court returns 2 of 4 kids to homeless mom FWD

Tom Boland (
Fri, 22 May 1998 09:05:51 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  Thursday, May 21, 1998


     By Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Angela Edwards got her two youngest children back yesterday.

"I am so happy. I am going to get my kids," Edwards said after the hearing
before Common Pleas Judge Cheryl Allen Craig.

The children, a 2-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl, have been in foster
care since April 13, when they were taken from Edwards because a judge
decided that she did not have adequate housing for them.

Her case was one of those depicted in last week's Post-Gazette series,
"Lives on Layaway," about children who are in foster care and don't know
whether they will be adopted or returned to their biological parents.

Edwards has two older girls, 6 and 4, who have been in foster care for four
years. Late last year, Allegheny County Children and Youth Services asked
Craig to terminate her rights to them so they could be adopted by their
foster parents.

Edwards was living with her mother and three siblings when Children and
Youth Services caseworkers visited the mother's house last month and
decided that it was too cluttered and dirty for her to keep her two younger
children with her.

After the visit, Edwards' mother fled the home with Edwards' siblings,
fearing that CYS might seize two of those children from her. The landlord
then wouldn't let Edwards, her husband and their two children back into the
apartment, making them temporarily homeless.

Her attorney, Mary Ellen McMeekin, said yesterday that CYS' behavior in the
case had been unconscionable, because its visit had led, in effect, to
Edwards' becoming homeless in the first place.

Even though Craig agreed to return those children to Edwards yesterday,
another decision she made was harder for Edwards to accept.

The judge agreed to listen to testimony about the removal of the two
youngest children before deciding whether to terminate Edwards' rights to
the two older children.

McMeekin protested. She said that even though CYS helped cause Edwards'
recent homelessness, it now wanted to use that as an additional reason why
she should lose parental rights to the older girls.

She also suggested that it was not coincidental that the CYS investigation
of Edwards that led to her homelessness occurred the very week that the CYS
written arguments were due in the termination case.

McMeekin and attorney Arnold Cantor, who represents all four of Edwards'
children, had both submitted written arguments against terminating her
rights to the older children. The two lawyers said she had completed every
task CYS told her she had to do in order to get those children back.

Before CYS attorney Alexis Samulski submitted her written arguments last
month, caseworkers went to the rented house in Lincoln, which they said was
cluttered with clothing, furniture and food containers.

Samulski told the judge yesterday that the deplorable conditions in the
house would have made it unsafe for Edwards' two older girls, both of whom
have health problems.

McMeekin pointed out, however, that no insects or rodents had been found.
The house was cluttered, she said, "but it was not dangerous."

Although Pennsylvania law requires "imminent risk" to children before they
can be removed from parents, the caseworkers threatened to place Edwards'
two younger children and her two youngest siblings in foster care.

That's when Edwards' mother left with her three siblings. While she was out
of state, Edwards said, her mother suffered a heart attack and a stroke,
and her older brother, who has cerebral palsy, suffered a life-threatening

Edwards, her husband and their two children spent the weekend in a hotel,
then went to a hearing at which Judge Timothy O'Reilly ordered the children
placed in foster care.

Earlier this month, after the Post-Gazette made inquiries about the matter,
CYS gave Edwards a different caseworker and helped her get an apartment
where she may stay for three months rent-free. Because she now has housing,
CYS asked Craig to return Edwards' two youngest children to her yesterday.

In the meantime the two older children remain with their foster parents
until Craig rules on their future.


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