I’ve written before about the Urban Institute study that shows that, when they’re thinking of taking a child from its mother, or have done so, child welfare agencies routinely ignore the father as a possible placement. Instead they go straight to foster care to meet the child’s needs. The Urban Institute found that, even though they know the identity of the father in over 85% of cases, he’s contacted in fewer than half.
Now this case puts some meat on the bare bones of that study (Arizona Central.com, 6/24/11).
Jennifer Jansma and Woody Drummond had a son in 2000, but split up at some point after that. They fought over custody, but the Colorado court gave primary custody to her with the stipulation that she inform Drummond (who’s changed his name to Iacovetta) of any changes in the boy’s health or welfare. She then left the state for Arizona.
There, on August 3, 2004, she called the CPS hotline saying she was considering killing the little boy, who was then four, and herself with overdoses of morphine.
She placed the child in “respite care” and herself in a mental hospital, but that stay lasted only a day. When CPS looked into the case, the caseworker decided the child was in no danger. The article points out
Of course, they found no evidence of risk. They didn’t go looking for any.
They didn’t contact anyone about Jansma’s mental illness, despite knowing that she was bipolar and suffered from depression and was a client of Value Options, which at the time provided services to the seriously mentally ill in Maricopa County.
They didn’t contact CPS in Colorado, despite Jansma telling them that authorities there had been called to check on Jordan.
And they didn’t make any attempt to contact the boy’s father, despite finding his name in their own computer system.
Just as the Urban Institute study says.
CPS closed the file four months later. Less than three years after that, Jennifer Jansma
drugged her son with allergy medicine and adult sleeping pills then covered his back with patches containing Fentanyl, a drug more powerful than morphine.
Jordan was dead by the time they were discovered in a Tucson Holiday Inn. She is now serving 25 years in prison.
Woody Iacovetta sued the state in 2009, contending his son would still be alive had CPS notified him about Jansma’s 2004 threat. Iacovetta told me he would have immediately filed for emergency custody.
“They cost him his life,’ Iacovetta said. “Had they just stepped up to the plate and contacted me and made me aware of these problems. She didn’t tell me about it. My son, he didn’t know what was going on.’
The state has moved to dismiss Iacovetta’s lawsuit saying CPS did nothing wrong. In its motion, it says,
“CPS has neither the means nor the manpower to conduct extensive manhunts for absentee parents…’
Massive manhunts? They had the guy in their database (just like the Urban Institute says they do in over 8 out of 10 cases). How much “manpower” does it take to make a phone call? Maybe they could have asked Jansma for his phone number.
But of course the agency whose “prompt and thorough investigation” didn’t include contacting any of the mental health professionals who’d known Jansma and her problems for years, wouldn’t be likely to pick up the phone and call a child’s father.
Here’s a question, although I think I know the answer: Did Maricopa County CPS have the series of manuals put out by the U.S. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect that’s meant to educate and guide CPS caseworkers in dealing with those issues? Specifically, did it have the one published in June of 2006 specifically relating to fathers? Here it is.
It’s 127 pages of information about the value of fathers to children and how to effectively involve them in dealing with cases of child abuse and neglect. In other words, it applies directly to the case of Woody Iacovetta and his son Jordan.
This manual is designed to help caseworkers:
Recognize the value of fathers to children;
Appreciate the importance of fathers to the case planning and service provision process;
Understand the issues unique to working with fathers;
Effectively involve fathers in all aspects of case management, from assessment through case closure;
Work successfully with fathers in a wide range of family situations and structures.
It recites that, in the most recent year for which statistics were available, mothers committed 40.8% of all child abuse and neglect nationwide while fathers committed 18.8%. It points out that state and federal child protection laws seek to ensure that all children live free from abuse and neglect. It goes on to educate CPS caseworkers about the benefits of fathers to children.
A noted sociologist, Dr. David Popenoe, is one of the pioneers of the relatively young field of research into fathers and fatherhood. “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults” in the home,’ he says. “Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.’ Fathers have a direct impact on the well-being of their children. It is important for professionals working with fathers– especially in the difficult, emotionally charged arena in which child protective services (CPS) caseworkers operate–to have a working understanding of the literature that addresses this impact. Such knowledge will help make the case for why the most effective CPS case plans will involve fathers.
So, given that state and federal laws seek to protect children and that fathers “have a direct impact on the well-being of their children,” you’d think that CPS workers would be trained to do exactly what the manual urges them to do – involve fathers in the process. But they don’t. And Maricopa County CPS didn’t in Iacovetta’s case.
After all, the lawyer who tossed aside the value of fathers with a casual “we don’t have the manpower’ to make a phone call isn’t likely to represent a client with much respect for fathers.
So I’d like to know: are the CPS caseworkers who didn’t contact Jennifer Jansma’s doctors and who didn’t contact Jordan’s father even aware of the training materials published by the federal government for the express purpose of involving fathers when abuse or neglect is suspected?
If they are, why didn’t they follow the steps outlined in the manual? If they aren’t, why aren’t they? The manuals don’t do any good if people don’t read them.
The Arizona Republic writer puts it this way:
1. The law requires you to conduct “prompt and thorough investigation’.
2. Maybe the story that Jansma, the mentally ill woman who killed her son, told about Iacovetta wasn’t quite the whole story. You might have found that Jordan’s father and grandmother had long been worried about his safety.
And 3. It just might have saved a little boy’s life.
It turns out that ignoring a child’s father can have real consequences. Who knew? Apparently not Maricopa County CPS.