Officials Waited More Than A Year To Follow Up On Abuse
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 26, 2005
WAKEMAN, OHIO--It took more than a year for county officials to follow up on a tip that a family had forced some of their 11 adoptive children to sleep in wire cages, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has reported.
Huron County authorities removed the children -- described as "special needs" kids -- from the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle on September 9.
The week after the children were removed from the home, Family Services Director Erich Dumbeck said the county had no previous involvement with the family.
But Toledo insurance agent Ed Clunk told the Plain Dealer that he saw the wire enclosures when he visited the Gravelle home in June 2004. Clunk said he then telephoned the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services to alert them.
Last Saturday, County Prosecutor Russ Leffler confirmed Clunk's tip, but said he thought Clunk might have been mistaken about the date. Leffler added, however, that a home health care agency provided county social service officials with "substantial information" about the family back in 2003.
The claims did not come to light until after the Gravelles started negotiating with the county over the medical needs of the youngest child, who was being treated for a heart condition. E-mails show that county children's services workers had consulted with the Gravelles dozens of times over financial assistance they requested to cover the cost of caring for the one-year-old.
When Dumbeck was asked why he initially said the county had no involvement with the Gravelles, he said, "It depends on how you define involvement."
The children, ages 1 to 14, all of whom were either adopted by the Gravelles or in their care as foster parents, have disabilities and medical conditions including autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, HIV/AIDS, and pica, a condition in which the person tries to eat non-food items. The Gravelles had adopted the children through private agencies rather than through the county.
Police found the cages, which were built into walls with a wooden frame made of 2 x 4s and covered with thick rabbit-cage wire. Some of the cages had mats but no blankets or pillows. Some of the children reportedly said they had slept in the cages for several years.
The Gravelles have also been accused of trying to profit from having the children in their home because they receive government payments for their care.
On Sunday, the Gravelles took a Plain Dealer reporter and photographer on a tour of their home in an effort to defend themselves.
"We took kids that nobody else wanted," Michael said. "We're trying to help children. That's where our heart is."
The Gravelles are fighting to have custody restored and the children to be returned. A custody hearing has been set for December 6.
"My kids are all I care about," Sharen Gravelle sobbed. "My kids are my life. I want my kids back."
"Concerns over kids in cages not new" (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
"Report says county warned about kids" (Akron Beacon Journal)
"Couple criticized for caging' kids speak up for first time" (Cleveland Plain Dealer)