NORWALK, Ohio – A couple who adopted 11 children with a host of health and behavioral problems abused some of the youngsters by making them sleep in wooden cages without pillows or mattresses, a judge ruled Thursday.
The children will remain in foster care until Juvenile Judge Timothy Cardwell holds a hearing on who should get custody.
Their adoptive parents, Michael and Sharen Gravelle, have not been charged with a crime and denied abusing the youngsters. They said they built the cages in 2003 to protect the children from each other and themselves.
"We love our children very much and we will continue to do everything possible to get them home," the couple said in a statement read by their lawyer, Ken Myers.
Myers said the couple held out hope that the judge would return the children to them under court supervision.
Cardwell dismissed allegations that the Gravelles neglected the children, saying there was no evidence the couple failed to feed and clothe the youngsters. But he said that making them sleep in the cages constituted abuse.
The children, ages 1 to 15, have problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and a disorder that involves eating dirt. The judge said that their psychological, behavioral and health problems became too much for the couple.
"In this overwhelmed state, the Gravelles made a series of poor parental decisions that were detrimental to the children and led to an appropriate intervention by the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services and the Huron County sheriff," the judge wrote.
The children were taken from the Gravelles in September after a social-services investigator visited the home and examined the wood and chicken-wire cages she likened to a kennel.
Calls to the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services agency and the prosecutor's office were not immediately returned.
A school-age Gravelle child testified that the couple forced him to stay in his "box" for up to two weeks for taking peanut butter, bread and cereal from the kitchen.
He said that another time, he was forced to live in the bathroom for nearly three months for urinating in his enclosed bed. He also testified that he liked the Gravelles as parents and felt safe in their home.
Asked if he wanted to live with them again, he said, "I don't know."
Elaine Thompson, a social worker hired by the Gravelles, testified that the boy only slept in the bathtub, which helped curb his bedwetting. She disputed much of the boy's testimony, including his claim that the parents shoved the heads of two children in the toilet as punishment.
One expert hired by the county testified that 11 special-needs children were too many to have in one home.