Court Strips Woman of Parental Rights
By Ellen Lane
A Westchester woman whose eighth child was taken from her at birth because she had a history of abuse and neglect lost all parental rights to the child yesterday, concluding a widely publicized child-rights case.
After a closed hearing in Westchester Family Court in White Plains, Judge Louis A. Barone ordered the parental rights of the woman, identified only as Debbie B., terminated, thereby freeing the County Department of Social Services to place the child up for adoption.
Barone said he issued the order after Debbie B., 34, admitted under oath that she had not had contact with or sought contact with the 16-month-old baby, known as LaToya, for more than six months. He also dismissed the paternity claim of her legal husband, Nagash B., after Debbie B. swore under oath that he was not the father of LaToya.
The case attracted national attention in July 1988 when Barone ordered Debbie B. to surrender her baby at birth because he considered the newborn to be in "imminent danger of being abused or neglected."
Between 1977 and 1984, Debbie B., who has a diagnosed mental illness and a history of crack use, admitted abusing or neglecting four of her own children and two stepchildren, all of whom were placed in foster care. Custody of the seventh child was given to the father.
Barone gave Debbie B. a second chance to regain custody of the child, however, in August 1988 when she contested his order. He said she could regain custody if she met several conditions including submitting to routine drug screening and psychotherapy.
Andrew Vachss, the Manhattan attorney who represented LaToya, said the lesson of the case was that the "courts don't have to wait to protect children" in danger of abuse. "This was a preemptive strike. We were well aware of the consequences of leaving the child with this person. And she was spared that," Vachss said.
Jeffrey Salant, the Eastchester attorney who represented Debbie B., refused to comment yesterday.
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