POTOSI — A former Children’s Division case worker denies having sexual relations with a father she was supervising.
In previous hearings and at an 11-hour hearing Wednesday on whether to terminate the father’s parental rights, the St. Francois County man said he had sex with his caseworker once and spent the night at her home on multiple occasions after their professional relationship turned into a friendship. He could not recall if the incident occurred while she was still supervising his case.
During the hearing, the supervising case worker, who left Children’s Division (formerly known as DFS) before March 2010 to take another job, testified she never had sex with the man and never allowed him to stay at her home.
In March, the father began a relationship with another Children’s Division caseworker who is now no longer employed there. She was never assigned as his caseworker. They’ve lived together since March and want the child to be placed in their care.
The relationships haven’t set well with the state which is asking Circuit Court Judge Sandy Martinez to terminate the father’s parental rights. After hours of listening to four attorneys representing different interests question 10 witnesses, the judge decided to take the case under advisement. The next hearing regarding the case is scheduled for Jan. 10.
Another big concern is that the child has been in state custody for more than two years now.
Attorneys representing the Children’s Division and the Juvenile Office are recommending that the judge terminate the father’s parental rights. The attorney acting as the child’s guardian ad litem asked for a week to submit a written recommendation.
The biological mother whose own rights have not been terminated and the woman who was the child’s foster mother for 23 months both told the judge that they did not believe terminating the father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the young child.
The child was placed in foster care in November of 2008 a few days after he was born because he tested positive for meth at birth. (The mother later served about 15 months in prison for meth-related charges. She is no longer incarcerated.)
In January 2009, the father, who was no longer romantically involved with the mother began working with Children’s Division to get custody of his son.
They started with short supervised visits at the office. By the end of the year, he was being allowed unsupervised visits. And in February of 2010, he was allowed his first overnight visits.
On Wednesday, he testified that during those two weekends with the boy, he’d spent one night at his supervising caseworker’s house and the other at his mother’s. He said he was nervous and the caseworker was his friend. He also admitted to borrowing the caseworker’s car after she left Children’s Division and replacing a part in it.
He would not say when they had sex. In the questioning, the state’s attorneys voiced concerns about how that relationship influenced the caseworker’s decisions in the case.
He said he did not believe the supervising caseworker took it easy on him because of their relationship.
The woman denied having sex and said he was only over at her house once and that was when another caseworker was there, too. She said he was having trouble with his truck and had apparently looked her up in the phone book.
“He didn’t stay long because it was not appropriate for him to be there,” she said.
She said the child was never brought to her home.
The child’s biological mother testified that the father told her that he had had sex with the supervising caseworker to ruin her reputation because she had ruined his. However, the mother said she has known him for years and knows that he says stuff like that which he really doesn’t mean.
The father began a relationship and moved in with a second caseworker in March 2010.
From February to June, the father refused to tell caseworkers where he was living or who he was living with. Disclosing where he was living and who he was living with was part of his social service agreement.
During a May hearing, Judge Martinez told him that if he didn’t say where he was living and who his girlfriend was that visits with his son would be terminated. He refused to say so his visits were indeed terminated. His last visit with the child was in April.
It wasn’t until June that he admitted to the Children’s Division that he had begun a relationship with and moved in with a case worker in March.
On Wednesday, he said he “screwed up” and should have told them where he was living. He claimed he didn’t know that not answering the question would keep him from seeing his son “otherwise I would have answered.” He said his girlfriend has never met his son.
The father indicated he felt it was none of their business because Children’s Division had already stopped his unsupervised visits before he moved in with her.
“(DFS) already knocked me down to four hours (for visits),” he said. “I couldn’t take (the child) there anyway.”
He added there was no law against him dating her and it has nothing to do with his ability to be a good father. He had also said he didn’t want to get the girlfriend involved.
His attorney, John Peel, argued that while this issue may have been relevant in May it is not relevant now. He accused the other attorneys of “beating a dead horse.”
While the father said otherwise, the Children’s Division believe this case worker supervised a visit with the child and his parents once in January of 2009 but was never the supervising case worker assigned to the case.
The father admitted he could have moved in with his mother but chose to move in with his girlfriend instead after being evicted from his own apartment.
The foster mother who had the child for the first 23 months testified that the father sent her three or more inappropriate text messages. She said two text messages were comments about sex and one was about a sex toy.
The father said he accidentally sent her one text about sex and was joking about the sex toy. He said he talked to the foster mom a lot and most of the texts were to ask about the child or arrange visits.
Judge Martinez voiced concerns about a biological parent being able to text a foster parent when the parent was only allowed supervised visitations. She said that should have been prohibited.
She also voiced concerns that the supervising caseworker had the foster mom to supervise some of the visits when that was not the court order.
Relationships not the only concern
The relationships weren’t the only concern. The latest Children’s Division caseworker and the foster mom both estimated that the father missed 28 opportunities to visit with his son due to no-shows or because he was sanctioned for failing to submit to one of his court-ordered random drug screenings.
The supervising caseworker said in the father’s mind, he thought he shouldn’t have to do any of this because he was the non-offending parent. She said it took him until the end of 2009 to finally agree to be compliant.
Caseworkers reported the father said he was unable to make some appointments and screenings due to work. The father also complained he did not like having his visits in a room at Children’s Division.
Caseworkers reported having some problems trying to contact the father, getting a work schedule from him and being able to find him for home visits/studies.
While the father never tested positive for drugs, witnesses reported he showed up to visits or meetings smelling like alcohol two or three times.
In August of 2009, he showed up to a supervised visitation once with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. The father said he had gone out drinking the night before and had stopped drinking at 1:30 that morning.
A male caseworker said the main issue with the father during his time as caseworker was the father refusing to disclose where he lived. He said the father cussed at him and the conversations with the father were some of the most hostile phone calls he’s had to deal with as a caseworker.
Family Reunification Program
A woman who was a Family Reunification Specialist with Community Counseling Center said the father was referred to the program in February 2010 because he had never been a full-time parent before. Her job is to work with the family and make a determination of when the child can be placed in the home full time.
She said she needed to work with him seven to 10 hours a week. She said he didn’t seem very interested in her help because his family would help him out.
She said on the first visit to the father’s apartment, the father showed up 10 minutes late. She said there was an eviction notice on the door which the father said was a joke his landlord friend was playing on him.
When she asked him about the lack of toys and food, he admitted he didn’t like to stay at his apartment because he didn’t have cable.
She said the next day, they had a brief meeting at the home. During the meeting, the foster mom dropped the boy off for his first overnight visit.
The next day the father sent the specialist a text that he would be unable to meet with her that morning. The woman and the supervising caseworker met with the father to explain the importance of complying with the program, having a stable residence and meeting with the worker seven hours a week.
She said they agreed to start over, but the next day the father said he wasn’t going to meet with her because he didn’t want to be stuck at his apartment with no cable all day. She said he continued to provide her with excuses why he couldn’t meet. She said on one day he chose to go to a shooting match at a bar over meeting with her.
She said she gave him a deadline. About 45 minutes after what she considered the deadline, he called her to say he was stopping the program for the time being because he was having financial problems. She said she already planned to terminate the program because he was not being compliant.
The father said he asked to stop the Family Reunification Program because of financial problems he was having. He explained he started getting behind on his bills in December of 2009 due to lack of employment.
He said he wanted things to be perfect when the child came home. He believed at that time he was within a week or two of getting the child back. He said he needed more time and it was his understanding that it was possible to start the program again.
The father’s attorney instructed the father to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights for questions regarding where he worked because of possible criminal allegations that he fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits.
Until November of this year, caseworkers never asked him to pay child support but he did purchase some clothing and toys for the child. The first caseworker said he had offered to pay for childcare.
In November through a letter, the latest caseworker also asked him to undergo individual counseling, get a medical evaluation, undergo a second drug and alcohol assessment, and provide proof of utilities in his name.
She said he has not responded to the letter or returned her phone calls. She said she has also asked for the father’s work schedule but was given a response by his attorney that stated only that he was employed.
She said he did submit a hair follicle test which had not been requested. The test came back negative for drugs.
Attorneys voiced concern that he had not called the Children’s Division since August to find out how his son was doing especially after his son was moved to a new foster home.
The father said that Children’s Division doesn’t return his calls or tell him what is really going on so why bother. He said he dropped off the child’s birthday and Christmas presents last week.
The caseworker said the boy surprisingly has adapted well to being placed in another foster home. She said he had been shy but now is more outgoing.
While admitting that she had never seen the child and father together, the caseworker said the child has no emotional ties to his father.
She said the group’s decision to recommend termination of parental rights is based on lack of dedication and non-compliance.
Despite these problems, everyone agreed that the father interacted well with his child during visits and that his original apartment and his mother’s home were both suitable for a child.
A foster parent testified she was his parent aide from January to March 2010. She said he accepted her advice well and purchased a stairway gate, as well as other safety devices and furniture for the child.
She suggested that he get a more affordable apartment and stop leasing a washer and dryer, which was costing him a lot of money.
She said she witnessed five visits with the father and the boy and the father was very intuitive to the boy’s needs and actions.
She said she didn’t think the supervising caseworker had treated the father any differently than other clients.
When asked, the father said he was willing to comply with all directives because he misses his son. His attorney asked the judge for one last shot to get his son back.
Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at email@example.com.