Adoptive parents keep pushing to have DCYF records released
By DAVE SOLOMON State House Bureau
Attorney Rus Rilee (Thomas Roy/Union Leader File)
MANCHESTER — The adoptive parents of two children who suffered terrible physical and sexual abuse while under the supervision of the state’s child protective services have taken the next step in their years long effort to shed light on the inner workings of the Division for Children, Youth and Families.
They are now pushing for the legal right to make public any documents or other information surrounding the case, challenging the constitutionality of state law that keeps such information private.
It’s been a three-step process for the former grandparents of the children, identified in court papers as N.B. and J.B.
First, their attorney, Rus Rilee of Bedford, and his Boston-based co-counsel had to take their case to the state Supreme Court to win the right to sue DCYF in open court.
The lawsuit claims that DCYF, caseworkers from Easterseals and advocates from Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) disregarded complaints from the grandparents and warning signs in police reports to allow unsupervised visits by the biological parents, who were later convicted of horrific physical and sexual abuse.
That open trial process began in front of Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson last October, in Hillsborough County Superior Court. Since then, Rilee and state attorneys have been debating what DCYF documents should be made available to the plaintiffs.
In her most recent ruling, step two, Abramson ordered DCYF to release some documents and said she would review others to decide on whether or not they should remain confidential.
On Aug. 1, Rilee and his co-counsel moved to step three, a new motion that gets to the heart of the case. They want the judge to rule that the parents have the right to waive confidentiality and make public whatever documents or records are made available.
The plaintiffs are arguing that state laws regarding the confidentiality of court proceedings under the Child Protection Act are unconstitutional when applied to “fit” parents.
They’re seeking a summary judgment from Abramson that state law cannot make records and case files confidential if a fit parent determines that it is in the best interest of the child to make them public “to further some legitimate interest (such as holding those claimed to be responsible for the abuse or neglect of the child publicly or legally accountable for their conduct.)”
In his motion, Rilee notes that as fit parents, D.C. and T.C. have the authority to waive their children’s confidential rights over medical and educational records, but not their DCYF case files.
“Despite their unquestioned parental authority over every other aspect of their children’s lives, T.C. and D.C. are being told they lack the authority to waive their children’s confidentiality interests pursuant to (the Child Protection Act),” the motion states. “Indeed, as these statutes are applied, the children themselves upon reaching (legal adulthood) would lack the authority to waive confidentiality and release these files and records to the public.”
Such restrictions violate the parents’ constitutional rights to raise their children without state interference, to free speech and to open government, according to Rilee.
T.C. and D.C. have determined that, so long as the identities of the children and their biological parents are not disclosed, N.B. and J.B. will not be harmed by the disclosure of the information in the DCYF and court files.
“Rather, they believe that the airing of this information will benefit their children and will also serve the public good by revealing how an agency charged with protecting children from harm could instead, in the face of repeated warnings, expose two little girls to be repeatedly sexually abused by their biological parents, with the goal that this kind of event never happen again.”
DCYF claims to be acting in the interest of others who it claims have a privacy interest in documents and records that cannot be waived by T.C. and D.C., but has yet to file a formal response to Rilee’s most recent motion.
Assistant Attorney General Seth Zoracki said previously that the state will contest the motion.
“This is a case where you have statutory protections for very sensitive information involving children in the DCYF case system,” he said, “and the state Legislature has recognized the sensitivity of those documents.”