Couple charged with abusing adopted children

Date: 1999-03-14

Couple charged with abusing adopted children

Sunday, March 14, 1999
By Carla Crowder
News Staff Writer

BRUSH -- David and Marie Reeder worried about the little girl long before police and child-welfare workers knocked on the door at 520 Carson St. in Brush.

The couple had spent six months and $20,000 trying to persuade Arapahoe County to let them adopt the girl.

She's not safe at the home on Carson Street, they had told Judge Kenneth Stuart and the army of social workers bent on placing the child with the Brush family.

The Reeders lost the court fight and the little girl who had been their foster daughter in 1996.

Last week they got a jolting update on her life since then.

Now 3, the girl and her siblings were hustled out of their adoptive home in Brush amid allegations of abuse. The four children were gaunt, bloated with malnutrition and shaking. The oldest boy, 9, had to be hospitalized for more than a week.

Three of the four told police of being beaten with boards, locked in a basement without food and doused with cold water as punishment.

The adoptive parents, Roberto "Butch" Acosta, 48, and Shirley Carroll Acosta, 45, face felony child-abuse charges in Morgan County.

"It was known long ago that they shouldn't have been placed there," Marie Reeder said. "This is our worst nightmare of what would happen."

The Reeders' story is one of a frustrating battle with social workers and county bureaucracies. These agencies have complete control over the most fragile lives -- babies born with cocaine and alcohol running through their veins, abused and abandoned kids, disabled foster children.

The Reeders live in rural El Paso County. He's a phone-systems manager for Lucent Technologies. She home-schools their five children, including an adopted son.

In 1995 they were licensed foster parents living in Douglas County. An infant girl born to a drug-addicted mother needed a foster home.

"We got her when she was 24 hours old," Marie Reeder said. "We've got her baby pictures, her tag that was on her at University Hospital."

The baby had three siblings -- a sister just under a year old, a brother 2 years old and a brother 10 or 11. He was living in a group home in Brush.

Social workers placed the 1-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother with the Acostas in Brush, partly so they would be close to the oldest boy. He never lived with the Acostas.

The Acostas initially took the 1-year-old and 2-year-old in as foster children. But their mother's condition deteriorated and she ran into trouble with the law and made little effort to get her children back, according to court records. The Acostas adopted them. They joined another adopted son, who is now 9. He suffered the worst abuse, police say.

The Arapahoe County Department of Social Services was the main agency overseeing the children because their birth mother lived in Arapahoe County.

Meanwhile, the youngest girl learned to walk and talk in the Reeders' home. They made a videotape of her first birthday party and planned to adopt her as soon as Arapahoe County cut off ties with the birth mother.

Social workers occasionally took the baby to visit her siblings at the Acostas' home.

The Reeders worried about whether she was safe there.

Once, "she came home so sick our pediatrician wanted to put her in the hospital," Marie Reeder said.

Repeatedly, the baby was returned dehydrated and with severe diaper rash, they said.

The little girl was ready to be adopted in mid-1996. Both families wanted her. Arapahoe County Social Services decided to place her with the Acostas.

"We never understood why they pushed the Acostas so hard, why they wanted them to adopt all these kids," Marie Reeder said. "Arapahoe County said, 'We're just so proud of what the Acostas have done."'

The Reeders went to court.

A cardboard box filled with records of the court battle is locked in the shed outside their home. It includes records of an investigation into both homes conducted by Denver psychologist Carol Marfut.

Marfut repeatedly described incidents in which Carroll Acosta used bad judgment and poor parenting skills.

The psychologist doubted that Carroll Acosta could handle the adoptive children without help from her older biological children.

Another psychologist recommended that the Acostas adopt the little girl.

According to court records, social workers preferred the Acostas for two reasons: The child's brother and sister were there, and experts consider it better for foster children and adopted children to stay with their siblings.

Also, the children are black, and social workers wanted a "culturally diverse" setting.

The Acostas were considered more "multiracial" because she is American Indian and he is Hispanic.

Marie Reeder is half-Hispanic, as is their adopted son. David Reeder is Anglo, and all their biological children are fair-skinned.

In court, the Reeders argued that the little girl would get a better education and have greater cultural opportunities with them. Their children are skilled with computers and active in clubs and hobbies, they said.

But the judge decided to place the girl with the Acostas. The decision was a victory for Arapahoe County. At the time.

"Whatever their agenda was, they made a decision early on with very little investigation," David Reeder said. "All those people who didn't believe us along the way, I hope they are feeling bad now."

The Reeders say the Acostas were paid monthly subsidies to take care of the adopted children. Subsidized adoption is common, with parents typically getting $350 a month per child, more if the child is disabled.

Arapahoe County Social Services director Brian Field has refused to discuss the case, citing confidentiality rules designed to protect children. The Acostas also have declined to comment.

The Reeders say they would love to get this little girl back.

They've called Morgan County Social Services, which took custody of all four of the Acostas' adopted children after the arrest. Once again, confidentiality laws forbid officials there from giving any information about the children.

"She was our daughter. She was our daughter. We could be the chance for her to be restored to a normal life," Marie Reeder said.

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