Counseling next for Rifqa, family

Judge decides to keep teen in foster care until she decides to go home or turns 18

The Columbus Dispatch/January 20, 2010

Ultimately, the question of how to heal the deep rift between Fathima Rifqa Bary and her parents was too big for a courthouse.

Six months to the day since she ran away from home, Rifqa and her parents agreed yesterday in Franklin County Juvenile Court to stop arguing.

They decided that Rifqa would not move back home, at least for now, and they agreed that they would try to solve their problems with counseling.

Rifqa, who is 17, admitted she was unruly in running away from home in July, fleeing to Florida and the home of a married pastor couple. She will not be punished with any sanctions, such as fines or community service, for that admission.

Franklin County Children Services will retain temporary custody of Rifqa, who is living in a foster home. She likely will stay in foster care until her 18th birthday on Aug. 10, after which she is an adult and free to live where she chooses.

Rifqa and her parents will follow the guidelines set out in a Children Services case plan, the goal of which is reunification.

So Rifqa moving home is still a possibility, though seemingly an unlikely one considering she has refused contact with her parents thus far.

She accused her father of threatening to kill her for converting from Islam to Christianity, saying that prompted her to sneak away from her family's Northeast Side apartment on July 19.

Mohamed and Aysha Bary have maintained that they love their daughter, accept her new religion and want her to come home. Authorities in Ohio and Florida did not find any credible threats to her safety.

Rifqa and her parents did not speak to each other in court yesterday. Rifqa, holding a wooden cross and wearing a rhinestone crucifix necklace, clung to her attorney, Angela Lloyd. The Barys were solemn.

Rifqa smiled and hugged Lloyd after it was announced she would be a dependent of the state. She spoke quietly but clearly when taking responsibility for the charge of unruliness.

Another attorney for Rifqa, Kort Gatterdam, read from a statement that both parties agreed to.

"Rifqa and her parents love and respect each other," he began, adding that counseling was thought to be the best solution.

Mohamed Bary spoke as well, saying, "I love my daughter and I work so hard for her." Rifqa buried her face in Lloyd's arm after her father spoke.

Rifqa's case was moved to Columbus in October, after she had spent more than three months living in Florida. First, she stayed with the Revs. Blake and Beverly Lorenz, a pastor couple she met on Facebook, for a little more than two weeks.

The Lorenzes have been criticized for keeping Rifqa too long without notifying authorities, though they deny that. According to a court filing by a Children Services attorney, they are under criminal investigation.

After that, Rifqa was in foster care while a case was opened in a Florida court. In October, Rifqa was moved back to Columbus, and two separate cases began in Juvenile Court: one to decide where she should live and another to consider a complaint filed by her parents calling her unruly.

In pretrial hearing after pretrial hearing, attorneys for Rifqa, her parents and the state debated issues as particular as Rifqa's Facebook use or whether she could receive mail from outside parties.

The case plan for Rifqa and her parents says they should talk about their respective religions and visit and communicate regularly.

All parties in the case remain under a gag order. That issue is set for hearing Monday.

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