Girl Battles Family Court Over Birthrights
By Woody Henderson
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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."