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Woman with Cerebral Palsy Fights Second Custody Battle

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January 16, 2008 - Sabreena Westphal, 40, says that she loves babies and has always wanted to be a mother. She has given birth to three children, yet has not had the opportunity to raise any of them. She is now fighting to retain parental rights and bring her daughter back home.

Westphal is disabled. She suffers from cerebral palsy and can not walk or fully use her arms, yet she still is fighting for the right to raise her youngest child after her two sons were taken from her and adopted 20 years ago.

Back then, Westphal went by the name Tiffany Callo and achieved almost celebrity status due to the media attention surrounding her fight for her young sons. In the end, beaten down by the system, she wound up giving up her parental rights, and her sons were split up and adopted by two different families.

However, since then, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed, giving her a slightly better chance in her current fight. Before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, disabled parents were automatically considered unfit to raise their children.

Since her sons were adopted, Westphal was hit by a car in her motorized wheelchair and lost her independence. She is still trying to get a replacement wheelchair. Ten years ago, the county hired Brian Wince as a caregiver for Westphal. A relationship developed between Wince and Westphal, and Wince fathered her third child.

When their daughter was born, Wince was healthy and the couple had arranged to have special equipment to make it possible for Westphal to care for the baby. However, shortly after the baby was born, Wince became seriously ill and was diagnosed with lupus. Westphal became dependent on help from her neighbors to care for the baby. Social services became aware of the situation and began to question the well-being of the child in this situation.

The child was eventually taken from Westphal and placed in foster care, then sent to live with Westphal's step-grandmother. And Westphal began her second child custody battle.

Westphal is currently fighting to prevent her now 5-year-old daughter from being adopted by a couple in San Joaquin County, California. She is hopeful that this case will end differently than the case with her sons; however, even with the Americans with Disabilities Act on her side, the courts must base their decision on the best interests of the child. If Westphal is to regain custody of her daughter, she still must prove that she is able to adequately care for her.

Many parents with disabilities are able to care for their children. In more than 8 million families in the United States, there is at least one parent who is disabled. Westphal is unable to get out of bed without assistance and does not have a close circle of friends or relatives that she can rely on for assistance. Wince is still seriously ill and requires three dialysis treatments per week.

Still the couple is fighting to get their daughter back. It has been quite a struggle so far. The child custody case takes place in a court which is not near their home, and without a car or much money, it is difficult for them to attend all of their court dates. They say that their lawyers have failed to keep them informed of when their court dates are and of progress in the custody case. They also complain that the couple who is trying to adopt their daughter fails to bring her for court-ordered visitation.

Despite all the obstacles to getting her daughter back, Westphal is not giving up. While she and Wince clearly need help raising their daughter if they should get her back, is it up to the county to hire help for them? Certainly with their limited income, they would be unable to afford this type of assistance on their own.

If a family court judge was to decide that it would be best for this child to be with her biological parents, clearly the county will have to provide some assistance to Westphal and Wince. Alternatively, if the court decides that the child should be adopted, Westphal will lose another child and likely the opportunity to fulfill her dreams of being a mother.


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