By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
For Albert Galvan, his dad was a model of what not to be.
The man was a violent alcoholic who frequently kicked his son and hit him with a belt for playing too loudly. Then he would turn on Albert's mother and beat her for the noise his children were making. But Albert only had to suffer through six years of such abuse. One night his mom decided she'd had enough, and while her husband slept, she woke her children, dressed them, piled them into her car and took them to a friend's house. She left her oldest boy behind because he was close to his father.
When Albert's father woke up the next day, he took his remaining son and moved back to Texas. For more than a decade, he made no attempt to contact the children he'd left behind. So with his dad and older brother gone, Albert became the man of the house and the person his mother depended on emotionally. While some of his siblings joined the gangs of their southside Greeley neighborhood and got arrested, Albert focused on becoming the first person in his family to graduate from high school and attend college. But those plans were interrupted when, at seventeen, Albert got his fourteen-year-old girlfriend, Cassandra, pregnant.
Abused and neglected by her parents, Cassandra had become a ward of the state several months earlier, in mid-2001. When she discovered she was pregnant, Cassandra ran away from her foster home so she could move into a little apartment Albert had created in his mother's garage. They lived there, planning their future, until Cassandra went into labor on July 9, 2002. Albert and his mother were by her side at Loveland's McKee Medical Center, where Cassandra gave birth to Victoria, a beautiful, healthy baby girl.
But rather than go home with his daughter, Albert went home alone with his mother. The Weld County Department of Social Services had come to seize his baby after having filed a dependency-and-neglect petition in order to gain custody of both Cassandra and Victoria.
Albert, who is now nineteen, has sad brown eyes framed by long, thick lashes. He is shy, soft-spoken, vulnerable. He avoids eye contact, often looking down when he talks. He is bright and articulate and says only what needs to be said; he's careful not to interrupt, ever mindful of his manners.
When it comes to talking about Victoria, though, he's effusive and unafraid to show emotion.
"My co-workers have seen me cry," Albert says. "My boss has seen me cry."
The events of the past two years have certainly been cause for tears.
When social workers showed up at the hospital for Victoria's birth and saw an unmarried, unemployed teenager who was living in his mom's garage, they decided Albert was in no position to care for the baby. They ordered Cassandra and Albert to attend parenting classes and to undergo a drug-and-alcohol evaluation -- both routine components of a parental treatment plan required by social services. State law mandates that social workers try to keep families together when a dependency-and-neglect case, or D&N, is filed; the treatment plan is supposed to help rehabilitate parents so that they can be reunited with their children.
Social services can seize a newborn from its parents in only a few specific instances: if one or both parents has an open dependency-and-neglect case with the department (as Cassandra did after running away from her foster home); if the mother tests positive for drugs; if the parents are homeless; or if there is evidence of domestic violence, such as a mother who arrives at the hospital with bruises. Most hospitals have a social worker on call who will report such parents. Within 48 hours of seizing a newborn, social services must prove in court, with a preponderance of the evidence, that they had good cause for removing the baby. (A bill that was introduced during this legislative session would require authorities to obtain a court order before seizing a baby who is less than 72 hours old. See "Sex Registration.")
Cassandra initially seemed receptive to the Weld County department's help and agreed to return to the foster home from which she had run away. Victoria was sent there with her while Cassandra worked on a treatment plan that entailed taking parenting classes, receiving individual and family counseling and submitting to a drug-and-alcohol evaluation. In addition to the classes, drug tests and counseling, Albert was also ordered to obtain his general equivalency diploma -- he'd been kicked out of school for missing too many classes while Cassandra was pregnant -- and find stable employment.
Albert was determined to complete the program and get his daughter back, so he earned his GED and found work with the Weld County Youth Conservation Corps, a division of the federal AmeriCorps program in which participants refurbish public buildings, work on neighborhood beautification projects and read to schoolchildren. While working full-time, he was also having twice-weekly visits with his daughter and learning parenting skills. But he didn't feel that was enough time to spend with Victoria and requested additional visits with her. Soon he was living the life of a much older man, with no time for friends.