Protest Florida DCF’s Mistreatment of Loving Father in ‘Elian Gonzalez II’ Case

Oct. 15, 2007–Nov. 12, 2007


A settlement was reached which gave Izquierdo sole custody of his young daughter.

Our campaign gained widespread media coverage and Fathers and Families’ Board Chairman Dr. Ned Holstein met with leading Florida DCF officials. Before the meeting, DCF officials brought in numerous stacks of letters and faxes they had received from our supporters, and faxes were coming in continuously during their meeting. We also received a response from Florida Governor Crist, and a leading DCF official pledged that her agency would "review in detail" an Urban Institute Dr. Holstein gave her concerning how fathers are treated by the child welfare system.

Ira Kurzban, Izquierdo’s attorney, thanked us for our efforts on Izquierdo’s behalf, saying that our campaign and media attention "played an important role in the case."

In the outrageous "Elian Gonzalez II" case, the Florida Department of Children & Families did everything in its power to separate embattled Cuban father Rafael Izquierdo from his 5-year-old daughter. Working with Fathers and Families, thousands of our supporters wrote and called Florida officials to demand that Florida DCF allow Izquierdo to assume custody of his daughter.

Why This Campaign

The "Elian Gonzalez II" case in Miami was a battle over a 5-year-old Cuban immigrant girl which pitted her Cuban father, Rafael Izquierdo, against wealthy Cuban-American foster parents Joe Cubas, a well-known sports agent, and his wife Maria. Just as Elian’s father Juan Gonzalez faced numerous unfair hurdles to get his son back in 2000, Izquierdo was manhandled by the child welfare system, in part because of the system’s anti-father bias.

In 2005, the girl’s mother brought the girl to Miami from Cuba. The Florida Department of Children & Families removed the girl from her mother’s custody in 2006, after an investigation found that the woman’s mental illness rendered her an unfit parent. She was placed with a foster family, and Izquierdo came to the US to bring his daughter home.

Izquierdo spent six months in the US being denied custody of his daughter—an outrageous violation of parents’ rights. Izquierdo should not have to fight to raise his own child.

In late September, District 11 (Miami) Judge Jeri B. Cohen ruled that Rafael Izquierdo is a fit parent who did not abandon his daughter. Yet DCF continued its attempts to malign Izquierdo and wrest custody away from him, spending over a quarter million dollars to do so.

Thousands of our supporters called and wrote leading Florida Department of Children and Family Services officials, as well as Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp, the District 11 (Miami) court where the "Elian Gonzalez II" case was being decided, and Jeri B. Cohen, the judge in the case.

Under the settlement in the case, Izquierdo gained sole custody of his 6-year-old daughter and agreed to remain in the United States until the girl is seven. The foster parents - former baseball players’ agent Joe Cubas and his wife, Maria - received regular visits with the girl.

Despite the Cubas’ misguided custody bid, they do deserve credit for caring for the girl when the girl’s mother came apart and Izquierdo was still in Cuba. We’re pleased that the agreement preserves a role for them in the girl's life.

In the wake of the settlement, Dr. Holstein explained:

"We are proud to have played a role in bringing about this proposed settlement…Rafael came through for his daughter like a great father—surmounting obstacles as a poor farmer in Cuba to come to her aid in Florida…He deserves a medal of honor."

Media Coverage

Our campaign was covered in hundreds of newspapers, including the Miami Herald, the Washington Post, and the Orlando Sentinel, as well as by the Associated Press, the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, and numerous radio stations.

Fathers and the Child Welfare System

It is important to understand that the "Elian Gonzalez II" case is not an aberration, but instead reflects widespread practices. In New Report: Foster Care System Disregards Fathers (Boston Globe, 6/8/06), I explained:

"When a mother and father are divorced or separated, and a child welfare agency removes the children from the mother’s home for abuse or neglect, an offer of placement to the father, barring unfitness, should be automatic. Yet according to a new report by the Urban Institute, few fathers are able to reunite with their children, who are instead pushed into the foster care system.

"The report, What About the Dads? Child Welfare Agencies’ Efforts to Identify, Locate, and Involve Nonresident Fathers, examines the foster care systems of four states. The report contains a shocking finding: when fathers inform child welfare officials that they would like their children to live with them, the agencies seek to place the children with their fathers in only 15% of cases…

"What About the Dads? makes it clear that many child welfare workers treat fathers as an afterthought. The report found that even when a caseworker had been in contact with a child’s father, the caseworker was still five times less likely to know basic information about the father than about the mother. And 20% of the fathers whose identity and location were known by the child welfare agencies from the opening of the case were never even contacted."

The Melinda Smith case is another example of the way the child welfare system separates loving fathers and their children. In Choosing Foster Parents over Fathers (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/11/07), I explained:

"In the heartbreaking Melinda Smith case, a San Diego father and daughter were needlessly separated by the foster care system for over a decade. Last week, Los Angeles County settled a lawsuit over the case for an undisclosed sum…

"Smith was born to an unwed couple in 1988. Her father, Thomas Marion Smith, a former Marine and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, saw Melinda often and paid child support. When the girl was four, her mother abruptly moved without leaving a forwarding address. Two years later, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services found that Melinda’s mother was abusing her. Though the social worker for the case noted in the file that Thomas was the father, he was never contacted, and his then 6-year-old daughter was placed in the foster care system.

"Thomas—whose fitness as a father was never impugned nor legally questioned—continued to receive and pay his child support bills. Authorities refused to disclose his daughter’s whereabouts, and didn’t even inform him that his daughter had been taken by the County. Smith employed private investigators and attorneys to try to find Melinda and secure visitation rights, but he eventually ran out of money.

"Rather than allowing Smith to raise his own daughter, the system shuttled Melinda through seven different foster care placements. An understandably angry child, her outbursts led authorities to house her in a residential treatment center alongside older children convicted of criminal activity—when she was only seven years old.

"Melinda says that during this period she was told that her father was a ’deadbeat dad’ who had abandoned her. When Melinda was 16, she told an investigating social worker that the ’most important thing’ for her was to find her dad. Moved by her story, the social worker began searching for Melinda’s father—and found him in one day. In 2005, Thomas and Melinda were finally reunited…

Special Thanks to…

  • Rafael Izquierdo's attorney Ira Kurzban, a leading authority in the field of immigration law.
  • Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, for her column in support of our campaign—Elian II: The Sequel (10/19/07).
  • Dr. Ned Holstein, Board Chairman of Fathers and Families