By Ed Runyan
About 10 members of the public attended a Trumbull County Children Services Board meeting Tuesday to question the board about policies that protect the rights of the parents of children who come into the CSB system.
Harold L. Smith of Massillon said he became involved in the project after talking with Ulanda Waiters of Canton, who rents an apartment off of him, about her problems with the Children Services Board in Stark County.
Waiters has been in contact with people in Trumbull County, mostly on Facebook, and that has led her and Smith to see a pattern of problems that they believe exist at CSB agencies throughout the region, Waiters said.
First, they believe Trumbull CSB isn’t following one of the Ohio Rules of Juvenile Procedure when a child is removed from a home over allegations of abuse or neglect.
Smith said he believes the rules require a judge or magistrate to rule on whether there is probable cause for a child to be removed from a home, but no judge is involved in such cases in Trumbull County.
Nick Kerosky, executive director of the Trumbull CSB, said the judges in Trumbull County give law enforcement the responsibility for deciding whether a child should be removed in an emergency situation.
Within 24 hours, the agency files a request with Family Court for a magistrate to review the case and make a ruling on whether the removal was warranted, and the magistrate must rule within three days.
Smith said CSB serves as “prosecutor, judge and jury” when it becomes involved with a case, fails to notify parents of what is going on until after the child has been removed, and fails to notify parents of their legal rights.
Parents frequently are assigned a public defender, but he or she isn’t providing capable defense to the client, Smith said.
“If you drag the child out of the house, the parents are traumatized as much as the child, and they don’t even know why the child’s being dragged away,” said Dolores Wargo of Niles, parent of a 14-year-old son.
Kerosky said when the case is placed before the magistrate, an attorney is provided for the child and one is appointed for the parents.
Furthermore, a grievance process is in place, and it was updated within the last couple of months, plus there is an ombudsman, Bob McLean, who hears complaints raised by the parents, Kerosky said.
Atty. Dan Letson, a longtime member of the Children Services Board, said the attorneys with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office are “very competent lawyers.”