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State plays central role in dramatic child custody case

Some extreme family law cases in Florida and elsewhere serve as a reminder that a clash involving children sometimes involves more than just the parents.

Indeed, and as evidenced by a dramatic story from Connecticut, the state itself sometimes intervenes as essentially a super parent when public authorities believe that doing so is necessary to promote a minor’s best interests.

In that case, a child custody dispute pits a 15-year-old girl’s parents against Massachusetts authorities who currently have legal custody of the teenager pursuant to a court order.

Although the story that has led up to the current dispute is a complex one, its basic facts can be quickly distilled. The girl, who was being treated for a rare genetic disorder at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, was subsequently seen by doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital, who disputed the diagnosis. They determined that the girl’s condition was primarily a psychiatric disorder and that her parents were likely denying her necessary psychiatric care. They contacted the state’s child protection agency, alerting it of possible medical child abuse.

That contact put things on a dramatic course. The girl has remained at the hospital in state custody for the past 10 months, with no likelihood of an imminent conclusion to her case. She is housed in the facility’s psychiatric unit, apparently remaining there because the state -- as legal guardian -- cannot find an alternative home for her.

The girl’s initial caregiver, a doctor at Tufts, has sought on multiple occasions to convene a meeting of all interested parties to help craft a suitable treatment and custody plan. His attempts have been unsuccessful.

The judge overseeing the matter has ordered the state to continue exercising custody pending further developments.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for next week.

Source: Boston Globe, "No release for Conn. teen caught in  hospital dispute," Neil Swidey and Patricia Wen, Dec. 21, 2013

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