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Team 4 Investigates Children’s Agencies’ Response To Hitchhiking Kids


Paul Van Osdol Talks With Allegheny County CYF

JEANNETTE, Pa. — After four young children were found trying to hitch a ride on Route 130 in Jeannette, the local police station became their home for six hours and they told police that they were trying to get away from an allegedly abusive home.

Their foster parents — sisters Sharon and Shirley Baker — have been charged with endangering the welfare of children, but investigators also want to know why it took so long for child welfare agencies in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties to respond.

Team 4 investigator Paul Van Osdol learned that it’s the second time in recent weeks where caseworkers have been slow to respond to a child in desperate need of help.

When police found the four children on the side of the road Thursday — hungry, dehydrated and showing signs of abuse — they contacted the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau first.

They said Westmoreland County told them that the kids were supervised by Allegheny County, which contracted their care to the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center.

Yet, police could not get anyone to come to Jeannette and care for the boys.

“The bottom line is we needed somebody up here immediately to help us,” Jeannette police Officer Justin Scalzo said. “We’re not equipped to care for kids of that age.”

Scalzo’s wife went to the station to change diapers and help feed the children.

“They were hungry. We needed diapers because one kid went to bathroom in his pants,” Scalzo said.

Six hours later, the children were picked up.

“We expect an immediate response to assure safety for our children,” said Becky Wong, of the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families.

“So, children should not be sitting in a police station for six hours?” Van Osdol asked Wong.

“Correct,” Wong said, adding that the situation is “totally unacceptable” to CYF.

Wong said her office is investigating and has blocked Three Rivers from placing foster children while the investigation continues.

Jeannette police said they had a similar problem with Allegheny County CYF two weeks ago, stemming from the case of a young woman allegedly held as a slave at a local home. Again, it took more than six hours for the girl to be placed in a new foster home.

“If you have two cases like this in a matter of weeks, doesn’t that indicate there might be some kind of problem here?” Van Osdol asked.

“It could be there’s a communications breakdown. I don’t think that happens that often, but it’s a possibility,” Wong said.

Wong said there have been problems with Three Rivers failing to turn in written reports of their visits to foster homes.

“Can you say whether they were making appropriate visits to this particular home (in Jeannette)?” Van Osdol asked.

“I can’t say for sure, because we don’t have written reports. But verbally, I think they were making the visits,” Wong said.

The Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center did not return calls for comment from WTAE Channel 4 Action News on Friday.

The Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau declined to say whether it’s doing its own investigation.

“It seemed like nobody wanted to send anybody out immediately to help us. They kept putting the burden on each other’s agency,” Scalzo said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare is also investigating Thursday’s incident in Jeannette.

SPCA column – How an 11 year old child can stab a dog to death and threaten his foster parent

Monday, June 15, 2009


Special to The News

If you happen to be a regular reader of this column, you may recall that about a month ago I highlighted the correlation between domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse. One week later, the CCSPCA Cruelty Department received a call from the state police about the alleged stabbing death of a dog, two days prior, by a child in foster care.

In the first article, I made mention of how children in unstable home environments, or with a history of being abused, are more prone to becoming abusers themselves.

The current report was that the child was having a meltdown because she did not want to stay in the foster home where she had been placed the week before. We were all too familiar with this scenario, as we had had a 16-year-old drown a kitten back in April for the very same reason. Acting out in order to draw attention to one’s self is normal behavior for kids in crisis.

The trooper called to report the possible stabbing, describing the day’s events leading up to the dog’s death. We were, quite frankly, appalled. Police had been called out earlier in the day because the child had tried to run away, there were physical threats made to the foster parent and damage done to the house. When the police were called out later that same day, the foster parent stated that the dog had been stabbed with a solar driveway stake and had died. The litany of the child’s offenses in a few short hours was unfathomable. How is an 11 year old capable of such intense hostility?

The day after the report came in, we were able to interview the child. Mystery solved. Having been in foster care for eight years, she had been in no less than 27 homes. She suffered from a laundry list of maladies, including prior sexual abuse and post traumatic stress disorder. At 11, this kid had experienced more of life’s nightmares than most people will see in the course of a lifetime, and, yet, she was intelligent, articulate and admitted to her offenses openly. She insisted however, that she had not done harm to the dog. She was adamant in fact, that the dog was extremely thin and was fed only leftovers and scraps. She was actually well versed in proper care and needs of animals.

The dog had been buried at the time of death and had to be exhumed and necropsy performed (animal autopsy) for evidence. The veterinarian found no signs of trauma to the body. In fact, the young adult lab mix had perished from poor nutrition, intestinal parasites and a lack of medical attention.

We’re still shaking our heads. Within a few short days, we went from the shock of having a child capable of such unspeakable hostility to being astounded that the foster parent would further imperil this child by making false accusations.

The foster parent ended up being charged with animal cruelty. The dog at least got justice in that the proper party is being held responsible for his death É but what happens to this kid? Foster home number 28?

If they treat the dog like this…how in the hell do you think they treat the children in their care…I hope they are also charged with making a false police report, AND THAT THEY LOOSE THEIR FOSTER PARENT LICENSE….because they sure don’t need them!!! 

Investigators: State Agency Breaks Laws, Robbing Foster Child Of Stable Home

The only stable home the little girl has ever known is with her foster parents Amy and Dick Langley of Snohomish County. Poca’s about to turn 4, and about to be taken away.

“It’s like being told your child’s going to die in front of you and you have this amount of time before your child dies,” said Amy. “It’s grief. It is unbelievable grief.”

Poca was born a very sick preemie. She weighed just 2 pounds, 4 ounces and had several neurological problems.

Doctors suspected she’d been exposed to drugs in utero, but couldn’t prove it. Her parents were young and troubled: the dad is a convicted felon for selling meth.

The mother had a prior baby die after testing positive for meth at birth.

Child Protective Services, CPS, took Poca away when they thought she was at risk of being abused or neglected. That’s how she ended up with the Langleys at 4 months of age.

The Langleys are well respected, well trained foster parents who have taken in 20 special needs children like Poca over the years.

“It’s our passion. Our passion is medically fragile and drug affected babies,” said Amy. “We really wanted to help the children who can’t find homes otherwise.”

The Langleys were praised for their work with Poca by state social workers, the biological parents, and her doctors.

The only stable home Poca has ever known is with her siblings and foster parents, Amy and Dick Langley of Snohomish County, WA.

“Her foster family, they’re not just good, they’re spectacular. In this environment she (Poca) has prospered, made great developmental gains and has become a very different child,” said her pediactric neurologist, Dr. Stephen Glass.

As months, years, and milestones went by: birthdays, holidays, and summer vacations, Poca bonded with her foster family. When asked if the Langleys consider her their child, Amy said, “I do. She’s our little girl. She’s our baby. She tells me all the time, I your baby, Mama.”

There’s a federal law  that applies to children like Poca who are taken away from their birth parents. When a child has been in foster care for 15 months, and the biological parents still haven’t proven they can do the job, the state is mandated to file papers to terminate parental rights. But in Poca’s case the state hasn’t filed any papers, and it’s been nearly four years. State workers have clearly violated this law and state laws.

DSHS officials say this case is taking longer than most, but their mission is to place kids back with their biological families.

“That’s what we’re here for, to reunify families,” said Sandy Kinney, who heads up children’s services out of the DSHS Everett office, where Poca’s case is being handled. (Read Senator Roaches blog and you will see that this statement is indeed FALSE….)

Kinney says some parents take longer than others to get it together, “In any case where we can reunify families successfully and safely that’s the right thing to do, so sometimes change takes a little longer for people to do.”

KING 5 has found many efforts to help the biological parents get Poca back haven’t gone well.

– An occupational therapist reported the dad slept through most of the sessions.

– A traveling nurse said the mother “refused to cooperate” when she was trying to teach her how to care for a medically fragile baby.

– The mother’s MySpace page talked of drinking, clubbing, and bailing friends out of jail.

– In November, the dad admitted drinking again, which violated a court order to stay clean and sober.

Dave Lindsey was a court-appointed investigator for Poca. Five times he recommended the birth parent’s rights be terminated and five times he was ignored by DSHS workers.

Lindsey quit the case in protest.

When asked how strongly he felt that the child should not return to the birth parents he said, “I wouldn’t have recommended it if I wasn’t strong about it. I mean that’s a tough decision to take your kids away. It wasn’t in the child’s best interest to go back to that home.”

He wasn’t alone. We’ve uncovered documents showing a social worker, who quit the case out of frustration, wrote Poca would be at “significant risk to thrive in the family home.” She also wrote “it is very concerning that after nearly 3 years of being in foster care, the parents still do not seem to understand (her special needs) and how to address them.” A state evaluator said she should be “adopted by her foster parents.”

Poca’s neurologist wrote because of her developmental disorders it’s “crucial” she stay with the Langleys. After that DSHS removed Poca from his care. “The decision to remove this child from their care is unconscionable,” said Dr. Stephen Glass. “I am irate. I am in disbelief that this happened.”

There’s a reason federal law requires a speedy, permanent solution for foster children like Poca. It’s traumatizing to yank children from the place they call home.

“It’s being in limbo that’s most damaging to the child because the child doesn’t know where they’re supposed to go and where they’re supposed to be,” said Gary Malkasian of the Foster Care Justice

“This has a cost.

Whenever they’re moved they feel like, you don’t want me, you got rid of me.”

People who’ve worked on the case tell KING 5 DSHS had a one track mindset: place Poca with her parents no matter what. No matter how long it takes.

Dr. Glass has worked on CPS cases for years, and says he hasn’t seen anything like this. He describes the case handling as “capricious, bumbling, disorganized, haphazard, and decisions have been made that are unfounded and unbelievable.”

New experts assigned to the case, and a judge, say after all these years Poca’s birth parents are finally ready take care of her, with a strong possibility she’ll never see the Langleys again.

“We’ve tried to explain to her that no matter what, we will fight for her, her whole life,” said Amy. “We will not give up. We will love her no matter where she is.”

Update: There has been an abrupt change in this case. An emergency hearing was held yesterday to postpone Poca’s reunification with her biological parents. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Anita Farris said in open court that the birth parents are “lying and hiding” information from social workers and she was suspicious they were drinking and doing drugs again. Despite that, the judge also ruled Poca cannot stay with her foster family. Why’s that?

There’s something you don’t know about the Langleys and their battle with DSHS. We’ll expose that side of the case on KING 5 News at 11 p.m. on Thursday and on


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