Make sure reforms tied to 'caged kids' case will really work as intended

Date: 2007-02-17

That would be a shame, given what we've heard during their trial and then at their sentencing this week. Judge Earl McGimpsey allowed the Gravelles to remain free on bond, pending their expected appeal, otherwise they must go behind bars on April 2.

The Huron County couple, convicted of child endangering and child abuse in December, were accused of making several of their 11 adopted special needs children sleep in cages, where they also had to stay while being punished. They lost custody of the children earlier last year.

Here's what the eldest two of their former adoptive children had to say in statements read at the sentencing:

A former daughter: "They knew the cages were wrong because they made sure that we never told anyone. The day we were taken, Mom pulled me and my brother aside and said, 'who told?' ... I spent the most important years of my life being commanded like a dog being told when to eat, when to sleep, when to go to the bathroom, when to get a drink of water, when to work, etc.

"When we were adopted, the whole idea was supposed to be to have a better life. Then when we got to the Gravelles, we were cheated of that little bit of decency again."

A son: "I would like to see you get as much jail as you gave us in the box. ... I'm glad this day has come and I'll never have to hear your names again. I know what hate is and that is what I feel for you."

Contrast that with the Gravelles' pleas to the court for mercy:

Michael Gravelle: "I may be a person who made mistakes, but we've all made mistakes ... I do not deserve jail."

A weeping Sharen Gravelle: "In order to defend myself, I have to tell you about the broken children dumped in my life."

In other words, Michael Gravelle doesn't think he should be put in a cage for putting his children in cages. And didn't Sharen Gravelle ask to adopt all these children; how is it now she says they were "dumped" on her? The childrens' words make it clear they did not benefit from the Gravelles' notions of parenting.

Without excusing the Gravelles one bit, condemnation also goes to the bureaucratic system that allowed the Gravelles to accumulate so many special needs children and then failed to correct the problem for far too long.

We're still seething about Michael Dumbeck, head of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, who crowed last month, "I think, overall, the agency handled those things very well ... I feel that people handled the case superbly." That self-congratulation came after his Children Services unit was slammed by Gravelle case juror Nancy Whitacre who wrote to county commissioners saying, "Everyone I talked to on the jury, they all feel Children's Services failed." Whitacre wrote that the agency knew about the "cages with sirens" for two years before removing the children.

State lawmakers last year made changes to prevent an overwhelming number of adoptions by one couple. Locally, Dumbeck said some procedural corrections were made, but he did not feel that any of his staffers should be disciplined over the Gravelle case.

It has been nearly a year and a half since the "caged kids" were freed from their cages; now Michael and Sharen Gravelles face two years in state-owned prison "cages" unless an appeal is made and succeeds. There's an ironic justice in that.

Still, the well-being of such children remains a matter of concern, especially in Huron County. Will the state and local reforms prompted by the Gravelle case work as well as hoped? The matter requires close watching, and we intend to keep an eye on it.

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