Saturday, June 14, 2003

Experts: Turmoil still ahead for Justin

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A young boy's future might finally hinge on his best interests, but child psychologists are becoming increasingly concerned about how Justin Moore is handling the turmoil.

The parents fighting for the 6-year-old's custody are bound to vilify each other in the best-interest hearing that will take place this summer before Kenton County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Summe.

Child psychologists applauded the Kentucky Supreme Court's decision Thursday that the judge consider the child's best interest when determining his custody. Still, they say Justin has never been more at risk of being traumatized.

They agree that the best thing for Justin is normalcy. Best-interest hearings, they said, often disintegrate into parents saying horrible, unfair things about each other because they want so desperately to raise the child.

"I would hate to see my parents come under someone else's microscope," said James Brush, a child psychologist from Monfort Heights. "Right now, they just need to preserve as much stability as possible.

"I would want to protect the child and not let him know about the day-to-day happenings in the case."

The parents have invested five years of tears, worry and anguish into the custody battle that still could drag on for years. Both sides are already considering appeals if Summe does not decide in their favor.

On one side is Regina Moore and Jerry Dorning, the unmarried biological parents living in Burlington, Ky. Moore moved out of her public-housing apartment to live with Dorning, who has filed for divorce but remains married to another woman.

Then there's Rich and Cheryl Asente, a middle-class, college-educated couple living in Girard, Ohio, near Youngstown. The only parents Justin has known since he was 11 months old, they have enrolled him and his full biological brother, Joey, 7, in a parochial school. Both boys are steeped in a summer routine of baseball games, scout activities and family fun.

"The important thing is for him to know who he can count on," said Carolyn Brinkman, clinical coordinator for Beech Acres Mediation Services in Anderson Township. Potentially, "you're talking about a child who is very unclear about whose child they are and how much longer they (his parents) are going to be there."

Justin, like most kids his age, is just starting to experience peer pressure and his first encounters with childhood challenges, such as bullies. To perhaps hear the adults in his life talk in whispers over the dinner table might be too much to bear.

"He needs routine and structure," she said. "It is just one of the most important things to really build some confidence in their children."

A date for the best-interest hearing has not been set.


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