL program managers and the Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board itself, claiming they have ignored or failed to take complaints against GALs, among other concerns.

Complaints may also result due to the way the GAL program is structured. In Minnesota, there are 10 judicial districts, “Each judicial district program is configured to service the needs of the judicial district.” (MN State GAL Board website). The district is supervised by a program manager, and above the 10 program managers is a Program Administrator who reports to the Board directly. What this means is that the Minnesota GAL program is intrinsically fragmented and no two districts manage their GALs the same way. This is also means the financial resources of each district varies, and with it, the quality of services provided. 

Improving accountability in the GAL program has been a concern since 1995, when the program was last auditedEvaluations Report GALs 1995 (Minnesota)

A recent report by Katherine Johnson of KSTP News Guardian ad Litem Board Works to Improve Complaint Process was filmed at the most recent GAL Board Meeting  and includes public testimony from a brave mother who filed a complaint against a GAL, who says,” ...many of our attempts have been basically shut down and we get retaliated against..” 

After 20+ years, parents are still complaining about the GAL program! And those complaints are NOT being heard because obviously, if the GAL Board was actually taking complaints and responding, we would have seen change by now. Instead the same concerns and issues are being raised year after year, and those tasked with investigating instead deny a problem exists and instead works to cover up the failures of Guardians, and the program. How is this advocating for children? It’s not! The focus should now be on what is best for children – and to advocate for their needs, even when the GAL program fails to do so. 

This contradicts a recommendation made from the 1995 audit that,”The oversight boards could be modeled after the Lawyers’ Profession Responsibility Board, appointed by the judiciary, with representation from judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem, and the community. The boards’ responsibilities could include investigating complaints about guardians, removing guardians for cause, and hearing grievances of guardians who were removed at the local level.The Lawyers’ Profession Responsibility Board offers public records of lawyers who have been publicly disciplined. However, there is no public reporting for complaints and disciplinary action raised against GALs. There also exists a lack of public reporting about the GAL program, and its performance overall.

Incredibly, KSTP reports Board member and St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson saying at the meeting,”I have not seen one example of a guardian ad litem overstepping beyond his or her authority or the scope of their duties.

How is that possible? A Call to Action has been flooded with complaints from parents, and has supported parents who have filed complaints both recently and in the past against GALs; many of these parents also express frustration at the poor response of Program Manager and the State GAL Board in responding to their complaints. 

I personally have witnessed a parent file a complaint with supporting evidence to accompany it and when filed with the GAL Board they rejected the complaint, and required the parent to re-file not one but 3 times. The complaint dragged through the process at a snail’s pace, with almost no communication from the Board. The Board was also privy to the parent’s GAL file and used information from it without getting a signed release from the parent. The parent was not allowed to read what was in their GAL file; even though it was being used to consider their complaint. Ultimately the GAL Board dismissed the complaint which left the parent involved, and the supporting witnesses who stepped forward to provide affidavits and supporting documentation, baffled. The ultimate result of this was that a vulnerable child was placed into the sole custody of an identified abuser, despite overwhelming physical evidence and documentation of abuse, at the recommendation of a GAL. The protective parent was not only stripped of custody but forced into very limited contact with the child, in supervised visitation… and has been fighting to get out of supervised visits for over a year (despite positive reports from the facility, and no complaints of child abuse ever being raised).

The current complaint procedure was revised in 2015, after the Board received a number of complaints. Along with it, was a demand for change from parents affected by program failures. At that time, the Board allowed the public to submit written letters or e-mail to offer feedback. A Call to Action Update: April 2015 – Families Impacted by Guardian ad Litem Failures, Board Revising Its Complaint Procedure (Complaints from parents can also be read at this link)

The Board is now opening their program up to public feedback again, and promises to post a survey so that the public can provide input on how to make the complaint process better. MN Guardian ad Litem Board

A current audit of the GAL program is long overdo. Considering the long history of program failures and how those failures have harmed children and families, an audit is also necessary. Another source of information that would be helpful is the results of the Family Court Enhancement Project, one of the pilot courts involved was in Hennepin County, and included an examination of the GAL program.

A Call to Action applauds the efforts of the parents and professionals working to raise awareness about systemic problems existing in the GAL program, and those working toward meaningful reform. Together we are stronger!

Contact A Call to Action for information about group events and reform efforts at:

pakcomments @ live dot com

Reform Measures That Have Been Proposed:

Proposed GAL Reform

Minnesota GAL Reform Efforts: Changes Proposed to Guardian ad Litem Appointment & Responsibilities (HF3564)

(A Bill Passed in California that offers important changes that could also be implemented in Minnesota) House Concurrent Resolution 150 – Child Safety Should Be Top Priority in Child Custody Cases

 

 

Posted in Family Court, Guardian ad Litem, Legal and News, Parents in Family Court | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

12-Year Old Girl Survived Abuse, Now Advocating for Other Children in “the System”

stopchildabuseribbon

(October 2016) McKenna Ahrenholz is not your average 12 year old… she is a survivor of child abuse and neglect; she is wise beyond her years. McKenna’s earliest memories involve being “in the system”. She and her 4 siblings have been involved with multiple child protective agencies from across the state for most of their lives.

McKenna is now using her story to raise awareness about abuse, and the experiences of being involved with CPS, and state care. She has given public testimony at the Legislative Taskforce on Child Protection, where she urged lawmakers to protect the rights of foster children. Of those rights, is to be represented in court by a volunteer attorney. Without an attorney, foster children do not have a representative in court. In cases like McKenna’s, they may be returned to an abusive home because no one is looking out for them.

The people who make the laws like yourselves need to hear us children who are the ones going through such a crazy life.” ~ McKenna Ahrenholz

Read McKenna’s story at: Children at Risk: Foster Children’s Rights Ignored

 

Posted in Child Abuse, Child Protection/CPS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Video: Family Court Judge ASLEEP During CSA Custody Proceedings

Trumbull County, Ohio, August 2011: Shocking video footage shows a family court judge falling asleep, and what sounds like snoring or groaning, during testimonies involving child sexual abuse.

The judge can clearly be seen in the video, during several small segments, leaning forward with his head on the desk or on his hands, hunched over, while a witness is being questioned. In another segment, the Plaintiff’s witness looks towards the judge and says clearly, “He’s sleeping.” during her testimony. After a few seconds, the judge wakes up with a loud groan or snore.

This video was posted on YouTube by the advocacy group “Mothers Against Sexual Abuse” 

 

Posted in Child Abuse, Family Court, Parents in Family Court | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

House Concurrent Resolution 150 – Child Safety Should Be Top Priority in Child Custody Cases

This resolution aims to ensure that states know Congress believes child safety should be the top concern in custody cases, and we look forward to helping raise public awareness about these important issues. Our hope is that this resolution will lead to far fewer cases of child abuse and death at the hands of abusive parents.” – Attorney Craig Saperstein, worked on the Pillsbury team that drafted and advocated for the resolution.

 

A Call to Action!

We need your help to pass an important resolution that would make child safety a top priority in child custody and visitation decisions made by family courts. Also requiring state courts to  assess safety risks, and allegations of domestic or child abuse before considering other best interest factors.

The bill also urges Congress to “…schedule hearings on family courts’ practices with regard to the objective, fair, and adjudication of children’s safety and civil rights.

Read the proposed bill: H.Con.Res.150 – Expressing the sense of Congress that child safety is the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications, and that state courts should improve adjudications of custody where family violence is alleged.

House Concurrent Resolution 150 is co-sponsored by Congress members Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) and was introduced in the House in September 2016.

Protecting our children is one of the most important things that we can do for society. 

Unfortunately, some courts are overlooking potential signs of abuse and are relying on scientifically unsound factors to make decisions that impact a child’s life.

Courts should resolve all claims of abuse independently before looking at any other factors in deciding custody or visitation. An independent and rigorous investigation into claims of abuse, coupled with heightened evidentiary standards, will help courts prevent the endangerment of any child.” ~ Congressman Ted Poe on Resolution 150

Child abuse is a major public health issue in the United States, approximately 15 million children are exposed each year to domestic violence and/or child abuse. 

Survivors of domestic violence are often involved in child custody proceedings with their abuser. Similarly, child abuse allegations often surface in family court. Systemic failures in family court are failing to address or properly investigate abuse allegations, and result in rulings that reject reports of abuse, and rulings put the lives of children at risk of further harm or abuse.  Research shows that abusive parents are often granted custody or unprotected visitation by courts, placing children at ongoing risk; and that  a child’s risk of abuse increases after a perpetrator of domestic violence separates from a domestic partner, even if the perpetrator has not previously abused the child. 

House Concurrent Resolution 150 attempts to address these issues by putting into federal law:

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring) That it is the sense of Congress that—

(1) child safety is the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications, and courts should resolve safety risks and claims of family violence first, as a fundamental consideration, before assessing other best interest factors;

(2) quasi-scientific evidence should be admitted by courts only when it meets admissibility standards for scientific evidence;

(3) evidence from court-affiliated or appointed fee-paid professionals regarding adult or child abuse allegations in custody cases should be considered only when the professional possesses documented expertise and experience in the relevant types of abuse, trauma, and the behaviors of victims and perpetrators;

(4) States should define required standards of expertise and experience for appointed fee-paid professionals who provide evidence to the court on abuse, trauma and behaviors of victims and perpetrators, should specify requirements for the contents of such professional reports, and should require courts to find that any appointed professionals meet those standards;

(5) States should consider models under which court-appointed professionals are paid directly by the courts, with potential reimbursement by the parties after due consideration of the parties’ financial circumstances; and

(6) Congress should schedule hearings on family courts’ practices with regard to the objective, fair, and adjudication of children’s safety and civil rights.

HOW YOU CAN HELP move this Resolution forward

  1. Look up who your Representative Is: Find Your Representative
  2. Call or Write your Representative to ask him/her to become a co-sponsor of Resolution 150. You may also join efforts with a local group, advocacy group or support group.
  3. Repost and Share links to Resolution 150 on your social media accounts.
  4. Share Resolution 150 with friends, family and associates and suggest that they support Resolution 150 in the same way

booties

For More Information: 

DV LEAP Hosts Congressional Briefing to Address Injustices in Family Court

Poe Introduces Concurrent Resolution on Child Safety in Courts

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline

Posted in Child Abuse, Family Court, Guardian ad Litem, Legal and News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment