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DCF should let this family be

Two young sisters may be able to remain with the family they love after all, despite the best efforts by the state to place them in limbo.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Irene Sullivan should be congratulated for putting the interests of children first when she recently ruled that the girls, now ages 6 and 7, should be allowed to remain permanently with Curtis Watson and his partner. The gay men have cared for the girls since the middle of last year, when they were placed under their care at different times by a caseworker under contract with the Department of Children and Families. In March, the men went to court to obtain "long-term nonrelative custody," a status just short of adoption. Because of Florida's backward law prohibiting gays and lesbians from adopting children, this was the best the men could do.

Had the men been allowed to adopt, there would be no more to this story. The girls would have had a permanent home that the state could not break apart without evidence of abuse or neglect. But the long-term custody order provides lesser protection from state interference, and DCF went to court to try to get the long-term custody order set aside. The agency said it intervened because its contracted caseworkers weren't thorough enough in trying to place the two sisters and a third one, who is at another foster home, into a single adoptive home.

After a trial during which numerous experts, including some called by the state, testified that the behavior of the girls had markedly improved since they had moved in with their new parents _ one of the girls had been violent and incorrigible before being placed in the Watson home _ Sullivan spoke forcefully from the bench, saying that the men have been model parents and the girls should stay put. "I'm going to personally thank (the fathers) for, in their way, stopping the cycle of abuse," Sullivan said. "It's not just love, it's love, experience, background, intelligence. They seem to have it all." The judge even suggested that the men train other foster parents.

Sullivan placed the girls' best interests first. She saw that the girls had bonded with their new dads and would be devastated if the state removed them from what they considered their permanent home and family.

Now, if only DCF would leave this family alone.