DCYF: Clubs rarely factor

Last modified: 10/13/2010 12:00:00 AM
The head of the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families said allegations that the state seized a newborn girl over her father's political affiliations don't reflect the division's policies.

'That's what people seem to be focusing on, but it's not what I'm focusing on,' said Maggie Bishop, director of DCYF. 'To think that we would remove a child because of a person's affiliation with a club - that's not what we do.'

Bishop said confidentiality requirements prevent her from discussing the specifics in the case of Johnathon Irish and Stephanie Taylor, the Epsom couple whose daughter was taken from their custody a day after her birth at Concord Hospital last week.

An affidavit spelling out the state's reason for taking the child included Irish's affiliation with the Oath Keepers, a group that pledges to defend the Constitution and to oppose government tyranny. But Bishop said such affiliations rarely play a role in child custody matters unless they are connected with safety issues.

'The Oath Keepers piece is the most insignificant part of that,' Bishop said. 'An affiliation is only as relevant as it relates to the safety concerns of a child.'

Child custody matters are normally private affairs, but Irish and Taylor's publicity has shined intense attention on their case. The affidavit supporting the state's seizure of the newborn cited allegations of violence by Irish, including a report by the Rochester police of a 'lengthy history of domestic violence' between him and Taylor.

'Without the intervention of the court, the infant will be at risk of harm,' the affidavit reads.

The case has rocketed around the internet since the end of last week, finding large audiences among libertarian-leaning online communities. Irish and Taylor, who are engaged, have been interviewed on several websites and online radio shows. A rally in their support has been planned for tomorrow during a hearing in the couple's custody case. The rally, scheduled to take place outside Rochester Family Court in Dover, is being organized by the Oath Keepers. According to the group's website, it will draw attendees from several other sympathetic groups.

In addition, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes said he plans to file a lawsuit claiming the group's First Amendment rights were violated by being included in the affidavit against Irish and Taylor.

'This is a chilling suppression of free speech because every parent in America - if this is allowed to stand - will always have to wonder if maybe they will be put on a list,' Rhodes told a radio interviewer yesterday.

The group has also offered to help raise money for Irish and Taylor's legal needs.

According to court documents, this is not the couple's first interaction with child protection workers. The affidavit says Taylor's two older children had been placed in foster care after hospital workers noted bruising on one of them; the affidavit quotes a judge saying that evidence pointed to Irish as 'the main suspect' in the assault.

The affidavit also states that a hearing on a motion to terminate Taylor's parental rights was held last month. (Taylor is still married to the father of those two children, though she said she has been unsuccessful in her efforts to secure a divorce from him.) The affidavit also says Irish and Taylor had sought restraining orders against each other at various times.

Irish and Taylor have denied all allegations of neglect or abuse against each other or their children.

'Every statement in there is fabricated or trumped up,' Irish said last week.

Most of Irish and Taylor's supporters have focused on the affidavit's reference to Oath Keepers in concluding that the case is an example of government oppression. Bishop, citing confidentiality requirements, declined to explain why social workers included that reference in their documents.

'I don't know why or why not that piece was added,' she said. 'I'm looking into the specifics of this case, as I would in any case where there's a question about what we did or did not do.'

But she said, in general, DCYF officials include as much information as they have when arguing to a judge that a child should be removed from his or her home.

'We don't want the court to not know something that we do know,' Bishop said. 'We have information, and we share that with the court. Sometimes what we share is relevant to prove our case, and sometimes the judge says, 'That's not relevant,' and ignores it.'




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