Finally some attorneys who are not afraid to speak out and help families who have had their children stolen for profit by Child Protective Services. Now if we can get one of them to step up to the plate in Jackson County Ga.
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Attorney: Agency deprives rights
W-B attorney says he will file lawsuit on behalf of 25 parents against Luzerne County Children and Youth.
TERRIE MORGAN-BESECKER firstname.lastname@example.org
WILKES-BARRE – A local attorney said he plans to file a federal lawsuit today on behalf of approximately 25 parents who allege Luzerne County Children and Youth violated their constitutional rights in placing their children in foster care.
click image to enlargeTheresa Orgowski, right, and her daughter Brandy Fullerton, both of Wilkes-Barre, gather with other parents outside the Children and Youth Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilkes-Barre to voice complaints against the agency on Wednesday.
PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER
Group wants review of Children and Youth complaints
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Times Leader Photo StoreJames Hayward of Wilkes-Barre said the lawsuit will be a wide-ranging indictment of Children and Youth that will rival the egregiousness of the allegations contained in the “kids-for-cash” lawsuits involving former county Judge Mark Ciavarella’s placement of juveniles in detention centers.
“It’s just like the ‘kids-for-cash’ case again,” Hayward said. “Everyone knew what Ciavarella was doing and didn’t do anything about it. Well, they all know what Children and Youth is doing and they’re not doing anything about it.”
What Children and Youth is doing, Hayward said, is routinely Children and Youth violated their constitutional rights regarding court hearings that determine whether their children will remain in foster care or be returned home.
The suit revolves around dependency court, which involves children who have been removed from their homes based on allegations of abuse or neglect. It is separate from delinquency court, which involves the placement of juveniles accused of crimes.
Under state law, Children and Youth can take immediate custody of a child only if it can be shown there is an imminent threat to the child’s safety or health. A shelter care hearing must then be held to review that determination.
Hayward said he has interviewed numerous parents who say they were never given a hearing, or were given such short notice that they could not present a meaningful rebuttal to the agency’s allegations.
“I have four clients whose shelter care hearing was either scheduled while they were in the hospital, or they never had a shelter care hearing and they took the kids off them,” he said.
Hayward said that in one case, his client had just given birth via caesarian section. Children and Youth sought to place the child. A shelter care hearing was scheduled just after she gave birth, which precluded her from attending.
Hayward said he went to the hearing on her behalf and obtained a continuance. But that did not stop the agency from taking the child anyway.
“They went that night or the night after and took the baby out of the hospital and put it in foster care,” Hayward said.
Another issue, Hayward said, is the agency’s practice of taking a newborn from the biological parents based solely on the fact the parents have other children who are currently in foster care.
Hayward said the law says agencies can do that only if a parent has previously had his or her parental rights to other children terminated. Luzerne County is doing so even when that is not the case, he said.
“If you have a child in the system, as far as they are concerned, every child is in the system. That’s not the law,” he said. “They can do whatever they want and get away with it, and no one is challenging them.”
Joe DeVizia, director of human services for the county, said he was advised Wednesday that Hayward planned on filing a lawsuit. DeVizia said he did not know what the specific allegations are, but insisted Children and Youth is working for the best interest of children.
“There are a lot of issues surrounding why kids are in placement,” DeVizia said. “Our number one concern is always the safety and welfare of children.”
More than two dozen parents, some of whom are plaintiffs in the pending suit, gathered at the Luzerne County Courthouse on Wednesday for an impromptu rally.
DeVizia said he and Children and Youth Director Frank Castano spent nearly five hours meeting with 15 to 20 parents. He said he would ensure their concerns were addressed.
Hayward said the suit will name Children and Youth as a defendant, as well as individual agency employees, the county and its human services department. The suit will not name judges who presided over dependency court, he said.
Terrie Morgan-Besecker, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 570-829-7179.