December 22, 2005

Children who slept in caged beds abused: judge

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Ohio couple who kept their adopted
children, some with disabilities, in caged bunk beds fitted
with alarms and locks were found by a judge on Thursday to have
abused them.

Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Cardwell, who is considering
whether the children should be removed from the care of their
adoptive parents permanently, said the behavior of the couple
could have caused them mental harm.

One boy testified during the Huron County Court hearing in
Norwalk, Ohio, that he slept in the bathtub for 81 days as a
punishment meted out by Michael and Sharen Gravelle, who
received government subsidies for caring for the children.

The boy, who described the couple as "good parents," also
testified he was kept in his locked bunk bed for a month for
stealing food.

The Gravelles' 11 adopted children aged 1 to 15 were
removed from their home in September after a social worker
found them sleeping in homemade wooden bunk beds enclosed in
chicken wire, without mattresses or pillows.

The Gravelles had argued that the children were well cared
for and that the enclosed beds were to keep them from hurting
themselves and each other and to stop them from stealing food.

"The parents repeatedly administered unwarranted discipline
to the children ... which could harm their mental health or
development," Cardwell said in a written ruling.

He blamed a rushed adoption process which he said created a
situation where eight of the children were abused.

He dismissed neglect charges and will decide at a later
hearing whether to permanently remove all the children, who
have been staying in foster homes, from the Gravelles. The
couple have not been charged with a crime.

The children suffered from disabilities including fetal
alcohol syndrome and a disorder that leads to eating dirt.