Language Barrier at Child Protective Services

For the first year, Baby Raymond lived happily with his family. Then the agency took him away and even though his Chinese-American family fought to get him back, they couldn't find the right words

"The testimony showed there was a lot of finger-pointing and blaming CPS and all the caseworkers...[and] the interpreters. But I didn't hear any evidence about the family taking any responsibility for any of this."

— Josette LeDoux, attorney ad litem, representing Raymond Liu in the September 2007 trial

Of all the consequences that bit the Lius in the ass for their lack of English skills, perhaps the most significant was the decision by Situ Liu not to have Raymond's aunt and uncle in Phoenix try to immediately adopt Raymond in March 2006.

Raymond was constantly surrounded by family. Here with his cousin, Diana Diep.
Raymond was constantly surrounded by family. Here with his cousin, Diana Diep.
...with Grandmother Situ.
...with Grandmother Situ.

By the time of the trial the following year, attorneys for CPS and for Raymond's foster parents would use this decision to shred the Dieps' credibility.

As the matriarch, Situ's word is gold to the family. She holds weight. Unfortunately, she views certain things through a cultural lens that blurs when applied to the particulars of the Texas Family Code.

No matter how many pieces of paper CPS caseworkers might have given her, no matter what Master Word interpreters supposedly explained to her in her obscure Hoiping dialect, Situ did not understand why CPS took her grandson. But she figured that, if Raymond wouldn't be permitted to stay with an aunt in Houston, there was no way an aunt in Phoenix would get him. So she told Connie to sit on her hands and she picked up the phone and called the child's father, William Bau. Obviously, Situ concluded, the government didn't want Raymond with a woman. They wanted him with his father. That was that.

Up until this point, Bau had no interest in Raymond, and CPS caseworkers were not able to find him because they lacked the foresight to talk to Sally's social worker at MHMRA, her social worker at AAFS or the kind phone operators at directory assistance, and they believed Sally when she said Bau lived in Puerto Rico.

Ultimately, Bau passed a home study by Arizona's CPS counterpart, which was subsequently rejected by Texas, mostly because Bau himself had interpreted the interviewer's questions for his live-in girlfriend. (In Texas, in most cases, there must be a third-party interpreter.)

Testifying at trial, CPS caseworkers said Bau (and the rest of the family) was engaged in a conspiracy to give the child back to Sally...despite the fact that Sally never had the child in the first place. At least one caseworker testified that Bau explicitly stated this, which suggests that Bau masterminded a brilliant plan whereby he would lie to an Arizona home inspector and then get on the horn to CPS in Texas and blatantly state his intent to break the law. While one would be hard pressed to imagine a more failsafe strategy, Bau was unable to sneak it past the sharp minds handling the Liu case.

Either way, Situ's decision to drag Bau into the picture was wrong for a number of reasons. A fortysomething waiter barely scraping by, he had another child by that time, whom he was supporting via Medicaid. He lived rent-free in his uncle's home, which meant his family was just one bad argument away from being out in the street. Perhaps this lack of solvency and dim prospect for a promising future was why Raymond's maternal family never paid much attention to Bau in the first place. Raymond was doing just fine without Bau. It took CPS's involvement to even bring the guy into it.

Still, Bau stepped up to the plate and flew back and forth from Phoenix to Houston, jumping through whatever hoops he needed to, trying to follow the Family Service Plan that CPS caseworkers gave to him and Sally. (Family Service Plans are parenting courses in which neglectful moms and dads must learn to do things like "maintain housing that is safe and free of environmental hazards and provide protection, food and shelter for the child and family," which means that — unlike Sally's family, who were raising Raymond because they knew she couldn't be a responsible parent — CPS was now ordering two people who never raised Raymond to take parenting classes. At the same time, even though Texas Family Code mandates CPS exhaust every possibility to place a child with a family member, CPS had decided by April 20, 2006 — about one month after Raymond's removal — that Raymond's long-term goal be designated "Unrelated Adoption.")

Amazingly, even though Bau had been showing up to court hearings in Houston, a CPS caseworker testified that the agency still believed he lived in Puerto Rico, and didn't find out he never left Phoenix until August 2006, when CPS finally got around to asking its Arizona counterpart to conduct a home study. Ultimately, CPS nixed Bau about a year after his involvement. That's when Raymond's Aunt Connie and Uncle Tony were finally able to go for Raymond. Despite the fact that they had already been raising Raymond along with Situ, their seeming one-year absence from legal maneuvers was a gift for highly skilled (and English-speaking) attorneys who wanted to paint the Dieps as a couple of grouches who didn't want to lift a finger for their own flesh and blood until the last possible minute.

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