Foster child remains in home
A judge’s decision keeps 5-year-old with sex offender
Tuesday, July 14, 1998
By Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Judge Max Baer again yesterday refused pleas from Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families to move a 5-year-old girl from the home of a foster father who impregnated his own 13-year-old daughter.
This time, Baer made the decision after CYF showed that the foster child was the victim of sexual abuse in a previous foster home and was setting fires.
Baer said he felt the child was in the best place she could be right now.
CYF has tried to persuade judges to move the child since discovering last fall that the foster father had pled guilty in 1960 to sodomy and incest. This time, CYF urged Baer to place the child in a different home because she’d been sexually abused in a previous foster home, which would make it difficult to know if any sexual behavior now was a result of that prior assault or a new assault.
In addition, the foster mother admitted to spanking the child twice with a paint stirring stick, a violation of state regulations forbidding any physical discipline of foster children.
The woman, whose name is not being used to protect the child, said she knew she was breaking the rules when she hit the child, but she felt she had to spank her after the girl set fires.
She said the 5-year-old set two fires, one at her house in the middle of the night and one at a relative’s home during an evening get-together.
When CYF attorney Barbara Hanley asked who was supervising the child when she got matches and set the fires, the foster mother said only, “she went into the bathroom with matches.”
Later, a clinician from Children’s Hospital who evaluated the child, said she was concerned about the fire-setting because that often is a sign that children have been sexually abused.
However, Beth Ann Kirby of the Family Intervention Center at Children’s said when she evaluated the child this spring, the girl talked of sexual abuse she’d suffered in a different foster home, but she did not say anything happened in the current one. In addition, Children’s did not find any physical signs of sexual abuse.
Yet, experts say there often are no physical traces of sexual abuse of children. And Hanley argued that the problem for CYF in this case is that if the child acts out sexually, the foster parents may simply argue that it is because of the prior abuse.
And, Hanley said, the foster mother is in no position to protect the child when she believes her husband had only one sexual encounter with his daughter from his first marriage. In fact, court records show he admitted to having sex with her more than 40 times.
Hanely told the judge the foster parents could not be trusted. The foster father lied to CYF, claiming he had no criminal record.
And while the foster mother said she hit the child only twice with the stick, the child told Kirby that the foster mother beat her with a wooden paddle, the kind that comes with a ball on an elastic string, and that she did it when the child violated rules like going outside without permission. Kirby said she found the child credible, but the foster mother said the child must have been confused or was lying.
When Hanley asked the foster mother if she’d reported that she’d violated rules by spanking the child, the foster mother testified she couldn’t remember.
Conrad Kammerer, a family preservation worker with Three Rivers Youth who visited the foster family for about 10 hours in the past several weeks, said that he felt the foster parents had learned proper discipline methods. Also, he said, despite the foster father’s criminal record, he felt the child was safe.
The judge refused to hear additional testimony regarding the criminal record because CYF is appealing his refusal to remove the child based solely on that record.
Hanley had urged Baer to listen to additional evidence she’d gathered regarding that record, saying, “I hate to think that while we wait for the judicial system to catch up that this child would be hurt.”
Baer said, however that Superior Court would decide that matter, and in the meantime, “I feel, all things considered, it is in the best interest of this child to remain in this home at this time.”