Caged kids' case against Gravelles, social worker requires getting it right

Date: 2006-02-16

Portrayed in another light, Michael and Sharen Gravelle are monstrous figures: Operators of a child "kennel" where several of society's forgotten children were forced to sleep in cage-like enclosures while the Gravelles raked in thousands of dollars a month in government money for their care.

Now it will be up to the courts to decide which view prevails. The Gravelles have been indicted on an extensive menu of charges, including child endangering. The Wakeman-area couple faces the possibility of decades in prison if things don't go their way. Their private social worker, Elaine Thompson, also was charged in the case. She has testified she approved use of the cages, or enclosures as the Gravelles call them. The couple said the wood and chicken-wire structures were designed to help protect the children from harming themselves and one another.

Sharen Gravelle has condemned the case against them as a vendetta by county officials. Prosecutor Russell Leffler announced the charges just this week, five months after the children were removed from the Gravelle home by authorities. The couple denies abusing the children, and their lawyer vows they will put up a vigorous defense in court.

The case has rightly drawn worldwide attention, and the Gravelle's haven't been shy about using that media spotlight to defend their actions.

Apart from the charges against them, the Gravelles also face a court hearing next Wednesday in their attempt to retain custody of the children. Their supporters view the criminal charges as a move to hurt the couple's chances of getting the children back.

The future of 11 fragile children is at stake, as is the freedom of the Gravelles.

Also at stake could be the willingness of other people to adopt special needs children, and such childrens' prospects for a better life.

With such high stakes, everyone connected with the Gravelle's criminal case and the custody case will need to summon every bit of intelligence, wisdom and common sense to ensure that matters come to a just, fair and correct resolution.

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