It was a case of twisted love, but thanks to some dedicated public officials, one little five-year-old girl has been rescued from what from all appearances would have been a frightening home life.
The Braxton Wooden case brought some deserved heat on Family Services, but for the most part the people who work for that agency are doing their best to make sure that children end up in safe and happy homes.
Such was the case for BDW, at least that's what she is called in court records.
The Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals backed Judge David Dally's ruling terminating a Jasper County woman's parental rights and allowing BDW to remain with her adoptive parents..
BDW was less than three months old when she came under the jurisdiction off the Jasper County Juvenile Court, according to the opinion.
The Division of Family Services received a report in January 2001 concerning domestic violence in her home. The father was arrested, marijuana and drug paraphernalia were found, and a subsequent investigation revealed that the father had been convicted nine years earlier on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an infant.
At that time, the mother was allowed to keep BDW on the condition that the two remain in the Lafayette House in Joplin, a women's shelter. The mother filed for a protection order against the father saying he had hit, choked, and slapped her and had "consistently abused" her for two years. The full order was never granted because the mother did not pursue it, the opinion said. The mother said, "It is hard to resolve any problems if we can't talk."
Apparently, the problems were not resolved. On March 26, 2001, Lafayette House officials reported concerns over the mother's behavior, saying she was not properly caring for the child, according to the opinion.
"Mother left the child unattended for long periods of time in her carrier, reportedly spending long periods of time on the phone with Father and her participation in the domestic violence program at Lafayette House was minimal."
BDW was placed in the home of the foster parents who eventually adopted her on that same day.
Although Lafayette House officials arranged different living quarters for the mother, she decided to move back in with the father, the opinion said. The mother missed five of 10 appointments with her counselor. The parents were granted one supervised visit with BDW per week, but soon lost even that right due to the father's action, according to the opinion.
"On June 25, 2001, Father was holding BDW and stated he could snap the child's neck before anyone could do anything about it. On July 2, 2001, Father verbally assaulted and threatened a DFS caseworker and was arrested; he later pled guilty to assault, peace disturbance and unlawful use of a weapon.
Parental visitation was terminated but DFS continued in its efforts to eventually reunited BDW with her mother, offering the mother counseling. A month later, the mother was able to again have a one-hour supervised visit each week. That arrangement did not work, however when the father threatened a DFS security guard and an aide during a Sept. 26, 2001 meeting.
The DFS caseworker told the mother she had little chance of keeping her daughter if she kept the father in her life, but on the next visit, she again arrived with him and soon after she began missing appointments with her counselor, according to the opinion.
The mother and father were married in September 2001, but the caseworker was not told about the marriage. The DFS continued working with both of them, telling them exactly what would be required for them to be reunited with their daughter, including attending classes on domestic violence, individual counseling, marriage counseling and team meetings. In December 2001, the father was admitted to a state institution to be treated for "depression with psychotic features." His doctor said he had a 50 to 75 percent relapse rate "if he did not stay on medication."
Later tests showed he was using marijuana on a daily basis. Eventually, the caseworker told the mother the time had come to consider giving up her parental rights. "Mother told the caseworker that she had married Father in order to bring their family together and she still trusted Father despite the fact that her relationship with him interfered with possible reunification between her and BDW."
The loving marriage did not work out well for the mother. On Oct. 11, 2001, she filed a second petition for a protection order saying her husband had "put a screwdriver to her throat, beat her with a flashlight, kicked her in the ribs, hit her in the nose, pinned her to the floor, choked her and accused her of 'sleeping around.' She admitted that she feared he would abuse her over the 'slightest thing' and stated that he had threatened to kill her." But a few days later, she dismissed the petition, according to the opinion.
On Nov. 2, 2002, he again beat her and was charged with assault. Later, the mother told the DFS caseworker her husband had broken her nose at least five times..."but she still maintained that he would improve his ways. She stated that her goal was to reunite her family. She hoped Father would want her and BDW and that he would one day be safe to be around."
The court ordered the mother's visit to her child terminated on Nov. 5, 2002. The father received 30 days of shock jail time and had his sentence suspended. "Mother remained by his side."
She told DFS in January 2003 that she was still with her husband, attending marriage counseling and they were doing well. However, the next month they were evicted from their home for not paying rent. Both parents were ordered to pay child support, but neither paid a cent, the opinion said, though later the mother did begin to pay some.
The mother finally split from her husband and moved in with her father. By this time, BDW had been in foster care for 33 months. At the hearing to terminate her parental rights, a psychologist testified that before she hooked up with the father, the mother had a long-term relationship with a man who cheated on her, treated her badly and was "eventually arrested for sodomy of teenage girls and producing pornography."
Psychologists testified there was no way that BDW should ever live with her father and also recommended against allowing her to live with her mother. Testimony also showed that the girl considered her foster parents to be her parents.
Judge Dally ruled that both parents' rights should be terminated.
Sometimes, the system works.