4 children left alone overnight placed with child services
One found wandering near busy highway
Melissa A. O'Neal, 37, was charged with three counts of cruelty to juveniles after police say her four children were left at home on the night of May 20 while she stayed with her boyfriend. Authorities said her youngest, a 3-year-old daughter, was found wandering alone near River Road and the Fairfield Subdivision on May 21.
As of press time, O'Neal is being held on a $100,000 bond at the St. Charles Parish Jail.
Her children, ages 13, 12, 6 and 3, were placed into the care of the Office of Child Services.
When children are taken from a parent because of a crime, there are many ways that the court and the Department of Children and Family Services deal with the situation, according to Trey Williams, Director of Communications for the department.
“No case is the same, but usually if the child is in danger then we will remove the child and in order to do that we have to get the court's permission - no decision that we make is made alone,” Williams said. He said the decision to remove a child from a home is often made with help from his department, the court system, law enforcement officials and child advocacy groups.
Williams said that the department always tries to place the child with a family member first, but if a viable relative is not available then the child is usually placed into foster care with a foster family.
“If there is more than one child, we try to place them together when possible, but unfortunately sometimes there's not a foster home available that would be able to accept all of the children,” Williams said. “In those instances, they have to be placed in separate homes, but we try to place them in close proximity.”
Williams said that while each case is individualized, there are steps that parents must take before they can regain custody of their child after committing a child-related crime.
“In general, we try to come up with a case plan of certain steps that need to be taken and accomplished before we can do a reunification,” Williams said. “That might involve counseling, parenting classes, if drug abuse is involved then successful completion of some type of rehabilitation program, if anger issues are involved then completion of anger management classes, if there are problems with living conditions…then those have to be taken care of.
“Once that parent completes those steps, then we would give our recommendation to the courts and the courts would approve it or deny it.”
Williams said that regardless of what a parent completes or what the department recommends, the decision of whether a parent will be reunited with their child is ultimately up to the courts.
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