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Woman May Lose Parental Rights

By Deborah Pines
Originally published in Gannett Westchester Newspapers,
Thursday, August 10, 1989

A woman who attracted national attention when a Westchester judge ordered her eighth child taken from her at birth because of the woman's history of neglect may have lost her last chance to regain the baby.

Westchester County attorneys filed a petition this week to terminate the parental rights of the mother, identified only as Debbie B., attorneys and court officials confirmed yesterday.

A hearing on the petition will occur in the next few months, said Judge Louis A. Barone of Westchester Family Court in White Plains.

In July 1988, Barone sparked controversy when he ordered Debbie B., 34, to surrender the baby, LaToya, at birth because he considered the newborn "in imminent danger of being abused or neglected."

Barone gave Debbie B. a second chance, however, when she contested his order. In August 1988, he said she could regain custody if she met several conditions, including submitting to routine drug screening and psychotherapy with a specialist in treating a diagnosed personality disorder.

Yesterday, Barone, attorneys for the County, and the attorney for the baby would not reveal the County's reasons for terminating parental rights now.

Andrew Vachss of Manhattan, LaToya's attorney, however, said the reasons are among those used in any termination case: mental illness, failure to plan for a child, abandonment, and serious or repeated abuse.

"This is a very important case because it establishes that you can prevent child abuse," Vachss said.

Debbie B.'s court-appointed attorney, Jeffrey Salant of Eastchester, said he is uncertain if Debbie B. wants to continue to fight to regain her child. He has not been in touch with her for several months and is not sure where she is, he said.

In a court hearing in October, county attorneys reported that she had been removed from a White Plains residential program for homeless women and deemed tough to treat by officials from the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in White Plains.

Salant said he is not surprised by the County's move to terminate Debbie B.'s parental rights now—the earliest law permits—a year after LaToya's placement in foster care. He called the second chance Barone gave her a "charade."

"They would have done it no matter what she did this year," he said.

In ordering that the baby be surrendered at birth, Barone noted that between 1977 and 1984, Debbie B. admitted abusing or neglecting four of her own children and two stepchildren, who were all surrendered to foster care. Her seventh child went to the baby's father. "When LaToya was born, she tested positive for cocaine," Vachss said.

Although Debbie B.'s plans are unclear, attorneys for the New York Civil Liberties Union continue to press an appeal of Barone's original order that she surrender the baby at birth.

The attorneys claim the order was improper because it took action to protect a fetus which, by law, is not a person.

LaToya spent the past year in one foster home in Westchester, said Norman Shaw, a spokesman for the Westchester Department of Social Services.

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