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Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 12/30/2006

System failed 'caged kids'

ANY child-welfare system that lets a couple adopt 11 children, including some with special needs, is obviously broken, and bad things are bound to occur. That happened in the notorious and heartbreaking case of the "caged kids" in Huron County.

Sharen and Michael Gravelle got what they deserved when a jury found each of them guilty of child endangering and child abuse charges.

The case captured national attention as it unfolded and the public learned how the Gravelles treated the children in their rural home. Eleven children would overwhelm anybody, and with the demands of those with special needs the possibility of abuse increases dramatically, as testimony revealed during the couple's trial.

The children were kept in beds caged in with wood and wire and equipped with alarms. They were hosed with water outside in the winter, and were beaten with wooden sticks and boards. A boy was forced to sleep in a bathtub for days. A girl with Down syndrome had her head dunked in a toilet.

At one point in the trial, there was concern that felony convictions could be jeopardized. Judge Earl McGimpsey reduced half of the 16 felony charges to misdemeanors, and said the case would likely be appealed. That disappointed prosecutors, but made defense attorneys happy.

Fortunately, the jury didn't let that doubt get in the way. After four days of deliberations, the Gravelles each were convicted on four felony counts of child endangering, two misdemeanor counts of child endangering, and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse. They could each face from four to 20 years behind bars on the felony convictions and fines of up to $40,000. Sentencing is set for Feb. 12.

Anybody with a healthy concept of child-rearing can't comprehend how the Gravelles could be described as "good people." That they were allowed to be foster parents for so long clearly suggests something was amiss at the agency that was responsible for supervising foster and adopted children. But no one could have known that based on the testimony of David Broehl, the county director of children services. He said he heard nothing that called for an investigation in a 2003 meeting with a care-giver who complained about what was going on in the Gravelle home.

Not surprisingly, the case has prompted changes to prevent repeat problems. It should be a lesson to every child service agency. Refining child-care systems to ensure that no child falls through the cracks and that abusive foster or adoptive parents aren't tolerated are vital steps to protect children already facing difficulties.

Happily, the children are doing well in their new homes. That's more a tribute to their resilience than to the adults who were responsible for their care. They deserved better.



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