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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian is proving me wrong . . .

and I could not be happier.

In 2010 I testified against her becoming Chief Judge of Family Court. I feared that she was entrenched in a court culture that seems not to care about low-income litigants, that is especially catastrophic to battered mothers and traumatized children.

Frankly, I could not support any of the candidates for Chief, because the cases I had researched and watched unfold in their courtrooms suggested that none of them would confront the culture of cronyism and cabals that plagued the Family Court under Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, Jr.

I will write more about those concerns later at the Trophy Child blog, but now I want to focus on the important departure Chief Bedrosian undertook this week with her statewide training that participants praised as transformative to their understanding of traumatized children and likely to change the way they work.

The Chief Judge, who was a teacher before she became a lawyer and judge, intends to have more trainings. Over five hundred professionals, including Family Court judges, lawyers, staff from DCYF, the Department of Education, Juvenile Corrections, the Offices of Child Advocate and Attorney General, and many others stayed from start to finish through two days packed with substantive information.

The open way she structured this conference may finally dismantle the silos that have kept Rhode Island's agencies and decision-makers closed off from each other far too long.

The keynote presentations by James E. Greer, MD, and Robert B. Hagberg, LICSW from The Mind + Body Project focused on brain development in children who suffer abuse and neglect. Mr. Hagberg is deputy Director of the RI Division of Casey Family Services, and Dr. Greer is Medical Director of the Child and Family Unit at the Providence Center and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Brown University Medical School. (Dr. Greer's perspective sounds entirely different from the Brown clinicians who serve as "hired guns" at Family Court. Mr. Hagberg, though a therapist himself, insists that words in a therapist's office are not as helpful as physical activity to relieve a hurting brain.)

Much of their message could also pertain to children traumatized, not only by parents, but--often far worse--by legal abuse and neglect after they have been caught up in the machinery of DCYF and Family Court.

A panel of former foster youth from the RI Foster Parents Association Youth Leadership Board spoke compellingly about their experiences and affirmed the need for more youth involvement in future trainings. Their motto could be the focus of an entire conference: "Nothing about us without us."

One teacher told me the training was full of A-ha! moments that helped her understand things going on in her classroom. The governor, a mayor, both U.S. senators brought words of strong affirmation.

Dr. Janice DeFrances, director of DCYF, was scheduled to speak on "Putting Children First" in the context of DCYF's educational initiatives, but could not attend due to a death in her family. But her leadership, alongside Chief Judge Bedrosian's, is key to the depth of content and the breadth of participation--judges alongside former foster youth, teachers and front-line staff.

Such a paradigm-shifting event signals new readiness to hold powerful decision-makers accountable to shared standards and to finally break through the cabals of court that have held sway too long.

That process will not be quick or easy, but it has finally begun.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cost to Orange County, CA, of lying social workers: $10.6 Million

The total cost to Orange County of a case in which a jury found that two social workers lied to take away a woman’s daughters is $10.6 million, according to a new audit.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year declined to hear the county’s challenge to a 2007 jury award of $4.9 million to the Seal Beach woman, Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick. With interest on that amount plus her attorney fees, the total payout by the county was $9.6 million. In addition, the county incurred another $1 million of its own legal costs in the case.

Photo of Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick

For more on the County's response to this award, go to

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Praising the Architects of Change

This week brought evidence that much-needed changes are coming to Rhode Island's system of child-protection. At the head of the table at yesterday's meeting of the General Assembly's Joint Task Force on the Education of Children and Youth in the Care of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families, DCYF Director Janice DeFrances, left, and Family Court Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian, center, sat with Representative Eileen Naughton, who co-chairs the Task Force with Senator Rhoda Perry. Task Force members heard responses to their draft report and recommendations to better serve the educational needs of children in state care.

The Draft Report is available online at
Comments should be sent as soon as possible to Peter Asen, Senior Policy Analyst, pasen(at)

Chief Judge Bedrosian announced a conference January 26th and 27th on "Family Court, DCYF and Schools: Putting Children First" that will improve understanding and communications to assure educational continuity for children in state care. For information, call 401-458-5300.

On Tuesday, January 10th, DCYF Director DeFrances met with Richard Klarberg, President and CEO of the Council on Accreditation (COA), to prepare for an internal assessment of DCYF in preparation for undertaking COA's process of establishing professional standards of accreditation, as the General Assembly mandated in 2010.

Mr. Klarberg also met with Senator Bea Lanzi (above), lead sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, and with Representative Eileen Naughton (below, left), lead sponsor in the House, and Anne Grant, Coordinator of the Parenting Project, that initiated the legislation.

Rep. Naughton introduced Mr. Klarberg to Speaker of the House Gordon Fox.

In the hallway, Mr. Klarberg met Governor Lincoln Chafee and congratulated him on his appointment of Dr. DeFrances and her commitment to improve the state's protection of vulnerable children.

The bills mandating accreditation are available online:

Here is the link to the actual law:

While praising these leaders for their commitment to improving the state's protection of children, we want to acknowledge the hard work of our volunteer lobbyist, Phil West, (foreground, below), who has devoted himself to government reform in Rhode Island since 1988. We are grateful that after his retirement from Common Cause Rhode Island, he has helped us win this important legislation for children and for parents who are trying to protect them.

In 2006, angry neighbors invited us to their community meeting after the state's removal of "Molly" and "Sara" from their mother and lifelong home. We began investigating the case to learn what had happened and then searched for ways to bring urgently needed reforms to DCYF. We are grateful for the state leadership that is working for those changes. For the story of "Molly" and "Sara," paste this link in your browser:

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit

About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

Comments and corrections on anything written here may be sent in an email with no attachments to

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

more about domestic violence in law enforcement: