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Judge returns infant to his mother despite objections of county agency

Thursday, December 06, 2001

By Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A McKees Rocks woman whose baby was taken from her in the hospital three days after his birth will get the child back if she meets a judge's requirements.

Common Pleas Judge Robert Colville Jr. ordered the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families to return the baby boy to Marlena Massey today as long as she tests negative for drug use and meets several other stipulations.

CYF took the baby from Massey Nov. 15, even though neither mother nor child had signs of drugs in their systems. The agency argued that Massey, 24, had exposed three earlier children to drugs during pregnancy and all five of her children had been in foster care for 21 months.

Massey's attorney, James Ball, of the Allegheny County Bar Foundation's Juvenile Court Project, which represents poor parents, contended that she'd been off drugs since January, had cooperated with her treatment program, Operation Nehemiah, and had an apartment suitable for the baby.

Over the objections of CYF, Colville said Massey could get her baby if she agrees to weekly drug screening, allows visiting officials to make sure the baby is thriving, allows Operation Nehemiah workers in her home twice a week routinely and a third time randomly, and keeps the baby's father, Harold Carter, out of the household except for supervised visits.

Massey agreed to it all, saying afterward: "I am happy beyond words. I am happy my son is coming home and I am praying he is staying there."

Colville told Carter and Massey that although he was returning the infant, that was no guarantee they'd get their other children back. He noted Massey has been clean for only 11 of the 21 months the children have been in care.

"Twenty-one months is a long time," he said, so CYF was right to be suspicious of their ability to care for the newborn.

He warned her not to violate his stipulations in any way. "As quick as I returned, I will make your head spin on removing him," Colville said.

Though such hearings are normally closed , Massey and Carter requested that a reporter attend, and Colville permitted access by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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