Highland County’s Kevin Greer Juvenile Court granted Highland County Children Services temporary custody of four children after a hearing on Thursday April 22nd.
According to Greer, he granted custody late Wednesday afternoon after filing a case at 3:43 pm in which the four children were “temporarily detained”.
“I felt the allegations were extremely serious and necessary to protect the children,” he said.
During the hearing, Greer questioned case worker Amber Schiller about the data provided in the complaint filed with the juvenile court alleging the four children were “at risk, neglected and dependent”.
A grandmother has no custody of one of the four children but, according to the complaint, has raised them “since birth”. There are two mothers and a well-known father involved. The father appeared in court for a hearing with attorney JD Wagoner, but Highland County’s assistant prosecutor Molly Bolek said they were unable to reach either of the two mothers, at least one of whom is considered homeless.
According to the complaint, Highland County Child Protective Services first became aware of the case on or about December 8, 2020 when it was alleged that the children’s grandmother pulled a knife against the oldest child on December 7th that the grandmother had a child threatened, whose arm also had nail marks. The second child tried to protect the older child during this alleged incident.
Greer asked Schiller how this information was received. She said it was reported to the childcare agency by an advisor at the children’s school.
“I suppose that was during the day?” Asked Greer. “Anytime before 4 o’clock?”
“Yes,” said Schiller.
After being interviewed by Greer, Schiller said the supervisors were reviewing the cases and that they were aware of the Dec. 8 incident, but that she wasn’t sure which supervisor was reviewing this particular case.
Schiller testified that on December 9th she replied to the house where the grandmother allegedly admitted the incident.
“If we hear that a knife may have been involved, why was there a delay until the next day, December 9th?” Asked Greer.
“I cannot speak for why the information was not made available to me,” said Schiller. “The case wasn’t assigned to me until the 9th, and that’s when I contacted me.”
Greer also asked if law enforcement had been notified at this point. Schiller said she spoke to the deputy director of Highland County’s JFS and a supervisor with concerns on Dec. 9, but Schiller testified that she was told “it was not far advanced for law enforcement to be contacted would have to “.
“If a grandmother or a janitor threatens a child with a knife, doesn’t that rise to the level?” Greer asked. “At least it wasn’t back on December 8th?”
Schiller said it was “not a decision I was allowed to make,” despite calling her superiors after the grandmother allegedly admitted to making the threat with the knife.
According to the complaint, Schiller prepared a “home security plan” to move the oldest child to another home after the December 9 visit. Greer asked why the other three children weren’t also removed.
“I have reiterated my concerns about the then deputy director and the supervisor, but we were instructed that we are not allowed to draw up any safety plans or accommodate children without their consent,” said Schiller.
The next alleged incident in the complaint was “80 days later,” Greer said, although Schiller said she made other visits between December and late February. During these visits, she said she received no allegations of abuse.
On February 26th, Schiller visited his grandmother’s house and discovered that a suspected illegal drug user was now also living there. According to the complaint, the third child testified that the grandmother allegedly “passed on” abuse of the first child, including alleged head-slapping and hair-pulling, to the third child.
During this visit, Schiller testified in court and in the complaint that she was “unable to enter the house due to the mess and furniture blocking the pathways.” She also noticed that the youngest child slept on a cot and the cot’s cables were exposed.
Greer asked Schiller to testify about the state of the house.
“It’s very small,” she said. “It’s very full of bags full of personal items. There was new furniture they’d brought that supposedly was [the alleged drug user’s].
“There were very narrow paths in the house anyway and they had a couch in the middle of the sidewalk. I literally had to climb over the armrest of the chair to get over it. “
Schiller said she provided her superiors with photos of these living conditions and information about suspected drug use in the apartment.
“Schiller tried to create a safety plan for the three children who stayed at home,” the complaint said. “No other carers were identified who could look after the children. Caseworker Schiller consulted with director Katie Smith and was instructed to leave the children at home [the grandmother] with the understanding that [the grandmother] Don’t leave the children alone [the alleged illicit drug user]. ”
Schiller told Greer that she had “tried four different safety plans and no family member could take the children”. She said she was told that Schiller “had no emergency to remove the children”.
“So within that 80-day period, knives – threatening knives Grandma admitted – and drug addicts in the apartment, an allegation,” Greer said. “One of the kids advised Grandma to hit the head and pull the hair and the other things we talked about. And is that not enough? “
“It wasn’t according to my director at the time,” said Schiller.
A separate social worker, Sharon Mick, also visited the house on March 11, where the second child alleged that the grandmother hit the youngest child in the head, pushed the child into the wall, and hit the child, and allegedly molested the second child. Greer noted that this is now “113 days before the first incident”.
“And done nothing again,” said Greer. “Why?”
Schiller said she had “several interviews” with the director and assistant director of Highland County JFS throughout the case regarding her concerns.
“Katie has repeatedly told me that we had no emergency, that we had no reason to remove the children, and that we needed to set up support services,” said Schiller. “We did that in January. We recommended Pressley Ridge [foster care services];; However, their grandmother did not answer the phone so they could not contact her. “
On March 30, the complaint reported that Mick reported that the third child alleged that the grandmother beat and yelled at the third and second children and allegedly “threatened” their lives.
Schiller testified that Mick spoke to the JFS deputy director and learned that she “did not have enough to seek custody of the children.”
Greer said the case was filed “135 days after this series of suspected life threatening abuse, physical abuse and a knife that was used at least once”.
“Why was it submitted yesterday?” asked the judge.
“Because we have a new manager, Tiffany, who has come on board,” said Schiller. “She was reviewing cases and had the same concerns as Sharon and I. We met together and we agreed that these children must be removed from this house. “
When interviewed by Bolek, Schiller also testified that the information for the complaint was made available to the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office on April 21 and also referred to the Lynchburg Police Department. The grandmother now faces charges of first degree domestic violence.
“I’m happy, but it’s about 135 days late,” Greer said.
After reviewing the testimony and the facts alleged in the complaint, Greer ordered that all four children remain in the agency’s care.
“Occasionally this court has to make some difficult decisions,” said the judge. “This is not one of them.”
Greer said he “appreciated – finally – having someone” at Highland County JFS “who took the time to do their jobs and do what needs to be done to protect these children.”
“It’s just incomprehensible what has happened here on occasion over the past year,” said Greer. “This is at the top with the others. I really do not understand why those responsible on December 8th – not through the case workers, but through those responsible – did not immediately bring the law enforcement authorities to investigate.
“For an adult to threaten children with a knife and all of the other evidence that has been presented here today, those children are really lucky not to have been injured, and lucky for the agency, too.”
Greer added that “Hopefully the day has come when these issues are addressed in a timely and appropriate manner” by the Agency for Children’s Services.
The judge ordered that the grandmother had no contact with the four children – with the emphasis on “none”. Greer also appointed Attorney Denny Kirk as ad litem guardian for the children during the hearing.
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