Judge To Decide Whether "Caged" Children Will Return To
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 6, 2005
NORWALK, OHIO--"They looked like a kennel."
That's how Jo Ellen Johnson, a social worker with Huron County Children and Family Services, described the home-made cages that Michael and Sharen Gravelle had built for some of their 11 adopted "special needs" children to sleep in.
Johnson was testifying Tuesday in a hearing that will determine whether the Wakeman, Ohio, couple can regain custody of the children, who have been in foster care since they were removed from the home on September 9.
"I saw wooden structures that had a solid wooden piece for a door, an alarm to left of the opening," Johnson said, describing the wire enclosures. "There was a small handle on it. They were piled one on top of another."
Johnson and a sheriff's deputy visited the home after receiving reports that the Gravelle children, ages 1 to 14, were being forced to stay in cages.
The Gravelles claim that they built the enclosures for the safety of the children, who have disabilities including autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, and pica, a condition in which the person eats non-food items. They point out that the cages did not have locks, but instead were fitted with alarms to alert them if the children got out at night.
According to the Associated Press, the Gravelles have not been charged with any crimes.
Judge Timothy Cardwell will decide whether the children were abused or neglected, as county officials have claimed, and whether the children should be returned to their home.
Initial reports claimed that an insurance agent reported the Gravelles to authorities in July of 2004 after visiting the home and seeing one child sleeping in a cubbyhole and another in a cage. That agent, Edward Clunk, testified Tuesday that he, in fact, did not report the couple because he did not believe there was any abuse going on.
"I've been in thousands of homes . . . This was something just a little bit out of the ordinary," Clunk said. "I thought it was very admirable for them to adopt children of that nature that nobody wanted."
Last month, new allegations surfaced that the couple forced one child to live in a bathroom for three months, only being allowed to leave the room during meals or to let other people use the toilet.
"County alleges couple made child live and sleep in bathroom" (Akron Beacon Journal)
"Caged Children Trial Still In Debate" (Associated Press via Ohio News Network)
"Developments in the caged children case" (Akron Beacon Journal)
"Social Worker Describes Kids' Cages As Kennel" (WEWS-TV)