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termination of parental rights

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Michelle Gach’s son was taken from her home nearly two years ago, when he was three year old. Police took him after he was found alone in a park across the street from the family’s home.

A judge later terminated Gach’s parental rights. These terminations happen all the time in Michigan. They create a permanent, legal separation between parents and their children. And, once the decision to terminate is made, it’s rarely reversed in Michigan.

But that’s what happened last week in Michelle Gach’s case.

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Today I got an update on a story we reported here in January. It's the story of Michelle Gach, a mother whose parental rights were terminated by a judge after her three-year-old-son was found wandering one morning with his dogs in a park across the street from his house. Gach told me she'd worked into the early morning that day, and her son snuck out of the house "to be a big boy" and walk the dogs while she slept. 

Not long after that incident, police removed Gach's son from her home. She was denied visits. She wasn't offered support services. 

“And they said it’s protocol for going straight for termination.” Gach told me. 

She hasn't seen her son since August 2014. Her rights were officially terminated last year. She appealed.

Yesterday, the State Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the case. The judges sided with Gach. They ruled her parental rights should never have been terminated.

And their ruling could have implications for other parents in Michigan as well. 

flickr.com/swaity / Licenced under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Michelle Gach grabs a couple slices of pizza before we get started. She has a story to tell, and it turns out to be a long one, covering the past 14 years of her life, with more tragic turns than most people see in an entire lifetime.

But that comes later. For now, we’re sitting in a room together: Michelle, two of her daughters, and two friendly pit bulls.

The room is mostly bare, exposed plywood on the floor, blue strips of painter’s tape along the baseboard, new doors still leaning against the wall. A project waiting to be finished.

While Michelle Gach finishes her pizza, her daughter Felicity begins to tell me the story of what happened on a Saturday in August 2014.