- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The Court of Appeals yesterday handed a partial victory to a mentally impaired Carroll County father who is fighting to keep his two sons from being put up for adoption.
In a 4-3 ruling, the state's highest court reversed two lower court decisions that the unidentified man had been proven unfit to take care of his children, and that he should lose his parental rights.
But the majority said the decision did not mean the man should be given immediate custody of the boys, ages 5 and 7.
"What we have said is that, on this record, it is too soon to sever all relationships with this non-abusive, non-neglectful parent, for all time, with his children, in order to find 'better parents,' and to violate his constitutional rights by doing so," the majority opinion said.
"In cases where the termination of parental rights is involved, there is a strong presumption that the child's best interests are served by maintaining parental rights," said the opinion by Judge Dale Cathell that was also signed by Chief Judge Robert Bell and Judges John Eldridge and Lynne A. Battaglia.
"These rights are the same where parents or children are alleged to be disabled."
Judges Alan Wilner, Glenn Harrell and Irma Raker dissented in two different opinions.
In one, Judge Wilner said the lower court rulings were not about discrimination but about persuasive evidence that the father "was not likely in the foreseeable future to be able to care properly for the children, who have special needs."
In a second dissent, Judge Harrell said the father seemed to be a sincere, hardworking man who loves his children, but the evidence proved he "was not a fit custodial parent at the time of the hearings below."
Both boys are in the care of foster parents who want to adopt them. Their mother agreed to give up her children.
The man, identified in court documents as "Mr. F," finished a vocational high school program in 1982, has a job and his own apartment. But he has only very limited ability to read.
After arguments in his case in December at the Court of Appeals, Mr. F. said he wants "to watch my kids grow, and I want to watch them sleep."
Advocates for the disabled, outraged by the attempt to take away the children from their father, had asked the appeals court to direct county social services officials to provide the services Mr. F. needs to care for his children.
Deborah Thompson Eisenberg of the Public Justice Center in Baltimore said the ruling is "a terrific decision for families."
"It goes beyond people in Mr. F's situation," she said.
"The court has made it clear that all citizens of Maryland stand equally before the law, and that all parents are entitled to be treated on their own merits."
In the case of Mr. F., she said the majority opinion means the social services agency in Carroll County must make a genuine effort to provide the support services he needs to be able to take care of his two children.

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