Abused kids could go to adopted sister

Date: 2005-02-13

St. Petersburg Times

The oldest adopted daughter of John and Linda Dollar wants a chance to see her seven brothers and sisters, and possibly help raise them, her attorneys said Saturday.

Attorneys have scheduled a hearing in Citrus County for Tuesday so that Shanda Rae Shelton of New Port Richey can seek the right to visit with the children that the adult Dollars are accused of starving and torturing. Shelton, 25, also will seek to become a "relative caregiver," which means she would act like a foster parent in raising one or more of the other children.

"This sister is tremendously upset after having been a victim herself and she wants visitation immediately," said Bill Grant, an Inverness attorney who said he is representing Shelton without charge, along with his colleague, Bo Samargya.

"She knows these children. She has changed their diapers, she has wiped their noses," Grant said. "This is a bond just like you and I have with our brothers and sisters."

Grant said his client is a married paraprofessional who has a young child "and makes a very decent living and lives a strong Christian life."

She has been trying to get the opportunity to visit with the other seven children, who were removed from John and Linda Dollars' custody on Jan. 27. But so far she has not received a definitive answer from the state Department of Children and Families, Grant said. He said he hopes to get one at Tuesday's hearing.

John and Linda Dollar, who were arrested in Utah on Feb. 4, face charges of aggravated child abuse and torture. Authorities say they used a cattle prod, a hammer, pliers, a vise and starvation to abuse the kids.

The children were homeschooled by the Dollars. On Saturday, the administrator of Tampa Educational Academy of Christian Heritage said in an e-mail that she had tested all seven children in April 2002 and noted their small size.

"The mother explained that they had been adopted and came from a family of small stature," Barbara Dunlop wrote.

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office said the children appear to have been starved - 14-year-old twins weighed just 36 and 38 pounds when removed from the Dollars' care last month.

Grant, the attorney, said Shelton would like to become a relative caregiver of at least one of the children and possibly more.

This is a recognized procedure in Florida's child welfare system. Relatives often step in to temporarily raise children who would otherwise go into foster care.

For example, if a mother with drug problems loses custody of her baby, her parents might step in as relative caregivers and raise the child themselves. This is supposed to be a temporary arrangement, until the child can either go back to the mother or on to a permanent adoptive home.

If Shelton seeks to become a relative caregiver, it's likely that judges or caseworkers would ask her questions about past abuse in her family, given the allegations of severe deprivation and torture that the children allegedly endured.

Caseworkers want to know not only whether caregivers will treat children well themselves, but whether they will prevent others from abusing the children. Grant said Shelton had left the Dollars' home about three years ago, meaning she lived as an adult in their house, along with the other children.

Asked to describe what sort of abuse Shelton had endured, Grant declined to answer, but said Shelton will hold a news conference Monday in Inverness. He also would not answer whether Shelton had ever contacted authorities to report the kinds of abuse the Dollars are accused of committing.

Basic economics also will be a factor in whether Shelton is able to take in her brothers or sisters, Grant said. She, her husband and young child currently live in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom home.

Samargya said a trust fund has been set up for the benefit of the Dollar children, which could be used for such expenses as housing, medical care, counseling or education. Grant said more than $10,000 has been raised, and said he and Samargya plan to appeal on national media outlets for contributions.

Joanne Bartell - whose husband, Gary, is a member of the Citrus County Commission - will serve as a trustee for the fund. Grant said the lawyers are not receiving any money for work in connection with the trust fund, which is called the Dollar Children Trust, and which is accepting donations at any SunTrust Bank branch.

Grant also said the trust fund will not be used for legal work to help Shelton become a relative caregiver.


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