Starving children got medical care before adoptions

Date: 2003-11-13

Starving children got medical care before adoptions

Treatment ended with child's adoption

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Bruce Jackson, the emaciated 19-year-old whose discovery touched off a new scandal for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, developed a serious eating disorder as a baby -- long before he came into the child welfare system.

By the age of 2, according to confidential DYFS records in the case, he regularly gorged on food and vomited it. A few years later, he consumed an entire bottle of Scotch and his grandmother's blood pressure pills.

Once he was removed from his birth family and placed with foster parents Vanessa and Raymond Jackson, he got plenty of help -- at first. A psychiatrist examined him, pronounced him a grunting "feral child" preoccupied with food and commenced weekly treatment.

But once the Jacksons adopted Bruce -- on June 24, 1996 -- there is no record of continuing medical treatment. The pattern is the same with his three adopted brothers, the file shows.

This new information reveals Bruce Jackson's early childhood was more disturbing than what has already been reported. In some ways it corroborates the contention of his adoptive parents that he came to them with serious problems. But it does not document that Bruce received consistent medical care from the Jacksons.

Last month, Bruce, now 19 and weighing 45 pounds, came to public attention while raiding a neighbor's garbage can at night.

Authorities entered the Jacksons' Collingswood home and said three younger adoptive brothers were also drastically undersized and starving. DYFS pulled the children out of the home, and Camden County authorities jailed the parents.

State authorities are now investigating DYFS' role in the case. They say each of the four brothers, in new environments, has been steadily gaining weight.

The records, obtained by The Star-Ledger, provide only a peek into the boys' life. They are not their case files, which remained sealed, but rather a summary of information gathered by DYFS investigators. They are studying the agency's role in the case.

DYFS' Southern Adoption Resource Center supervised the Jacksons' adoption of Bruce and his brothers, between 1991 and 1997. They certified the Jacksons' home in Collingswood as safe and loving at that time -- and again this past summer, when the couple planned yet another adoption.

Like Bruce, his younger brothers received medical attention as foster children. Two of the three arrived with serious problems.

But once they were adopted, medical support appears also to have been withdrawn.

Keith Jackson, now 14, came to the Jacksons' home as a 6-year-old with no "noteworthy" health problems. Oddly, by the time he was adopted a year later, a caseworker said Keith had begun taking food out of trash cans. Last month, when the boys' plight surfaced, the 14-year-old weighed 40 pounds.

Tyrone Jackson, now 10, arrived in the Jacksons' home as a little boy making progress after a rough start in life. Born prematurely to a drug-using mother, he was medically fragile for his first year, but he was improving by the time he came to the Jacksons.

However, a pediatric neurodevelopmentalist who examined him prior to his adoption said he was failing to thrive and might be suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome. The doctor recommended follow-up care, but the records do not document any after the adoption was finalized. Last month, Tyrone was found to weigh 28 pounds.

Michael Jackson, now 9, also had a difficult beginning. After the toddler was placed with the Jacksons, medical specialists determined he was developmentally delayed and "very" underweight. An endocrinologist, however, was optimistic and thought he would improve in foster care. As a foster child, Michael was evaluated by numerous specialists -- a pediatric dietitian, a neurologist and two endocrinologists -- but he appears not to have had medical treatment after he was adopted. Last month, Michael weighed 23 pounds.

The records document that DYFS workers paid the Jacksons many visits this summer, when they were on the verge of adopting yet another child, a girl. That child is in excellent health, like two other girls the couple adopted, authorities say.

The adoption workers did not fail to notice Bruce's miserable state. He "has an eating disorder and depression (and has) never developed fully physically or mentally from being bulimic his whole life," one wrote in her case notes.

But they did not see neglect. The workers' main concern relative to Bruce was that he get fingerprinted.

Under DYFS rules, everyone over 18 in a prospective foster or adoptive home must be fingerprinted as part of a background check.

The Jacksons were paid subsidies for caring for both foster and adoptive children. Last year, they received about $30,000, authorities say. Their children were also eligible for health care through Medicaid.

Since the Jackson case broke Oct. 10, DYFS officials have considered requiring adoptive parents to obtain annual medical exams for their children in order to collect subsidies.

Bruce Jackson's biological father is Bruce Roy, 48. He took over his son's care not long after the child was born; DYFS had removed him from his mother, Joanne Principal.

Located yesterday in Chester, Pa., where he is a warehouse worker, Roy disputed a portion of the DYFS record on his son.

At the age of 5, Bruce drank a bottle of Colt 45, not Scotch, he said. And, although Bruce's grandmother found her medicine bottle empty one day, there was no indicated the child actually ingested them, Roy said.

Roy said his son was "never" malnourished, but from the age of 6 months, he began "eating a lot and vomiting."

On six different occasions, Roy said, he took his son to the hospital for treatment of the problem. Doctors assessed the child, but never saw him vomit and told his father there was nothing they could do, Roy said.

The last time he saw Bruce, the boy was 7 years old. A teacher at his school spotted a bruise on his cheek and notified DYFS, Roy said.

The agency came and took the child away. But, the father said, he had never laid a hand on him.

Star-Ledger staff writer Judith Lucas contributed to this report.


Where did the dough go?

Where was $30,000 a year going, if it wasn't going towards food and medical bills?

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