Dependency Court hearings in Phoenix are sadly predictable as Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Andrew Klein moves from one tragic situation to another, says the Arizona Republic. He has successes when children are reunited with their parents or adopted, but there are far more failures.
In the court, the fate of Arizona’s unluckiest children is debated and decided daily. The court is inundated with hearings as state Child Protective Services heeds Gov. Janet Napolitano’s orders by focusing more on protecting children than reuniting families. Reacting to horrifying cases of caged twin 5-year-old boys, a malnourished 7-year-old locked in a closet and child murders, Napolitano sent the state legislature into special session late last year to pump more money into the agency, retool programs and hire more caseworkers.
The trend began to emerge in October, when the agency filed 281 dependency cases, nearly 100 more than the same month in 2002. They include children with deadbeat fathers or fathers behind bars, children with drug-addicted mothers, children and parents with mental health problems, children who bounce between marginally effective parents and state shelters.
Most cases focus on unfit parents, not incorrigible children. “We see a lot of parents who are mentally ill. Sometimes, mental illness can’t be changed,” Judge Klein said. “We also see a lot of drug addicts that no matter what treatment they receive, can’t get out of it.”
Klein and another judge opened dependency hearings to the public for the first time in September on an experimental basis to give the public insight into the child protective servicve agency’s actions. It is against the law to identify juveniles or family members. “Each one of these cases, while it’s just a file, is a life story. And it’s a hard luck story,” Klein said. In many ways, the dependency hearings are sadder than criminal cases because victims are innocent children whose only crime was having the wrong parents. The purpose is to determine if parental rights should be severed or restored after the agency has removed a child. The process can take up to 14 months.