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

By the time the trial kicked off in September 2007, attorneys also had another gift: Thirty-month-old Raymond had now been with his foster parents, Roy and Melanie Young, longer than he had been with his own family.

Over the next three weeks, the jury heard testimony that would help them with their twofold charge: Should Sally Liu's parental rights be terminated? And, if so, should Raymond go to the Dieps, or remain in the custody of the Youngs, who nearly everyone agrees are kind, caring people? (It appears the Youngs only knew what CPS caseworkers had told them about Raymond's family.)

The first question was pretty much a no-brainer. While there is no evidence Sally ever did anything to hurt Raymond, she didn't always take her meds and wound up in and out of mental hospitals...which is precisely why everyone else but Sally was taking care of Raymond.

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.

It's not clear if anyone checked to see if Sally was legally competent to testify. But if she was, she certainly wasn't entirely sympathetic. Six months before the trial, she married a guy named Jeff who quickly split to Detroit (or at least that's what he told Sally). She wore less-than-matronly attire, laughed at inappropriate times and displayed her bigotry toward African Americans. Sally had been nasty to black caseworkers in the past, and testified her puzzling belief that a white or Chinese doctor would be more likely to give Raymond back to her. In short, she testified like an unmedicated schizophrenic.

And while Situ's testimony looks moving on paper, the delayed responses due to interpretation may have sapped its power, especially when compared to Sally's all too clear irrationality.

Situ was utterly despondent by this time, wandering around the courthouse, handing an open letter to any reporter or trial observer she could find.

"I fear that I may say the wrong thing and fear of the future for my grandson Raymond," it stated. "The future of Raymond is so frightful that my heart and mind is full of pain [sic]...Connie and Tony are great parents that give much love to everyone...My daughter Connie is a great lady. I am so proud of her because of the way she has raised my two granddaughters, Christina and Diana. She gives me much happiness with everything. She makes me proud the way she wants Raymond. She is willing to be his mother and give the love, time and money to make his life a good one."

Arguably, the testimonies of Connie and Tony Diep were the most important. Tony had said he was unable to get away from his restaurant in Phoenix, and was only at the trial for a few days — which the Youngs' lawyer, Brian Fischer, made abundantly clear to the jury. After all, Roy Young was there the entire time.

"Mr. Young, you heard, derived 70 percent of his income from commissions," Fischer told the jury. "He's been here every minute of this trial. And when he says he loves Raymond, he puts his money where his mouth is."

It was highly effective. Fischer had just proven that Roy Young loved Raymond at least 70 percent more than Tony Diep.

This left Connie Diep to take the brunt of the questioning.

"If Mr. and Mrs. Diep truly love Raymond, why have they never participated in his life over the course of the past 18 months?"

— Brian Fischer, attorney for foster parents Roy and Melanie Young, trial, September 2007

It is highly unlikely Sally Liu could win her appeal; therefore it's highly likely that Raymond Liu will be raised by Roy and Melanie Young. They are loving foster parents, and he will no doubt have wonderful opportunities in life.

After Sally lost her parental rights, she took a severe nosedive. At one point, her social worker said, she hopped in a cab and ordered the driver to drive around randomly, from house to house, so she could look in windows and down roads for Raymond. As of this writing, she is in Harris County Jail for assaulting a police officer. She was wandering in the middle of traffic. When the officer attempted to help her, she kicked him. When I visited Sally Liu in jail recently, she was ambiguous about whether she had access to her medications. She was blank-faced and still.

If Raymond loses access to his extended family, there is a good chance he will never be apprised of the facts surrounding his removal from their lives. This story has tried to present the unvarnished facts, which are buried in a bungle of oft-­puzzling court orders and about 1,000 pages of trial testimony and exhibits. Hopefully, if Raymond ever chooses to read anything about that part of his life, he will have the time to look at the primary sources.

And if he chooses to read anything else, I hope it would be this:

Raymond, due to language and geographic issues, it has been difficult to illustrate exactly how much your Aunt Connie loves you, and how this ordeal has torn her, and the rest of your family, apart.

However Connie appeared to the jurors, her words on paper express a woman unsure of her tongue and unsure of the legal system, who was stumbling over herself to, in her words, "try to explain so the jury member can understand better."

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