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Arrest of Pittsburgh-area mom accused of strangling child highlights major need in community

Allegheny County mom accused of strangling her child
Allegheny County mom accused of strangling her child 02:58

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A Sewickley mother is accused of strangling her child last week. 

Ohio Township Police responded to a home on Trailside Drive on Dec. 1 and found a child with strangulation marks on their neck. According to the police report, the child ran for help and found a neighbor.

Police say the mother, Michelle Duplaga, appeared intoxicated and admitted that she felt stressed because of her other child's "medical diagnosis."

According to the police report, investigators brought one child to safety but not her child with autism despite Duplaga's felony charge of strangulation, among other charges.

"As that individual is a non-functioning autistic. CYF stated there is no available resources to house this individual and that Duplaga must remain home with that juvenile until other arrangements could be made," the report stated. 

Kelly Cain, the director of the Autism Caring Center, told KDKA-TV's Meghan Schiller that this highlights a major need in our community.

"I'm by no way condoning what happened," Cain said. "I'm not surprised that there wasn't somewhere for that child to go."

Cain said the Autism Caring Center tries to bridge the holes in coverage in our community, serving as a place for parents to connect with other families and resources in the autism community.  As the mother to a child with autism herself, Cain said to her knowledge, there is nowhere for a nonverbal autistic child to go in emergencies, like what unfolded in Sewickley. 

"It's very serious and this kind of shines a light on that because when there's nobody that wants to help you take care of your child, there's nobody that wants to help you understand how to take care of your child," Cain said. 

KDKA Investigates reached out to Allegheny County's Children Youth and Families asking how it will ensure this nonverbal autistic child will stay safe and also for the policy on removing children from the home when a parent is accused of abuse.

CYF declined to comment on any specific case but said, "The department takes the welfare of all children, regardless of ability, very seriously. All staff make every effort to provide the necessary assistance during an investigation by the Office Children, Youth and Families, including ensuring that the appropriate assessments and arrangements are made when warranted. It also means taking extreme efforts, if necessary, in identifying a placement with kin or someone familiar with the family."

If you're a parent looking for help and resources, the Autism Caring Center provides training and helps parents advocate for their children, all free of charge. Click here for more.

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