October 26, 2007 4:42 AM PDT

Police Blotter: Craigslist toddler giveaway ad sparks suit

Police Blotter is a weekly News.com report on the intersection of technology and the law.

What: California woman who posted Craigslist ad to give away her 3-year-old daughter ends up in multiyear legal battle with social services.

When: California state appeals court, first district, rules on October 17.

Outcome: Appeals court agrees that mother should not have custody of child, but sends back the case to the trial judge for additional proceedings.

What happened, according to court documents and other sources:
Sometime around the spring of 2005, a homeless single mother in Oakland, Calif., posted an advertisement on Craigslist trying to give away her 3-year-old daughter.

The mother, who was living at the time at Oakland's Elizabeth House, is referred to in court documents only as Esperanza F. Her daughter is referred to as A.J.

Esperanza seemed to be at her wits' end at the time. Elizabeth House staff recalled that she would yell and scream at the toddler, ignore A.J. for lengthy periods of time, and talk of getting rid of A.J. and heading to Italy. Esperanza's grandmother, Nona W., was worried enough to repeatedly call the Department of Children and Family Services in Alameda County (which includes Oakland), to no avail.

An evaluation by a child psychologist that year concluded: "Her behaviors suggest that she places her needs before that of her daughter. She expects her daughter's sleep and feeding routine to accommodate to her adult lifestyle. Her disciplining methods appear to be harsh. Also, she expects a level of independence in her daughter which she may be incapable of at her age."

It was the discovery of Esperanza's Craigslist ad that prompted the local government to intervene. The Alameda County Social Services Agency, someone from the emergency response unit of the county's Children's Protective Services agency, and the director of Elizabeth House met with Esperanza, who said she would not change her lifestyle. She failed to return to Elizabeth House the following night and A.J. was taken into protective custody.

That took place in March 2005. By August 31, a judge noted that Esperanza had completed a parenting class and was attending weekly therapy sessions, and agreed that A.J. could return home to Elizabeth House for a month. After that trial period ended, the court set up a schedule for A.J. to return home permanently.

In March 2006, Esperanza gave birth to K.B. No father was listed on the birth certificate. Five days later, Esperanza began trying to dispose of K.B. as well, and signed a notarized letter giving the infant to a neighbor she barely knew. More reports surfaced of A.J. being slapped and being threatened with a return to her foster parents.

After a judge eventually awarded custody of both children to their great aunt, Kathy W., Esperanza tried to get them back by claiming the evidence against her was insufficient and that the children were part Blackfeet Indian and, therefore, the Indian Child Welfare Act applied (the Blackfeet tribe says there's no known relation).

An appeals court ruled that Esperanza was not a safe parent, but sent the case back to the trial judge to make sure the children were not Indian and that the Indian Child Welfare Act--which limits the ability of social workers to break up such a family--was being followed.

Excerpt from appeals court's October 17 opinion:
The record shows that Esperanza suffers from mental illness or disorder that prevents her from being able to safely parent A.J. Esperanza denies her illness and, although having received nearly a year of therapy and other family maintenance services, she still engaged in the same type of behavior (trying to give away her child to people she knew only slightly or not at all) that caused A.J. to become a dependent child in the first place.

There was ample evidence that Esperanza acts rashly with respect to her children when she is under stress, that she lies repeatedly about her behavior to the agency and to others, and that she refuses to acknowledge that she suffers from serious mental illness or mental disorder (for example, eight days after the children were removed, during a visit to Schuman-Liles Clinic, Esperanza reported she was "very happy," and that she had no mental health issues going on).

These circumstances clearly pose a substantial risk of serious physical and emotional harm to the children. Moreover, Esperanza's denial of her mental health issues, and her persistent pattern of misrepresentation to the agency, to mental health professionals, to family, and to others who could assist her, fully supports the finding that there were no reasonable alternative means to protect the children...

Moreover, on this record there is ample evidence that ... Esperanza is unwilling or unable to address her mental health issues in a meaningful way and that she is untruthful with the agency, health care providers, the court, and others seeking to assist her... She did not turn to family who stood willing to help, and it is also the case that she was in a hurry to avoid any interference by the agency. In these circumstances, continued family maintenance services with the children remaining in her home appears to be totally unworkable and insufficient to ameliorate the risk.

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So, the mom was allowed to have another baby. Nice. Good. Let the human misery continue.
Posted by Remo_Williams (488 comments )
Reply Link Flag
She was "allowed" to???? Where do you live that people need "worthy" parents in order to be born? Who exactly could forbid her to give birth? Maybe you're thinking forced sterilization? ****!
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
Praying for these children and for this woman that they find the help, care and love they need and deserve. This is so sad. I have a three year old myself and can't imagine her being in such a situation. This poor child.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are people who put their children up for adoption unfit?
If a woman contemplated putting her child up for legal adoption, would that be evidence that she is an unfit mother and entitle the government to assume custody of her children?
Posted by richardhaskins (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's not what she did though...she tried to giver her 1st kid away on craigslist!! That's not the same as putting up her child for legal adoption! And what she was doing with her 2nd child clearly shows that she is not ready to be a mother!
Posted by danidani81 (3 comments )
Link Flag
This is mental illness
You are ignoring the obvious mental illness here. Her behavoir is irrational. This woman refuses to acknowledge that she has a problem. She refuses treatment. This is typical behavoir for someone who is mentally ill. I have a brother who behaves in precisely this irrational way.

If she were putting her child up for adoption, it would be rational. Trying repeatedly to give your children to total strangers is not the same. Her behavoir is irrational and potential life threatening to her children.
Posted by 4Travel (9 comments )
Link Flag
Why are you asking this stupid question?
Posted by Soupir (24 comments )
Link Flag
if you say even once you don't want them back, that's the end
just contemplating it is not a problem though.
Posted by stikkybubble (1 comment )
Link Flag
Just not right...
It's pretty sad when you hear stories like this when you also hear
about good natured people, and probably better qualified for
parenting, spending thousands of dollars trying to get pregnant.
Posted by Bryce Mirtle (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What does RIGHT or WRONG have to do with it?
Two men get hit by a bus. One survives, a wanted bank robber who has killed 20 people. The other, a hard working father of two dies. This is tragic yes, but wrong, NO.
Posted by zboot (168 comments )
Link Flag
Re: Just not right...
It is sad. Thank God they took the children away from her before it was too late. Maybe since it's a family member who was granted custody, she can at least visit them and get to know them.

But I'm seriously glad that they were taken away from her AT THIS POINT.

As for decent people spending thousands trying to get pregnant. Yea, it does seem a bit backwards, but unfortunately, that's the way it is.

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
WOW that is screwed-up
WOW! Mom can't handle the situation so she tries to pawn off her kid? I say this over and over again - some people should NOT be having kids. Poor people, dumb people, and crazy people. These are usually the ones who do have kids, BECAUSE they are poor, dumb and crazy.

Now the rest of the population will have to care for this kid in some way through 'free' doctors, 'free' welfare, etc.

I am married and we have a single income (my wife is disabled and can not work) so we struggle all the time with bills, yet I can't get any 'free' services to help me out. Guess we need to have some kids and contact Craigslist too...
Posted by Mike_in_Florida (15 comments )
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