NORWALK, Ohio - A court-appointed guardian for 11 children taken from the adoptive parents who kept some of them in cages testified yesterday that she has believed for months the youngsters shouldn't be returned to the couple.
Margaret Kern said during a custody hearing for the children in Huron County Juvenile Court that Michael and Sharen Gravelle have not demonstrated a willingness to admit problems with their parenting style, which she said included harsh punishments and a tendency to isolate the youngsters.
"I just want these children to get the dignity and respect that was taken from them," she said. "The system has failed these children, and I'm committed to not letting that failure take place again with these children. The fact that they were placed in this home is just an example of how the system failed them."
Since being moved from the Gravelles' home Sept. 9 to foster care, "Their whole demeanor has changed," Ms. Kern said. "They're energetic. They're brighter. They're crisper."
She testified that just one of the children has talked in the last two months about wanting to return to her adoptive parents.
County officials removed the youngsters, ages 1 to 15, after finding several wood-and-wire cages in the Gravelles' Clarksfield Township home. The Gravelles and a therapist who treated the children, Elaine Thompson, have said the enclosures, rigged with alarms, were needed to protect the children from one another and to stop them from roaming the house at night and urinating on mattresses and walls.
Ms. Kern, a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates, said she has seen no evidence of similar problems during the children's placement in foster care.
"Nobody exhibits the bizarre behavior I read about in documentation from Elaine Thompson, from anywhere," she said. "None of the kids are wandering through the house at night."
Kenneth Myers, an attorney for the Gravelles, asked Ms. Kern during cross-examination about an incident in which one of the children was found with a knife at school in November and suspended. "That was not a delinquent behavior," she said. "He got the knife from another child at school, and it was a pen knife, and it was in his backpack."
Mr. Myers objected in court to the admission of two reports written by Ms. Kern, based on the fact that some of the information in the documents came from Lorain County Children Services records.
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Myers filed a motion objecting to the admission of the records and any testimony derived from them, arguing that the Lorain County documents were released in violation of state confidentiality laws and constituted hearsay.
According to testimony from current and former employees of Lorain County Children Services, those records discussed allegations that Mr. Gravelle sexually abused his biological daughter, Jenna Gravelle, and that a former husband of Mrs. Gravelle molested her biological daughter in the 1980s.
Jenna Gravelle testified last week that her father sexually abused her, starting when she was less than 10 years old.
Testimony in the case is to continue tomorrow .
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