The Nevada Supreme Court on Tuesday chastised the state Division of Child and Family Services for trying to block four sisters who became wards of the state from visiting each other.
The sisters became wards of the state in 1998 because of their mother's drug problems. The oldest was then just 9 but had assumed the role of mother to her three younger sisters. The girls were described as very close.
The two youngest have since been adopted and the third child returned to her father. Only the eldest - now 14 - remains a ward of the state. She requested permission to visit her sisters and maintain contact through the Clark County Legal Services Child Advocacy Project. But after a family court judge granted permission to release address information so advocates could try to set up visits, state Child and Family Services officials refused to provide addresses of the other three children.
Denied by the district court, state officials fought the battle all the way to the Supreme Court, which Tuesday dubbed their arguments "specious."
An opinion written by Chief Justice Deborah Agosti points out the family court determined sibling visitation was in the children's best interests and ordered a visitation plan be in place before the adoptions were finalized.
The state agency failed to do that and then argued because no visitation plan was in place beforehand, there is no right of visitation at this point.
"It was not in DCFS's discretion to unilaterally decide whether or not to comply with the order," the opinion states.
The Supreme Court ruled the district court was "well within its jurisdiction" in ordering the state to provide information so representatives for the oldest girl can at least try to set up visits.
The opinion says the department has a responsibility to act in the girl's best interests and help her maintain the bond with her sisters.
"However, DCFS has acted exactly to the contrary by myopically promoting the adoptive families' privacy rights at the expense of the child's right of association with the only family that she has," the opinion states. "The tragedy of DCFS's conduct is that it places all of these girls in the position of knowing that they have sisters, but not being able to locate them until the girls reach the age of majority and denying them that special bond of sisterhood."
The information was ordered released to the girl's advocates so they can set up a hearing to arrange visitation.