PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Children found without food, in soiled clothes, abandoned by drug-addicted or alcoholic parents.
Despite early warnings to the Children Youth and Family Services Agency, police say the agency failed to protect or remove the children involved.
Inside this apartment house on Corey Avenue in Braddock, police found stench and squalor, and there in the middle, a four-month old girl, two boys age one and two, one of them playing with a lighter near a rock of suspected crack cocaine.
“No diapers, no food. We gave the kids some water they drank it like they’d been left in the desert,” according to Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.
In Troy Hill, police were called 17-times to this house, the last time they found six-children home alone without food — in clothes growing mold — using curtains for toilet paper.
“Neighbors were often the ones who called us saying these children we out running in the streets, no clothes on diapers, 11 o’clock at night two and three year old,” says Pittsburgh police commander RaShall Brackney.
In the Braddock case, police arrested 22-year-old mother of three Jamaya Grant, charging her with child endangerment.
In Troy Hill — for the second time in less than a year, Pittsburgh police arrested Dean Payne — father of six — and charged him with endangerment. Their mother Mickole Persinger was already jail on the same charge.
But it wasn’t until these last arrests that the agency charged with protecting children — Allegheny county’s children youth and family services — actually removed the kids from the homes — even though CYF had already been closely involved with both families.
Brackney says in the past year, police alerted CYF five times about the Troy Hill house.
“Beyond frustrating, it’s worrisome in terms of care for these children. The house was deplorable. There’s no gas, no light, no way to have warm cooked meals in this house.”
KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan: “Does it take a police action to hit this trip wire for CYF?”
Brackney: “Not at all. Most of the time police are not involved.”
County human service director Mark Cherna says CYF is not complacent when it comes to child safety.
In fact, he says of the four-thousand children monitored by CYF this year — the agency removed more than 800 from their homes — most of them before police even got involved. Still, he admits his agency does make mistakes.
“Certainly I get outraged when I see some situations and cases. How did this happen ? How did it get to this point and then we take a close look. What could we have done differently,” says Cherna.
Cherna won’t talk about specific cases but does say cyf is facing funding and staffing cutbacks at a time when demand for their services is increasing — higher rates of poverty, addiction, mental illness. As a result, in most cases a CYF case worker can only visit once a month, and gets only a snapshot in time.
“Things can go south in a hurry.”
For example he says, on the day of a visit, an addict parent may be sober — the kids may have food — the house clean — but things can quickly deteriorate.
“Certainly if we knew that things had gotten that bad when the police were called in. we would have already removed them.”
Cherna says his case workers do tough work for low pay — and have successful outcomes in 99 out of 100 cases. In the case of Troy Hill, however, Commander Brackney can’t imagine what other warning signs CYF would have needed.
“I can imagine that they’re are overwhelmed by cases. when you are actually getting calls from law enforcement repeatedly somehow this case needs to be red-flagged and triaged to the top of the pile.”