Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 29, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Protecting Arizona's Children Part 2


  • In part two of our series about Arizona Child Protective Services, we examine problems of the system. We profile John Gray, father of four-year-old Haley, who died in the custody of her mother. Gray had been battling CPS to gain custody of his three children from his ex-wife. He has sought reforms at the state level and is now suing CPS for wrongful death. Arizona Republic editorialist Laurie Roberts joins us to talk about the many cases she has covered in her column.
Guests:
  • Laurie Roberts - Arizona Republic


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
In part two of our series on Arizona's child protective services, we examine problems with the system. In a moment, we will talk about some of the cases where C.P.S. Has been accused of failing to remove or properly supervise children who are in dangerous or abusive situations. First, we meet a father who blames C.P.S. For the death of his child. John gray's 4-year-old daughter died in the custody of her mother. Gray had lost custody of his children because he was in prison. Once out, gray battled C.P.S. Over the children's safety. Gray is now suing C.P.S. For wrongful death. He could not talk about his case because it is heading to court. But gray did talk with Merry Lucero about his daughter and the work he has been doing since her death.

John Gray:
She was all girl.

John Gray:
She wanted to be a ballerina. She was a little girl who when she walked in the room, she lit up the room. She was a light. I was going to church in Scottsdale and I had a phone call saying that Haley was missing. And from her mom and so I just did a beeline over to their home. And when I got there, there was police who had barricades and not allowing people out of the apartment complex. They had a center already set up and there was a lot of police around. They are doing checks on predators and I was overhearing things like that. And of course I was obviously concerned. Our first thought was maybe she was abducted by some weird person. And you know, right away we prayed. I prayed with my son. Excuse me. And shortly after that, they found her in the vehicle. In her mother's car, locked in there. I remember seeing they took her out--they took my daughter out. She didn't have any clothes on and laid her down and I thought she's going to be okay. She'll be okay.

Merry Lucero:
But Haley Gray was not okay. Four days later she died. Haley and her two brothers had been in the custody of her mother who had past records of problems with child protective services.

John Gray:
My focus became on my boys. At the hospital, C.P.S. Signed over to me. The children over to me. were in my care. I was able to care for them the way I had hoped they would be cared for and to guide them, to lead them, to nurture them, and to take care of their basic needs which hadn't been happening in the past. I went to the police station and got my boys and we started. That was one of the gifts that she gave to her brothers was that now they were safe.

Merry Lucero:
John Gray now focuses on raising his sons and seeking change in the C.P.S. System. He established a foundation and a website cpsabuse.com to express the tragedy of her death and call for C.P.S. To admit wrongdoing.

John Gray:
I'm sure C.P.S. Doesn't have an easy job. I know it's not an easy job. It can't be an easy job to be a C.P.S. Worker but there comes a point where you have to do something.

Merry Lucero:
He did something beyond his own daughter's death. He testified at the state legislature and persuaded lawmakers to pass Haley's law. It requires C.P.S. Workers to track abuse and neglect committed in other states. Gray's case is going to the court and he's suing the state for the wrongful death of Haley. His attorney, Jorge Franco.

Jorge Franco:
Through his efforts that has become a law is a great thing. Clearly that's a sign of progress. However there already is a rule that historically required that C.P.S. Workers do that. People might argue whether it's a law in the sense that it's a law now that its been codified as Haley's law. It's been part of administrative coded statutory scheme that they have to investigate all relevant information. It's logical thought to tells you if the subject of my investigation used to live in another state, then I need to know if that person was involved with social services or C.P.S. In that state because they may have information that goes to the assessing the level of risk a child is in. Basically there's a law now on the books for something that really shouldn't require a law.

Merry Lucero:
This is not the first case against C.P.S. By Franco and his firm.

Jorge Franco:
In Arizona we know we have very high statistics of child fatalities over the past five to 10 years that during that time there's been a lot of talk about reform and progress and changes. And the general perception at least on my part and I think a lot of other people, is that we're not seeing it yet. So our motivation as lawyers being involved in these cases is clearly to be part of that momentum that hopefully one day starts to show itself in the way of better systems, better supervision of workers, better qualified workers, more reasonable case loads, whatever the symptoms of C.P.S. Are seeing them cured so that when--ultimately, when that's all done the statistics of child harm or fatality in Arizona reduce or disappear.

Merry Lucero:
In the meantime the website, the legislation and the lawsuit gives gray a forum for voicing his loss.

John Gray:
It was something that was a healing thing for me, you know. You know, initially I started off with trying to get criminal charges brought against the workers because I was angry, you know, that this was something that could have been avoided. And so but one thing led to another and I realize that, you know, it's bigger than Haley. It's bigger than me, my family. It's bigger than us. It's about all the children out there who may be affected like this.

Ted Simons:
Arizona Republic Lori Roberts joins us. They got calls on Haley but they didn't meet the criteria for the report. We talked to C.P.S. And overseers yesterday and there was a lot of talk we're doing the best we can within the confines of how we work. This case included, how do you see that?

Laurie Roberts:
That case I think they need to change the confines in the way they work. The Haley gray case, I don't know how much background your piece had on them but this is a little girl along with two older brothers who were in the custody with the mother. The mother had a pretty serious drinking problem. The first she appeared on C.P.S.'s radar screen when she went to daycare to pick them up at 4:00 p.m. And she was so drunk the daycare workers called the police and C.P.S. and said: we are concerned she won't be safe. Sure enough she got down a block of the road and got in an accident. She couldn't stand up because she was so drunk and the kids were not hurt. C.P.S. Took the kids and the policy is unification and returned them to the mother after C.P.S.'s recommendation. Eventually more and more complaints and comments coming in especially John Gray, the father. She's drinking again, possibly doing other things and I'm concerned for my children's safety. The baby-sitter called and said she showed up drunk and I think it's a concern. They said it did not arise to the level of a report. It was a status report as opposed to a report of concern. More calls were made. C.P.S. Tells her you have to take drug tests and urinalysis tests and comes up with months after months of excuses and then takes it and passes. They say, you know, clearly she's not a problem. The day comes when the children were returned to her. She had a late night of celebrating the previous night. John gray returns the children who had been on a weekend visit with him. Little Haley had been given a makeup case and left it in the car. So while mom is--I won't use the word passed out--sleeping the afternoon away, Haley goes out to the car to retrieve the makeup case that her father bought her. The van door shuts on her. She can't get out of the van and dies.

Ted Simons:
Quickly. I want to get to other things here. C.P.S. Erred how?

Laurie Roberts:
When you look at the records, they seem to suggest the father is angry. They decided the mother was not the person she was painted to be and anything he had did had to fit into that. They were not sufficiently skeptical to get a good picture of what was going on in that house.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned earlier how there's so much emphasis on reunification, is there too much focus on the rights of parents in C.P.S. Cases right now? The way the legislature looks at it, the way the statutes are set up it seems to fall more on the parents than getting the child out of these situations?

Laurie Roberts:
Several years ago when the governor took office, the big question was rights of the parents and rights of children to make it to kindergarten or to first grade. She said let there be no mistake if you have to err on the side of something, let it be the side of child safety. From foster parents and child protective service investigators and all sorts of people, they tell me the plan is always for reunification. There's not a week that goes by I don't get a call from a set of grandparents who tells me they are raising the child because their children are drug addicts and then see the light and suddenly want to be the parents and clean for three months and C.P.S. Is yanking them from the home they have only known to be back with the parent who's been clean for what, 10 minutes.

Ted Simons:
Is that the fault of C.P.S. or the legislature and climate in Arizona that says get the kids to the family no matter what?

Laurie Roberts:
I will say federal law requires that C.P.S. Makes all reasonable efforts to reunify children with the families. That's a smart thing. We don't want the long arm of the law coming in because we spank them too hard. If there's danger or a terrible case of abuse, you don't have to reunify in those cases. I could tell you a story that's been eight or nine years of a little girl where there were severe reports of a abuse, bruises, black eyes. Bruises in the shape of fists one time. Every time C.P.S. Says, no, we can't find evidence of sufficient abuse until the child is killed. Even then when the child is beaten to death and both parents are in jail for murder, C.P.S. Is planning a reunification of the children that were not killed.

Ted Simons:
Is C.P.S. Held to an impossible standard?

Laurie Roberts:
It's hard to say yet because the records are not opened. I hope that changes. I think they are held to terribly high standards and they should be because we're talking about children. The most vulnerable children in the state that often have parents that often don't give a damn. Can we hold them to a lesser standard? I don't think so.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for joining us.

Ted Simons:
Our series on child protective services continues as we take a look at what state lawmakers are doing to make the agency more accountable to the public. That's tomorrow, Wednesday, evening at 7:00 on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Before we leave tonight, a reminder. You can call the number on your screen and get free legal advice by phone. Attorneys from the Maricopa county bar association are here for phone a lawyer night, answering calls in the studio until 9:00. That number is 480-965-1998.

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