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5-Year-Old Girl Battles Family Court Over Birthrights

By Woody Henderson

The Family Court constantly tells us that their rulings are based on the best interest of the child, but consider this. A 5-year-old girl, Stacy Pena, is preparing to do battle with the Bronx Family Court. She has filed a petition to regain her birthrights, which were stolen by this same court, at the request of The Administration for Children's Services (ACS), even before she was born.

Stacy's biological brother and sister, Joseph and Nancy Pena, were placed into foster care in January 1993, three-years before Stacy's birth. Her parents Lucy and Jose Pena, who had fallen prey to the drug epidemic of the early 90s, understood why their two children had been removed.

Having their children taken from them was a rude awaking for the Pena's. They quickly changed their life style, stopped using drugs and complied with all the requirements ordered by ACS and the family court. ACS however, still insisted the court not return the children and subsequently requested the termination of the Pena's parental rights.

The children's court appointed law-guardians did not object on behalf of the children so the court ultimately granted ACS's request and terminated the Pena's parental rights.

It is a rare case when a child's court appointed law guardian objects to recommendations made by ACS or their contracted agencies and if the law guardian doesn't object most Judges are reluctant to rule against ACS's petitions.

With their parent's rights terminated, Nancy and Joseph were put up for adoption although the reunification with rehabilitated parents is supposed to be the preferred goal of foster care.

You may have recently heard ACS's Commissioner Scoppetta brag about the increase in adoptions of children in foster care. We, the public, like gullible little children accept that as a good thing without ever questioning at what cost. What Scoppetta doesn't tell the public is, the number of children being reunified with their families are down at a similar rate as the increase in adoptions, nor is the public informed of the circumstances surrounding many low-risk cases, that lead to placement in foster care in the first place. If the general public was aware of the tireless efforts made by many families to get their children returned they might realize many of these adoptions are not driven by the best interest of the child but an effort to increase the number of adoption.

After the termination of their rights, Stacy's parents, were told that the same people acting as foster parents for Joseph and Nancy, wanted to adopt them, objected to the adoption. The Pena/s also presented evidence in court that they had been clean (drug free) over six-years and raising a healthy, well; mannered, bright, and ingenious little girl (Stacy), who is adored by all who meet her. The Pena's are a perfect example of a successfully rehabilitated, loving and caring family. ACS should have returned their children and use them as an example to encourage other families with substance abuse problems to rehabilitate themselves instead of making an example of them.

Not only did the court deny the Pena's request for the return of their children, it also forbid any further contact by Nancy and Joseph's biological family there-by robbing the children of their birthrights.

Lucy and Jose were devastated once again, but managed to find some small consolation for their great loss in knowing their two children were at least being kept together.

Stacy 's petition to have the right to meet and get to know her brother and sister has been stalled at every avenue by ACS, and the said wishes of the adoptive parents. Stacey's hiring of Attorney Emani Taylor to represent her in family court threatened to open a can of worms that the biological parents had no idea existed. St. Dominic's, the foster care agency appointed by ACS to oversea the children's stay in foster care, objected to Ms. Taylor representing Stacy and asked the court to remove her and appoint another attorney.

That objection by St. Dominic's was honored by Bronx Family Court Judge Tandra L. Dawson, a Giuliani appointee to the family court bench and a former prosecutor.

By removing Ms. Taylor from the case and not allowing her to represent Stacy, the court could appoint any attorney of its liking. The question is why would the court not allow Ms. Taylor to represent young Stacy? The plot thickens. First; Judge Dawson issued a court order closing the courtroom to the media, citing the privacy of the adopted children. I protested that court order to no avail. Finally I agreed to honor the court's ordered ban and attend the trial as a observer only and not report on anything that happens in the courtroom during the trial. Judge Dawson immediately amended her order to include the banning of the general public as well.

It has come out however, that one of the two children in question had never been adopted as the biological parents had been led over the past two years to believe.

The foster parents decided they only wanted to adopt the little girl, - and not her brother. He was left to linger in foster care even though his biological parents have been continuously petitioning the court to have contact with him and his sister. Stacy's mother and father were again being devastated by the deceit of ACS and the Family Court.

The fact that the family court and ACS have been giving misinformation to the biological parents for over two years is also probably the driving force behind Judge Dawson's decision to close the courtroom to the press and general public as well.

However, the closing of the courtroom can't be for the anonymity of the children as claimed by Judge Dawson in her court order, because one of the children (Joseph) is plastered all over the internet by St. Dominic's.

The information on the Internet web site for children up for adoption tells of discipline problems and the heavy medication being used on young Joseph, which in many ways makes him almost un-adoptable. However, his biological parents still want him; returning him to his biological parents after the years of deceit would be an admission of guilt and not admitting guilt seems to far outweigh, in the eyes of the court and ACS, the best interest of the child.

So, not only Stacy, her mother, father, brother and sister have been robbed of their birthrights, but her extended family as well. Consequently, society as a whole has suffered a great injustice.

Someone should tell Judge Dawson, the Family Court and ACS that their mandate to provide for the best interest of the child must be more focused on reunification of children and their families than the severing of their birthrights, especially in low-risk cases. As that great Black news commentator, Roy Wood used to say, "Now, run and tell that."


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