State to probe starvation allegations

Date: 2005-01-02

Child advocate to probe circumstances of girl kept in restraints
Author: MARY JO PATTERSON; STAR-LEDGER STAFF

New Jersey's Child Advocate said he will open an investigation tomorrow into the background of an Ocean County couple who allegedly starved and kept under restraints a 5-year-old foster daughter they were planning to adopt.

The girl, whose name was not released, is in stable condition at Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune, said Lt. Robert Urie of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

She weighs only 21 pounds - a weight typical of a 1-year-old - and has bruises around her wrists and ankles consistent with having been restrained "for long periods of time," Urie said yesterday.

Her plight came to light as the result of an anonymous tip last week to the state Division of Youth and Family Services.

The child's foster parents, Cynthia and Ernest Davison of Beachwood, ages 48 and 51 respectively, were arrested Thursday on charges of aggravated assault and child endangerment. The Davisons, who were released on $300,000 bail, could not be reached yesterday.

Kevin Ryan, the state's child advocate, said he had read press reports about the case but did not yet know what social-service agencies were involved.

"I don't yet understand who's supervising the home," he said yesterday from Rhode Island, where he spent the holiday. "We're going to request all of the family's records from the Division of Youth and Family Services and any of its contract agencies that may have been involved."

Initial reports from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office said the little girl had been placed in the home in 2003 by Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey. However, a spokeswoman for the agency yesterday said that was not true.

Susan Arnold, vice president of Lutheran Social Ministries, said the agency had indeed placed two children with the Davisons and was "finalizing" the adoption of a third. But, she added, "We had no involvement" with the hospitalized girl.

Arnold said a "private attorney" had placed the child with the family. She declined to say whether adoption workers from her agency knew of the girl's existence or had noticed anything wrong. All adoption agencies are required to send social workers periodically into prospective parents' homes.

According to a report published in yesterday's editions of the Asbury Park Press, the Davisons have eight other children - five grown biological children and three adopted children. The three adopted children have disabilities, as does the foster child, the newspaper reported.

The account quoted extensively from the couple's minister, the Rev. Roger Brotherton, pastor of the Ocean Christian Community Church in Dover Township. He said the Davisons put the girl in restraints to keep her from hurting herself or the other children in the house.

The pastor said the Davisons told him the child had Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome. He characterized the Davisons as dedicated parents who wanted to love children other people found unlovable.

Brotherton could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Press also quoted neighbors as saying they had harbored suspicions for years about the Davisons, and that the children were home-schooled and rarely seen in public.

Elements of the Beachwood case resemble the 2003 case of Vanessa and Raymond Jackson of Collingswood.

The Jacksons, also middle-aged parents, were charged with aggravated assault after a neighbor found an adoptive son foraging for food in a neighbor's trash can. The 19-year-old weighed 45 pounds.

The Jacksons had adopted four boys, were in the process of adopting a fifth child and had five grown children of their own. They also home-schooled their children. After their arrest, their pastor became their chief spokesman and defender.

Raymond Jackson has since died. His wife is awaiting trial.

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