Family says hearings are late, documents have inaccuracies

Jan. 09, 2014 @ 09:08 PM

A Henderson man whose five children were taken into foster care programs by Vance County Social Services is high on the list of priorities for an advocacy group to help connect to federal interventions on his behalf.

Jeremy Bess with the Justice for All Coalition based in Union County said numerous federal laws have been violated against Robert Orr Jr., who has been struggling for four months to get his children, ages 3 to 10, home.

According to court documents Orr presented to Bess, his case has not had a required seven-day hearing and has passed the 90-day mark for a 90-day hearing to establish probable cause for holding the children in foster care.

“Federal laws have been violated over and over again in his case,” Bess said.

Antonia Pedroza, the director of Vance County Social Services, denies any wrongdoing on the part of her department. However, she said she could not comment regarding any named case.

Orr said his case file contains private information on other social services clients, including personal medical information, mistakenly included in his file. He worries that some of his information may be “out there” in case files of other families and children.

“I don’t even know if what I did to get my kids back was what I was actually supposed to do,” Orr said. “I have one thing on here saying I am deceased. It just blows my mind.”

In the allegations, Orr is accused of not providing shoes for his children, a daughter has blistered feet, his children were dirty from lack of care, his children were not clothed well and their home was infested with roaches.

Orr documented responses to each allegation, indicating shoes and school uniforms for all his children. Orr asserts school administrators back his claim to proper care, hygiene, uniforms and readiness for school, according to documents he shared with Bess and that he allowed to be viewed by The Dispatch.

According to Orr, mistaken handling of his case included an adult strength prescription drug for one of his children that social workers said must be administered or else he would be in violation of proper standards of care.

“That is when he started having problems and when he started kicking holes in the girls’ wall,” Orr said. “I felt that he was being over-medicated wrongly.”

Orr said he received help from a hospital that agreed a mistake had been made.

But the holes in the wall became an issue with a social worker, too, Orr added, and exaggerated as if they were as large as people.

Orr said he made arrangements for repairs of the sheetrock damage, repaired a wobbly banister and had an exterminator ensure his home pest-free. Orr said bugs seen by social services were from recently purchased antique furniture.

Orr said the most frustrating thing, after four months that included parenting classes completed months ago, is that he can’t even get a word with a judge during a proper, required seven-day review.

His case was scheduled for a hearing this week in family domestic court, and on Wednesday it was again delayed.

Shortly before Orr’s name would be called, next on the docket list, DSS Attorney Caroline Burnette made a motion for remaining domestic court cases to be closed to the public.

Judge Henry Banks ordered the closure, maintaining to The Dispatch inquiry on justification that all matters would be closed upon the DSS assertion that information on juvenile records could be made public.

Banks declined comment on the Orr case, and the courtroom was cleared by his order.

Orr said Burnette agreed to extend his weekly visitation with his children from one hour on Thursdays to two hours for the next two weeks.

Orr’s court-appointed attorney, Jerry Stainback, said he must abide by statutory provisions for continuing hearings, even though the goal had been set at seven and 90 days.

“The seven-day hearing was what today was supposed to be,” Stainback said.

“This is a nightmare,” Orr said. “It is scary, and it could happen to anyone.”

“It’s unreal,” said Robert Orr Sr., his father. “Something needs to be done — now.”

Orr’s parents travel several hours to each hearing to support their son, making the trip, and typical daylong waits for the Orr case to be called, on four previous occasions.

Bess said cases like Orr’s are hurting children.

“We are here to help the children, that’s our cause,” Bess said. “We don’t want one child exploited. They are innocent. They have already been through enough already.”

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.