This NewsChannel 8 investigation surrounds Nevada's child-welfare system and a possible conflict of interest that one local woman says is preventing her from being able to care for her own grand-daughter.
Karen Maritano is about to visit her granddaughter. She's flown hundreds of miles to spend 2 hours in a small room with her. It will be the only visit she's allowed until next month.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. For a year and a half Karen has been trying to adopt her granddaughter. Those efforts thwarted... she says by a system bent on keeping her from her family.
When Rebecca Maritano was born, she and her mother tested positive for methamphetamine. She was placed in foster care, while her mother worked on getting clean. Four months later, those efforts had failed. Karen had already told Washoe Social Services ...if that happened she wanted to adopt her granddaughter.
The law tends to favor adoption by family members, but there was a problem. Karen - a registered nurse - had accepted a job in Oregon. Her home study, a key point in adoptions would have be done by officials there. It was. She passed with flying colors, but the study was not completed until November 15 - a week late. The first delay in the process, but hardly the last.
Finally, in January with all the paperwork completed Karen faced a new hurdle. The foster couple wanted to adopt Rebecca. The decision would be made by a committee of professionals....an adoption review team. Karen was told not to worry. The background check, the home study had given her outstanding marks and the law favors family. But Karen now believes she was facing a stacked deck. One of the foster parents has worked here at the Children's Cabinet, knew many in the child welfare system and some of those people were sitting on that committee.
The vote was 3 to 3. It then went to an executive committee. The outcome was 2 to one, favoring the foster parents. A decision given final approval by a family court master.
The decision may have been based on one factor beyond Karen's control. As the wheels of bureaucracy moved slowly through the process, time on another clock was running out. After months with her foster family, Rebecca was bonding with them...and they with her. Bonding in these cases is an important issue.
There's a hot button social issue attached to this case, we haven't mentioned. The foster parents are a same sex couple. With a shortage of people wanting to foster children, Nevada has apparently had good success with placing children with gay couples.
Karen Maritano admits she was surprised when she first learned Rebecca had been placed with a same sex couple, but insists it's not an issue.
In fact, she says she knows the 2 women who have been raising her granddaughter love her. So, should it be part of this story? Perhaps. The makeup of the adoption committee already raises questions of bias. The family court master who approved the adoption by the foster parents raises another.
Karen Maritano went through this process mostly without legal representation trusting the system. But a year and a half after declaring her desire to adopt her granddaughter, she sees her only in those supervised visits two hours a month and wonders how all this could have happened.
A district court judge who reviewed the case on appeal didn't think so. He said her rights had been violated and he ordered that she have the chance to bond with her granddaughter by having "extraordinary access" to her. That clearly didn't happen. We'll deal with that part of the story tomorrow.