PALMDALE – A Palmdale man said he is holding a public hunger strike until county officials help him and his family gain visitation rights to his four grandchildren.
Gene Loiacono is trying to raise public awareness with an ongoing demonstration near the Department of Children and Family Services office in Palmdale. Loiacono said his family has been denied visits with the four children for about a year, even though family members were supposedly granted visiting rights by a family court.
“I want to see my grandkids,” he told The AV Times. “The foster parent who has them is a friend of the family. But she cut everyone off … and the DCFS said we need a court order.”
Loiacono has circulated a petition with 12 family signatures to the Los Angeles County DCFS, L.A. County Superior Court, and Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s office. The petition is asking the agencies to help enforce the family’s right to visit its children, while also requesting that a family member be able to adopt the four children.
In the May 23 petition, Loiacono states that the current caregiver “has consistently denied family and friends the ability to visit these children … despite the fact that family court granted several of us visiting rights.”
In addition to publicly protesting at the corner of Sierra Highway and Avenue O-8, Loiacono has started a Facebook page called Families Rallying to End Enslavement (FREE). He said the purpose of the social media campaign is to “bring awareness to state sponsored kidnapping of children by DCFS.”
Loiacono explained his harsh rhetoric toward the county agency, saying, “These case workers write their reports, and they should be held to the highest standard, but they’re not … They’ve got way too many kids in their care, and that’s why they can’t care for the ones who need it most.”
Lancaster resident Sandra Quezada, a psychology student at CSUN, briefly joined Loiacono’s public demonstration against DCFS on Tuesday to share her story.
Quezada told The AV Times that she was upset with how DCFS case workers in March took away her two boys, 4 and 5 years old, and believes they were unjustly removed from her care due to her husband’s unrelated deportation.
“I feel they’re using the father’s record against me,” she said. “And I don’t feel that it’s fair that they’re just taking children away from people. They’re basically punishing the mothers.”
Quezada said all she wants is another opportunity, and she criticized the DCFS for not finding alternatives to separating children from their families.
Quezada’s brother also joined the small Sierra Hwy protest on Tuesday to help raise awareness toward the county’s child care system.
“I know that the system is supposed to be there to protect certain kids who are really in danger, but I think the way they use their authority, I don’t think they use it under the guidelines that the people would actually consider just,” he said, asking to remain anonymous. “I’m not saying that I condemn them, I’m just saying you got to look at the situation, like we’re humans, and you have to treat us with fairness, with honesty, and a certain respect.” Quezada’s brother said he also joined the small protest out of a need to support Loiacono’s hunger strike.
Having begun his hunger strike on Monday, Loiacono said he will be at his Sierra Highway and O-8 location “every day except weekends” until this matter is resolved for his family.
The AV Times contacted DCFS Public Affairs on Tuesday to comment on Loiacono’s protest against the county agency.
Armand Montiel, director of public affairs, said he could not comment specifically on any case the department is servicing or investigating, but he did say that parents in this situation are not necessarily in disagreement with how DCFS handled their case.
“It might be that they disagree with what the court ordered regarding the visitations,” Montiel said. “That’s not something we can change. And because this is the child’s family, that’s something that the child’s family, particularly the parents, need to communicate with their attorney.”
Montiel said he questions why family members are not taking their strike to the courts.
“Why are they at the DCFS office when they should know if they are communicating with the parent that we don’t control the court order,” he said. “And, if in fact they think that DCFS is out of compliance with the court order, then they need to go back to court and say that DCFS is out of compliance – please find them in contempt so that we can get going on our visits.”
But that is a matter the parents need to discuss with their attorney, Montiel suggested, explaining that the family would need to petition the court, not DCFS.
“By and large, the court is receptive to hearing from close relatives, like grandparents,” he said. “More often than not the court will grant that request (to speak before the court), and they will hear their concerns, their objections or requests. And that’s why you don’t see very often … people protesting in this manner – because we’re not the ones in charge.”
However, Loiacono remains skeptical of the DCFS, saying on his Facebook page that, “Decisions by children’s court judges are strongly influenced by DCFS case worker’s reports.”