Chicago Tribune

DAD IN CUSTODY FIGHT GAINS ON VISITS
By Janan Hanna and Art Barnum
Tribune Staff Writer, Chicago Tribune
Wednesday, January 27, 1999

For the past several months, Rahim Azizarab has had his life placed under a microscope.

State child-welfare workers and psychiatric experts have been evaluating the behavior of the 40-year-old Maywood man as he interacts with his 2-year-old son. The child has been living in foster care since his birth with traces of cocaine in his system.

Experts have been watching everything from how Azizarab feeds his son hash browns to how he rubs lotion on the boy's hands, changes his diapers and moves toy trucks across the room with him.

The experts even have taken note of how Azizarab's voice inflection changes as he reads a story to his son.

Azizarab has gotten high marks in the interactions, according to a psychological report presented Tuesday to the DuPage County Juvenile Court judge overseeing Azizarab's lengthy battle to gain custody of his child. A psychologist conducted a parental capacity assessment of Azizarab and concluded that he was fit to be a parent, according to the report.

The judge, Elizabeth Sexton, acknowledged that Azizarab had made substantial progress in interacting with his son and the caseworkers from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, who will have an important role in determining his fate as a parent.

Sexton approved unsupervised visits between father and son, who, until now, have been able to visit only in the presence of caseworkers. For the first time since he proved he was the boy's father after taking a paternity test in August 1997, Azizarab will be able to see his son alone in his home and at a mosque.

DCFS workers had suggested that father and son wait another month before beginning the unsupervised visits. But the judge ordered that they begin this week.

Still, the earliest he could take his son home permanently would be Feb. 25, his next scheduled court date. But there could be more red tape that further delays the union of father and son, Azizarab's lawyer acknowledged.

Azizarab, who was born in Iran and moved to the U.S. when he was 19, fathered the child with his former girlfriend.

The girlfriend believed another man was the boy's father, but Azizarab said he always knew the child was his. By the time he could gain the attention of child-welfare workers, the boy was almost 6 months old and already in foster care.

The boy's mother refused services from DCFS and has not seen her child since a supervised visit in August 1997.

By the time the child was 10 months old, Azizarab was given weekly supervised visits with him, and authorities began checking into Azizarab's background to determine whether he was suitable to parent his child.

The process was delayed after Azizarab took his son during a supervised visit in July and fled. He was arrested two days later and charged with felony child abduction. He is awaiting trial on those charges and is due in court on Feb. 16.

His arrest drew attention to his plight as a father who was being denied custody of his son even though he had not been accused of abuse or neglect and he tested negative for drugs and alcohol.

Still, he tested the patience of caseworkers and the judge, insisting that his child should be allowed to come home with him immediately and saying that the state should "get out of my life."

Tuesday, he complained about injuries he has seen on his child, including a cut that required stitching last summer, scratches on his chest and various bruises.

"How many cuts and bruises can a child suffer?" he said.

DCFS reports state that the head injury came from the child running into a table and that the chest injuries came from his climbing out of his crib.

Sexton told Azizarab that DCFS has repeatedly looked into the foster home and that it is sound.

"As a mother of a 7-year-old, I can say that a small child has common injuries like that," she said.

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