Children’s advocates and judges are complaining that a 2003 law intended to protect parents’ rights when their kids are being taken away permanently is burdening Child Protective Services and the court system. But protecting individual rights tends to do that. Due process isn’t cheap or hassle-free.
The critics are taking aim at a provision of the law that allows people whose parental rights are being severed the option of a jury trial. And yes, trials take time and cost money.
Dana Naimark of the non-profit Children’s Action Alliance and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Emmett Ronan, who presides over the county’s juvenile courts, want the law to sunset next year. They say preparing for and conducting the jury trials takes valuable time and resources from CPS and the courts.
“That time, money and energy should have been going to helping abused kids get into permanent homes,” Naimark told the Tribune’s Mary K. Reinhart. Ronan agreed the law has “been a drain on scarce resources.”
But before the Legislature returns to the days when CPS could permanently take children under a cloak of official secrecy and leave parents with little recourse, let’s remember why lawmakers passed this law. It was after the
Tribune exposed an egregious case in which an East Valley woman’s child was wrongly taken from her and returned only after parents’ rights advocates and an outraged public demanded justice for her.
Arizona’s law is modeled on those that have been in effect in several other states for a number of years. Those states, including Texas, reported no significant burden to their judicial systems. And we’re hard-pressed to see how Arizona’s law is creating intolerable burdens here.
Reinhart reported that of 167 jury trials requested by parents last year, only 17 cases actually were tried. The state won 16 of those cases, but lost one, meaning jurors refused to sever parents’ rights. Are Naimark and Ronan saying those parents’ rights aren’t as important as streamlining one of the state’s most awesome powers — that of seizing parents’ children?
Furthermore, while parents in most of those 167 cases forfeited their right to trial, in nine cases CPS withdrew its motions to take the children. If the law is forcing CPS to go more slowly and more closely examine severance cases, then the law is working as intended.
The courts already have begun making adjustments to accommodate the jury trials and to work out logistical problems that result when scheduled trials are cancelled at the last minute, Reinhart reported. The courts and CPS should continue those efforts, without cutting corners with due process.
Protecting abused and neglected children is an essential state function. But so is protecting individual rights. The latter need not, and must not, be sacrificed to the former for the sake of bureaucratic efficiency.