By: Markus Risinger and Deborah Lee
The Arizona Court of Appeals recently touched upon the Arizona Parents’ Bill of Rights Act in Jessica P. v. Department of Child Safety. In that case, the mother argued that the juvenile court had a statutory duty to apply the Parents’ Bill of Rights Act and the failure to do so violated her due process rights. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals found that there was no error made by the juvenile court. But what exactly is the Parents’ Bill of Rights Act and how did it come about?
The Arizona Parents’ Bill of Rights Act passed in 2010 to provide protections for parents and highlight their rights and responsibilities regarding their children. The sponsor of the bill, then-Senator Chuck Gray, expressed his concerns during a committee hearing about the infringement upon parents’ rights that may come about in a UN treaty. At the end of the day, the main concern that brought about this legislation was to protect parents’ choices involving their minor children.
These parental rights are listed in A.R.S. § 1-602. In theory, the Parents’ Bill of Rights declare that the government may not interfere with an individual’s parental rights unless there is a compelling interest to do so and the government’s intervention is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. The Arizona Parents’ Bill of Rights recognizes a parent’s right to:
– Direct the education of their minor child
– Access and review all records relating to their minor child
– Direct the upbringing of the minor child
– Direct the moral or religious training of the minor child
– Make health care decisions for their minor child
– Access and review all medical records of the minor child
– Consent in writing before a biometric scan of the minor child
– Consent in writing before any record of the minor child’s blood or deoxyribonucleic acid is created, stored, or shared, or before any genetic testing conducted on the minor child
– Consent in writing before the state makes a video or voice recording of the minor child (with some exceptions)
– Be notified promptly if there is suspicion that a criminal offense has been committed against their child
– To obtain information about a child safety investigation involving the child
In practice, these rights may be subordinated or suspended during a child welfare investigation, particularly when the investigation results in a dependency or severance action filed by the state. It can be challenging to understand the tension between a parent’s autonomy and a child’s best interests, which sometimes align and sometimes do not. This dichotomy lies at the core of much of the litigation occurring in juvenile dependency and severance matters.
 The Jessica P decision is fascinating in and of itself and may be reviewed by the Arizona Supreme Court. Jessica P has an intellectual disability and the Department of Child Safety (“DCS”) received multiple reports that she was neglecting her son. After a DCS investigation and psychological evaluations DCS filed a motion to terminate Jessica P’s parental rights due to her mental deficiency and due to the fifteen months out-of-home placement of the son. Jessica P. appealed by bringing an American with Disabilities Act claim and a state statutory claim. Jessica P. v. Dep’t of Child Safety, 2020 Ariz.App. LEXIS 700
Markus Risinger joined Woodnick Law as a law clerk in 2012. Markus graduated cum laude from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
Deborah Lee is a graduate of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. At the time of this article, Deborah was working as a law clerk at Woodnick Law.