When a mother and father are divorced or separated, and a child welfare agency removes the children from the mother”s home for abuse or neglect, an offer of placement to the father, barring unfitness, should be automatic. Yet in the report What About the Dads?, the Urban Institute presents a shocking finding: when fathers inform child welfare officials that they would like their children to live with them, the agencies seek to place the children with their fathers only 15% of the time.
We’ve often discussed this issue. In my co-authored column Choosing Foster Parents over Fathers (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/11/07) I detailed the heartbreaking Melinda Smith case, in which a San Diego father and daughter were needlessly separated by the foster care system for over a decade. I wrote:
Smith was born to an unwed couple in 1988. Her father, Thomas Marion Smith, a former Marine and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, saw Melinda often and paid child support. When the girl was four, her mother abruptly moved without leaving a forwarding address. Two years later, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services found that Melinda”s mother was abusing her. Though the social worker for the case noted in the file that Thomas was the father, he was never contacted, and his then 6-year-old daughter was placed in the foster care system.
Thomas–whose fitness as a father was never impugned nor legally questioned–continued to receive and pay his child support bills. Authorities refused to disclose his daughter”s whereabouts, and didn”t even inform him that his daughter had been taken by the County. Smith employed private investigators and attorneys to try to find Melinda and secure visitation rights, but he eventually ran out of money.
Rather than allowing Smith to raise his own daughter, the system shuttled Melinda through seven different foster care placements. An understandably angry child, her outbursts led authorities to house her in a residential treatment center alongside older children convicted of criminal activity–when she was only seven years old.
Melinda says that during this period she was told that her father was a “deadbeat dad’ who had abandoned her. When Melinda was 16, she told an investigating social worker that the “most important thing’ for her was to find her dad. Moved by her story, the social worker began searching for Melinda”s father–and found him in one day. In 2005, Thomas and Melinda were finally reunited.
Unfortunately, the Smith case is no aberration…What About the Dads? makes it clear that many child welfare workers treat fathers as an afterthought. The report found that even when a caseworker had been in contact with a child”s father, the caseworker was still five times less likely to know basic information about the father than about the mother. Just as with Thomas Smith, 20% of the fathers whose identity and location were known by the child welfare agencies from the opening of the case were never even contacted.
A new case, involving American father Michael McCarty and his 7-year-old son Liam Gabriele McCarty (pictured, right) is similar, and just as appalling. In American father Michael McCarty fights to rescue his son from an Italian orphanage (8/17/09) Examiner.com columnist Barbara Thompson, a frequent commenter on www.GlennSacks.com, writes:
In 2007, Liam McCarty was kidnapped by his mother and taken out of the country in violation of a NY court order. After arriving in Italy, Italian officials determined that she was an unfit mother and placed the boy in an orphanage. For more than two years, Michael McCarty, who has sole legal and physical custody of young Liam, has fought to bring his son home.
In 2007, Michael McCarty and Manuela Antonelli were involved in a nasty custody battle over Liam in New York where the family resided.
Antonelli had made numerous allegations of abuse against McCarty but investigations by the NYPD, New York District Attorney’s Office, Children’s Services, and numerous court-appointed mental health professionals all found the accusations to be “unfounded,” “baseless,” and “false.”
Antonelli was diagnosed with severe personality disorders and was determined to be an unfit parent. Sole legal and physical custody was awarded to McCarty, an order was issued that Liam not be taken out of the United States, and a judicial finding of parental alienation was made against the mother.
On March 5, 2007, Manuela Antonelli picked her son up from kindergarten and fled the country in direct violation of the court orders. She returned with the boy to her native Italy where she continued to make accusations of abuse against McCarty.
According to the Hague Convention, Italian officials should have returned Liam to the US where his father had legal custody. For some reason, they did not, setting off a battle in Italian courts.
For nearly two years, Michael McCarty was denied any access to his son. Eventually, the Italian courts came to the conclusion on their own that Antonelli’s accusations were false and that she was a danger to Liam. Still, instead of returning the boy to his father, Italian Social Services assumed custody and Liam was placed in an orphanage.
Over the past few months, Michael McCarty has been able to visit his son in the orphanage under strict supervision, but there is no word on when he will be able to bring the boy home. McCarty says he is concerned that his son’s condition seems to be deteriorating while the case is tied up in Italian courts.
Manuela Antonelli is wanted by the FBI and Interpol but Italy has refused to extradite her. She is still on the run.
Like David Goldman and hundreds of other parents of abducted children, Michael McCarty has sworn to never give up the fight to bring his son home. He has set up a website to tell his story and accept donations to fund his ongoing legal battle and travel to visit his son.