Adoption system under fire in child's death

Relates to:
Date: 2003-01-26

Critics say agency at fault for allowing abusive couple to keep six kids

CINDY HORSWELL
Houston Chronicle

On Thursday, Edith and Brian Beebe will stand before a judge and be held responsible for the savage abuse - including one death - of six handicapped children they adopted.

But some critics believe workers with Children's Protective Services in Harris County should be standing beside the Beebes and be held accountable as well.

Edith Beebe has pleaded guilty to injuring the children and will face up to life in prison when she is sentenced. Her husband and her son from a previous marriage face 10 years for their roles in the crime.

The case has raised questions about the wisdom of the state's placement of so many disabled children with so many needs in one home. Critics also wonder why the agency waited until a child died before taking custody - despite five prior complaints of possible abuse from teachers, a neighbor and a restaurant customer.

"I can't imagine any kind of service leaving sick children in a place like that," said Gerrie Foster, who once lived next door to the Beebes in northeast Harris County.

She described the Beebes' brick home as being filthy and infested with rats and roaches.

The caseworker and her supervisor, who investigated a neglect complaint at the home, wanted to take custody of the children but were overruled by the department director, said Scott Batson, a former caseworker.

Protective Services spokeswoman Estella Olguin acknowledges some workers may have wanted to take custody, but noted the children were not admitting any abuse and doctors supported the parents.

Later, a review of the Beebe case found no policies were violated, she said.

The Beebes can be very convincing. They are soft-spoken and mild-mannered. They say they took the disabled children into their home because "God wanted them to fix throwaway kids that nobody else wanted."

Yet Edith Beebe later told her children that their brother - whom she had just beaten to death - was "burning in hell" and they could be next, according to caseworkers.

Eight-year-old Joseph Beebe's body was covered with bruises from a "shebet," the Hebrew word in the Bible for "rod," that she used to punish the children, officials said.

His death on March 17, 2000, was ruled a homicide caused by "battered child syndrome."

Officials learned four of the six children had been particularly singled out for abuse. They were often kept locked together in a small bedroom without bedding, furniture or toys for days at a time. They slept on a carpet stained with human waste.

"Some complain Protective Services does not do enough to help children," Olguin said. "Others say we are too intrusive. The law gives us access to children, but we need to have proof before we can act. We don't have the luxury of hindsight."

But Edith Beebe's attorney, Richard Burroughs, said the agency should have been put on trial for placing so many disabled children in one home.

Gary Bunyard, the attorney who represents Edith Beebe's son, Justin Martin, agreed.

"You're just asking for trouble," Bunyard said. "From the way I read the case files, once the first adoptions occurred, the Beebes were asked to take more. They would say, `We got this other one. Would you consider this one, too?' "

Martin has pleaded guilty to injuring the children, and Brian Beebe pleaded guilty to failure to protect.

Within a five-year span, beginning in 1991, the Beebes took six medically disabled children into their home.

Two came from a private adoption agency. Jonathan has spina bifida and a genetic disorder that makes him a dwarf. And Abigail is legally blind and wears a leg brace.

The remaining four came from Protective Services. They were triplets - Joseph, Jacob and Amy - born prematurely and abandoned by their drug-addicted mother at the hospital; and Jared, found emaciated and covered with feces and roaches in a crib during a drug raid.

All four suffered from cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Most of the adopted children were under age 2 when they first entered the Beebes' home, except the last one, Jared, who was 5.

"You usually don't let somebody adopt that many special-needs kids. I've never seen more than one or two adopted by the same family," Batson said. The former caseworker investigated Joseph's death before going to work as a foster- and adoptive-home recruiter for Lutheran Social Services.

In the past six years in Texas, families adopting six or more disabled children are rare. Only four of the 2,348 families adopting special-needs children from Protective Services took in that many, records show.

"But I don't think you should set a limit. We wouldn't want to arbitrarily keep a child from finding a home," said Olguin, noting none has reported any abuse like that caused by the Beebes.

Lori and Greg Anderson of Kingwood are an example of a family taking in at least six disabled children.

In fact, Lori, a former emergency medical technician who once trained foster and adoptive families in Kansas, and her husband, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, now have a dozen medically disabled children in their home.

Six are adopted, two are in the process of being adopted, three are their own children and one is a foster child.

"We began as foster parents. But after you put in the blood, sweat and tears to meet their needs and see improvement, bonding occurs. Then you can't imagine the thought of them leaving," she said.

She said raising such a diverse group with disabilities ranging from terminal illnesses to an associative disorder is challenging but not overwhelming.

"It can be done. But not everybody is cut out for it," she said. "You need to be flexible, open-minded and a problem solver in order to have the patience needed to deal with everything day to day. So what if our socks don't match? That's OK."

A key to her success, Anderson said, is taking advantage of any outside help. She receives assistance in her home from a housekeeper, a nurse, a social worker and teachers as well as occupational, physical and speech therapists.

"I would be alarmed if I saw a family like ours that started growing isolated like the Beebes," she said.

After finalizing her last adoption, Edith Beebe removed the children from public schools and began home-schooling them.

At the same time, the Beebes stopped taking advantage of the adoption resources such as overnight baby-sitting, in-home care, counseling and therapy, Olguin said.

Depelchin Children's Home, contracted to do the "home study" before the Beebes adopted four children from Protective Services, offers post-adoption services.

"But if a family wants to isolate themselves, we cannot lasso and drag them in," said Colleen Kitowski, Depelchin's adoption coordinator.

Depelchin's home studies of the Beebe household found no trouble before the adoptions were finalized. The Beebes also had to undergo 60 hours of training.

"We all feel bad about what happened," said Depelchin spokesman Ron McDaniel. "Everyone we talked to thought she did a wonderful job. Mrs. Beebe did a lot to hide everything."

Kitowski said the addition of each child can change the level of stress in a home, and workers try to make sure "the scales don't tip and send the home into chaos."

Yet she said a clinician can be fooled: "We have no truth Geiger counter."

But critics point out Depelchin and Protective Services knew three complaints of possible abuse had been filed against the Beebes before the adoption of the last child, Jared, was finalized.

Jared's first foster parent, Juanza Sanson of The Woodlands, could not believe the complaints did not stop the adoption.

"The Beebes had brought the triplets to my home once, and I didn't feel right about it," she said. "The children seemed too controlled, like zombies."

Olguin stressed none of the complaints was validated.

In the first complaint, a teacher reported seeing bruising on Jared and one of the triplets.

The second complaint involved a bruise on Jared's hip. The third questioned the children's need to be fed through tubes inserted into their stomachs. A customer at a McDonald's restaurant had reported that, despite the tube, Mrs. Beebe force-fed one of the children until he choked.

"Again, none of the children would tell us then that anything was happening," Olguin said.

At the same time, doctors examining the children called the Beebes "excellent parents" and said the bruising was consistent with the children falling because of their physical disabilities.

Doctors also contended the feeding tubes were necessary because the children had trouble swallowing, Olguin said.

But Batson, the former caseworker, pointed out the triplets did not need feeding tubes when they first came to live with the Beebes, "which should have been a red flag." The tubes were not inserted until after Edith Beebe complained about the children choking.

The children afterward subsisted mostly on cans of Pediasure, provided by Medicaid, that were poured into these tubes.

Despite Edith Beebe's claims, the surviving children have eaten regular food "like a shark-feeding frenzy" since being taken into Protective Services custody after Joseph died, Batson said. They also have been able to use the toilet, although Edith Beebe insisted they were not potty trained.

"Money could have been her motivating factor," Batson said. The Beebes received a $1,700-per-month subsidy for the four children adopted from the state, and the amount was based on the extent of their disability.

After the Beebes' last adoption was finalized in 1998, Protective Services received two more complaints. Administrators overruled one complaint about Jared being physically abused but upheld the other about neglect.

In the neglect case, the Beebes were cited for keeping a filthy house, using a screen door to lock four of the children in a bedroom overnight and forcing the four elementary-age children to sleep in one crib.

As a result, the Beebes were forced to undergo seven months of parental training. A maid was also hired to clean their home in Memorial Hills off FM 1960.

Olguin said the abuse case was rejected because Jared denied it: "He was doing a crab-like walk. But he said it was for exercise."

After Joseph died, CPS workers learned Jared was walking like a crab because his buttocks were so battered that he could not sit.

The Beebes' neighbors in Memorial Hills were upset that the agency failed to take custody after the complaints.

"The house was a pig sty. There was so much trash in the yard you could fill two trucks," said Fay Taylor, who lived across the street. "I couldn't go inside because I couldn't stand the smell of human waste. The landlord had to specially treat the cement after they left."

After the neglect case was closed in August of 1999, the Beebes relocated to a new house in Liberty County. Joseph died a few months later.

Meanwhile, the surviving children have gone into foster care. Abigail, now 8, is being considered for adoption. The other five are all 11 years old.

"All suffer from post-traumatic stress. They are in therapy, and some may need it for the rest of their lives," Olguin said. "One boy (Jared) even asked for a name change. He did not want to be a Beebe anymore. He was really having a problem with it."

Olguin hopes all the children find an adoptive home: "But because of what has happened, we want to make sure it's a good match."

...

A SAD HISTORY

Previous complaints against the Beebes:

Sept. '97: Abuse complaint

Nov. '97: Abuse complaint

Mar. '98: Abuse complaint

Dec. '98: Neglect complaint

Feb. '99: Neglect complaint upheld and training ordered

May '99: Complaint made against Beebes

Mar. '00: Joseph Beebe dies

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