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Isabella Brooke Knightly and Austin Gamez-Knightly

Isabella Brooke Knightly and Austin Gamez-Knightly
In Memory of my Loving Husband, William F. Knightly Jr. Murdered by ILLEGAL Palliative Care at a Nashua, NH Hospital

Friday, May 21, 2010

Anne Grant: Need paradigm shift for DCYF

Anne Grant: Need paradigm shift for DCYF
01:00 AM EDT on Friday, May 21, 2010
Rhode Island desperately needs a paradigm shift in our understanding of domestic abuse and the many ways it endangers children and drains our state budget whenever judges and state officials fail to comprehend the mind of an abuser.

Too many judges persist in the belief that both parents are sniping at each other, with children caught in the cross-fire. Far too often, one aggressive parent is abusing our state system in order to punish a good parent who is urgently trying to protect his or her children. The state is co-opted into helping the abuser, not the children.

As Rhode Island’s Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) prepares to interview candidates for chief judge of Family Court, we need to keep in mind some of the cases that have lingered for years in that court. I was executive director of the Women’s Center of Rhode Island in 1993 when I began meeting with a group of women we called Mothers on Trial, after Phyllis Chesler’s book by the same title. They and their children helped me understand a dynamic often overlooked in our child protective system, including the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF, in the executive branch) and Family Court (in the judicial branch).

As I got to know them, I felt inspired by many of these mothers, whom I found creative, resourceful, funny and wise. Children in our shelter gravitated to them. Meeting together, the women discovered how many of their husbands had been severely abused as children. Deeply wounded men who could not talk about their own childhood trauma yearned for good mothers. They were drawn to these extraordinary women who brought playfulness and joy into their lives.

But when pregnancies and babies came, all hell broke loose. New fathers became jealous, resentful, churlish, controlling and abusive mentally and physically. The women tried to protect their children and escape the danger. Violent husbands knew they could punish their wives best by depriving them of their greatest joy in life — their children.

Since then, I have written about various Rhode Island judges who failed to grasp this dynamic. That happens in other states as well. Two years ago, a Maryland pediatrician tried to persuade a judge that she and her three small children needed an order of protection against her husband’s threats to punish her by killing the children. In court, her husband’s attorney asked if the couple had sex the night before. She said yes. The judge concluded from this that her husband posed no threat even though exactly the opposite was true. Her husband made good on his threats several weeks later. During a court-ordered visit, he drowned all three children in a hotel bathtub.

Unfortunately, these custody and visitation cases hold financial incentives for Family Court lawyers and psychologists, who are paid by each parent and seem in little hurry to resolve these matters before the children turn 18. In some cases, abusive fathers have used DCYF to punish their wives by having the state take the children into custody at taxpayer expense, even though the mothers provided very good homes.

Many people cannot imagine that a state agency as powerful and secretive as DCYF is not accredited. No wonder a federal lawsuit looms and costly mistakes are being made. Because of this, Rhode Island now loses federal reimbursements and risks enormous liability.

The Senate has unanimously passed S-2346, sponsored by Sen. Bea Lanzi (D.-Cranston), to mandate accreditation of DCYF. The House will soon vote on its companion bill H-7133, sponsored by Rep. Eileen Naughton (D.-Warwick).

We also must address the alarming waste in Family Court. The public should attend JNC hearings and listen for those candidates who propose significant changes in policy and practice that will protect vulnerable children. Good judicial practice is clearly spelled out by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges at http://www.ncjfcj.org/images/stories/dept/fvd/pdf/judicial%20guide.pdf.

The Civic Research Institute has published a text that extensively describes these issues: http://www.civicresearchinstitute.com/dvac.html.

Rhode Island must stop traumatizing children and removing them from good homes at state expense. We must stop pouring scarce funds into our broken system. We must get DCYF properly accredited with professional standards and public accountability. And we must find a visionary chief judge for Family Court who will cut the waste and establish new integrity throughout Rhode Island’s child protective system.

Anne Grant ( parentingproject@cox.net) wrote about Rhode Island’s handling of high-risk custody cases in “Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues,” recently published by Civic Research Institute. She blogs at LittleHostages.blogspot.com.


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