Son (S) was seven years old when his mother (M) died and he began living with his father (F). However, it wasn’t until four years later that an anonymous phone caller informed Social Services that S was being beaten by F.
Social Services contacted S who informed them that F had been beating him for the last five years. According to S, F would “whoop” him for no reason at all, including the time that S locked F’s keys in his car, and F punched S 20 times and hit him with a belt. F would beat S if S’s homework was not correct or he coughed during the night. F also told S that he was “slow and retarded and stupid.”
During the interview, the social worker noted that S was very nervous about F finding out S had reported him to social services. According to the social worker, S was shaking and his voice was trembling. That night, S went to spend the night at F’s mother’s home, but F appeared during the night and demanded S be returned to him. The police were contacted, and they were so concerned by F’s belligerent behavior and out-of-control anger that they handcuffed him in a police car for almost four hours. Eventually, the police released F and returned S to him.
While at school the next day, S spoke with a social service worker again and stated he couldn’t go back to living with F. He was afraid of F, and didn’t want to be beaten any more. The social worker told S that he would be placed with his uncle (M’s brother) and that F would only be able to visit with him. Again, S begged the social worker not to let F see him at all because he was afraid of him.
In November of 2015, Social Services filed a petition in juvenile court requesting S remain with his uncle and that F not be allowed to visit with S, based on F’s behavior toward S. (Social Services also noted that F had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence abuse against S’s stepmother.) Further, Social Services requested both F and S receive individual therapy to re-establish their parental/child relationship. F, however, stated for the court that he would not participate in any program, because he was a good father, only “whooping” S three times that year, and that he (F) was not going to change his behavior.
Based on Social Services’ petition and F’s refusal to participate in any reunification plan, the juvenile court placed S with his maternal uncle with no visitation by F.
The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court, stating, “If visitation is not consistent with the well-being of the child, the juvenile court has the discretion to deny such contact. As courts have explained, ‘well-being’ includes the minor’s emotional and physical health…”
“While visitation is a key element of reunification, the court must focus on the best interests of the children and on the elimination of conditions which led to the juvenile court’s finding that the child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, harm.”