What’s one more person when you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 65 people? To Anita Davis, it’s a really big deal this year, because that one person is her 12-year-old grandson, Jason.
For almost all of the last two years, Jason had been living in a group home after being removed from his mother’s custody by the LA County Department of Children and Family services. All along, he expressed his desire to live with Anita and she wanted nothing more than to have him live with her, but in a case of mistaken identity, it looked like it might never happen.
“It was about a year ago. Everything was in place for him to move into his grandmother’s home,” explains Dee Ann Alongi, Jason’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). “And then a bombshell dropped.”
A new social worker on the case discovered that Anita had been denied custody of Jason in 2010 based on a 1998 child-abuse accusation. It alleged she beat her granddaughter every time the girl wet the bed.
The accusation was listed as “unfounded” in Jason’s file, but because Anita was denied under the Adoption and Safe Family Act (ASFA), which sets standards caregivers have to meet to provide a permanent home, based on that allegation, it was deemed “substantiated” in a follow-up report.
“That seemed to be the death knell for getting Jason placed with Anita,” Dee Ann says. “His attorney said that substantiated allegations are a ‘done deal’ and that even the hearing officer couldn’t overrule them.”
The situation seemed hopeless. Some working on the case began seeking other arrangements for Jason. Anita went into prayer.
“It was devastating,” Anita says. “They insisted I was the one who did these things, but I just kept telling them it wasn’t me and that they needed to bring my accusers before me. I have a right to face my accusers!”
Then it looked like she might get that opportunity. Dee Ann learned that Anita had a right to a grievance hearing to contest the charges. The process of requesting a hearing was explained on the original denial letter. Anita never received the letter, so they requested a copy. Only then did they learn that the timeframe for an appeal had long since passed.
“It seemed like we were at the end of the road,” Dee Ann explains. “Anita was not going to get ASFA approved, and Jason refused to live with anyone else.”
But in a brilliant bit of legal maneuvering, the social worker on Jason’s case resubmitted Anita for ASFA approval; by having a fresh denial, Anita would have a new window in which to request an appeal hearing.
Prior to the hearing, Anita was given a packet of information detailing the department’s case against her.
“I sat down with her, Jason’s attorney, and my supervisor [CASA of Los Angeles Senior Program Coordinator Linda Jones] to strategize a plan to contest the charges,” Dee Ann says. “Luckily, Anita kept meticulous records and we were able to highlight what she needed to bring and when to use it.”
Dee Ann was one of several witnesses for Anita at the hearing. Another was the alleged victim herself. She testified willingly that she had been abused not by Anita, but by her grandfather and her step-grandmother.
The hearing judge ruled in favor Anita, and the social worker quickly resubmitted her for ASFA approval. Earlier this month, Anita got that approval, and a hearing to finalize Jason’s permanent placement with her is scheduled for early December.
On a recent afternoon, as she was planning her holiday menu, he was at the kitchen table, quietly doing his homework. He loves sports and hopes to be an athlete, but he also plans to become a doctor in case he has a career-ending injury.
“It’s wonderful having him with me,” she says. “I can see such a great change in him. He’s more peaceful now.”
Anita is more peaceful, too. Despite the ordeal, she harbors no resentment.
“It makes you feel bad to be accused of those things,” she says. “But you have to realize that anybody can make a mistake.”
Meanwhile, Jason hasn’t said a word about it. He seems happy enough to have gotten the one thing he wanted all along—to live with his grandmother.
“He’s just grinning and jumping around all the time,” she says.