Judge's Ruling in Custody Battle Leads to Child's Abrupt Goodbye with Foster Parents

February 13, 2018 07:30 PM

Foster parents Jason and Danielle Clifford lost their fight to finish the adoption of their 6-year-old foster child KSTP is identifying as "P" because of privacy issues.

Hennepin County and a juvenile court judge gave the child's grandmother custody and the ability to adopt her. Her grandmother, Robyn Bradshaw, initially couldn't qualify as a foster parent because of her criminal history.


But Bradshaw's lawyer said that record was expunged, and Bradshaw is able and capable of raising her granddaughter.

RELATED: Couple Seeking to Adopt Native American Child Balks at Indian Child Welfare Law

P had been placed with the Cliffords, and they were in the process of adopting her after Hennepin County terminated the rights of her biological parents.

Whether the Indian Child Welfare Act applies is at the center of the legal custody fight.

The ICWA is supposed to help Native American children find foster families in Native American Communities. But there aren't enough qualified foster homes for some of the 2,000 foster children who need them.

That's why Jason and Danielle Clifford signed up. The couple said they heard Hennepin County social services' call for help at their church, in which the agency said it needed more foster families urgently.

The Cliffords said the county had given them reason to believe their adoption of the child would be approved. But 13 months ago, the White Earth Ojibwe tribe intervened, invoking the spirit of the ICWA that attempts to prevent Native American children from being separated from family or extended family.

The Cliffords said they couldn't understand why, because the county had previously said the child is not eligible for membership in any Indian tribe and the Indian Child Welfare Act doesn't apply.

The Cliffords said the White Earth Tribe wanted the maternal grandmother – Bradshaw – to adopt. 

Court documents show P's parents both had criminal convictions and histories of drug abuse, and that their daughter was not safe in their custody. She was moved seven times before she ended up with the Cliffords about a year-and-a-half ago.

RELATED: Court Hears Tribal Challenge to South Dakota Child Removals

Since that time, the Cliffords said, P blossomed from a withdrawn child into a social butterfly. She joined dance classes and the Girl Scouts. She has also been going to counseling.

That life changed on Jan. 26, 2018, when, the Cliffords said, they were forced to take their foster daughter to a location and hand her over to Bradshaw.

They said P was told only minutes before the transfer, and they had just 15 minutes to say goodbye.

Jason Clifford said even in the few hours before the Cliffords were supposed to deliver their daughter to her grandmother, they hadn't been provided details of how it would happen.

He said the county refused to answer their questions. Clifford said he gave his daughter a huge hug as he said goodbye, and that she cried when he held her.

"It was terrifying, horrible," Jason Clifford said. "We were trying to make it as easy a process for her as possible." 

At a routine court hearing for this case on Tuesday, a juvenile court judge asked the county how that transition was done in the best interests of the child.  

The assistant county attorney said she couldn't answer without the social worker in charge of the case present at the hearing.

The judge also asked if a therapist had been involved in telling the child she would be leaving the Cliffords. The assistant county attorney told the judge the therapist wasn't involved in notifying P about the new change in her life.

The judge called the county's transition process "haphazard." Jason Clifford agreed.

"I'm shocked and horrified at how the county handled this whole thing," he said. The Cliffords and Bradshaw both said the county failed to properly and compassionately tell P about the transition.

Bradshaw says that P is now adjusting well. But the Cliffords said they aren't adjusting as well.

"We've had our daughter taken out of our home. We raised her as our own, she built a family with us," Jason Clifford said. "We miss her, I miss holding her, and her putting her head on my shoulder. We called it an 'up-hug.'" 

Jason Clifford said the system that pitted two foster parents and a grandmother against each other for months in a bitter battle in court is now bringing them together.

The juvenile court judge told Bradshaw she could talk to the Cliffords and involve them however she deemed best. Clifford said all three of them are now trying to bring consistency to P's life.

"Whether we wanted it or not, we are all family now," Jason Clifford said. The Cliffords are not giving up their fight to have their foster daughter live with them. 

"We would love to see her back in our home and to have a relationship with her grandmother, let her be a grandmother," he said. "I hope to continue building a relationship with her. It's going to take time, especially with all the hurt that has happened. We have a lot of people who are praying for us, for this little girl, and for her grandma too." 

The next hearing in front of the juvenile court judge is Apr. 12. KSTP asked the county about Clifford's accusation, and about how they handled the case. The county said it could not comment on specific cases due to data privacy reasons, but provided the following statement:

"The safety and emotional well-being of youth we serve is paramount in what we do. We take all case learnings seriously and have a process in place to review what went well and where we can do better with ensuring kids thrive – that is our commitment to our community."

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office said it didn't have the information the judge requested at the Tuesday hearing because the social worker on the case was sick. The office plans to file the answers to the judge's requests on March 13. 


Farrah Fazal

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