Advocate doubted custody decision
The long-range goal had been to reunite the Craven boys with their mother.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
GIRARD -- A child advocate had raised questions about the ability of a Girard father to care for his two young sons but eventually deferred to the wishes of other authorities.
Bobby Lee Craven, 24, of Trumbull Avenue, is now in the Trumbull County Jail under $500,000 bond. Police say he is the prime suspect in the death of his 20-month-old son, Brandon. He is being held on a charge of child endangering involving his 3-year-old son, Robert.
Investigators say both boys were beaten. The boys were both taken to Forum Health Northside Medical Center last Monday; Brandon died Wednesday.
The boys' mother, Sandra Faye Smith of Youngstown, is in the Mahoning County Jail after pleading guilty in April to two counts of child endangering in a separate case.
Sought custody: Craven had petitioned the Mahoning County Juvenile Court, seeking custody of the boys, and the mother didn't object.
Atty. Mark J. Kolmacic of Youngstown, appointed by the court to represent Smith, said she wanted the children's father to have custody rather than see them possibly sent into foster care.
But questions were raised by Marjorie Jensen, a volunteer advocate for Mahoning County's Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA), Kolmacic said. Program volunteers serve as advocates for abused, neglected and dependent children in the court system.
"I'm heartbroken over this," said Jensen, adding that she couldn't discuss the case because of confidentiality.
Renee Battafarano, county CASA director, said Jensen wasn't required to file a report about the Craven boys with the court because the case was resolved before a hearing.
Account of meeting: Kolmacic said that during an Aug. 22 meeting at the Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center involving attorneys representing the parents, children services, and CASA, Jensen opposed giving custody to Craven.
He said Jensen questioned whether the children would receive proper medical care because one or both of them had ear infections. She also questioned whether Smith understood what she was doing in relinquishing custody.
Kolmacic said Jensen was also concerned that if the father received custody and the children lived with him in Trumbull County, she would lose the ability to monitor their well-being. The advocate also questioned Craven's overall ability to parent the boys.
A children services caseworker conducted an investigation and recommended, based on those findings, to give custody to the father.
The attorney said he supported Smith's position in giving up custody.
Eventual goal: The long-range goal was to get Smith reunited with her children after being released from jail.
To do that, Kolmacic said, Smith, an alcohol abuser, would have to establish a residence with utilities and furnishings for three months and complete parenting classes before she could visit her children with their father.
If she met the criteria and the court agreed, her children could be eventually returned to her. Kolmacic said Jensen "stuck to her guns."
"Her concerns were legitimate but not overwhelming," Kolmacic said, noting those concerns would not have overshadowed children services' recommendation and that the court, if it had gone that far, would have probably given custody to the father.
The case never went before the court because the agreement giving Craven custody was signed by the couple; their attorneys; Samuel G. Amendolara, the juvenile court magistrate; Atty. Wade Smith Jr., the children services attorney; and Jensen.