Parents regain baby girl in custody compromise

June 08, 1995|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Sun Staff Writer

When Anne and Michael Kares had their first child in March, they were doting parents.

But after their concerns about baby Brittany's health led to more than a half-dozen emergency room visits -- usually when there was nothing wrong -- Baltimore County social workers took her from her parents.

Now, after two weeks without their baby, Mr. and Mrs. Kares have regained custody, thanks to a compromise hammered out in court.

"I didn't think I'd get her back," said Mrs. Kares, 28, after the arrangement was announced Tuesday.

Circuit Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr., who called for the compromise that returned Brittany to her parents' Rosedale home, said he never had seen a case like it. Usually parents -- or even the county Department of Social Services -- are faulted for inaction because a child doesn't get medical attention, the judge and lawyers in the case agreed.

And there was no suspicion of abuse or neglect by the couple.

"What you usually have is that the child should have been taken to the hospital but wasn't," the judge said. "Here, you have the situation where the child was taken to the hospital and shouldn't have been. But it may well be to the child's detriment if you take the child to the hospital every week whether the child needs it or not."

But David P. Henninger, the couple's attorney, was outraged by the action of the social workers. He said the state took "the most drastic step of removing the child" because Mrs. Kares has a learning disability and Mr. Kares has a speech defect.

"This would never have happened to you or me," said Mr. Henninger, a former prosecutor who worked with juvenile cases. "I've never seen a case where protective services has gotten involved when the mother is too concerned about the welfare of the child."

One of Mrs. Kares' concerns included a 103-degree fever traced to an infection. Brittany also was taken to the hospital after she bumped her head on a car door, was thought to be hyperventilating and was thought to have blood on her pacifier.

Mrs. Kares acknowledged that she may have worried excessively because she had suffered three unsuccessful pregnancies. "Of course I'm going to take care of her if she's sick," she said tearfully last week.

Mrs. Kares usually called a doctor or nurse before going to the hospital and was advised to take Brittany to the emergency room, Mr. Henninger said. On two occasions, he noted, the baby was admitted to the hospital.

Bruce Mermelstein, a lawyer for the Department of Social Services, said Mrs. Kares reported being overwhelmed at the hospital, although "there was really nothing wrong with the child. Experienced social workers felt the child was at risk and needed to be somewhere else while the parents received help." Brittany was placed in foster care May 23.

Mr. Mermelstein, an assistant county attorney, told the judge at the hearing, "Both of the parents appear to have some limitations in terms of abilities. They seem to be trying to do their best, but we do have concerns."

Mr. Kares, 31 and a full-time employee of a car dealership, bristled at the label. "I have a speech defect when I talk fast, but I am not retarded," he said.

At Tuesday's hearing, Mr. Mermelstein and James A. Mayhew, a Legal Aid Bureau attorney representing Brittany, asked that the baby be kept in foster care. A juvenile court petition, which describes both parents as "intellectually limited," sought to have Brittany declared a child in need of assistance.

After the hearing, Mr. Mermelstein and Mr. Mayhew denied that the couple was treated differently.

Social workers tried to explain "what was the appropriate use of the hospital," but the couple "didn't seem to grasp that," Mr. Mermelstein said.

Asked whether removing Brittany was more traumatic, he replied, "I don't have the answer to that."

"There was some indication that the mother was limited herself in some respects, so that was a concern," Mr. Mayhew said, adding that he hadn't known that Mrs. Kares had been advised to go to the hospital. "It's a judgment call in each case. We all

want what's best.

"The mother has some parenting skills to learn. She's not entirely comfortable with the child [but] she certainly is a very loving mother."

Judge DeWaters returned Brittany after Mrs. Kares' parents agreed to stop by the home regularly while their daughter takes classes in how to be a parent.

Mrs. Kares didn't seem to believe the good news, asking everyone: "She'll be able to come home? She's coming home today? Oh thank God."

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