Dad protests at DHR on behalf of son

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Many may have seen Stephen Cender staked outside of Covington County Department of Human Resources Tuesday.

Cender had a sign that read, “DHR UNFAIR!”

Stephen Cender stands outside DHR Tuesday protesting.

Stephen Cender stands outside DHR Tuesday protesting.

Cender said he’s fighting for his 6-year-old son whom he says is living in unsanitary conditions, but said he feels he hasn’t received any help from DHR workers.

He claims that his son doesn’t have a bed to sleep on, that the home is simply nasty, including having chicken and dog feces in it.

Cender also claims the Opp house in which his son lives is unsafe.

He said that the house has been cited by the city for repairs, including rotted wood, holes, doors and windows that need securing, and more.

The Star-News is not publishing the address of the child, but did confirm the problems with the City of Opp.

According to city records, abatement notice was given on March 25, 2014, again on Sept. 12, 2014, and July 27, 2015, and no progress had been made as of Tuesday.

City Inspector Wanda Summers said she can only speak for the condition of the outside of the home and has never been on the inside.

She said the inside of the home is beyond the scope of her responsibilities as city inspector and those responsibilities lie with child protective services.

Cender said he only wants to give his son a safe, clean place to live.

“I’ve even offered to continue to pay support,” he said. “I just want my son out of the filth. He doesn’t have a bed.”

When asked if he had requested a petition to modify custody, he said he couldn’t afford it.

Circuit Clerk Amy Jones said the filing fee for a petition to modify is $298.

“I’m on disability,” he said. “But I do have a clean household. I also cook and feed the police department and E-911 often.”

Cender said his only goal is to gain custody of his son to provide what he calls a better environment for him.

He also claimed unfair treatment from DHR due to relatives of his son’s mother working at the agency.

He said he was asked to talk to Crenshaw County DHR, but has had no luck with them.

Alabama DHR Public Information Officer Barry Spear couldn’t comment directly on Cender’s case, but explained DHR’s policy for investigating homes is for a case worker to go to the residence and check the conditions.

“There’s a difference between what a person considers healthy and unhealthy,” he said. “If there are no obvious issues, then it is OK. If there is a hole in the floor, it needs to be corrected so that the child doesn’t get hurt.”

Spear said they must investigate such complaints immediately, within 12 hours or within five days of intake.

“We talk to neighbors and we visit the home,” he said.

Spear said if there is a situation in which there is a conflict of interest such as relatives work there, then they have a bordering county conduct the investigation.

“That’s standard procedure,” he said.

When asked if the bordering county’s cases would take priority over a case, he they follow the protocol to investigate.

Additionally, Spear said that the complainant isn’t always privy to all information that DHR has.