Agency blundered in child custody case

Last modified: 10/18/2010 12:00:00 AM
Under normal circumstances, the state's decision to take a newborn baby from her parents and place her in foster care would have been just another tough call officials must make in balancing child safety and parental rights. But in the case of an Epsom couple whose baby was born at Concord Hospital last week, an affidavit summarizing the state's case included not just the parents' legal past, but the father's status as a gun owner and the allegation that he "associated with a militia known as the Oath Keepers."

That was a mistake in more ways than one. Maggie Bishop, director of the state Division for Children, Youth and Families, told the Monitor that children are not removed from their homes because of a parent's affiliations - but that the agency includes in affidavits everything it learns about a case and leaves it to a judge to decide what has bearing and what doesn't.

Perhaps she was trying to minimize her staff's error. But for the purposes of determining parental rights, an individual's affiliation with a group - whether it's the Catholic Church, the Masons, a political party or the Hell's Angels - is irrelevant. In this case, the worker's information may have also been inaccurate.

DYCF's action offended members of Oath Keepers, an organization formed by Yale Law School graduate Stewart Rhodes to remind military members, police officers and firefighters to remember the Founders' pledge to devote "my life, my fortune and my sacred honor" to their country and resist government orders to carry out an unconstitutional act.

The group held a rally to support the father, Johnathon Irish - who it said was not actually a member. It was held in front of the Rochester Family Division Court where, after a hearing, a judge decided to reverse an earlier court decision and return Cheyenne Irish to her parents.

The decision to remove the child from her parents may or may not have been the right call.

The same is true of the decision to return her to them. Matters regarding the custody of a child are rightly confidential, so the public will never know for sure.

Court documents show that Irish, 24, was named as the main suspect in an investigation into the source of bruises on two young children his girlfriend, Stephanie Taylor, had with a man she's still married to. Those children were ultimately placed in foster care.

Irish and Taylor, records show, have taken restraining orders out against each other in the past, and Taylor's husband is seeking to terminate her parental rights to their two children.

Such information is necessary for the agency and the court to consider. Political affiliations are not.

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