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Resolving disputes creatively

Biological mother facing charges for kidnapping young daughter

When considering where and with whom a child will live when a family is split by divorce or a parent is deemed unfit to care for the child, a court uses the time-honored guideline of meeting the best interests of the child. On occasion this means that child custody is not awarded to a natural or biological parent but to a close family relative or even a foster family. This often leaves an angry parent who has trouble accepting the court's decision; sometimes these parents decide to take matters into their own hands and violate court orders.

This seems to be what happened recently in the case of a five-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome whose mother kidnapped her following a supervised visit in a Bronx foster home. An Amber Alert was issued and then canceled the following day when the girl was found in her mother's care in Queens. Authorities took the girl to an Elmhurst Hospital for a precautionary evaluation; the girl has a thyroid condition that requires daily medication.

The court originally removed the girl from her mother's care because the mother had a history of mental illness and had been accused of child abuse. It is unlikely that she will be reunited with her little girl for several years, if ever. If the woman is not convicted and sent to prison, any visitation would probably be strictly supervised.

In cases such as this one, third parties-grandparents, other family members and even government agencies-can consult attorneys to initiate legal action that seeks to have the biological parent declared unfit to raise a child. This is a course of last resort for most courts, and usually require allegations of mental illness or physical or sexual abuse levied against a parent. Parents who are incarcerated can also lose custody of their children.

Source: CBS New York, "AMBER Alert canceled after 5 year old Bronx girl found safe," June 9, 2015

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