Monday, April 12, 2021

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Family fights for the return of baby 

Advocates of family reunification protest in the rain March 18 against Colusa County Child Protective Services, who they believe failed to comply with state rules to contact extended family members before placing a newborn into foster care. (Pioneer Review photo/Susan Meeker)

A local grandmother and advocates of family reunification have made it their mission to see a baby reunited with its biological family, even if it means fighting Colusa County in court.

The baby’s paternal grandmother, Marcia Candito, along with Family and Friends of Family Reunification, have accused Colusa County Child Protective Services of subverting California rules of the court that allow for familial guardianship of newborns taken from their biological parents due to neglect or endangerment.

“We just want justice for our baby,” Candito said. “We feel that Colusa County is not acting in the best interest of the baby, but in the interest of someone who wants to adopt.” 

The baby, now 5-months-old, was removed from its mother not long after birth by a Colusa County social worker and placed into the care of another Colusa County employee, without going through state requirements to identify and notify relatives for guardianship, said Mary Ellen Smith, a certified addiction counselor, who is assisting the family in regaining custody. 

Smith claims the relationship between the social worker and the foster mother, who works closely with the agency, is a conflict of interest, especially since the foster mother announced plans to adopt the baby soon after being given temporary guardianship.  

“Standard reunification steps required by the State of California were granted by the court, but not offered to the birth parents by social services, even though the birthparents complied with the requests of Colusa County Social Services,” Smith said. “We also allege that Colusa County Social Services failed to exercise due diligence in conducting the required investigation to identify, locate, and notify the child’s relatives for guardianship.” 

Candito, a Colusa resident, said that even though Colusa County made no effort to contact her, she voluntarily came forward to take guardianship of the child. At the same time, the birth parents underwent treatment for substance abuse. 

“The social worker refused and said in order to get temporary custody, and we would have to be licensed to provide foster care,” Candito said. “That is ridiculous. I am the baby’s grandmother. I’m not asking to be a foster parent.” 

Smith and Candito also claim that Colusa County intentionally used intimidation, threats, and the COVID-19 pandemic to greatly reduce any opportunity for the child to bond with its biological family.

Candito and her husband, Joe, had the virus during the winter, with Joe succumbing to complications of COVID-19 in February. 

“The social worker still won’t allow us to see the baby except for five minutes a week on Zoom,” Candito said. “The baby has not been held by a family member in five months.” 

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking against the parents. Congress tried in November to suspend the deadline requirements of the Adoption and Safe Families Act due to the national health crisis, but HR 7976 failed in committee. The Adoption and Safe Families Act requires that the state move to terminate parental rights to free a child for adoption once they have been in foster care for 15 months. 

“They (Colusa County) want the parents to fail so they can claim that it would be in the best interest of the baby to be adopted by the foster family,” Smith said. “But that is not fair. The State of California specifically said that you can’t use COVID-19 as an excuse to deny visitation. And COVID-19 cannot be used to deny drug intervention and treatment.”

Smith and a small group of family reunification advocates have been protesting on the corner of Bridge and Webster streets for several weeks, hoping to raise awareness of what Smith said is a severe lack of justice for the family and the baby. 

Since going public, she said three other families had come forward with claims that Colusa County social workers may have subverted reunification rules of the court in order to place children with people within their “inner circle,” who want to adopt newborns or young children. 

“This is baby stealing,” Smith said. “It’s crazy.” 

Smith said a complaint has been filed with the Colusa County Grand Jury and the State Attorney General alleging wrongdoing and possible conflict of interest. 

“We are requesting an investigation,” Smith said. 

On Friday, County officials said the county is precluded by law from disclosing any information on CPS cases, but they are aware of the complaint and the protest on Bridge Street. 

“Child welfare and safety is a top priority for the County, and we take allegations regarding potential misconduct by County staff very seriously,” County Counsel Marcos Kropf said. “When there are such allegations, we investigate them to the extent warranted and necessary.” 

Meanwhile, Candito, along with Family and Friends of Family Reunification, are raising money for legal representation to gain custody of the child while the parents work to meet the requirements of the court for reunification. 

“We just want our baby back with the family where it belongs,” Candito said.

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