USA Today Helps Expose AT Underground Trafficking of Unwanted Children

Date: 2006-01-20

USA Today Helps Expose AT Underground Trafficking of Unwanted Children

Mega-Families in Ohio and Tennessee

USA Today published three stories on Wednesday, 18 January 2006, that have drawn the nation’s attention to Attachment Therapy’s (AT’s) relatively unnoticed underground trafficking of children.

The cover story by Wendy Koch (“Underground network moves children from home to home”) focused on the bizarre and extra-legal means employed by a couple in rural western Tennessee to acquire 18 children whom they subjected to brutal AT Parenting techniques (a/k/a Nancy Thomas Parenting).

The reporter also had two other related stories — one linking eleven caged children in Ohio to Attachment Therapy (“Enclosed beds cause controversy”), and the other relating the failure of states to meet federal adoption standards (“No state fully compliant with child-welfare standards”).

Tom and Debra Schmitz of Trenton, TN — the focus of the USA Today cover story — will appear in court January 30th to face 56 criminal counts of child abuse, neglect, and trafficking. As reported by AT News when the story first broke in 2004, Debra Schmitz reportedly kept children in a cage, locked some in unlit cellar rooms, inappropriately medicated children, provided inadequate nutrition, put older children into diapers, required long hours of sitting on the floor facing a wall, cut girls’ hair very short against their will, and sensationally forced a few to “dig their own graves” (where reportedly they were threatened to be buried, and “no one would care”).

Debra Schmitz admits to Koch that she was part of an internet-based network of other parents that 80-90% revolved around AT. She denies that her network is engaged in child-swapping or child-trafficking, but the reporting in USA Today and other papers strongly suggest otherwise. One report is that the Schmitzes “secretively” handed off one of their children at an Illinois truck stop. One of the criminal charges is that they gave away a child to another family in Arizona.

As always, money seems to be a big factor in these cases. Koch reports that by the time the children were removed, the Schmitzes were bringing in over $9,000 a month (or over $100,000 per year) in state aid and subsidies. In Ohio, the Gravelles were getting $47,000 a year in subsidies for their children, plus their Attachment Therapist had charged the state $107,000 over a 30-month period.

As he often does in high-profile cases such as these, Attachment Therapist Ronald Federici has popped up, and in Koch’s story, supports the Schmitzes. Koch reports that Federici “evaluated” the children for the defense and declared most of them as having “severe brain damage or psychiatric disorders that make them inappropriate court witnesses.” He also claims the Schmitzes are innocent of the charges against them.

In a disturbing turn of events — not reported by USA Today or anyone else to our knowledge — the home-care nurses who blew the whistle on the Schmitzes in the first place are being sued by the state-appointed guardian for the children. He claims the nurses failed to report the abuses in the Schmitz home in a timely fashion. The nurses say they reported the first instance of actual physical abuse that came to their notice, which was told to them by one of the children.


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