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Frustrated couple sells DCF tape recordings

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Lukes Dad's picture
on Mon, 08/13/2012 - 15:44
Fight Child Protection Department Corruption: 

Melissa and Robert Obernauer are in a battle with the state Department of Children and Families and much of it is on tape.

Ever since DCF removed Melissa's biological daughter from their home, they say their fight to get her back has been almost pointless.

"This is not a case about helping a child. This is a case of them versus us," said Robert Obernauer 

It's gotten so bad that the parents began recording their conversations with the state. They were so convinced that the court process was fixed so they'd lose that they decided their only way to fight back was to sell those recordings on eBay for thousands of dollars.

"Of course the judges always side with DCF in these cases, never with the family," said Obernauer. 

Both sides agree it's a sad story. Melissa Obernauer's daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was just three years old.

With her biological father out of the picture, Robert and Melissa moved the girl and her younger brother from New Jersey to a home in Killingworth six years ago. They say they called DCF  looking for help dealing with the girl's mental health issues. They say their relationship with their caseworker broke down.

"It's been a daily struggle. Every single day just about. It consumes your life," said Obernauer. 

DCF took custody of the now nearly 12-year-old while she was an in-patient at Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield.

The Obernauers claim the breaking point was a dispute over her medical care, but several sources tell the I-Team the Obernauers refused to take the girl back home which amounts to abandonment.

It's a charge they dispute. We asked DCF for their side of the story. They said privacy laws limit their response, but they did give us a statement stating: "The Department receives custody of a child via an order of the Superior Court, which does so only upon evidence that the parent is unable or unwilling to care adequately for the child.  In such instance, the State will be required to invoke the legal process to ensure the child's adequate treatment and care. We recognize how devastating this can feel to a parent and how difficult it can be to care for a child with emotional challenges. 

In this case, this was made more difficult when, because of the parent's own behaviors, the court took the unusual step of placing limits on the parents' interactions with the Department. While the present case involved many complicated elements, it is fortunate that the Department was able to identify a relative who is currently caring for the child. Most importantly, the child is doing well in the home, and the plan is for this home to provide the permanent family for the child."

In fact, Obernauer was even arrested for threatening DCF workers at one point. A charge he called a misunderstanding of his comments. DCF didn't even know about the recordings until the I-Team told them.

"It started very early where they would say one thing and then say 'we didn't say that," Obernauer said.

The eBay posting offers the audio for $50,000. But why would anyone pay that? The scandalous ad promises the recording contains lies and says it would make valuable evidence against DCF in court. The Obernauers played a few of the clips for the I-Team. Most were relatively benign conversations, the most inflammatory we heard was a call from a therapist who said their daughter missed a critical appointment while in DCF care.

Obernauer says his job frequently takes him to New Jersey. He says there it's legal to secretly record a call.

"I could not get anyone from the state to listen to me. I contacted the attorney general's office who wanted to know nothing about it, I sent letters to the judge, no response, the DCF ombudsman's office wanted to know nothing about the lies, so I figured  that after I listed them on eBay it would get attention and give the case more publicity," Obernauer said. 

Obernauer says he's gotten a few inquiries, but no offers yet. He says if someone was really planning to use the tapes against DCF he'd probably turn them over free of charge. But that raises an interesting question - what good are they?

Attorney Dan Klau is a privacy expert. He says he's never seen a case quite like this, but says in the legal world these tapes are probably useless  because in Connecticut, unlike New Jersey the consent of everyone is required before a call can be recorded and Connecticut law would probably bar them from a courtroom. 

Jeanne Milstien, Connecticut's child advocate, said the eBay posting is "outrageous."

"I was just shocked because I thought, it's only a matter of time when you do something like that before the child's identity is known and it's the child who's going to be exposed, and that child who is vulnerable, and the child who could get hurt," she said. 

The Obernauers say they've spent $25,000 in legal fees and haven't gotten anywhere. Their daughter is living with a relative out of state right now. They say they're determined to someday bring her home. They knew the eBay posting could bring criticism, but they also hoped it would bring publicity to their fight.

"They've already tried destroying our child's life. We don't want to see them doing this to other children," he said.