Lawyer: Girl's life was at risk

Date: 2004-06-22
Source: sptimes.com

Though DCF workers visited the home where the 10-year-old lived with "nonrelative caregivers," she was malnourished.

ROBERT KING, DUANE BOURNE and CURTIS KRUEGER

BROOKSVILLE - A Department of Children and Families attorney told a judge Monday that a malnourished 10-year-old girl was "at risk of imminent death," even as the agency said case workers routinely visited her home over the past four years.

The girl weighed 29 pounds - as much as 60 pounds below normal for her age - when the agency pulled her from a Hernando County home last month after an abuse complaint. Authorities said she had sunken eyes, hollow cheeks and skin draped over her ribs.

Her caregivers, 46-year-old Arthur Allain Jr. and his wife, Lori Allain, 47, each were charged Friday with aggravated child abuse and child neglect before being released on $10,000 bail.

She and her half-brother, 14, had been living with "nonrelative caregivers," the couple and their four biological sons.

The Allains say the girl was malnourished when the state turned her over to them four years ago and that her claims of mistreatment are lies.

On Monday, the Allains squared off in court against DCF over the status of their four biological sons, ranging in age from 10 to 15 years old.

Since Saturday, the boys had been in the care of their adult sister, Kristen Staab of Spring Hill.

But Lori and Arthur Allain - along with their sons - all have been living with Staab since May 12 because their own home is being remodeled.

DCF attorney Michael Hopkins asked the judge to tell the parents to leave Staab's home.

He and child protective investigator Hannah Hessler said the four boys might have been subjected to emotional abuse by witnessing the treatment of the 10-year-old.

Hopkins said that "longstanding malnutrition put the child at risk of imminent death."

The average 10-year-old girl in the United States weighs 87.9 pounds, according to the National Center for Health Statistics in 2002.

The girl, whom the Allains say they have been homeschooling the past two years, told investigators she had been locked in her room and was given a paintbucket to go to the bathroom.

She said she was given only spoonfuls of food and whatever her half-brother would sneak to her.

The Allains say the girl had plenty to eat. They say the spoonfuls were large serving spoons of meat, vegetables and other dishes.

In fact, they say, the girl didn't know how to stop eating and would vomit from overeating, an effect of the deprivation she suffered in foster care before she came their way. She welcomed the double-key lock, the Allains say, because her brother kept making mysterious visits to her room at night and threatened to kill her if she talked.

In his ruling Monday, Hernando County Judge Peyton Hyslop upheld a circuit judge's Saturday decision to allow the Allains and the boys to remain with Staab.

However, Staab retains supervisory control of the boys and a home study must be completed to show there are no problems.

Court documents show the Allains took in the girl and her half brother on June 2, 2000, because of abuse allegations made against the children's biological mother, Sonya Karlovsky.

Arthur Allain said Karlovsky's brother had worked for him as a concrete finisher. Allain is now a truck driver; his wife is disabled.

The Allains took in the children with DCF approval, but they were not licensed foster parents.

Instead their "nonrelative caregiver" status meant they agreed to give the children a home, even though they did not receive the monthly payments the state gives to licensed foster parents.

State law requires caseworkers to visit such homes once a month to check on the health and safety of the children. Eventually, the visits can be stopped if a court decides to make the placement a long-term one.

"If a court decides that long-term nonrelative placement is in the best interest of the child, then oftentimes the case is closed and supervision is discontinued," said Renea Marcano, spokeswoman for DCF District 13, which also includes Citrus, Sumter, Lake and Marion counties.

The Allains say the state closed the girl's case in December 2002, which means caseworkers would not have been required to make regular visits to check on her.

But caseworkers continued to visit the home in northwestern Hernando County to check on the girl's half-brother, who still had an open case, except for an 18-month period when the boy was in juvenile facilities.

Caseworkers last visited the teen on March 18, and the girl was there at the time, Lori Allain said.

Whether caseworkers actually saw the child is still unclear. Marcano said state confidentiality laws prevented her from discussing specifics of this case, "but we take the allegations very seriously and will take the appropriate action."

The case prompted state Rep. Dave Russell of Brooksville on Monday to voice his concern with a letter to DCF Secretary Jerry Regier. Russell said he is confident the department will conduct a thorough investigation but said he was "appalled at the circumstances reported so far."

"My main concern," Russell wrote, "is that this child was already under the department's supervision, yet apparently was not being fed."

- Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.

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