By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
But CPS delayed the hearing. This time, Briana Curry told the judge that CPS had yet to have Autumn evaluated by a doctor for developmental delays. (Curry would set up an appointment in the next few weeks--at the same time as Carpenter's regular visit with his daughter--forcing his visit to be canceled.)
In addition, Curry submitted to the judge a harsh status report on Carpenter. She wrote that Autumn needed to remain in substitute care so further evaluation of her emotional needs could be done and the risks of her home environment could be evaluated.
About Carpenter, she wrote:
There has been little progress made toward alleviating the existing problems in the family. While working with this family, additional concerns have come up. Mr. Carpenter is extremely uncooperative, at times hostile, and has refused all services provided by Child Protective Services. He is not willing to work with his caseworker and will not take any responsibility for his actions that place his child in a potentially dangerous situation. Mr. Carpenter has made poor decisions regarding the care and protection of his child and has not displayed behavior that would suggest he understands this. A psychological and a drug evaluation were set up for Mr. Carpenter but he refused to complete them. Mr. Carpenter became very hostile toward the counselor who was performing the evaluation so the test could not be completed. This counselor has recommended additional intervention, such as AA or in-patient treatment, but Mr. Carpenter denies any substance-abuse problem. Autumn's behavior during the weekly visits has been very disturbing and has caused alarm. From the beginning, Autumn has cried throughout the visits, and refuses interaction with her father. She begins crying when she sees her father. This behavior has added to the concerns with the family and will require additional services. Mr. Carpenter needs to accept his responsibilities and show a stronger commitment to improving his lifestyle before progress can be made. In the future, cooperation with the Child Protective Services will be helpful.
The judge set the next hearing for the end of March. Autumn was to stay in foster care until then. The guardian ad litem, Damon Rowe, concurred, based on CPS' allegations, that Carpenter was not cooperating with the agency.
Between mid-January and mid-February, Dr. Tedford conducted several more psychological exams of Ron Carpenter. Although Tedford had administered the same tests Janice Young had attempted to do on Carpenter, caseworker Curry complained that most reports she gets are longer than the one-page he wrote on Carpenter.
"I gave him more tests and they came out almost exactly the same," says Tedford. "That's an example of the kind of garbagey things CPS does."
One of the tests evaluated Carpenter's parenting skills. "It showed he was an above-average parent," says Tedford. "I believe this guy is really interested in his kid. Clearly I can't sit here and know if someone is lying. If I did I would be a professional poker player. But I think he was being very truthful."
Tedford admits that Carpenter took a risk in hiring Cathy White, but is impressed that he checked her out as much as possible. "He interviewed the parole officer, which seems like to me he went the extra mile," says Tedford. "[Carpenter] figured she was under the gun of being supervised."
Tedford's findings did not speed the process any. The next hearing was set for March 22. At the beginning of March, Briana Curry had informed Carpenter that it was likely his daughter would be coming home after that hearing.
The Autumn Carpenter case is but one of 10 pending cases in which Damon Rowe has been appointed guardian ad litem. He sees his job as taking neither the state's, nor the parents' side, but "ferreting out what's in the best interest of the child."
Damon Rowe has a unique vantage point from which to view the world of child-protective-service cases. His mother, Ora Lee Watson, the former principal of the Townview Magnet School, has been a foster parent to some 14 children over the years, some of them crack babies.
By mid-March, Rowe had met with Ron Carpenter only once and had never visited Autumn. "Most ad litems do that before the process ends," Rowe explains. He was surprised to hear that the Carpenter case was scheduled to end in the coming week. Rowe says he has concerns with both sides of the case. He is not sure the child should have been away from her parent for as long as she has been. But he is also concerned with Carpenter's decision to hire Cathy White and CPS' allegations that Carpenter was not complying with the case plan.
On the evening of March 21, the night before his daughter was scheduled to come home, Ron Carpenter was busy. He baked a cake and laboriously hand-lettered a banner that said, "Welcome Home Autumn."
He was excited--and more than a little nervous. "I know this is going to be traumatic for her," he says. Earlier in the week, during Carpenter's Tuesday visitation with Autumn, as they sat in the CPS office blowing bubbles, Autumn kept saying, 'My mommy's coming, my mommy's coming,' in reference to her foster mother.