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Foster parents allowed others to watch toddler who wandered

Child placed in new foster home

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

By Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The 2-year-old boy found wandering along a Knoxville street Sunday evening is a foster child whose foster parents had left him with relatives to watch for the weekend without seeking permission from the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Authorities yesterday released this photo of a baby boy, shown sleeping, who had been found wandering along a Knoxville street Sunday evening. The child had been in custody of foster parents. He now has been placed with a different foster family.

The relatives, whom police declined to identify, allowed their 15-year-old daughter to take the toddler to a nearby park, authorities said. She lost track of the boy there. She returned home to report the child missing to her parents, who then ran out to search for him. They notified police officers who were in the area.

Residents found the boy unharmed in the 300 block of Zara Street around 9:30 p.m.

Police took the child to Children's Hospital as a precautionary measure, and CYF placed him in a different foster home. CYF is expected to seek a juvenile court judge's approval for that move at a hearing tomorrow.

Foster parents are prohibited from allowing others to watch the children in their care without first seeking permission from CYF.

In this case, the foster parents, who had two other children in their care as well, failed to do that, county officials said.

The policy is designed to ensure that foster children are cared for only by qualified people who are trained and who do not have criminal records.

"Our policy is very clear," said Marc Cherna, director of the county's Department of Human Services. "It prohibits foster parents from allowing others to watch foster children without prior approval from CYF. If people violate a CYF policy, we take appropriate action."

That could range from firing the foster parents to simply removing all foster children until CYF can be sure the foster home is safe and the situation will not recur.

Cherna is prohibited by state law from specifically discussing an incident involving a foster child. He also declined to name the foster parents or say what sanction CYF would impose, if any.

"Of course, we do everything we can to make sure kids are cared for appropriately," he said. "Obviously, it is not our intention to have kids wander away from their parents or foster parents."

Pittsburgh police would not say whether they would file charges against the girl who lost the toddler or against her parents.

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