Judge criticizes DHS in child custody case

JACKSON – (AP) A Lamar County judge has criticized the Department of Human Services related to the custody of a 3-year-old child whose biological father is a registered sex offender.

nt/uploads/2012/12/Child-custody-12.13.jpg”>The Clarion-Ledger reported that the biological father is 24 years older than the child’s mother. He was convicted for having sex with the mother when she was a minor and pleaded guilty to fondling her daughter from a previous relationship.

The woman allegedly has mental problems.

Despite that, Chancery Judge Ronald Doleac said some DHS workers didn’t view the biological parents as unfit.

The judge says DHS ignored or failed to investigate reports of abuse and neglect.

Doleac terminated parental rights last month and gave permanent custody to a couple – Michael Garrett and wife, Julie – who has cared for the girl since she was 18-months-old.

The judge, in a 131-page opinion, questioned the way DHS handled the case.

Despite numerous red flags, DHS workers found the parents suitable to care for the little girl and their other four children, ignoring or not investigating abuse and neglect reports that had been coming in for years from school officials, the judge concluded.

“It is clear to the court that at least some DHS workers in this case developed a bias against the Garretts early on in the proceedings, which has only served to hamper the court in making a determination of the facts and the best interest of the child,” he wrote.

He said the child is better off with the Garretts, citing a stable, 10-year marriage, church attendance and parenting responsibilities of their own 7-year-old son. Guardianship of the child had been voluntarily given to the Garretts.

“Frankly, the court is at a loss,” Doleac said. “Fortunately, this case has lifted a veil for the court regarding the nature of investigations and services provided by DHS (and their subsidiaries and counterparts). Unfortunately, that birds-eye view caused much of the testimony on behalf of DHS employees in this case to be viewed in dim light, decreasing the credibility of those witnesses to a large degree. The court hopes to see more diligence and less bureaucracy going forward.”

Julia Bryan, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, declined to comment specifically on the case.

She would only say that the Mississippi Department of Human Services is committed to the safety and security of Mississippi’s children.

“The children of our state deserve nothing but our best efforts,” Bryan said.