How CYS answers the calls to action
The charges child welfare agencies investigate range from a neighbor's claim that a man is beating his daughter with a pipe to a mother's complaint she just can't get her teen-ager to go to school.
During an average week, 100 such calls many made anonymously are checked by caseworkers from Allegheny County Children and Youth Services.
The speed of response depends on the degree of danger to the child. State law requires caseworkers to investigate within two hours allegations that children are in imminent danger. This could be an unconscious child with burns from being thrown in scalding tub water. It could also be kids locked outside in freezing weather without shoes or underweight infants forgotten by parents high on crack.
Caseworkers may take these children from their parents and place them in emergency foster care. A hearing must be conducted within 72 hours to determine whether the removal was proper and justified.
In this brief session, a lawyer for CYS tells a judge why the child was taken. The parent, who may be represented by a free lawyer, often tries to persuade the judge to return the child immediately. And a lawyer appointed for the children explains what they want.
If the judge decides the children should stay in foster care, a second, more formal, hearing is supposed to be held within 10 days to decide whether the parents' behavior justifies keeping their children from them. State law specifies eight grounds for removal, but the one used most is the very general allegation that parents failed to provide sufficient care for the youngster's emotional and physical well-being.
The second hearing is almost never held within 10 days. It is more commonly held 30 days after the removal, or longer if judges' schedules are packed.
If the judge decides the state's standards for removal have been met, goals are set for the parents to meet to get the children back. The case is reviewed by a judge every six months to determine if parents have sufficiently reformed for their children to be safe with them.
Meanwhile, the children remain in foster care. Whenever possible, they are moved quickly from the emergency foster placement to the home of a relative or close family friend. When no relative is available, they'll go to a foster family willing to keep them for six months or longer.
In cases when charges against parents are less serious, a caseworker must investigate within 24 hours. This may be a neighbor saying there's no running water or heat in a house where six kids live.
And if the complaint does not involve a safety issue, the caseworker has seven days to check it out. Those are usually ones in which a parent begs for help with a defiant or truant teen-ager.