State stings agency's handling of 'caged kids' case

Date: 2007-01-12

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

The state's review of the county agency's handling of the case involving 11 children adopted by Michael and Sharen Gravelle showed that the local agency did not conduct a timely response to a complaint in the summer of 2005, according to the evaluation completed almost a year ago.

The initial complaint was submitted in August, but the children weren't removed from the Gravelle home until September, according to testimony at the couple's criminal trial in Huron County Common Pleas Court. The Gravelles were convicted of misdemeanor and felony child endangering charges and misdemeanor child abuse charges and will be sentenced Feb. 12.

The county agency also did not have legally required documentation in the Gravelle case file that determined the need for the agency's response and did not refer a young child under age 3, who was abused, to the Help Me Grow program, as required by law, according to the report.

The report also showed the agency became involved with the Gravelles on Aug. 21, 1996, when they applied for an adoption placement and that in November 2000, March 2001 and August 2005, the agency conducted "child abuse and neglect assessments/investigations. There were also problems noted in those assessments such as not completing investigatory activities and lack of timely initial response.

Also mentioned in the report is that in 1999, children were placed in the Gravelle home before the Gravelles were certified as a foster home and the Huron County Jobs and Family Services was aware of this.

"Collectively, (the findings) were serious enough that we not only brought it to their attention, but we wanted documentation that they corrected them within a short time period. I would say they were serious enough to warrant that prompt action," said Dennis Evans, of Ohio Jobs and Family Services.

Yesterday, Huron County Jobs and Family Services Director Erich Dumbeck discussed the report with county commissioners. Dumbeck said he recognized "failures and inappropriate" actions made by the department throughout the case that spanned from 1996 to 2005, but he maintains the agency handled the situation well.

"I don't think I'd ever sit here and say we did a perfect job. Do I think we did a good job? Yes, I do," Dumbeck told commissioners.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services evaluated the involvement of Huron County Jobs and Family Services in November 2005, two months after the Gravelles' 11 adopted children were removed from their Clarksfield Township home, Dumbeck told the commissioners. The county agency removed the children in September 2005 when authorities said some of the children were sleeping in homemade enclosed beds they called "cages."

The state evaluation resulted in a report, and the corrections were immediately made and put in practice at the department in February 2006, Dumbeck said.

The agency met requirements concerning interviews with the adults in the home and each child after "accepting the referral as a report of suspected child abuse and neglect," stated the report.

The agency also met standards notifying the alleged perpetrators of the allegations made against them and notified law enforcement as required, the report stated.

Dumbeck and David Broehl, the administrator of Huron County Jobs and Family Services Children Services, were asked to attend the commission meeting by commissioners as they attempt to "look into" the department's involvement with the Gravelle case, according to Commissioner Gary Bauer.

The commissioners were asked to investigate the matter by a juror from the trial of the Gravelles, as well as a court advocate who represents the children.

The Huron County Jobs and Family Services officials also submitted a letter from Ron Hughes, a mental health professional from the Institute for Human Services, who commended Huron County Jobs and Family Services.

"In my limited contact with the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, I saw little evidence of worker irresponsibility, no evidence of malice and considerable evidence of systemic barriers to good practice, many of which were beyond the control of county government," wrote Hughes.

Hughes was contracted by Huron County Jobs and Family Services to evaluate some of the Gravelle children after their removal from the couple's home, and he also testified during court proceedings.

Carol Gibson, who introduced herself to the commissioners as a longtime friend of the Gravelles, confronted the Huron County Jobs and Family Services officials as to why the Gravelles were not given an opportunity to explain their use of certain methods of discipline. She also accused child investigator Jo Johnson of "lying" in a report that launched the investigation of the family in 2005.

"I don't agree that Jo Johnson lied. ... I have a lot of respect and trust in Jo Johnson," said Dumbeck.

The Gravelles' children remain in foster care as the juvenile court ruling taking away their parental rights in being appealed. The Juvenile Court ruled in March 2006 the couple's treatment of the children abusive and removed them from the Gravelles' custody.

0

Pound Pup Legacy