A nine-year old Tennessee girl, Sonya Hodgin, needs our help. Sonya lived with her father in Nebraska. However, her father, John McCaul, owned a gentleman’s club and was rarely home. Sonya had a caregiver who, when she had a family emergency, took Sonya to Tennessee. She had McCaul’s permission to do so. It was only after several months, when they hadn’t returned, that McCaul wanted his baby back. Sonya was cared for by David and Kim Hodgin much of that time, though Sonya didn’t live with them. The Hodgins reported the caregiver’s parents to the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) because the house was unsafe for children. DCS took custody of Sonya and placed her with the Hodgins.
Meanwhile, Sonya’s biological father, a violent career criminal, was in prison in Nebraska, sentenced to 15 years for three counts of felony robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon. In Tennessee, when a child is under the age of 8 and a parent is sentenced to 10 or more years in jail, parental rights are automatically terminated ((TN Adoption Code Chapter 36-1-113 (6)). The Hodgins adopted Sonya while he was in prison, when she was 4 years old. However, when her biological father cooperated with a murder investigation, his sentence was reduced from 15 years to 7.5 years. Still, his rights had been already terminated and the adoption was complete.
In 2009, the court overturned the adoption. The reason the termination was invalidated by the appellate court is that the parties had agreed to try the case on one issue: abandonment. Abandonment is a different ground than being incarcerated for more than 10 years under TN law. The trial court had declined to terminate on the grounds of abandonment and terminated under the grounds that the biological father was serving more than 15 years. On appeal, the biological father argued that he wasn’t given notice to defend on grounds other than abandonment, and, had he known, he would have brought up his sentence reduction.
Through all of these appeals, Sonya stayed with the Hodgins, while custody remained with CPS.
Sonya was with the Hodgins until January 29, 2014. With police intervention, Sonya, with only a few hours notice, was turned over to her biological father, a “violent career criminal” who was essentially a stranger to her. They spent a night in a motel, then returned to Nebraska, where she remains today.
Can you imagine how scary it’d be to be Sonya – 9 years old, and turned over to stay in a motel room with a man you’d only spoken to once? And then taken from your life with your family to live across the country with strangers?
What happens to all the other children in foster care who might get adopted, but whose foster parents think the biological parent might be able to overturn the adoption? Do we, as a society, really want children in stable, loving homes – who’ve been there most of their lives, turned over to violent career criminals?
Please, go to www.bringsonyahome.com and sign the petition to bring this sweet girl back to her family!