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By Hope E. Tremblay, Staff Writer, The Sun (Holyoke); February 6-12, 2003:

A small gathering of people on High Street Feb. 3 carried signs claiming that the Department of Social Services is unfair.

The group was there to protest the practices of DSS and said that the organization is particularly unfair to fathers.

Pat Rivard, western Mass. events coordinator for the Fatherhood Coalition, said he's had personal experience with DSS that caused him to protest.

"There are six children without their father because of DSS," Rivard said, explaining that he was separated without just cause from his family by DSS and has no knowledge of their whereabouts.

"I was in full financial support of my family and took my kids out whenever I could. But they (DSS) don't want to hear that -- they tell men, 'You're all guilty' and they forced me out."

Rivard and others also protested the treatment of children in DSS- ordered foster care. "Seventy-four children have died in the past four years while in the care of the agency," Rivard said. "Children are taken from their homes and placed in danger."

According to Mike Gemelli, his three children have been in and out of foster care for several years and all have experienced some form of abuse.

"My son was in a foster home with a single mother who was found to have pot parties and allowed my son to smoke pot," Gemelli said. "And my daughter has always been a fussy eater and was in a home where she was forced to eat foods that made her sick."

Another child was in a home where the foster parents left his child and others with a female babysitter and her boyfriend who got drunk and tried to make the children drink also and then beat them up.

Gemelli was separated from his family after he called DSS to report that his wife was having sex with other men in their home in front of the children.

Gemelli said she has since been found to be a sexual predator. Yet, when he appeared in court to gain custody of his children, Gemelli, a movie make-up artist who shared some of his artistry with his former wife, was denied custody.

Gemelli said his wife showed the judge polaroids of their children with bruises on their bodies and claimed Gemelli beat them. He said she used his make-up to fake the bruises. He's been fighting for them ever since.

Gemelli's current wife, Laurie Martino-Gemelli, said she believes the problem is that DSS doesn't have the manpower to handle cases properly.

"DSS employees are overworked and underpaid. They ask the kids what will make them happy but don't find out what's best for their well-being," she said.

According to Mike Franco, State Co-Chair for the Fatherhood Coalition, the coalition mainly supports fathers and their rights, but also helps mothers who have been treated unfairly as well.

The coalition also supports others in their causes, including Chief (Holyoke Police Dept) Anthony R. Scott's concerns about judges.

"The Fatherhood Coalition has a multi-partisan background and we're very sensitive to the "arrest" and want police officers and judges to consider people's constitutional rights too."

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