Black leather boots and brown hiking sneakers sit under the gazebo outside of the Manatee County Courthouse, waiting for a new home. Not another person’s feet, but on the steps of the courthouse itself.
Gary, who is with Why Dads Matter, said shoes on the courthouse represent familial alienation caused by the family court system. The group is fighting for mothers and fathers to been seen equally in the courts.
Why Dads Matter partnered with Kids Need Both for a “Fatherless Father’s Day” rally Friday, just in time for Father’s Day. About 14 adults and three children at the event held signs saying “Honk 4 Dads” or “Let Dad’s have their children” and speaking out against Child Protective Services.
A former foster child said he was locked in his room; a mother said her daughter was taken away from her without a criminal charge; Gary, who didn’t give his last name, said he hasn’t seen his son in four years even though they live in the same city.
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Danica Joan Fields, executive director of Kids Need Both, said she wants to fight any unkind view of parents in high-conflict families.
“Family looks different to everybody,” she said, noting mother-father, grandparents and same-sex couples can be affected, “but the goal is that the child not have an unkind view of one or both of the family.”
She speaks from experience. Having gone through her own custody battle, Fields said she was made to look like an unfit mother. More than five years later, she shares half custody of her five sons and has blended family gatherings in harmony.
“It’s the way it should be,” she said.
Brenda and Daniel Blue Jr. traveled from Lancaster, Texas, to support the cause. The Blues said in their experience, CPS agents lied and put their children in the system for money. When they caught on, they started recording CPS visits.
The couple sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Aug. 12, 2011, detailing 23 adjustments they wanted for CPS. Some requests included ending bonuses paid to each CPS worker for a child removed from a home or adopted through the foster care system, no removal of children from the home without hard evidence and eliminating anonymous accusers.
“The pattern is the same: ‘Get the kids,’” said Raquel Okyay, state director of GovAbuse.
Okyay said she was a victim of CPS and has been investigating them ever since.
Gary said that in his eyes, the courts push families until someone — a parent or child — snaps, then the blame is put on the parent.
Fields said she educates people so they can realize the impact they have on children. Sometimes, Fields said, parents will coach their children into saying negative things about the other parent.
“It’s obviously hurting the other parent, but more so it’s really damaging the child for the future,” she said.