Reports vary on abuse suspects

Date: 2004-06-24
Source: sptimes.com

A couple accused of abusing a foster child got glowing reports from one evaluator. Another called the home a health risk.

By ROBERT KING and CURTIS KRUEGER

BROOKSVILLE - By one account, the home of Arthur and Lori Allain was a safe environment, and the two troubled kids who landed there were "lucky" to be part of the family.

By another, the home was "unorganized and unkempt" and scattered debris posed a health risk. One expert said both children needed a more structured home.

In February 2002, as the Department of Children and Families sought a permanent home for two difficult children, evaluators came up with strikingly different conclusions about the Allains' home in northwest Hernando County.

The accounts, for the first time, provide insight into DCF's decision to place the children with the Allains. But the contrast between those accounts shows the challenges state workers faced as they sought a safe place for two abused and neglected children.

In the end, DCF decided to make the Allains the long-term caregivers for the children.

The boy ran away last month, and told authorities who found him a horrific tale of neglect and near starvation.

Authorities said the girl, 10, weighed 29 pounds when they found her. They say she was dehydrated, malnourished and at risk of death. Both children said the girl spent time locked in her room in the home, and that her brother, 14, would sneak food to her.

The Allains face charges of aggravated child abuse and child neglect. They deny the accusations and say the locks were needed to prevent the girl from binge-eating to the point of vomiting.

Hernando County Sheriff's investigators say that since the children were removed from the home, nurses have found no signs of an eating disorder, and that the girl has been gaining weight. They say there is no record of the girl seeing a doctor in the past two years, despite her deteriorating condition and dramatic weight loss.

That has led to questions about DCF's handling of the two children.

The evaluations of the home and children, done in the same week in February of 2002, provide few answers.

The evaluations were designed to gauge the children's mental and physical condition and to guide the juvenile court in deciding the children's placement.

But the conflicting assessments could be seen as support for leaving the children with the Allains, or removing them.

Where one evaluator saw a "wonderful, nurturing environment" at the Allains', the other saw a home that was "disorganized and a safety hazard."

One author, a licensed mental health counselor who evaluated the girl, was clearly impressed with the Allains.

Her assesment said the girl's behavior was "difficult for all her "family' to cope with at times. Especially the behaviors of urinating on the carpet and the bedding. The Allains are very committed to both of these children and they are very lucky to have the Allains."

That counselor also said the girl "is comfortable at the Allains' home. (She) knows that she is safe there and that all of her needs will be met.

"I believe that (she) knows that the Allains will not give up on her," the report said.

The report concluded that DCF "should work with the Allains to make it as easy as possible for them to be long-term caregivers" for the two children.

That report contrasts sharply with the assessment of an evaluator from the Marion-Citrus Mental Health Center.

That expert noted the Allains were, even two years ago, using a lock on a bedroom door to keep the boy from binge-eating. That concern was based partly on the absence of a window in the boy's room, giving him no escape route in the event of a fire.

The evaluator expressed concerns about Lori Allain's "questionable" disciplinary habits, including shaving the boy's head, refusing to wash his clothes and refusing to allow him to sit on the furniture when he had refused to bathe for days on end.

The evaluator suggested the boy, who in the past two years spent several months in a juvenile center, would be better off with caregivers equipped to handle his issues, such as aggression and antisocial behaviors.

In fact, the evaluator said, moving both children to a more suitable home would be "the best opportunity for (them) . . . to become successful adults."

The Allains agreed in 2000 to take both children, and those behaviors, because they had known their mother, whose parental rights were being terminated. Because the Allains were not licensed foster parents, they did not receive monthly payments from the state to help feed and clothe the children.

Both children exhibited the kinds of behaviors that make it difficult to find parents willing to adopt them.

The girl was considered a victim of abuse and neglect.

The boy, who was considered a victim of physical abuse and neglect, refused to bathe for days at a time, was said to lie to get what he wanted, steal when he felt like it and was "culturalized to believe that he does not have to follow rules."

"Those kinds of behaviors can make it difficult to place children," said Cecka Green, spokeswoman for Voices for Florida's Children, a Tallahassee child advocacy organization.

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