An Open Letter to Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon
Juvenile court judge in Toledo, Ohio who has presided over hundreds of—removals and terminations of parental rights — DHS cases against poor, overwhelming black, families.
Dear Judge Cubbon,
My name is Latagia Copeland-Tyronce and I am writing to you on behalf of my family and all the families of Lucas county. You may not remember me, but I can’t forget you, no matter how much I may try. It has been over four years since you terminated my rights to my daughters and three years since you terminated my rights to my son. You granted a TPR even though I wasn’t the offending parent, had no history of mental health issues or substance abuse, and had completed almost all of the case plan services — within the first five months — and had done so without the assistance of LCCS. I know that I am not the only parent to have suffered such a fate in your courtroom; for I saw and experienced enough heartbreak there to last a lifetime. It was an open secret throughout the juvenile municipal building that wantever LCCS wanted — from you and your magistrates — they got.
Indeed, I wintennesed many other poor — and overwhelmingly black — families be subjected to the same inhumane treatrment as I and my family had been subjected to by both LCCS and the Court. Please believe me when I say that there isn’t a single day that goes by wherein I don’t long for and desperately miss my beautiful and brave children. Children that you allowed to be unjustly and permanently taken from me because I was poor and black. I know that my, and my children’s, insistence on fighting — forcing you to appoint a separate GAL and appealing all the way up to the Ohio Supreme Court as a pro se litigant since I couldn’t afford a private attorney — didn’t make such a unjust result as easy as everyone would have hoped.
My filing of petitions, exposure of fraudulent and discriminatory behaviors on behalf of LCCS personnel, and hours of court testimony, must have made you at least a little unsure judging from many of your perplexed and confused facial expressions during my first trial. That said, you were comfortable enough to go along regardless; and you were more than willing to rubber stamp the removals and to grant LCCS any and everything they requested without question. What you allowed to happen to my family — and many others — was, and is, unforgivable and has left me with long-lasting PTSD. Your affinity for disregarding the law — specially the “reasonable efforts” mandate required for federal funding like many juvenile court judges and magistrates have been allowed to do — might have been more of the same for you, but no less devastating for me, and all the other families that LCCS hauls in before you on a daily basis. You were also willing to overlook the “clear and convincing” standard of evidence needed to permanently “commit” — as you so eloquently and correctly stated in court — a child to State custody.
Maybe you didn’t know, even though you should’ve, that white families — even in similar/identical situations as their black counterparts — are far more likely to be kept together; and to receive help and supports from the child welfare system and child welfare professionals. Maybe you didn’t know, even though you should’ve, that white families are less likely to go through a full child welfare investigation and are less likely to have allegations substantiated against them. Maybe you didn’t know, even though you should’ve, that research — done at the University of Pennsylvania — concluded that black children are four times more likely to be removed, spend longer periods of time in foster care, and are harder to find stable foster placements for. Maybe you didn’t know, even though you should’ve, that research — done at the University of Minnesota — revealed that children who went through foster care had more behavioral problems, PTSD, and internalized issues than children who remain with their families while receiving help and support.
Maybe you didn’t know, even though you should’ve, that research further concludes that there are twice as many black children in foster care both in Ohio and nationwide — twenty-eight percent — than there are in the general population, around 13 percent. Maybe you didn’t know, though you should’ve, that — the predominately white run — child welfare system, places unfair, often unreachable standards on parents who are raising their children with very little money. Maybe you didn’t know, though you should’ve, that the neighborhood and ethnicity, of the parents, greatly impact whether or not their children are and will be removed. Maybe you didn’t know, though you should’ve, that “implicit bias” greatly contributes to the differences and/or disparities and increased negative outcomes of black families within the child welfare system — in Ohio and nationwide.
Maybe you didn’t know, but should’ve, that recent research has further concluded that when caseworkers are given identical hypotheticals except, for the race of the family, that they will consistently rate the child at higher risk if he/she is black. Moreover, when the child welfare agency in Nassau County, New York, required workers to present cases of children they wanted to remove but to leave out information that identified the race of the family and the neighborhood where the family lived: That removals of Black children declined substantially. According to Emma Ketteringham, a notable family court attorney, “If you live in a poor neighborhood — like I did and many of black families that come before you do — then you better be a perfect parent.” All of this amounts to what many child welfare scholars and social justice advocates have coined, a cultural genocide and the legally sanctioned destruction of the black family, including my own.
Of course, I was naive to much of this concrete and evidence-based research four years ago when I found myself standing before you in court. All I, and my children, knew was that what was happening to our family — what you were allowing to happen — wasn’t right, and indeed we were correct. I don’t have to remind you — as the Lucas county juvenile court administrative judge — that you play both an active and important part in such a depressing reality. I don’t have to remind you that it is your job — no, duty — to know all of the above and to exercise due diligence and caution when making life-changing ruling. I don’t have to remind you that it is your job to help and assist the families who find themselves in your courtroom, not to punish them for being poor and overwhelmingly black, and for not being perfect — white and well-off — parents. I don’t have to remind you that LCCS doesn’t have the best reputation — in fact, a case was recently filed in federal court against LCCS for civil rights violations — amongst child welfare professionals, and for good reason. I don’t have to remind you that you don’t work for LCCS — but were elected to serve the and children and families of Lucas county.
I was prompted to write this letter because I recently read an article praising your more humane approach — and new found commitment to addressing mass incarceration — towards juvenile defendants. Good for you and for them. I only wish that you had had that same courage, compassion, and thoughtfulness four years ago when a young black low-income and homeless single mother — domestic violence survivor and full-time college student, with six children and no support system, and who was both desperately doing everything she could to keep her children and literally fighting an entire “system” alone, — stood before you in open court. I can assure you that all I — and most other parents whose cases that you have presided over — needed was a little help and you systematically failed to provide it. I find it abhorrent — if not outright laughable — that individuals, including yourself, who didn’t know me, my children, or any of the families that come before you for that matter, from a can of paint had the power to both decide what was in the “best interests” of my children and to severe those bonds forever — and to do so without any oversight whatsoever.
I, we, needed you to hold LCCS accountable for their erroneously overzealous — and often blatantly racist and antagonistic — actions. We need you to hold LCCS accountable for their outright refusal to provide even basic case-plan services — especially reasonable efforts — and mistreatment of families; many of whom were like mine, poor and black. In the years since, I have been able to take one small comfort in knowing that almost all of the people who were involved in my case — from the caseworkers and supervisor (a woman notorious and well-known to families for her unethical and illegal actions) to the director and GALs — are no longer employed with LCCS or the Court and thus can ruin no more lives. I can’t say that I was surprised considering the kind of “work” that they did and the many families that were needless destroyed in their wake.
Having said all of the above, I am also writing this letter so that I can thank you, as hard as it is to even type the words. You see, I have been able to take everything that has happened to me and my family— much of it a result of your actions on the bench — and use it for good. As I am sitting here writing this letter to you, I am stronger. I have been able to draw upon the strength of my ancestors— the slaves who built this country who too had to endure the pain of having their children taken away from them and sold by their masters which is what our current criminal justice and child welfare systems has reduced black people back to — and faith in God, to not only survive the pain of this ordeal, but to channel it. It is this ancestral strength and faith in God that has allowed me to, despite the hell that I was living through during my case and time spent in your courtroom, graduate from college on time and with honors. I have since become a child welfare reform researcher and scholar, a social justice — and parental rights — advocate and writer. I have been able to use my horrific experiences with LCCS and the Court to bring attention to the problem and to mentor to other parents involved with DHS.
I recently graduated with a masters degree in social work — yes, you read right — specializing in policy; so that I can continue to work towards changing the arbitrary and pernicious laws and policies that allow such things to happen to families. And I am currently pursuing a masters degree in public administration. Future plans include law school and the founding my own non-profit advocacy organization to combat the many systematic abuses against Black families. I am happily married to a wonderful man, Minister of Music, and ordained minister. And I am pleased to announce that we have a two year old son together and reside in Michigan. One constant regret — one that I’ll never get over — is that I have not been able to share my successes with all of my children — in large part — due to your rulings. However, I continue to have faith and have been told, by everyone who knows my story including other social work professionals, that my children will return to me. That, I do not doubt. Children do have a way of finding their way back to the parents that love them. That said, I hope this letter finds you and find you well, because while it may be too late for me and my family, it isn’t too late for others.
Sincerely and With Respect,
Latagia Copeland-Tyronce, BS(Hons), MSW, CADAS
#NAFPAorg #AfricanAmericanChildWelfareAct #BlackFamilyMatters #BlackLoveMatters #BlackLivesMatter #BlackFamiliesBelongTogether #SocialJustice #KeepBlackFamiliesTogether #AbolishCPS #RacistDHS
Latagia Copeland-Tyronce, MSW, CADAS, is a longtime parental rights and social justice advocate, child welfare reform activist, writer/blogger, and journalist whose work has been featured in BlackMattersUs and Rise Magazine. She is the founder, president, and executive director of the National African American Families First and Preservation Association (NAFPA) a groundbreaking 501c4 nonprofit origination, the first of its kind, devoted exclusively to the protection and preservation of the African American (Black) Family though policy and legislative advocacy.
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