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Kids in Crisis

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When a parent is accused of child abuse there are no easy solutions and often it’s the most innocent of victims caught in the middle. According to the child welfare league of America, nearly 60,000 children are removed from their homes each year for their own protection, even though they are not alleged to have been abused.  Karl and Brent are two such children.

The removal of these children raises a critical question about our society:  when is too soon to remove or too late to protect a child?  Child welfare investigator Jackie Bean had to walk that fine line when she crossed the threshold of Cary and Michelle Pitcock’s home, a home with a frustrated step dad who Jackie suspects may have crossed the line from discipline to abuse of his 13-year old stepdaughter. 

It was a Thursday night when the boys were taken from their home and unfortunately for the Pitcocks, the courts are closed on Friday.  It would be Monday before they faced a judge.  At 11 p.m. Jackie Bean had to find a foster home for Karl and Brent.  The fate of 3 children hung in the balance, and one judge will decide how things go from here.

Cary was faced with a dilemma. If he signed the legal papers he admits hitting Amber.  That could speed up the process, but Cary felt strongly that his actions were justified as a parent.  If he doesn’t sign, the court process could take even longer.  It’s clear the events of the long weekend have shaken Cary but he’s optimistic his family will be back together soon.  

13-year old Amber sits motionless across the room. Amber hadn’t seen or talked to her parents since the night of the alleged abuse.  She was living in the children’s guardian’s home  - a shelter that houses at-risk kids.  From her seat in the courtroom, Amber refused to look at Cary and Michelle.

Even though Cary maintained Amber is at fault for causing the chaos in his family, he signed the legal papers admitting he hit her.  As Amber’s parent and legal guardian, Michelle is also required to sign the papers.  Cary and Michelle realized they’ll have to go through counseling, but they also hope their admission will speed along the process to get Karl and Brent back soon – hopefully today.  Judge James Payne, the one who’ll decide what happens to these children, isn’t so sure.

Judge Payne has no jury in his courtroom, he is the law.  His twenty years on the bench helped prepare him for difficult cases like this one, but there’s no exact science to human emotion.

So whom should Judge Payne believe, a tearful Michelle or a visibly bruised Amber sitting in front of him?  The judge decides not to release the children back to the parents – not today anyway.

Amber was overwhelmed by the court proceeding and prefers to be left alone.  After the hearing, the Pitcocks and Jackie Bean come face to face for the first time since Jackie removed Karl and Brent from their home.  Cary and Michelle now know Karl and Brent won’t come home today.  They accept the boys will instead have to stay in emergency foster care and work with Jackie to place them with relatives.  They feel certain that Karl and Brent will be returned long before their next court hearing in 30 days.

With their first court date behind them, Cary and Michelle rush across town for a supervised visit with Karl and Brent.  The night the boys were removed, Cary and Michelle were promised they could see Karl and Brent the next day.  That visit never happened. It’s now been four long days.  After four days of chaos in this case, things finally seem to be settling down.

It proved to be short lived…

Fast forward.  It has now been 30 days since 7-year-old Karl and 4-year-old Brent Pitcock were taken from their home after child welfare investigators determined they were at risk of being abused.  The boys remain in foster care with Cary’s grandparents. As they prepare for their second court hearing Cary and Michelle tell their caseworker they want their kids home today.  And there’s another shocking development to this already emotional story: 13-year old Amber has run away from the emergency shelter where she’s been staying.  No one has seen her for 3 weeks.  It was only 4 weeks ago that she first accused her stepfather of abuse, setting into motion a legal whirlwind that led child welfare investigators to remove her brothers from their home.

Cary’s temper is beginning to flare.  Michelle is nervous his outbursts will continue in the courtroom and knows Judge Payne holds this entire family’s future in his hands.

Cary has calmed down but Judge Payne is still skeptical about whether the boys should go home. And there’s no mistaking that a child’s safety is more important to Judge Payne than a parents rights…

Cary and Michelle are exasperated. They leave court again without Karl and Brent.

And Michelle is especially worried about Amber.  She fears the worst.

And in just one week, Cary and Michelle are scheduled to sit down with Amber for the first time since this ordeal began.  Will amber turn up or will she stay on the run? 

After a month of hiding out at a friend’s house, Amber does make it back to the guardian’s home.  She had reluctantly agreed to talk with Cary and Michelle at a local counseling center.  Cary and Michelle waited downstairs while Amber sorted through what she wanted to say.

Once Amber comes face to face with Cary and Michelle it doesn’t take long for tensions to mount.  At the end of their first counseling session, Amber, Cary and Michelle are no closer to reconciling their differences than they were more than a month ago.  All 3 Pitcock children are still out of the home. By law and by conscience, Judge Payne tries to resolve his cases quickly but when young lives are at stake, the pressure to make a good decision is intense. It’s the court that has the ultimate power to decide if any of the kids will ever return home

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