Prosecutors questioned oversight of Schaibles in 2011

Posted: April 25, 2013

Prosecutors questioned in 2011 whether the city probation department could effectively monitor the medical needs of Herbert and Catherine Schaible's children - nearly two years before the faith-healing couple allowed a second child to die without a doctor's help, sources with detailed knowledge of the case said Tuesday.

The department initially classified the Schaibles as "low risk" after they were sentenced to 10 years' probation in February 2011 for choosing prayer over medicine while their toddler son, Kent, was dying of bacterial pneumonia, the sources said.

Home visits are not conducted in families designated as low risk.

At a June 2011 hearing, prosecutors voiced concerns about the department's ability to enforce court-ordered oversight of the Schaible children's medical needs, given the lack of records to show whether the children had received physical examinations, the sources said.

After that hearing, the department classified the Schaible family as "high risk" and increased monitoring to include home visits. Probation officers visited the Schaible home in 2011 and 2012.

In March 2012, Herbert Schaible provided probation with medical records showing that he had taken the children to court-ordered exams at a district health center. The family did not have medical insurance.

On Thursday, the Schaibles called a Cottman Avenue funeral home and reported that their 8-month-old son, Brandon, had died.

At a probation violation hearing Monday, Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner said the couple made statements to police admitting they knowingly violated their probation in choosing not to bring the child to a doctor even after he showed signs of labored breathing for days.

Members of the First Century Gospel Church in Juniata Park, Herbert and Catherine Schaible believe medical care is a sin that shows a lack of faith in God.

Prosecutors said they were awaiting a medical examiner's report before deciding whether the couple would be charged.

Lerner did not jail the Schaibles since he felt the couple did not pose a risk of flight or harm to their seven other children, whom the city's child-welfare agency placed in foster homes after Brandon's death.

Each of the Schaible children had a physical examination in 2011 and 2012, Joseph Glackin, director of the city's Adult Probation and Parole Department, testified at the hearing, including Brandon, 10 days after he was born. But that was the infant's last trip to a doctor, Glackin said.

None of the probation records reviewed by the sources listed any future scheduled doctor visits for Brandon other than an annual checkup set for later this year.

At the 2011 sentencing, Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Engel Temin made medical care the priority of the Schaibles' probation.

"You are to consult a medical practitioner whenever a child exhibits signs of being sick," the judge said, "and you are to follow the medical practitioner's advice to the letter."

But even Catherine Schaible's own attorney expressed doubts that the parents would choose to call a doctor.

"I have some concerns personally about their ability within their faith or their willingness to proactively take their children to get medical attention," the lawyer, Mythri Jayaraman, said then.

Jayaraman recommended that the family be referred to the Department of Human Services. Temin denied the request, saying she could not order DHS intervention because the agency was not involved in the case.

Child-welfare experts said Tuesday that the judge had been mistaken and that it was within her power to demand that the Schaibles seek DHS assistance as part of their probation.

Then the children could have been monitored by trained social workers instead of overwhelmed adult probation officers.

"They are not trained for it - it's not probation's responsibility to monitor families for child medical neglect," said Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice.

Gelles worried that Temin underestimated the risk.

"It took a lot of suffering for that first baby to die," he said. "You have to ask what kind of parent lets that happen and what does that say of their parenting abilities."

Using the "weakest form of surveillance - probation - and for a very short period of time" was not enough in this case, Gelles said. "You have to have trained eyes on the family."

Herbert Schaible complied with his probation by reporting to his probation officer in person four times in the last two years. He also called his probation officer four times, according to sources.

Temin, who has retired from the bench, was traveling Tuesday and not available to comment.

Glackin and Robert Malvestuto, chief probation officer with adult probation, declined to comment Tuesday.

DHS social workers visited the Schaible home the day after 2-year-old Kent died in 2009.

But the agency closed the case five days after the toddler's death due to a state law preventing intervention based solely on a family's religious beliefs.

Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law includes an exemption for parents who neglect children's medical needs because of religious beliefs.

Rita Swan of Children's Health Care, a national group that lobbies against religious exemptions in child-abuse cases, said the Schaible siblings are the third set to die in Pennsylvania because of neglect by faith-healing parents.

Swan has compiled a list of 28 children in Pennsylvania who died of faith-healing neglect since the 1970s.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is drafting bills to amend the Child Protective Services Law at the urging of advocates and a state task force, but none includes changes to the religious exemption, said Cathleen Palm of the Pennsylvania Protect Our Children Committee.

Now, perhaps a conversation will begin, she said.

Contact Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or, or @MikeNewall on Twitter.

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