Bio-Father Hysteria Versus Reality: A Child's True Best Interest

The day after his third birthday celebration, with over 100 friends and family members, little Grayson Vaughn was ripped away from his family by court order. Grayson was delivered to the custody of his biological father -- a virtual stranger to him. The event was horrific for Grayson. The unnecessary trauma caused to Grayson during the compressed transition and subsequent pre-mature transfer was compounded by the bio-dad reneging on his promises to Grayson for phone contact with the only mommy he knows and loves. The bio-dad had already gone back on his word offering visitation with Grayson if the Vaughns would cease fire from Grayson's legal team that was recently joined by renowned Atlanta attorney Lin Wood. Now it has been almost three weeks since Grayson has had any contact with the Vaughns and they have vowed to continue their legal battle until they know Grayson is safe. Grayson must not be forgotten in the cracks of a broken adoption and child protection judicial system.  

Because Grayson's case IS truly about securing his best interests the Court did appoint a Guardian Ad Litem. Yet, over the past three years the Court at its digression has compressed or simply ignored the recommendations of the very GAL the Court appointed. Go figure.  Ultimately, the GAL has never wavered on the strong recommendation that it is in Grayson's best interest to stay with the Vaughns and that was not what the Court wanted to hear. This is a waste of tax payer dollars and the end result, a child has been endangered by an out-of-control system acting well outside its legal obligations. When I was a prosecutor and now in my private practice I relied on the education and experience of professionals in their respective fields. GALs are an endangered or abused child's most critical independent advocate in concert with physicians, counselors, educators and caregivers. It would be criminal for me, as a lawyer, to pretend I was a physician to make medical diagnosis and treatments for my clients. Yet this is precisely what has happened to Grayson over the years his case has been debated within the Ohio Courts. I don't know any state in this country were judges are more free to legislate while practicing child psychology from the bench.

It is the responsibility of the GAL appointed to Grayson to perform a background investigation to facilitate the bio-dad's home study that would trigger a transition plan for custody if the results of the home study were favorable. Never mind that the bio-dad's home study never occurred due no fault of this GAL, but there certainly were red flags early on that should have initiated a thorough background check and GAL's across the country need to be provided adequate resources to achieve that goal. My legal teams, past and present, are acutely aware that instant access online records are often incomplete and require a due diligence process to validate information accuracy. A closer look at Grayson's biological father would have revealed over 40 encounters he has had with law enforcement as an adult, not including juvenile records. I am not sure how many traffic infractions would demonstrate a driver with habits risky to a child, but it is not all the speeding, blowing through stop signs and no-seat belt citations that have my attention.

There are words that jump off the page as I flip through the incidents that span the bio-dad's lifetime to the present. Some of these words match complaints of aggression and conduct described by other parties: Road Rage; Menacing; Harassment; Drugs; Disorderly Conduct; Assault. It is the number of common incidents over a duration that needs to be closely scrutinized and should have been given time and attention to a competent investigation in the best interest of the child. Grayson's biological father refused to take a drug test the day of an initial mediation. One could assert that immediately shaving his head in a Britney Spears like move would prevent a test of hair follicles to see if any drugs were ingested in the 90 days prior. The Court even overlooked its own "Risk for Violence" order. The list goes on and on. The bottom line; this man is a total stranger to Grayson and, as evidenced by his record, may even be dangerous to Grayson without some kind of serious and immediate intervention NOW.

And NOW is not soon enough given the backgrounds of some people appearing around bio-dad and therefore, Grayson. One in the top of that list is notorious felon David Floyd Houston. Houston is a persistent felony offender in the first degree and claims to be giving his experience as a paralegal to help the bio-dad free of charge. Houston has had up-close-and-personal experience as a paralegal over the years of his state pen incarceration where his desire to "become a litigation engine with grandiose behavior" became apparent. Houston has been media interviewed for his opinion in the Vaughn case and is prolific in his support of the bio-dad on the internet where he is worshipped as 'close to God like' by a small band of bio-dad supporters. Compounding this highly suspect situation are rumors of intimidating threats being made against certain parties, including similar complaints from Houston himself who incidentally has been convicted for Intimidation of a Judicial Officer. 

Often parents, and others responsible for children, break child endangerment laws without realizing that their behavior is truly hurting the child involved.  Well-meaning advocates can also be guilty of this. I think the case of Grayson Vaughn is the perfect storm. There is a crowd of "bio-father rights" and family reunification activists that have taken interest in this case (many of whom are commenting on my published articles). I totally understand the fears and feeling regarding the rights of fathers and adoptees in general -- but this case is an exception to the majority and the activism is uninformed, misguided and harmful. Of course biological fathers and adoptees have rights!  I think longtime supporter of Fathers and Families, Eric Reines M.D., F.A.C.P., made this point brilliantly in his article published earlier this week about Grayson;

"Life is tough. But let it be tough on me, not on my child. -- Removing a three-year old child from loving parents, the only parents the child has ever known, is devastating, and wrong." 

Dr. Reines closed his piece with "But none of this is the child's fault, and all of this should be obvious to any mature adult. The child must not suffer for it. But the adults must. The adults must work together to lawfully change bad laws."

What is critical is that Grayson needs to be in a nurturing, child centered environment and from my perspective he is not. Not even close. The expectation in demand that Grayson should immediately refer only to his biological father as 'DaDa' on the first meeting is just not realistic yet that is where Grayson lives today. It is a cruel person that tells a crying mother she lost her babies because "you all have bad seeds, that's why your babies have died at 3 months." It is self-centered manipulation that makes a "you can call your mommy later" promise to a distraught child, but in the end, that call never happens. Right or wrong custody histories, those kinds of antics are confusing for an already endangered child and completely non-age appropriate. But due to Grayson's biological father's historical so-called "rights" all this is OK by the Court. Child safety advocates will be outraged as I continue to be and I look for some activists to reconsider their standing sooner than the judicial system. There is hope that the judge will in fact recuse herself as she waits for a recommendation from the Ohio Supreme Court. In the meantime, Grayson needs to be where he is safe -- not next week or next year, but right now, TODAY.

It could be argued, and it has by some, that this birth father's relentless legal pursuit demonstrated his love and devotion. With the flurry of lawsuits coming from the biological father's corner seeking monetary compensation I am even more convinced that is NOT the case. The biological father and attorneys on his behalf are looking for hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. Thus the biological father's pursuit may more accurately be portrayed as an egomaniacal assertion of his "legal right" and not what is in the best interest of Grayson. The fight over Grayson has come to look more like a bio-dad's financial plan rather than concern, love and affection for the child. To understand all the reasons I say this one has to go back to the beginning. This is not a case of the birth-mother withholding information about the pregnancy from an unsuspecting biological father. It is a case of a biological father willfully failing to participate or show interest in his unborn child whom he ultimately abandoned. Only after Grayson was born did he show his legal interest in this child but did so without the emotional or financial support one must exhibit to avoid being categorized as a father in absentia.

Even if the birth-mother's statement that she informed the biological father she was going to place Grayson for adoption is not true, just looking at his recent claims for compensation combined with past actions suggests his motivations are about HIS "rights" and not about the needs or rights of Grayson. At what point is a biological parent held accountable for his actions, or in this instance, lack of them? The Vaughns were never in hiding. In fact once they learned rumor of a possible biological father's interest they made sure they were accessible to anyone for thoughtful discussion about the child they believed they were adopting. Calls, letters or inquiry never came from the biological father, grandparents or his extended bio family. It would be impossible for all those that Grayson loves to realize any common interests of love and longing for Grayson from the biological family when the messages received from the bio-father are narrow and litigious with not even a peep out of the rest of bio-dads family. In this great country we are protected by rights to raise our offspring without interference unless circumstances demonstrate the child is endangered, which includes abandonment. It is extremely troubling to me to see the issue of bio-dad's rights overshadow what is in Grayson's best interest when this child has been abandoned, subsequently abused by a series of rights over child welfare rulings and an ill-conceived transition plan. And now the cherry on top; a near half million dollar price tag pinned on the little guy.

Over the course of the three years the Vaughns have fought for Grayson, the Courts have stalled hearings, dropped the ball or blatantly ignored warning signs. Sure, there are the typical antics and mishaps like notices of hearings issued the day after the hearing took place, but those don't concern me at all in view of the trauma caused Grayson in this process.  Remembering what it is like to parent a 2-year-old it would be out of the question to even think about holding my child locked in a courtroom subject to legal arguments for four hours. I wouldn't allow that for my own child or one that I represented in my 15 years as a child crimes prosecutor. But under threat and duress the Vaughns were forced to subject Grayson to just that. Now I ask you, is that a Court you would cooperate with and trust as having common sense or the best interest of a toddler in mind? I don't think so. 

What occurred in the Courtroom that day answered any lingering questions I may have had about how broken the judicial system is in cases like this where the net result is creating children at risk.

 If the issue before the Court were simply "putative parents' rights" or "custody" then a professional opinion on child welfare may not be required and the Court can and would ignore "best interest of the child"; however, clearly this is about the best interest of Grayson and who could argue that it is not!? This case is missing another vital piece in the process; evidence from an independent professional (from which to form that opinion) on why Grayson should go to his bio-dad is in his best interest. Caring for the emotional well-being of this child, the Vaughns were proactive in seeking guidance from a child psychologist for the three years Grayson was with them. The Court has ignored the reports and recommendations of this expert deeply familiar with Grayson's situation. Sure the child psychologist was hired by the Vaughns and while some might falsely allege preference that would not diminish her capacity as an expert given her history with this child and family. 

Having said that, why would any Court blatantly ignore reports and the strong recommendations of Grayson's therapist and his Guardian Ad Litem? I am not a psychologist but I have consulted with hundreds of them and I AM an expert in the area of child safety and I can tell you right here: ripping this poor child from the only family he has ever known is NOT in his best interest. 

I often question if or when it is the right time for anyone to seek the media where cases involving children are concerned. That can be a slippery slope. Public interest and passions for these types of cases roll over from network news broadcasts to the Internet in often heated discussion between total strangers weighing in from across the country and round the world. In the Vaughn case, friends within their community have gathered en mass to support them on Facebook, a supportive group of nearly 8,000 members and growing every day. In as much as the Courts long demonstrated disregard for professional opinions, due process and frustrating lack of best interest for this child I don't see where the Vaughns had many other options but to appeal to the public through available media. On the other hand I also understand where not responding to any media requests might have been an excellent strategic move for the bio-dad. But his silence and avoidance only serves to raise many more questions about who he is. Entering the Court wearing a cap and shades with his head down shielding his face from the media cameras didn't send the message this guy was shy or embarrassed. It looked more like a feigned act for someone else's benefit or that of a thug or drug dealer's performance when he doesn't want his face to be recognized or remembered. 

Everyone views coverage by the media differently and for good or ill, the Vaughns have put themselves right out there. And I hope they continue until a Court will hear their case objectively with Grayson's best interests as the only focus. With the trauma and damage already done, they have no choice but to beat the drum until Grayson is ensured a nurturing and safe environment dealing with his needs as an endangered, traumatized child.

Grayson has developed a secure attachment to his adoptive mother and father, Christy and Jason Vaughn. Right or wrong, his social/emotional development depends upon the safety and security that he has developed with this family. There has been absolutely no substantive information, professional opinion or professional literature, or source cited in this case that states that it would be in the "best Interest for a 3 -year-old child" in an adoptive placement, when the legal father (appointed by the state of Ohio) legal rights have been surrendered, the birth mother's rights have been surrendered, placed in a private adoptive placement in another state, through an interstate compact agreement, since birth, for 22 months of his life, to be removed from his emotional mother, father and siblings and placed by juvenile Court in the custody of a stranger (i.e. putative/second legal father).

Grayson's parents are Christy and Jason Vaughn. Taking Grayson away from his parents was scary enough, yet also releasing him to an individual with an unverified background, with no home study or ongoing therapy for the child. The absence or presence of bad character evidence of the father is not even the main point. It is the presence of evidence that Grayson has made the deepest of human connections, a bond between son and parents, with his adoptive parents and siblings where ripping him away from them has caused the major damage to this child. The law must help to protect the fragile psyche of this child and not prolong the trauma.

Let's keep it narrowly focused on Grayson, the child's, rights to safety and security and not to have a State inflict trauma and endanger an already fragile 3-year-old. I hope justice is swift in this case and the Court reverses its' decision and allows Grayson to thrive and enjoy the security and companionship of the only family he has known and loves!