June 26, 2008 12:00 am
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On Friday, for the first time since August -- and just four days after filing a federal lawsuit -- a Fayette County man was permitted to see his three children in a supervised visit. They had been removed by Children and Youth Services because he had a consensual sexual relationship with a 16-year-old.
He is listed in the lawsuit as "John Doe" to protect his children.
"For 11 months, all I did was daydream about seeing them," Mr. Doe said in telephone interview, his voice shaking. "It felt really good. I can't explain it in words."
Mr. Doe, 29, was never accused of abusing his own children, now 8, 6 and 5, yet he was forced to send them to live with his parents in September 2006, after the 16-year-old's mother learned of the relationship and complained to CYS.
Police would not file criminal charges against Mr. Doe because 16 is the age of consent in Pennsylvania, but CYS undertook an investigation.
A caseworker told Mr. Doe if he didn't turn the children over to his parents as the investigation continued, they would be placed in emergency foster care.
He did as they asked and was permitted to have unlimited supervised visits with the children -- even after CYS made an indication in November 2006 that Mr. Doe was a "sexual abuser," based on the relationship with the teenager.
But then, on Aug. 1, after a new caseworker took over, the visits stopped. Mr. Doe was told he could have no contact with the children at all -- not even letters or phone calls -- or the children would be removed from his parents.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf against Fayette County CYS last week, claiming that the agency failed to provide him due process.
A hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction was to be held yesterday, but because CYS granted visitation over the weekend that has been canceled.
But according to Witold Walczak, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Doe, the case will continue.
"Specifically, the question here is whether the agency can order parents to have no contact with their children, even though there is no evidence the parent abused the children or that they are in imminent danger," Mr. Walczak said.
State law provides an avenue for children to be protected, he continued, which involves "courts, lawyers and due process."
"Fayette County is simply doing an end run around that state law," he said.
Michael Lettrich, one of the attorneys representing Fayette County CYS, said he could not speak extensively about the case.
He did say, though, that visitation was restored after Mr. Doe and his mother met with the CYS therapist for an evaluation last week.
Mr. Walczak was unsure why that didn't happen before the lawsuit was filed -- or 10 months ago when visitation was cut off.
"They were trying to do what they thought was in the best interests of the children," Mr. Lettrich said.
On Saturday, Mr. Doe took his children to an area fair. On Monday, he was teaching them how to ride a bicycle without training wheels.
"Every spare minute I have that I'm not working, I'm with them," he said.
The two older children have been great, he said, acting as if the separation never occurred.
But the other day, the youngest fell and scraped her elbow.
"When she got hurt, she called for grandma," he said. "I told her, 'I'm here, you can call for me now.' "
Mr. Doe called the last year "a living hell."
"I would like to get CYS out of my life," he said. "They're basically questioning whether I care for my children.
"I was their sole provider. Those people have no idea how capable I am or what those kids mean to me."
Paula Reed Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620.
First Published 2012-03-16 19:57:52
First Published 2012-03-16 19:57:52