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Adoptive Children Caged

September 14, 2005 permalink

We have an extensive comment on this story following its end. It comes from the website of the CBC, though because of a strike, maybe not from the normal CBC sources. The original is marked also "Canadian Press".



'Caged' kids from Ohio home well-dressed, well-fed, well-behaved: neighbours

01:35 AM EDT Sep 14

WAKEMAN, Ohio (AP) - Eleven children removed from an Ohio house where authorities said some of them slept in homemade cages are polite, well-behaved, well-dressed and appear to have been well-fed, neighbours and authorities said Tuesday.

Their adoptive parents, Michael Gravelle, 56, and Sharen Gravelle, 57, denied in a custody hearing Monday they abused or neglected the children, aged one to 14, who have conditions that include autism and fetal alcohol syndrome.

No charges had been filed as of Tuesday afternoon and messages left with the couple's lawyer were not immediately returned.

The Gravelles said a psychiatrist recommended they make the children sleep in the cages, Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler told the Norwalk Reflector newspaper. The parents said the children, including some who had mental disorders, needed to be protected from each other, a search warrant on file at Norwalk Municipal Court stated.

Leffler refused comment Tuesday at his office.

Neighbours said they often saw or heard the children playing and the family yard was littered with toys - plastic cars, tricycles, slides and an overturned skateboard near a wooden ramp. Seven bicycles were piled in a storage shed.

"Those kids were dressed better than some of the kids who live in Cleveland," said Jim Power, who lives across the street.

"They behaved like any other kids when they were outside playing."

At night, authorities said, eight of the children were confined in one-metre-tall wooden cages stacked in bedrooms on the second floor. The cages were painted in bright, primary colours, with some rigged with alarms that would send a signal to the downstairs when a cage door was opened. One cage had a dresser in front of it, county sheriff's Lieut. Randy Sommers said Tuesday.

"The sheriff and I stood there for a few minutes and just kind of stared at what we were seeing," Sommers said.

"We were speechless."

No one answered the Gravelles' door Tuesday and the grey, four-bedroom house was dark. A pig, roosters and other animals shared the yard outside Wakeman, a community of about 1,000 people, 80 kilometres west of Cleveland.

The children have been placed with four foster families and were doing well, said Erich Dumbeck, director of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services.

"We're still trying to figure out what happened in that home," Dumbeck said.

"We don't have any indication at this point that there was any abuse."

Sommers said a social worker investigating a complaint contacted authorities. Dumbeck would not discuss the complaint.

The search warrant said the cages had mats and the house smelled of urine. One boy said he slept in a cage for three years, Sommers said. A baby slept in a small bed and two girls used mattresses

Deputies said they were called to the home last year when a 12-year-old boy was upset and ran away for several hours. He was found not far away.

Although the family has lived in Huron County for 10 years, the children were adopted through other counties and states, Dumbeck said. He said his agency was trying to determine how the adoptions were completed.

"I don't believe there were any caseworkers checking in with this family," he said.

Reviews are ordered only when there is a complaint.

One of the children, a boy born with HIV, was adopted as an infant in 2001 through the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, the agency's director Jim McCafferty said. The Gravelles received a subsidy of at least $500 a month to care for him.

The private agencies who reviewed the couple's home life before the adoption gave them "glowing reports," McCafferty said.

Leah Hunter, who lives two houses away, said she often saw the children walking down the road.

"They looked OK. They hardly ever wore shoes but I'm a country girl and for me that's normal," she said.

Source: CBC

This may simply be a case of bad adoptive parents. But based on past experience, it could be an indication of other problems far deeper in the social services system than foster parents.

On October 10, 2003 Bruce Jackson, 19-year-old adopted son of Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, was found foraging for food in a neighbor's trash near his home in Collingswood New Jersey. Once the matter came to the attention of police, the appalling facts of the case came to light. Bruce, age 19, looked to the police like a seven-year-old. He stood four feet tall and weighed 45 pounds. The family had seven children, three girls and four boys. One of the girls was a foster child about to be adopted, the others were all adopted. While the girls appeared normal the boys were all emaciated. They were:

Michael 9 years23 pounds
Tyrone 10 years28 pounds
Keith 14 years40 pounds
Bruce 19 years45 pounds

The parents made the lame excuse that the boys suffered from eating disorders, though they had no explanation for why there was an epidemic in their family.

The police, the press, the local child protectors, the state prosecutor and the US Congress went to work on the case. The seven children were instantly removed from the Jackson home and placed in foster care. Newspaper stories appeared daily with shocking new revelations. Caseworkers had visited the home 38 times in two years without noticing the malnourishment. The family had kept the children in isolation by homeschooling. Bruce had bad teeth and remained hospitalized. Bruce, and possibly the other boys as well, had lost weight since his adoption in 1999. In foster care the children were fed properly and began to gain weight. The Jacksons had received a subsidy of $28,000 a year to care for the children.

But even at the outset, some things about the case did not add up. The initial reports described the family as homeschoolers, one of the bugaboos of the social services system. And there was the pastor, Harry Thomas. He had seen the family up close, and had only praise for the parental love given to the entire family. He stated his praise in the press, and in congressional hearings held shortly after the scandal broke.

The mystery unraveled a year later with the publication of an in-depth story by David France in New York Magazine. There is a rare eating disorder called rumination. Sufferers regurgitate their food and chew it again. Eating the same meal more than once is less nutritious than eating a new meal, leading to malnutrition. The regular presence of stomach acid in the mouth causes rotting of the teeth.

Remediating rumination requires expensive treatment. New Jersey DYFS decided not to provide the treatment, but to dump four of their cases on the Jacksons. The family was not sophisticated enough, or wealthy enough, to seek the required treatment, and the boys languished. When the scandal finally broke, the Jacksons became the scapegoats.

Now we have another case, this time in Ohio, of many adopted children all exposed to inexplicable abuse. This could be a case of genuine abuse in foster/adoptive homes. Depending on what numbers you look at, abuse in foster homes is three to ten times more prevalent than in natural families. But the neighbors say it was a happy family, and aside from cages, installed at the urging of a psychiatrist, everything seemed normal. The psychiatrist's advice makes some sense, because in foster care the main risk of child abuse is not foster parents, but other children.

So is this a malevolent family of child-abusers? Or a naïve family that follows doctor's orders uncritically? Or even a family being set up to take the blame for a scandal? We will be watching news reports for answers.

Annette M Hall has assembled a multi-media account of the case of Sharen and Mike Gravelle.

Addendum: The scapegoats are released after serving two years in jail.



Sharen Gravelle released from jail

Sharen Gravelle
Sharen Gravelle is let into the Huron County Jail Monday morning to begin serving her two-year prison sentence along with her estranged husband Michael Gravelle after being convicted of abusing their 11 adopted children.
Register file photo/LUKE WARK


After serving nearly two years in prison, Sharen Gravelle is free — and Michael Gravelle will be out soon, too.

The estranged pair convicted of child endangering and child abuse have served their scheduled sentences, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

Sharen Gravelle, 62, was admitted to prison April 7, 2009, and released Wednesday from the Northeast Pre-Release Center in Cleveland.

Michael Gravelle, 62, was admitted April 6, 2009, and is scheduled to be released Monday from the Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville.

Both will be on parole for the next three years.

Their releases mark the end of a criminal case that dragged on for more than five years, starting in 2005 when social workers removed the adopted and foster children from their home after an investigation.

The Gravelles kept some of the special needs children in alarmed enclosures and used cruel and unorthodox ways to discipline them, according to court records.

Sharen Gravelle testified that she and her husband built the enclosed beds to protect the children, so they didn't wander during the night.

Huron County Court of Common Pleas Judge Earl McGimpsey sentenced the Gravelles to two years in prison in 2007, after a jury convicted them on four felony charges of child endangering, two misdemeanor charges of child endangering and five misdemeanor charges of child abuse.

They were both acquitted on 17 other charges, according to court records. Their sentences were postponed during a series of appeals, but they ultimately lost.

Huron County prosecutor Russ Leffler said the judge apparently felt the Gravelles were "basically good people," but he disagrees.

"They should have gotten a lot longer (sentences)," Leffler said. "Some of the children are doing well, some not as well."

The Gravelles' attorney, Kenneth D. Myers, did not return a call seeking comment.

The children ranged from 1 to 14 years old when they were taken from the Gravelles' home near Wakeman.

At least two of the children are now suing the Gravelles. They're also seeking compensation from Hamilton County, Adopt America Network, their social workers and Fairhaven Counseling.

Last March, Huron County awarded a $1.2 million settlement to be split among the 11 children, depending on their needs and the severity of the abuse they suffered.

Source: Sandusky Register