Sunday, December 12, 1999
When parents can't care for their children because of drug abuse, or violent behavior, or just lack of skill, it is the job of county child welfare agencies to step in and protect the youngsters.
Except in cases where parents have murdered or raped a child, these agencies are expected to help parents overcome the problems that cost them custody, and reunite them with their children, if at all possible.
In pursuing that goal, some agencies and court systems do better than others. In Beaver County, the Children and Youth Services agency and the courts are not role models for reunification.
After examining the county's practices for nearly a year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has found numerous problems:
Beaver County terminates the rights of parents to their children twice as fast as the national average -- and even more quickly when the children are infants.
Beaver County frequently makes it difficult for parents to meet the goals it establishes for them to get their children back. One example: CYS routinely schedules parental visits with children during working hours, and then criticizes parents if they miss the visits -- or miss work.
Beaver County's court fails to provide poor children and parents with lawyers for some hearings.
Beaver County often resists giving children to relatives of the parents, even though federal and state regulations say that should be done whenever possible.
When Beaver County does allow relatives to become foster parents, it generally refuses to pay them foster care subsidies, and instead makes them seek much lower welfare payments for the children.
Beaver County has placed some children for potential adoption with people who either work with CYS and the courts or serve on their advisory boards. In one high-profile case, a judge terminated the rights of a mother after a friend of hers gave the baby away for adoption without her permission to a professional colleague of the judge.
Until recently, Beaver County terminated the parental rights of some jailed mothers without transporting them to the termination hearings, even when they had asked to attend. It took a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union to change that practice.