Cover Story

“They Just Expect Us to Go on”

“It is a fantastic breach of due process of the law.” — Attorney Michael Humiston, referring to Utah state law which allows the state to terminate parental rights merely because parents have failed to comply with a “treatment plan.”

But back in Utah, the assessment was far from wonderful. The Rodriguezes said their public defender quit before filing for termination of Utah’s jurisdiction over their case, which they did not learn about for a month. The new defender refused to request such a termination, wanting the family back in Utah instead. A false report was lodged in the system that the Rodriguezes had fled Utah, and in October 1997 a warrant was issued to pick up the children. Teresa and David reported to local Arizona officials, and reportedly were promised that the order would not be honored.

That promise was shattered at 2 a.m. on March 6, 1998, when Arizona law enforcement officers, acting for the state of Utah, entered the Rodriguez home, seized the children and handed them over to Utah authorities. Teresa’s parents sought but were denied foster parent status for the children.

“I’d rather the judge had executed us that day than take our kids away. My kids are my life,” said Teresa. “They took my life, and they just expect us to go on.”

The family has never been reunited, except for brief, supervised visits by the parents. The four siblings were separated. According to the Rodriguezes, the children have told them of abuse and deprivation in their foster homes, and of being denied the right to practice their Catholic faith. The oldest daughter ran away and has not been heard from in months. The parents said they have been unable to attain any report on son Christopher for months and suspect he could be severely harmed or worse, dead.

The Rodriguezes are victims of a provision of Utah’s Child Welfare and Reform Act of 1994, which allows the DCFS to effectively terminate parental rights simply because the parents failed to comply with a mental health treatment plan. Under the act, there is no need to prove the children are in danger or that the parents are incapable.

Utah families other than the Rodriguezes say they were destroyed under similar circumstances. Attorney Michael Humiston filed a $500 million class-action suit in 1998 against Utah Attorney General Janet Graham and several other state officials, with five families as plaintiffs. The lawsuit claims that the families were terrorized, “torn asunder” and “deprived of their fundamental rights without due process of law.” According to Humiston, the amount of damages sought in the lawsuit is equivalent to the amount of child welfare subsidies received by the state of Utah between 1994 and the time the suit was filed.


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