PHOENIX -- Rachel Sparks says her son was snatched right from her arms. And she claims that the state of Arizona is to blame.
Sparks says Child Protective Services unfairly took her son and refused to give him back.
The single mom had some medical problems. She tells 3TV that she was taking Cymbalta as prescribed for pain when her doctor quadrupled the dose, which sent her into a deep depression. That’s why CPS initially took her son.
“I was in the hospital getting treatment because of the Cymbalta at the time CPS took my kids,” Sparks said.
But after that she says that she did everything the state asked her to do in order to get the kids back.
Internal CPS documents, obtained by 3TV, show the goal was to stabilize her health and get her medication balanced out.
She did that as documented in the CPS reports.
Still, a caseworker showed up again to take her youngest son, Zachary, who is autistic.
There was concern that she couldn’t take care of all of his special needs.
“They just took him – just took him away and that was very hard,” Sparks says through tears. “it was traumatic.”
Attorney Lynda Vescio took Sparks’ case pro bono.
We asked Vescio why CPS would be motivated to remove the children if there truly was no danger.
“I think at the time they came in, they had a basis based on the fact that she had been overmedicated by her doctor,” Vescio said.
But it was what happened next that Vescio believes was way out of line.
Despite doing what CPS asked her to do, Sparks could not get her son back – as months turned into years.
“Nobody ever told me what I had done wrong,” Sparks says. “It was a medical problem with Cymbalta. I have never been charged with anything. Never was.”
According to court documents, Zachary was desperate to move back with his mom and was becoming suicidal as he was moved from place to place.
“They tried to place this child with every person but her,” Vescio said, “despite the fact that we found out they had a report from a year and a half ago stating the child should be returned to mom but they never disclosed it."
The report was written by the team of specialists assigned to Sparks' case; the people who are supposed to figure out if she is a fit and stable parent.
The report reads, in part, “There are no risk factors at this time as client has met her goals above and beyond showing strength and stability in safe parenting.”
3TV wanted to know why – given this report which recommends Zachary be returned to his mom – did it take another year and a half and a court order?
We asked Vescio if she is alleging CPS withheld evidence.
“Whether it didn’t happen because it got overlooked through negligence or whether it was intentionally withheld, I don’t know,” she said.
The caseworker signed the report but never turned it over to Vescio or the court.
3TV reached out to CPS to get the caseworker’s side of the story, but CPS told us they cannot comment on camera.
Department of Economic Security spokeswoman Tasya Peterson sent the following statement:
“In cases like this, DES is accountable through the Juvenile Court process to disclose information by statute and to ensure child safety.”
For Sparks, it has been a long and painful journey.
“It’s scary – I’m still scared," she said. "Not that I’ve done anything wrong but that this can happen to regular people.”
Still Sparks says she’s a survivor -- and so are her kids.
“My kids are my life,” she tells us. “They are the reason I am living.”