Testing ordered for couple who abandoned son

Psychological evaluation needed, Delaware judge rules

January 06, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WILMINGTON, Del. -- A couple charged with abandoning their 10-year-old disabled son have been ordered by a Family Court judge to undergo psychological evaluation.

As social workers continue to look for a temporary home for the child, Richard and Dawn Kelso of Exton, Pa., told the court Tuesday that they would not immediately try to regain custody of their son, Steven, from the Delaware Department of Family Services.

"We will retain custody," said department spokeswoman Trish Hearn. "It was an uncontested position."

Lawyers for the Kelsos did not return phone calls. The Kelsos, who have been charged with abandonment and conspiracy, are free on a combined bail of $5,300.

Court Administrator Edward Pollard said the hearing lasted 10 minutes and that the Kelsos did not speak. He said psychological evaluation is "fairly routine" in such cases.

Authorities are trying to determine what led the couple to leave their child, who has cerebral palsy, at a Delaware hospital. Dawn Kelso, 45, was described by friends as a tireless caregiver and advocate for the child. Her husband, Richard, 62, is on leave from his job as chief executive officer of PQ Corp., a chemical company in Valley Forge, Pa.

Steven, who must use mechanical devices to breathe and talk, remains at Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children in Rockland, where his mother wheeled him into the lobby Dec. 26 as her husband waited in their car. The couple drove away, leaving Steven with some of his possessions.

"He is doing well," said hospital spokeswoman Terri Greenley. "We expect him to stay with us until a home is found."

Delaware officials said they expect custody of the child to be turned over to the Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Families at a hearing in Chester County Court in Pennsylvania tomorrow.

Hearn said her department won't object if the Pennsylvania agency petitions for custody.

Todd Hallidy, a spokesman for the Delaware attorney general's office, said such a petition will be presented tomorrow.

If the court gives custody of Steven to Chester County, the Kelsos probably will be tried in two states. Delaware would prosecute them on the criminal charges in Family Court, and Steven's fate would be determined in civil litigation by Commonwealth Court in Pennsylvania.

Pollard said the hearing Tuesday was the Kelsos' first opportunity to try to regain custody of the boy. The family was not allowed to address the court when the state was given emergency permission to intervene last week.

"It was to give the family a chance to say, `The state made a mistake,' " Pollard said of Tuesday's proceedings. The Kelsos did not do so, he said.

"The state needs to determine whether the Kelsos are fit to be parents," Pollard said. "It has to figure out how this family can be reunited, if possible."

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