A psychologist who both evaluated and treated Ernst in seven sessions over the last few years said that Ernst is suffering from clinical depression and would need counseling once or twice a week for "possibly as long as two years."
However, the psychologist, Jerry Kear, who has offices in North Philadelphia and Dresher, said he would not consider Ernst "psychotic." Her mental stability was an issue for the agency - recently renamed the Department of Children, Youth and Families - in determining custody of her granddaughter.
Kear said that the granddaughter's removal was a "serious and significant loss" for Ernst and that it was likely she would suffer "post-traumatic" effects even though her granddaughter has been returned.
Ernst testified about her out-of-pocket expenses, saying she had spent more than $30,000 in her five-year battle to regain custody. That amount, she said, included $5,000 in legal fees, $7,500 for an "assistant" who helped her with typing and duplicating, $3,000 in additional secretarial services, $1,200 for private psychologists, and $10,000 in phone bills and other expenses.
Ernst also estimated she lost $50,000 in wages because she spent so much time on the case that she could hold down only a part-time phone solicitation job in the evenings.
Yesterday was the last day of testimony in the case. U.S. District Judge Norma L. Shapiro has said she expects to rule before Labor Day.
Custody of Ernst's granddaughter is still a matter before county and state courts. On April 26, Chester County Judge John P. MacElree 2d returned Ernst's granddaughter to her, although CYS retained legal custody. Ernst has cared for the girl since she was an infant.
The girl, whose name The Inquirer is withholding, had just turned 14 and she had been in foster or residential care for a little more than five years. In that time, she had been shuttled to eight placements and her grades had suffered, according to court documents.
The court case has centered on whether the agency had sufficient reason to remove the girl from her home and to keep her for five years.
Ernst has tried to portray an aggressive agency that, instead of helping the family, exacerbated problems.
Thomas Curran, an expert witness who testified for Ernst last week, labeled the case a "child welfare tragedy." He found fault with nearly every aspect of the case, from "impulsive, unprofessional and baseless social work intervention" to a subsequent "vendetta" against Ernst.
The defense has tried to show that all appropriate steps had been taken and that the agency's actions were not only within reasonable guidelines, but also that it would have been remiss in not acting. Also, the defense emphasized it was the courts that ordered the girl's placements.
However, two state investigators who testified for the defense admitted under questioning by Shapiro in the nonjury trial that they never evaluated the actions taken by CYS, only whether all the forms had been filled out and filed correctly.