Thursday, March 01, 2007

Collector families committing child abuse


Photograph of Michael and Sharen Gravelle from msnbc.com

"Collector families" is a term referring to adoptive (or foster) families who take in large numbers of hard-to-place children and receive financial subsidies.


Three questions to consider regarding large adoptive families:

1.) How large are they?
2.) How much individual attention are the children getting?
3.) Are the parents motivated by compassion, or financial gain?

How many is too many?
Licensed day cares and special education facilities have a strict staff-child ratio.

Shouldn't foster care and adoptions pay more attention to how many children are living in the household? Particularly for treatment foster care, medically fragile children or children with special needs?

-Illinois licensing rules rule out placing more than six children in a foster home.
-In Michigan, it is not uncommon for foster families to house eight children at a time.
-In Ohio, the limit was previously set at ten children, although the Gravelle case prompted recommendations for lowering that number.


I'm not knocking all large adoptive families. In fact, my friend Johanna has a large adoptive family of her own. However, I do encourage caution.

The best case scenario for adoptive placements are storylines worthy of a Hallmark movie. But, the worst case scenarios are the stuff that nightmares are made of…

1.) Michelle and Jeffery Reid have been operating an unlicensed foster care home in North Carolina for years. Officials say the couple misrepresented themselves as experts in treating specific emotional disorders and were getting large sums of money from various agencies. Despite their lack of qualifications, they have housed up to 15 special-needs children in their home at one time.

The Reids accomplished this deception by adopting out of state, in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Illinois and Colorado. Allegations of abuse were made in June 2003, April 2004, December 2005 and June 2006.

2.) Michael and Sharen Gravelle were allowed to adopt 11 children with a host of health and behavioral problems. They couldn't handle the number and needs of the children in their care, so they made them sleep in wooden cages without pillows or mattresses.

The Gravelles were unqualified to care for special needs children. In fact, Michael Gravelle previously lost custody of his biological daughter after allegations of sexual abuse. And yet, they were entrusted with 11 children, and paid at least $500 per month in adoption subsidies for each child.

3.) Elizabeth Hazelbaker, a widow living in Butler County, Ohio, had 11 kids living in her home. Six were adopted. Five were Butler County foster children, ranging in age from 1 to 16.

A private agency in Kettering had placed five additional children with Hazelbaker after her husband died in 2003. State records show that the agency's caseworkers didn't check to see if they were more than Hazelbaker could handle alone.

Hazelbaker became abusive after her husband's death. She taped or leashed younger children into their chairs and spit into children's mouths as punishment for being too loud. Children were forced to forage into the garbage because they weren't given enough food to eat.

4.) Mercury Liggins adopted seven children and continued to collect $3,584 a month for their care during the ten months after she had abandoned them in Nigeria.

Before adopting her seven Texas children, Mercury had also adopted two other children from a man she was married to from 1979 to 1990.

5.) Thomas and Debra Schmitz, of Trenton, Tennesseee had 18 children in their house at the time of their arrest - including children whom they had adopted, foster children and children unofficially transferred to their care by other foster/adoptive parents who "needed a break."

The Schmitz proported themselves to others as experts, but their method of disciplining the children in their care was abusive and bizarre. They ordered one girl to eat her own vomit, made another girl sleep naked on the floor, forced a young boy wear soiled diapers on his head, sat on one girl and urinated on her, and pushed a wheelchair-bound girl into a swimming pool.

Police found evidence that the couple had wired a warning system to alert them when visitors came up the driveway.

Apparently, child welfare workers made visits to the house over the years and reported nothing amiss. Which really makes you wonder about the common sense factor...

Sources:
Eleven children taken from home after abuse allegations. WKYC, Oct. 5, 2005.
Garcia, Carmen. Elon couple face charges in foster care fraud. WMFR News, March 4, 2007.
Hewitt, Bill. Safe haven or house of horror? People Weekly, Feb. 13, 2006, pg. 1000.
Langford, Terri. 'Y'all are going to Nigeria.' Houston Chronicle, January 7, 2007.
McCain, Tracey. Foster Parents charged with child abuse: Alamance County deputies say an Elon couple abused 14 foster kids. WFMY, March 1, 2007.
Sheila McLaughlin. Agency overlooked foster care dangers. Cincinnati Enquirer, Sept. 24, 2006.
Police charge foster parents with abuse: Couple allegedly did not have license to care for the disabled children. Times-News, Feb. 28, 2007.
Warren, Jay. Five Butler Co. children involved in foster care case. WCPO, Oct. 25, 2005.

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