By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
He was prevented from seeing his daughter the third week in November because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Briana Curry told Ron Carpenter she liked transporting the children herself and was not able to do so that week because of her vacation.
"I thought this was a system that worked in the best interest of the child, not the best interest of the caseworker," says Carpenter. Curry and the other CPS workers involved in the case declined to be interviewed, citing CPS policy that prevents them from talking about specific cases.
In early December, Ron Carpenter was scheduled for a psychological and chemical screening with Janice Young, a psychologist who offices inside the Department of Human Services.
Ron Carpenter's meeting with Young went poorly. The interview ended prematurely, Carpenter says, because Young felt "I was being hostile."
Carpenter walked next door to the CPS building to meet with Briana Curry. She handed him his case plan. Though Young clearly hadn't had time to do a thorough evaluation, Curry's case plan called for Carpenter to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings three times a week, plus an eight-week parenting class. The plan also called for Carpenter to find suitable day care for his daughter, "to be more understanding of his daughter's needs and her capabilities," and, "he will make wiser decisions regarding his daughter's care and protection instead of finding quick and easy solutions."
Even with the expense and work loss, Carpenter didn't object to the parenting classes. "Everyone can learn more about how to be a parent," he says. He does think he would have gotten more out of it had he had his daughter around, so he could have tried out some of the things he learned.
But he objected to attending AA. It was time-consuming and unnecessary, he says. "I'm not an alcoholic, so why should I admit to something that's not true. What does that teach my child?"
Before signing off on the case plan, Carpenter wrote that he wouldn't attend AA. He also wrote: "I feel additional visitation is needed to reduce the trauma for my daughter and will continue to raise this concern until such time as her return or additional visitation is scheduled." His request went unanswered.
Carpenter got CPS' blessing to hire his own psychologist to evaluate him. A member of Fathers United for Equal Rights recommended William Tedford, a psychologist and professor at SMU. (Tedford has no formal connection with groups like Fathers United. "I've had maybe one to two dozen cases with them," he says. "In general, I believe in the concept that fathers shouldn't automatically be presumed the inferior parent. But the Fathers United group is a little bit extreme and extremely bitter. I can do without referrals from that organization. I try to help out if it's a situation I think I can help.")
Tedford saw Carpenter once a week for four weeks. He administered two tests--a personality test and a substance-abuse screening. "It is my professional opinion that Mr. Carpenter is not chemically dependent and does not have an alcohol problem," Tedford wrote in his one-page report.
He based his findings partly on the results of the tests. In addition, Carpenter had offered to submit to periodic urinalyses as proof that he had quit drinking. Tedford suggested, instead, that Carpenter take a daily dose of Antabuse, a pill that makes a person violently ill if they drink alcohol within three days of taking the pill. Carpenter readily agreed and his boss at the apartment complex where he worked volunteered to supervise his pill-taking.
"The fact that he readily agreed to his plan, and has had no difficulty in following it, is a strong indicator to me that there was no problem," Tedford wrote.
Tedford has worked on almost two dozen cases that have involved CPS. In every case except one, he says, he thought CPS mishandled the situation. He thinks CPS did wrong by Ron and Autumn Carpenter.
"There was no reason to keep the child as long as they have," Tedford says. "It was quite reasonable to keep the child overnight. With enough bureaucratic incompetence, maybe they keep her a week. But that's all.
"It seems to me that once CPS gets their teeth in a case, egos get involved and it becomes a game," Tedford says. "They want to win rather than looking at what's in the best interest of the child. They seem to make up their minds in the first 10 minutes. A parent can burn a child with a cigarette, scald them with water, and if the parent says, 'Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, I'll take an abusing parent class,' the child is put right back in."
Autumn Carpenter had been in foster care for almost two months by the time of her father's next court date--January 16. Carpenter hoped that Autumn would be released to him then. He had done everything that CPS had required of him: He had found suitable day care (the Child Life Learning Center was holding a spot for Autumn); he had finished his parenting classes, taking two in one week to get the course finished in time for the hearing; and he had completed the court-ordered psychological tests. Tedford, in fact, had come to court, to testify about his findings.