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Documents show DCS efforts to help Ft. Wayne family before children were killed

New details about a mother charged with murdering her two kids.

WSBT 22 is learning why Amber Pasztor lost custody of her children and didn't get them back.

According to documents from the Indiana Department of Child Services, Pasztor agreed to sign over her rights to her children, 7-year-old Liliana Hernandez and 6-year-old Rene Pasztor.

Documents say the children were placed in the custody of their grandparents with supervision of DCS.

This information comes from roughly 1,500 pages of documents obtained by WSBT 22.

In April 2015, documents say a report was filed with the Allen County Court identifying Rene and Liliana as Children in Need of Services, or CHINS.

With that, the court ordered that Amber Pasztor and the children take part in counseling and treatment services overseen by DCS.

"Every child welfare agency across the country has to first make all reasonable effort to re-unify that family," said James Wide, director of communications for the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Reports show DCS officials visited Rene and Liliana several times in 2016 through in-home visits and at DCS offices.

Documents say Amber Pasztor's father and step-mother had custody of the children.

Reports go on to say that Pasztor didn't comply with some of the orders made by the court in 2015 or 2016, including those to fulfill all of her therapy and treatments.

Court records show that a DCS official reported that Pasztor completed some of her mandated substance abuse evaluations and parenting skills services, but sometimes failed to complete drug tests mandated by DCS.

Reports say Pasztor was in and out of jail, didn't have a job and wasn't cooperating with case workers.

Court records also show Rene told DCS officials that he "had been left at home alone on two occasions while living with his mother, Amber Pasztor, in Texas."

Documents show DCS officials petitioned the court to keep Liliana and Rene in the care of their grandparents, under supervision of the agency.

"We really kind of move with the direction of the court but we really have to give the court all of the information we have so that the judge can make a sound decision on what's best for that child," Wide said.

Records show the day after the children were reported missing, family members told DCS officials that Pasztor broke down the door of her parents Fort Wayne home and stole the kids.

Rene and Liliana were then subjects of an Amber Alert.

Police say the two were later found dead in the car Pasztor was driving in Elkhart.

Autopsy results show the children died of asphyxiation.

In a report made by the Elkhart Police Department obtained through the Department of Child Services, officers say Pasztor admitted to police that she "smothered the children to prevent them from being murdered by the cartel."

Documents go on to say that Pasztor also told police that the cartel "was chasing her family and that they had already hacked the children's father to pieces and were going to kill her children next."

WSBT 22 also reached out to both public defenders who are representing Pasztor but have not heard back.

THE PROCESS

In a conversation Thursday, Wide explained the process in which DCS evaluates child abuse or neglect cases.

Wide says a report of abuse usually first comes through a centralized hotline. DCS will get the report and gather information. Family case managers will staff the case, then discusses it with an intake supervisor.

They send a recommendation to a local office who will assess that case.

Based on the facts case managers find when they do an assessment, officials will decide if they should petition the court to remove the child from the home for safety concerns or if the report is found unsubstantiated.

"It's on the department to petition the court and to provide the court with facts as to why we think the child is unsafe in their environment and we think we should have custody," Wide said.

Wide says the court can decide to give DCS custody of the child, or, decide to leave the child in the home if a judge feels the facts aren't strong enough to support the case.

"If a child needs to be removed from their primary location, we will first look to relatives to place them with," Wide said. "They're still in our custody and their relatives are fostering them in the temporary situation."

Wide says services are then provided for the family.

"Regardless of what that situation is that got us involved, we must make all reasonable efforts to reunify," he added.

CASE PLANS

"The children are safe, number one, so now it's our plans for unification," Wide said. "We're talking with mom, we're talking with dad and we're finding out everything we can about them; what kind of home do they have, what is their support like."

Wide says the agency also asks parents if there's something specific they want to achieve. He says the agency then sees what steps they need to take to make that happen.

Wide also acknowledged those plans can change based on progress and family needs.

PERMANENCY PLANS

"We don't want to be in a family or child's life forever," Wide says. "That's not our goal and that's not what we were designed to do."

Wide says family case managers work with families to come up with a "permanency plan"

That could detail where the child will permanently live and grow up.

"Will that be back with their biological parents, or will it be with relatives that adopted or a guardianship," Wide said. "That's always the goal, is where do we move these children to permanency."

THE NUMBERS

Wide says Indiana is "very conservative" when it comes to child safety.

He says the agency often petitions to remove the child if they feel the child is unsafe at home.

The agency also provides services to foster families.

According to numbers provided by DCS, the agency handled 23,289 Child in Need of Services or CHINS cases in February of this year.

That's the number of children that were in DCS custody.

Wide says helping children across the state takes a community effort.

"When we look at the entire child welfare system, it includes not just the Department of Child Services, but it also includes residents as being able to report dangers," Wide says. "It goes further to include school systems, the court system and prosecutors. We all have to look out for each other and that's the best way to minimize any incidents of abuse and neglect."

February 2017 Total CHINS

Statewide: 23,289

St. Joseph: 767

Elkhart: 362

February 2016 Total CHINS

Statewide: 20,267

St. Joseph: 617

Elkhart: 242

February 2015 Total CHINS

Statewide: 17,316

St. Joseph: 651

Elkhart: 231

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