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Couple Arrested on Charges of Starving Kids

A couple whose adopted teenage sons weighed less than 50 pounds have been arrested on charges of starving four boys they adopted through the state Division of Youth and Family Services, New Jersey's troubled child welfare agency.

Vanessa Jackson, 48, and Raymond Jackson, 50, were arrested Friday and charged with four counts each of aggravated assault and 14 counts of child endangerment (search), Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said.

Each was jailed Saturday on $100,000 bail.

An investigation into the family began Oct. 10 after neighbors in the Philadelphia suburb of Collingswood (search) called police to report someone rummaging through their trash. Officers then found the oldest adopted child, now 19.

The young man, who was adopted in 1995, measured 4 feet and weighed 45 pounds when he was discovered. He is now in the hospital receiving specialized care for apparent heart irregularities.

The three other boys, ages 14, 10, and 9, also were removed from the home and hospitalized. They were treated and released into other foster placements, authorities said.

The 14-year-old weighed 40 pounds and stood 4 feet tall. The other boys also were dramatically underweight, according to the prosecutor's office.

Two adopted girls, ages 5 and 12, also were living in the Jacksons' home. They were placed in foster care, along with a 10-year-old girl who was in the Jacksons' home pending adoption (search).

The girls' physical condition "appeared to be within normal range," the prosecutor said.

The state Department of Human Services suspended five employees, including caseworkers, a manager, and supervisors, pending the outcome of the investigation, said Micah Rasmussen, a spokesman for Gov. James E. McGreevey (search).

Rasmussen said McGreevey was "angered and shocked" by another discovery of neglected children under DYFS oversight. The governor called on Kevin Ryan, his newly appointed state child advocate, to assess the case.

"There appears to be no explanation other than negligence, indifference, incompetence, or a combination of all three," Colleen Maguire, deputy commissioner for the Human Services Department and the person charged with spearheading reform at DYFS, said in a statement Saturday.

Maguire said a caseworker assigned to the girl living with the Jacksons while awaiting adoption by the couple apparently failed to note the boys' condition, despite conducting a safety assessment of the home.

The Jacksons adopted the boys through DYFS and were receiving a stipend from the state, which peaked at about $28,000 a year before the oldest child turned 18 last year, according to Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

Sarubbi said locks apparently were used to keep the boys from the kitchen and that the children were fed uncooked pancake batter, cereals and peanut butter and jelly.

The parents apparently explained the boys' condition by saying they had an eating disorder, said Bill Shralow, a spokesman for the prosecutor.

The discovery of the children follows several high-profile abuse cases that revealed lapses in state oversight, including a 7-year-old who died after his case was closed by the child welfare agency.

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