Psychologist differ in custody fight over Chinese girl

Psychologists differed Tuesday on the emotional threats to a 5-year-old Chinese girl at the center of a custody fight between her parents and an American couple
David Goldstein, a court-appointed psychologist, said the child is emotionally attached to the American couple who took her into their home when she was less than a month old. Taking her from them "is fraught with all kinds of potential risks," Goldstein testified before a judge being asked to nullify the parental rights of the Chinese couple.
John Hutson, a psychologist testifying for the birth parents, said the girl, if kept from them, may come to believe she was abandoned.
"The child will always wonder, always fantasize, 'Why? Was I not good enough?"' Hutson said.
Shaoqiang and Qin He put their infant daughter in foster care a month after she was born in February 1999 because they were out of work and unable to provide for her. The Hes say they thought they could get their daughter back when their finances improved, but the American couple, Jerry and Louise Baker, decided to keep her.
Testimony in the case ended Tuesday and Circuit Court Judge Robert Childers scheduled closing arguments for March 22.
By state law, Childers has 30 days from the end of closing arguments to rule on the Hes' parental rights.
More court hearings will be necessary to decide custody.
He was a graduate student at the University of Memphis when his scholarship was canceled in 1998 because of a sexual assault charge for which he ultimately was acquitted in court.
Qin He, who spoke little English, signed over custody of the girl to the Bakers in June 1999.
The Hes say they thought that was necessary to have the girl covered by the Bakers' health insurance.
The Hes visited with the child often in the Baker home until January 2001, when the couples argued over the girl.
The police were called and escorted the Hes off the Bakers' property. The Hes filed two Juvenile Court petitions trying to have the child returned to them, but the Bakers went to a state trial court in June 2001 accusing the Hes of abandonment.
A judge, who has since stepped down from the case, issued an order barring the Hes from seeing their daughter.
Goldstein said a psychological exam showed the girl has bonded with the Bakers and their three biological children, while having little emotional attachment to her birth parents. "These folks spent day in and day out with this child," Goldstein said of the Bakers.
During an evaluation session video taped for the court, the child and the Bakers met last year with the Hes, who also brought along their younger daughter, then a year old. The girl stayed near Mrs. Baker through most of the meeting.
"The child is staying close to her primary caregiver," Goldstein said.
Hutson said Goldstein's examination was flawed and he failed evaluate the Hes' relationship with their two other children or how the child gets along with the rest of the Baker family.
Hutson also said the court's decision to keep the girl from her birth parents has likely already caused the girl psychological damage.
"The reason I'm down here is the best interest of the child," Hutson said, "and I don't think it was protected."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)