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Tragedy haunts siblings' families


Tragedy haunts siblings' families

They might've taken Isaac, too

January 29, 2007



The families who adopted six of the Lethbridge children are deeply disturbed by what happened to Isaac.

Daisy Tomlin of Detroit, who adopted Ashleigh, the oldest, several years after taking her as a foster child, regrets not having been able to take one of her siblings.

"A social worker called me at one point about taking another child from that same family," she said. "Ashleigh was a heavy case, and I didn't want to put anything before her. So I said no."

Besides Ashleigh, who was blind and had multiple medical problems, Tomlin had four adopted boys, who are now 9, 10 and two age 12.

She said she feels bad about saying no.

"Maybe it was Isaac," she said. "But I had my hands full."

The Michigan Department of Human Services tries to keep siblings together. But in a large family such as the Lethbridges, where all nine children were removed from their parents because of neglect, it's tough.

Tomlin, a nurse, and her husband got Ashleigh at age 4. The call came after Ashleigh had been taken to C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor with injuries her parents said occurred in a fall.

"I fell in love with her," Tomlin said. "I gave her a good home. She brought joy to us."

At the Tomlins' home, according to court reports, Ashleigh soon learned to walk. "I had 16 steps that went up to the second floor, and she got so she could go up them," despite her blindness, Tomlin said. "She never fell once."

Ashleigh did well under the Tomlins' care but as she got older, her seizures increased. On Feb. 23, 2006, six months before Isaac's death, Ashleigh died in her sleep of a seizure. She was 12.

Carol Creger, who became a foster parent to two Lethbridge children in the late 1990s and later adopted them, remembered being asked whether she and her husband would take Isaac and his then 3-year-old sister.

Creger, who runs a dog obedience school, doesn't recall the date. The couple thought hard about it.

"We have four kids who are emotionally dependent on us," she said. Taking in more would have made it hard to do justice to all of them. There also wasn't enough room in their three-bedroom Jackson County house.

Looking back, she wondered whether it was the right decision.

Each of the three foster homes Isaac and his sister were placed in had at least five other children, and none had more than three bedrooms. The three-bedroom home Isaac died in had at least nine people living in it.

Creger and her husband are no longer foster parents, but when they were, the workers didn't come to visit the children when they were supposed to. A worker documented visiting them monthly but didn't show up for four months, she said.

"I guess that's what they had to do to survive their job," she said.

There are not enough good foster parents, she said.

"The state is desperate for more," she said.

Contact TINA LAM at 313-222-6421 or tlam@freepress.com.

2007 Jan 29