POTTSVILLE, Pa. – A Pennsylvania mother whose 22-month-old son was kept in a cage by his father said Friday that local child welfare officials had previously seen the enclosure and approved of it.
Tiffany George said the makeshift wooden pen was meant to keep the toddler safe.
"They've seen the cage and had no problem with it," she said of Schuylkill County Children & Youth. "It's not that we wanted to lock our kids up and entrap them."
Lisa Stevens, the agency's executive director, declined to comment on George's claim, citing confidentiality rules. But she said in general, a homemade cage wouldn't be considered an appropriate place for a child.
George spoke to The Associated Press two days after the biological father of two of her three children, Cecil Eugene Kutz, was arrested on child endangerment charges.
Police said Kutz left the toddler home alone with his two younger siblings on Wednesday — including a newborn sister — while George was in the hospital suffering complications from childbirth.
"He never did anything like this before," said George, 26. "I'm getting more and more angry by the day. ... I trusted my kids' dad to take care of our children."
George had given birth at the home Tuesday night. Kutz called an ambulance for her the next morning after she suffered heavy bleeding. Medical staff called child welfare officials, who tipped state police.
Troopers went to the home Wednesday afternoon, forced their way inside and found the newborn in a baby seat, a 1-year-old boy in a playpen and the toddler locked inside a makeshift enclosure made of plywood and wooden lattice. They arrested Kutz when he arrived 40 minutes later.
Police said Kutz told them he had left the children to visit his wife in the hospital, but George said he never showed. She said she has no idea where he went.
"What was so important? The hospital knows he wasn't there. I know he wasn't there. He tried to say he was coming to see me, but I don't think he was. Where could he have been?" she said.
"He was supposed to be right behind me in the ambulance."
Kutz, a mechanic who operates a garage next to the home about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia, remained jailed Friday. Court records didn't list an attorney who could speak on his behalf. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for next week.
The newborn was taken to a hospital for evaluation. The boys were placed in the custody of child welfare authorities.
"Because of him, I just lost all of my kids," George said. "It hurts. It hurts."
But she doesn't blame the child welfare agency.
"I understand why they did what they did. That's what I would want for anybody else's child," she said. "I would want their family to be investigated as well."
George sat on the front porch of the home, situated along a busy street where motorists occasionally slow down, honk and yell at her. She said people are calling her a bad mother online.
"I shouldn't have to suffer for a mistake someone else made," she said. "Everyone is so judgmental."