Girl at Isaac's death in therapy

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Date: 2007-07-02

Girl at Isaac's death in therapy

Intensive program offers help as former adoptive mother faces sentencing

July 2, 2007
Jack Kresnak
Free Press

The troubled adolescent girl suspected by Detroit police of inflicting the blows that killed 2-year-old Isaac Lethbridge in a Detroit foster home faces an uncertain future as she recovers from the trauma she and other children endured in the chaotic home.

The now 13-year-old girl was placed May 3 in a specially designed foster home with intensive mental health treatment. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and takes two medications to control impulsive outbursts, according to the most recent court report from Vista Maria, a Dearborn Heights treatment agency for abused, neglected and delinquent girls.

After Isaac's death Aug. 16, the girl was placed in a Detroit foster home licensed through the state Department of Human Services. She had trouble at school, including three suspensions, and also was hospitalized briefly at Harbor Oaks, a children's psychiatric facility.

Her former adoptive mother, Charlsie Adams-Rogers, 60, will be sentenced today in Wayne County Circuit Court after being convicted last month of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse for failing to protect Isaac in her foster home. Adams-Rogers faces up to 15 years in prison.

A new effort

This spring, the girl was transferred to the special foster program operated jointly by Vista Maria and the Guidance Center, a Southgate human services agency noted for mental health services. The program was created three years ago to help older, emotionally disturbed foster children.

"What we're looking for is to stop the cycle of these children having five or six placements and get them back into some kind of permanency, either adoption or long-term foster care, or to get them back into their natural homes," Mike Lott, chief executive officer of the Guidance Center, said last week.

Lott could not discuss the girl's case because of state laws protecting her privacy. The Free Press is not publishing her name because of her age and the fact that she is in foster care. She has not been charged with any crime.

The girl, who was 12 when Isaac was killed, told police she threw him onto a mattress at least four times and he missed and hit the floor. But according to medical testimony at Adams-Rogers' trial, that could not have accounted for all of the injuries, which included second-degree burns, brain hemorrhaging, bruises and a broken collarbone.

There are no other witnesses old enough to say what happened to Isaac. Isaac's 4-year-old sister and a 1-year-old girl were also in the bedroom when the boy stopped breathing.

Little girl, big problems

The girl was 5 and considered emotionally disturbed when she was placed in Adams-Rogers' foster home in 2000. According to testimony and DHS reports, the girl was diagnosed then with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. She acted out sexually toward girls and women. She was hospitalized in 2003 and released with instructions to continue medication and therapy.

The medication and therapy stopped weeks before Isaac and his sister came to live with Adams-Rogers on June 29, 2006.

Adams-Rogers had adopted the girl in April 2006 along with her half-sister Leanthea Jones and the 1-year-old girl.

Jones, now 19, testified that neither her adoptive mother nor her sister abused anyone. However, Jones admitted she would lie to protect her sister and gave the trial's most memorable line: "What goes on in our house, stays in our house."

Other witnesses testified that the home was loud and chaotic, with people coming and going at all hours and smoking marijuana in front of the children.

'She needed help'

Jeanne Fowler, founder of Big Family of Michigan, an organization that works on behalf of foster children, testified that she met Adams-Rogers -- known to her as Paris Rogers -- and her adopted daughter when the girl was about 8.

"She was very childlike; she was whiny and needy," Fowler said of the girl. "Not only was she acting mentally impaired but acting very childish, younger than her 8 years."

But Fowler said people should not blame the girl for what happened to Isaac.

"She needed help. She needed a lot more than she was getting in that foster home," Fowler said. "She needed more than the state was giving her. And the state really failed this child and, as a result, another child died."

A juvenile court judge terminated Adams-Rogers' parental rights to the girl and her year-old adoptive sister in November.

That was about the time the 12-year-old girl exhibited some of her worst problems at school -- pinching a boy, dumping juice on the head of another student and kicking another child, according to court records. When a teacher asked her why, she answered, "Because."

Therapy and hope

In her new intensive foster home setting, she is never left home alone and attends school with trained assistants as needed. She also receives in-home therapy as often as three or four times a week, crisis management and psychiatric services through the Guidance Center.

The program's mental health services cost about $1,400 a month per child, far less than the $600 to $800 a day to care for a disturbed child in a residential facility or mental hospital, Lott said.

Foster parents in the program are paid $60 a day to care for one child, more than three times the normal rate.

About 120 children have been in the program so far. Ten have been adopted, which is the ultimate goal for the 13-year-old girl involved in Isaac's case.

Susan McParland, executive director of the Southfield-based Michigan Association for Children with Emotional Disorders, said there is hope for such children.

"I've been involved in many cases where lives have been turned around," McParland said Friday. "After all, we provide treatment in the hope that we can help children. You just can't give up on them."

Contact JACK KRESNAK at 313-223-4544 or jkresnak@freepress.com.

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