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.
Despite his efforts -- and plans to take advantage of the Conservation Corps' college scholarship when he completes his one-year commitment -- his attorney, Jack Davis, doubts the department ever viewed his client as a viable placement for Victoria. "I think social services just looked at him as a seventeen-year-old Mexican-American male, not as a serious player," he says. "I think I was guilty of that, too. It hurts to say it, but I also viewed him as just another young Mexican-American male at first.
"The boys I get are generally rougher than cops and are on their way to doing a stint in jail. They're usually so into this macho thing that it's hard to even talk to them," adds Davis, who, as a private-practice attorney in Greeley, handles approximately eighty D&N cases at a time for Weld County social services. "But Albert is mature and open to advice. He just wants to settle down and be thirty years old. He's an extraordinary young fellow. Everything about him reminds me of Horatio Alger: He started out with all these impediments, but he exudes competence to deal with whatever hand he's dealt in life."
Unfortunately, Albert's honesty and integrity haven't helped his prospects of getting Victoria back. He admitted to his social worker and to his substance-abuse evaluator that in the past he'd gotten drunk a couple of times with friends and that he'd smoked pot when he was seventeen. "He volunteered that information," Davis says. "I'd be surprised if Albert could lie about anything: He is absolutely one of the best people I've met in my life."
Albert also told the evaluator that he stopped drinking and smoking pot completely three months before their meeting, but his teenage indiscretions cost him nonetheless. Even though Terri Carlson of the Island Grove Regional Treatment Center found that "Mr. Galvan produced a valid profile which indicated that he had a low probability of having a substance dependence disorder," she still recommended that he take classes to learn about the consequences of drug abuse. So starting in November 2002, Albert had to attend classes and take drug tests five times a week until Victoria was returned to him or his parental rights were terminated.
"I didn't see why I needed to take them, but I did it because of Victoria," says Albert, who passed every urinalysis he took. However, his attendance in the classes and appointments wasn't exemplary. He had to reschedule some of the drug classes because of conflicts with his job and problems with his car, but social services accused him of missing them entirely, failing to submit to several UAs and not showing up for numerous other appointments. "Albert wasn't perfect; he was tardy for some appointments, and I take partial responsibility for that, because I didn't impress on him how vital it was that he do all these things," Davis says.
Compared to Cassandra, however, Albert seemed like an angel. While he was working full-time and paying child support -- "He makes $5.30 an hour, and they took $200 a month out of his paycheck," Davis says -- Cassandra's volatile nature was making life difficult at her foster home. Her foster mother forbade Albert from coming to visit Victoria because she suspected him of sneaking into Cassandra's bedroom at night, and in October 2002, the woman decided she couldn't handle Cassandra's erratic behavior anymore. Social services asked the court to find a new placement for Cassandra, and to separate her from her baby. The request was granted, and the young woman was sent to a residential treatment center.
The only relative available to care for Victoria was Albert's mother, Victoria Perez. But the clinician who conducted a home study with Perez in February had several concerns about sending the baby there. For one thing, her two-bedroom apartment wasn't even big enough to accommodate the four children already living there, two of whom were sleeping on the living-room floor. Of even more concern was the lack of attention given to Albert's sixteen-year-old brother, who told the clinician that he was depressed and suicidal. According to social-services documents, when the teen told his mom how he felt, she responded by saying, "You are not depressed. Just get busy, find a job and go to school." The only child in the house attending school was Albert's eleven-year-old sister, who was often left home alone.
The independence Perez expects of her kids may be the result of her own upbringing. Perez started working in the fields of Texas when she was twelve, to help support her five siblings. Her father had walked out on the family when Perez was a baby, and her mother was overworked and seldom showed her kids any emotion. Perez vowed to always tell her own children that she loved and appreciated them, and she worked long hours and struggled to support them (she never received child support from Albert's father). "Ms. Perez reports that she goes to parent-teacher conferences but does not participate in any other activities with her children's educational needs because she does not have the time," the clinician noted in her home-study report. "Ms. Perez reports that she is very busy with work and when she gets home she likes to relax and watch TV."
Perez had worked as a cook at a fast-food restaurant for a decade before taking a job with a meatpacking plant, where she earned $10.50 an hour. Although she was often without a phone, she was able to provide her family with most of the basic necessities. "Ms. Perez was able to escape an abusive marriage and has been able to raise her children on her own without any assistance from her ex-husband. Ms. Perez has made a conscious effort to provide her children with a home that is nurturing and warm," the clinician wrote. Regardless, the clinician didn't feel Perez could handle another child and recommended to social services that Victoria not be placed with her. Instead, her granddaughter was placed in a fost-adopt home with a lesbian couple who have a daughter several months older than Victoria.
When that happened, Albert began to wonder whether he'd ever get his daughter back, but Cassandra was showing no interest in her child. In mid-December 2002, she ran away from the treatment center where she was staying. That was the last Albert heard of her and the last social workers would hear of her until March 14, 2003, when they visited a Greeley home where Cassandra was believed to be staying. Once the social workers found her, they took her to a child-placement agency that made her take a UA. She tested positive for cocaine and marijuana and was placed in another foster home, from which she promptly ran away.
While Cassandra was on the run, Albert was continuing with his classes and drug tests, trying to prove that he would be a fit dad. "Even though I wasn't doing drugs, I kept having to take more UAs to prove it," he says. "It seemed like they kept adding more stuff for me to do."
"There's always a hassle factor in these cases to see if parents will jump through hoops for their kids. In Albert's case, it went too far," Davis says. "But Albert did jump through the hoops. Social services was in a twist to get the baby in a permanent placement."
Albert says his social worker, Lisa Travis, and a special advocate assigned to the case, Nancy Galvin, were pressuring him to relinquish his parental rights at the same time that they were commending his efforts. "Nancy would tell me, 'I believe in you; you're a hero to all the guys who don't want to be fathers,'" Albert says. But another time, Galvin told him that while she's proud of him for fighting for his daughter, she believes in her heart that Victoria is in a good place with the foster mom and her partner.
Galvin and Travis told Albert on several occasions, "You don't have to go to trial," he recalls. But he wouldn't budge, and on March 10, 2003, Travis sent him a letter saying the department was going to file a motion to terminate his parental rights. "They told me I could talk to a relinquishment counselor, so to get them off my back, I agreed," Albert says. But when the counselor asked him to sign a document explaining that he'd been advised of his option to voluntarily give up his parental rights, he refused.
It was beginning to look as though Victoria would remain in the foster home.
For the past ten years, social-services departments in Colorado have been under pressure to quickly find permanent homes for abused and neglected children. A 1994 law called Expedited Permanency Planning (EPP) gave counties ten years to implement new time frames for child placement.
Along with their siblings, children under the age of six now have to be placed in a permanent home within a year of being removed from their parents instead of eighteen months, which was the previous -- though rarely met -- standard. The push for the new time frames was the result of a child-welfare system in which kids often languished in foster care for years until they were returned to their birth parents or adopted by relatives or other caretakers. Supporters of the measure argued that breaking the attachments young kids had formed with their interim caregivers was detrimental and that speedier resolutions would prevent such psychological damage ("Home for Dinner," January 18, 2001).
A decade later, EPP is working -- but not without consequences for parents. In its most recent annual EPP report to the legislature, the Colorado Department of Human Services and the state judicial branch noted that "children continue to achieve permanency in shorter time frames through the EPP initiative than prior to its implementation."
Last year, almost 82 percent of children in cases slated for expedited resolutions -- or 938 kids out of 1,149 -- were in permanent homes within a year. "Counties report anecdotally that many of the remaining 211 children were placed within a matter of a few months of the year's requirement and believe that although the letter of the law was not met for these children, the spirit of the law is definitely being met as these children also achieved early permanency," the report continues.
However, not even half -- barely 42 percent -- of the kids were returned to the parent from whom they were originally removed, and just over 9 percent were placed with the other parent. Relatives took custody of 26 percent of kids, while 23 percent were placed elsewhere. Of the 195 kids placed outside of their families, 62 percent ended up in fost-adopt homes like the one in which Victoria is now living; 35 percent stayed with other adoptive parents; and the remaining 3 percent ended up in long-term foster care or with non-adoptive caregivers who assumed either guardianship or permanent custody of them.
Those numbers worry the judicial branch and the CDHS, which noted in its December 2003 EPP report that "while alternative permanent plans may be best in many cases, it is concerning that almost half of children are not able to be safely returned to at least one of their parents within one year."
Part of the reason kids often don't go back home is that a year isn't much time for parents to successfully complete their treatment plans, especially when drug addiction is involved. Child-welfare laws used to focus on family preservation, but as numerous stories of kids being abused and killed after being returned home made headlines in the early 1990s, the focus shifted from parent-child reunification to considering the best interests of children above all else. In 1997, that new way of thinking was codified with the passage of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, which made it clear that social-services departments would receive federal money only if they made the safety and well-being of children their top priority.
That philosophy is now firmly in place in Colorado. "EPP is consistent with the identified national and state priority that in most situations adoption should be pursued for children who cannot safely return to their parents," the CDHS/judicial branch report explains. "EPP statistics support that children in Colorado are being adopted at a higher rate in recent years than in earlier years."
In Albert's case, attorney Davis says, "The system did what it was supposed to. They put the child in a placement she's safe in. I don't think it's a bad place for her to be, but I feel the same can be said of Albert."
Unlike regular foster parents, fost-adopt parents like Victoria's agree to adopt children who are placed with them only if they can't be reunited with their birth parents or placed with relatives. Like foster parents, fost-adopt parents must be at least 21 years old, have no criminal record, attend foster-care training classes, pass a home assessment and be financially stable.
"[Fost-adopt parents] do the work of angels, because what they're supposed to do is reunite kids with parents while at the same time committing to adopting a child if reunification doesn't work," says Adoree Blair, public-policy chair for the Colorado State Foster Parent Association. "There is grief in this system, but adults can handle it better than kids."
Davis wonders whether the women caring for Victoria ever had any intention of facilitating her return to Albert. A psychologist whom social services hired to observe the interaction between Victoria and the foster mother and Victoria and Albert wrote in his report, "The foster mother noted that 'We want her to be legally adopted.'" (In another case Davis is handling, a foster family is battling the birth parents for adoption rights. See "Motherless Child.")
"I don't think foster parents set out to take children from biological parents," explains Shari Shink, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center. "Unfortunately, because of court delays or because parents take a long time to complete their treatment, the situation becomes other than temporary, and the court has to make a decision about what's best for that child at that point in time."
Victoria's fost-adopt mom and partner couldn't be reached for comment; a phone number found for them in public records has been disconnected, they did not respond to a letter Westword mailed to them, and Linda Goff, the Weld County attorney handling the case, did not return calls seeking help in tracking them down. Weld County Social Services director Judy Griego says that she can't comment on any aspect of the case.
Davis and Albert don't know much about the women other than that one stays home with the kids while the other works. One is 49, and the other is 52. Both are Caucasian and live in Windsor, a town fourteen miles northwest of Greeley. Albert has met them both and says they are nice people. Although Davis has no doubt that Victoria is loved and well cared for in her foster home, he worries that if she remains there, she'll have problems later in life. He points out that the women will be in their seventies when Victoria approaches adulthood, that they're of a different race than she is, and that Victoria may not have a father figure in her life. But when Davis raised those concerns in court, he says, they were treated as non-issues. (Social-services departments in Colorado can place children with gay or lesbian individuals, but same-sex couples can't jointly foster or adopt kids. Joint adoptions involving same-sex couples are allowed in only a few states, including California, Vermont, New Jersey and Massachusetts.)
What concerned the court was that Victoria, now nineteen months old, has already bonded with the foster family she has been with for a year and a half. The county-hired psychologist who observed Victoria's interactions with Albert and with the foster family found that "clearly, the relationship and attachment between the foster parents and the child was secure, healthy appearing, and at a very different level of positive intimacy and connection than was the relationship as observed between Victoria and her father."
Both the county-hired psychologist and the one hired by Davis to conduct a similar evaluation criticized Albert for not engaging his daughter in play when she gave him cues to do so, not maintaining eye contact with her, and treating her more like an infant than the toddler she was becoming.
"These are the most emotionally-wrenching scenarios in the system," Shink says of cases like Albert's. "There are arguments on both sides, and essentially, the child's life is at stake. It would be like the death of a parent if the child was removed from her foster home after being there so long."
Attachment isn't the only issue in the case, however. Social workers and psychologists argued that Albert didn't yet possess the maturity and know-how to parent his child.
In court documents, special advocate Galvin pointed out several safety concerns that she witnessed while observing visits between Albert and Victoria at a social-services building. One time, she noted, Albert encouraged Victoria to play with a coin. Another time, Victoria was playing with a plastic bag. "When I visited Albert in his apartment, I asked him if he saw any hazards to an active and climbing child. He was unable to identify a shelving unit as a hazard," Galvin wrote. "Albert did say that he would always watch her closely and try to teach her not to climb. I do not believe that Albert knows the elements of a safe environment for a toddler, and therefore lacks the knowledge to assess for safety."
But Albert says there were plenty of things he did right, like the time Victoria was playing peek-a-boo with him from inside the middle of a chalkboard easel at the social services visitation room. "I was watching closely to make sure nothing happened. They always seemed to have things in the room that were unsuitable for her. If there were pens on the floor or other small things she could swallow, I'd throw them out," he says. "There was an unsteady chair that she could have fallen off, so I fixed it. It's like they never took note of anything good I did."
Galvin didn't take note of anything that Kim Saldana, Albert's new girlfriend, with whom he now shares an apartment, did right, either. "When I visited Albert and Kim at their apartment, I asked Kim what she saw as her role in Victoria's life should Victoria come to live with them. She responded that she would 'be like the mom' and do 'mom-like things.' I asked her to elaborate, and she listed a number of activities. Conspicuously absent from her listing were love her, teach her, keep her safe and see to her needs," Galvin wrote in her letter to the court. "Kim seemed to relate being a mom to being a full-time babysitter. She also seemed ambivalent toward the possibility of Albert having custody of his daughter."
"They just never liked me," Kim says. "They said, 'We know you're probably not interested in the baby because she's not your daughter.' That's not true at all; I never said anything like that.
"It's not her fault that she came into this world and her mom couldn't take care of her," adds Kim, who just finished courses at Aims Community College in Greeley in preparation for her certified nursing-assistant license; she wants to become a dental hygienist. "We had baby clothes and a crib ready. Even my mom was saying she'd help us take care of her."
While growing up, Kim helped care for her four younger sisters and felt comfortable with the idea of raising an infant. She wants to have one of her own someday, but not until she and Albert have both finished college, gotten married and worked full-time for a few years. She says she tried to help Albert regain custody of Victoria by taking him to visits and reminding him to keep appointments, but she felt the system was working against him. "One time [Galvin] told him he should relinquish his rights because it would look bad in his record if he didn't. That made me really mad, because that's not right," Kim says.
The one person who did note positive things about Albert was inexplicably removed from the case after a few months. Toilynn Edwards, an employee of Lutheran Family Services, was appointed by Weld County to monitor numerous visits between Albert and Victoria and to provide Albert with parenting tips. In a report that she provided to the court, Edwards wrote, "Albert is demonstrating consistent positive behavior and interactions with his daughter, Victoria. Albert has not been absent or late to any visits during this review period. When the visits were at his home, he was routinely outside waiting for this worker to arrive with Victoria, especially if it was raining or snowing, in order to help get Victoria indoors quickly.
"During one visit, he appropriately determined that the house was too cold for Victoria. He swaddled her in a blanket and asked this worker to hold her while he found some other family members to help him take the air conditioner out of the window so that the cold air would not get into the window," Edwards continued.
Later she added, "Albert reports to this worker that he is following through with his random urinalysis tests, even though he is embarrassed to do them. He stated, 'I have to do whatever they ask me to so I can get Victoria back.' He then spoke directly to Victoria and said, 'They can test me all they want to, but they won't find anything wrong. I promise, Victoria.'" (When contacted by Westword, Edwards deferred comment to Julie Swanson, vice president of program services for Lutheran Family Services, who says her agency can't comment on the reason Edwards was removed from the case.)
Despite Edwards's positive comments about Albert, his missed visits with social services and his imperfect parenting skills convinced Galvin that he wasn't a suitable father. "This case presents a dilemma, a choice between alternatives, neither of which is entirely satisfactory: On one hand there is termination of parental rights, with Victoria becoming available for adoption in a 'forever home'; and on the other hand, not terminating parental rights, leaving Victoria's future in question but her father in her life," Galvin wrote to the court.
"I have a lot of respect for Albert and truly wish that, for him, I could recommend that his rights not be terminated," Galvin continued. "This nineteen-year-old young man has remained involved in his child's life and should be commended for his efforts and sense of responsibility to the child he fathered. My respect for and liking of Albert are the roots of my viewing this case as a dilemma. The irony of the case is that Albert is still involved and pursuing his parental rights out of a sense of obligation and responsibility, and that I am recommending termination partly because Albert has trouble meeting his obligations and performing as a responsible adult."
Social worker Travis agreed, and in a separate letter to the court stated, "Albert has a relationship with Victoria's foster mother, and this relationship can be allowed to continue. Albert has completed his GED and has a job, and has taken some responsibility for his future. However, Albert has not demonstrated the consistency and maturity that would allow him to parent or provide for Victoria. Victoria, under EPP statutes, is required to be in a permanent home. It is not in Victoria's best interest to wait for Albert to develop the requisite maturity and resources to truly provide for her."
During Albert's termination hearing, which began on August 26, 2003, Weld County District Judge James Hartmann asked Travis if she would remove another child from Albert if he were to father one immediately. She said no. "One of the elements they have to prove to terminate parental rights is that the parent is unfit and is unlikely to change within a reasonable period of time," Davis says. "So for her to say that the department wouldn't take a baby from him if he had another one right now can't logically co-exist with the standards that have to be met for terminating parental rights."
But Hartmann terminated Albert's parental rights anyway. According to a transcript of the hearing, which was continued a couple of times until it finally concluded on December 10, 2003, Hartmann chided Albert for not completing his drug treatment. "Mr. Davis brings up an argument that the drug issue wasn't the major issue here. And in some sense, I agree with that; that there were other issues that were of more importance as far as the needs of you providing parenting skills. But that doesn't diminish the fact that the department was aware that drug use was a part of your past and it needed to be looked into."
Hartmann went on to cite the psychologists' reports, which found that Victoria had bonded more with her foster parents than she had with Albert. "There is no question in this court's mind how much Mr. Galvan loves this child. It is rare to find a seventeen- or an eighteen-year-old young man who is willing to forgo spending time with friends, doing things that young people do to make the time to go every week to visit with a young child," Hartmann said. "But the court has to take all factors into consideration.... There is a desire by Mr. Galvan, there is love from Mr. Galvan, but what is missing is the maturity, the understanding that is necessary to care for the child as a parent must care for a child."
The termination was a huge blow to Albert. Even though he saw it coming, he couldn't quite believe it. "I want Victoria back. She's my daughter," he says. "I feel like I let her down, and like I let down the people who supported me."
Cassandra was present for the December 10 hearing where her parental rights were also terminated, but she didn't put up a fight. Social-services documents show that she was last residing in a foster home and expecting another child by a different father.
Albert isn't giving up on Victoria, though. He plans to appeal the judge's decision even though he knows the statistics are grim. "Probably less than 1 percent of termination decisions get overturned," Davis says.
Kenneth Ward, an advocate with Fathers for Equal Rights, has been involved in fifteen termination appeals in the past decade, none of which have been successful. "You'd think that surely one out of those fifteen was a good dad, but the system is construed against biological parents," he says. "There's this prevailing belief in the system that if you're young and had a child out of wedlock, you shouldn't have parental rights. The only happy solution here might be some kind of open adoption."
But because there is no open-adoption statute in Colorado, the adoptive parents have total control and don't have to honor requests from biological parents who still want to have a role in their child's life. "In this state, the biological parent has no rights in an open-adoption situation," Davis says.
Adoree Blair would like that to change. "If it's safe, all kids should have open adoptions, because otherwise they lose that important relationship with their birth parent," she says.
One of the foster mothers in Albert's case, Davis says, "said she believed in open adoption and intended to make sure that Victoria knew who her father was." However, Albert has only seen his daughter once since his parental rights were terminated. He met the foster mom and her partner at the Greeley Mall on December 30, where he played with Victoria. Albert acknowledges that it's partly his fault that he hasn't seen or heard from them since, because his car is in need of repair and he hasn't been able to arrange to meet with them. But Albert still wants to see Victoria, because, as he says, "I don't want to be like my dad."
When Albert was sixteen, his dad suddenly reappeared in his life. "The child support finally caught up with him. He was always running," Albert says, explaining that his dad thought his financial obligations would somehow disappear if he remarried his ex-wife. "When he came to our house, I was upstairs playing video games. My brother came up with him and said, 'It's Dad; tell him hi.' I didn't even recognize him; it was like seeing a total stranger."
The newly reunited family decided to drive to Texas to visit relatives, but Albert's parents fought the entire time. When they reached Oklahoma, their car broke down and they decided to halt the visit. Once they got back to Colorado, Albert's dad left again, only to come back when Albert was eighteen.
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"He expected us to just go to him," Albert says of the visit two years later. "My mom asked us if we wanted to see him. I was the only one who said no."
Now a father himself, Albert has vowed to do right by his child. "I never thought of myself as a quitter," he says.
Davis isn't a quitter, either, but he feels he failed Albert. After running his own lawn business and remodeling houses for many years, he decided to switch careers and enroll in law school. Davis had only been handling D&N cases for a year when he was appointed to represent Albert. Had he been a more experienced lawyer, Davis says, he would have challenged the drug component of Albert's treatment plan. "That was in there for the hassle factor. They knew it was difficult for Albert to make those classes. He never threw a hot UA, and yet I've seen cases where mild use of marijuana has been tolerated. They were just complaining because he didn't have his drug classes done on time," he explains. "I think social services just thought they had the child in a good place, so why muck up a good deal for a maybe deal."
The appeal may be Davis's chance to make things right for his client. Even though the odds aren't in his favor, Davis thinks Albert's case could just be strong enough to win. "He might be that 1 percent," Davis says. "Throughout this time, I've watched Albert go from a boy to a man. He has a strong sense of what his promise is worth and a strong work ethic," he says. "Social services really missed on this one, and I'll be sure of that until the day I die."