A Chelan County court cannot deny a deported father the custody of his son after he met all criteria set by child welfare agents, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The father, unnamed in the 2012 dependency case, met all the goals established by the state Department of Social and Health Services to be reunited with his son, now 8. But by the time a crucial guardianship hearing was held in May 2012, the father had been deported for the third time in the child’s life and was barred from returning to the United States for 20 years.
Court Commissioner Bart Vandegrift denied the father custody and assigned guardianship to the boy’s grandparents in Chelan, who’d cared for him since July 2010. The Court of Appeals ruling vacates the grandparents’ guardianship, but the child remains a ward of the state until his dependency case is resolved in the Chelan County courts.
The boy’s father was first deported in 2006, when his son was 1 year old; DSHS removed the child from his mother’s custody in 2009. His father returned from Mexico and won custody that same year.
But in June 2010, court records show, the father suffered drug-related hallucinations and was hospitalized. DSHS placed the boy with his mother’s parents in Chelan, and the father agreed to drug treatment and a visitation plan. When he was arrested for DUI in October 2010 and deported again, the grandparents sought full custody.
The father returned to the United States in February 2011, resuming drug treatment and supervised visits with his son. After six months, DSHS social worker John Plotz recommended reuniting father and child, and a review hearing found that the father’s “parental deficiencies” had been eliminated.
But on a visit to his son in late October 2011, the father was arrested by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and deported for the third time – this time with an order barring him from re-entry for 20 years. He remained in regular contact with his son and sought to bring him to Mexico, where he lives with his mother, sister and adult son, but DSHS filed a motion to appoint the boy’s grandparents as his legal guardians.
DSHS argued before Vandegrift that even though the father had performed well in required drug treatment programs, had a stable family life in Mexico and was well bonded with the child, reunification in Mexico would take too long.
The father had been drug-free for nearly two years prior to the ruling. He appealed, leading Appellate Court Judge Teresa Kulik to write for the court’s Spokane-based Division III that DSHS and Vandegrift misread the “near future” provision of the law. Because the father had met all DSHS benchmarks to reform his parenting, she wrote, that provision did not apply.
“In other words, the fact that the child cannot be returned in the near future is irrelevant unless the parent has an outstanding deficiency that is preventing the return,” Kulik wrote.