Adoption system called flawed

Date: 2005-11-10

Adoption system called flawed

Mark Puente
Plain Dealer Reporter

Ohio’s adoption system is so flawed that it cannot protect children from going to homes with too many children, unsafe conditions or parents who are accused child abusers, a report concluded Wednesday.

The Ohio Department of Job & Family Services outlined broad shortcomings after investigating a Huron County family accused of making adopted children sleep in cages.

Sixteen investigators examined more than 1,000 documents related to the 11 special-needs children adopted by Michael and Sharen Gravelle of rural Wakeman. The report found that:

Lack of oversight leaves public and private social service agencies tripping over one another, sometimes placing children in a home without checking with agencies that handled earlier adoptions in the same home.

Administrative rules are applied inconsistently in the adoption processes, from completion of a home study to the provision of post-placement services.

Statutory definitions of child abuse, neglect and dependency are vague and leave counties to decide on their own what cases need further investigation.

The Gravelles’ children were removed from their home Sept. 9 after a tip that some of the children had to sleep in homemade enclosures resembling cages.

Immediately afterward, Michael Gravelle’s estranged children claimed that he abused them as children. He was never charged with a crime, but the public wondered why adoption agencies never learned of the allegations.

The state does maintain a database of child abuse and neglect investigations, but public and private social service agencies are not allowed to access it.

The ODJFS report recommended that access be expanded. The report also recommends that a new home study be conducted before every adoption.

Currently, a home inspection is valid for six years and must be updated at least every two years. In the Gravelles’ case, adoption agencies sometimes relied on home studies done by other agencies.

Also, ODJFS wants to change Ohio law to require a large-family assessment whenever a family wants to adopt more than five children.

A custody hearing for the Gravelle children is scheduled Dec. 6. The parents have not been charged with a crime.

On Wednesday, however, a social worker who has counseled the Gravelles for five years said she expects to be indicted this month on charges of failing to report the children’s sleeping arrangements.

Social worker Elaine Thompson has seen the children in their home since 2003. For three years before that, the children visited her office in Elyria.

Thompson said she did not know about the beds until after the Gravelles built them.

“I did not suggest it or condone it,” she said.

She acknowledged that the beds don’t look good, but said that if the Gravelles were wealthier, people might have thought of the enclosures as a creative sleeping area.

“I understood what they were doing,” Thompson said. “It was a temporary solution” until the children could sleep safely on their own.

Thompson’s attorney, Marilu Laubenthal, said Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler told her Monday of his plans to seek charges against Thompson from a grand jury. Leffler did not return a reporter’s phone calls Wednesday.

Huron County has paid Thompson $107,000 since 2003 for her work with the Gravelles, auditor’s records show.

Thompson charged $110 per hour, which she called a standard rate for private social workers who have to pay their own taxes and insurance.

“It may sound like a lot, but it’s not,” she said. “The county never questioned it.”

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 440-934-0524

© 2006 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.


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