State workers to be fired in neglected boys case
TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- Nine employees of New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services will be fired for their roles in a case in which four malnourished brothers were found in an adoptive home, state officials announced Monday in Trenton.
Authorities say the couple that had adopted the brothers -- aged 19 to 9 -- used locks to keep them away from the kitchen and said they had been reduced to looking through the trash for food.
One of those employees is the caseworker who visited the Collingswood, New Jersey, home 38 times in the past four years and reported that they were "happy and thriving."
Three of the siblings were released from a hospital Friday, but their older brother remained in a cardiac care unit, according to a county prosecutor.
Meanwhile, the state of New Jersey was attempting to find out how the brothers' conditions failed to come to the attention of state officials.
"We're here again today because again we have a situation where New Jersey failed to protect children," said Gwendolyn Harris, the commissioner of the state's Department of Human Services. "The situation is horrible, unacceptable. I am faced with the fact that I have staff who are incompetent, uncaring or who falsified records."
DYFS became the focus of national attention in January when the agency prematurely closed the file on Faheem Williams, a 7-year-old boy from Newark found dead inside a plastic bin in a basement. His brother was locked in an adjoining room.
The division immediately instituted new procedures and Gov. James McGreevey allocated more resources after caseworkers complained about old computers and other problems they said hampered their performance.
None weighed more than 45 pounds; none taller than 4 feet
"We have done a lot and still, we have folks who don't get it," Harris said. "And if they don't get it, they're going to have to leave outta here."
The New Jersey couple who adopted the boys was arrested Friday, two weeks after Collingswood Police found their four emaciated adopted sons, the Camden County prosecutors office said.
Raymond Jackson, 50, and his wife Vanessa, 48, have been charged with four counts of aggravated assault and 14 counts of child endangerment.
The four sons had been starved to the point where none of them weighed more than 45 pounds, said Camden County Prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi.
"The children were extremely emaciated," Sarubbi said. "They were gaunt, they had distended stomachs, you could clearly see the outline of their shoulder blades and their ribs."
Colleen Maguire, special deputy commissioner of New Jersey Children's Services, which oversees DYFS, said she visited the children over the weekend at the hospital. She said doctors believe "that with the appropriate care the kids will grow and develop."
Sarubbi said in a news conference Monday all four of the boys had gained between five and seven pounds as of last Friday.
Maguire said state officials are considering an ongoing assessment policy for children approved for adoption as well as other measures to improve the division.
The investigation began October 10, when the Jacksons' neighbor contacted Collingswood police to report someone rummaging through trash cans for food. When they found Bruce Jackson, 19, police said he was so malnourished they thought he was 10 years old.
Police then found three more boys, ages 14, 10 and 9, at the Jacksons' home. Believing them to be malnourished, they took the four children to a hospital.
Prosecutors said Bruce weighed just 45 pounds, his 14-year-old brother weighed 40 pounds, the 10-year-old weighed 28 pounds and the 9-year-old weighed just 23 pounds.
None of them, prosecutors said, stood taller than 4 feet.
Entrances to the Jacksons' kitchen were locked, authorities allege, and the boys survived on a diet of uncooked pancake batter and oatmeal.
"We've found evidence, and the boys have also told us, that they were eating portions of the wall and the insulation behind it," Sarubbi said.
The Jackson family received a stipend from the state for their adopted children that peaked at around $28,000 a year. It was reduced last year when Bruce turned 18.
A DYFS case worker visited the Jacksons every month over the past two years to evaluate whether the Jacksons could adopt a 10-year-old foster daughter. The case worker never reported the boys' severe malnutrition and has since resigned, state officials said.
Raymond Jackson's brother reportedly defended him and said he provided adequate care for the brothers.
"It has nothing to do with being neglected," he told The Newark Star-Ledger. "They were born with drug addiction and eating disorders. As long as I've known these kids, they've never grown. They've provided everything for them."
However, Sarubbi said doctors examined the children and concluded that "they didn't suffer from any diseases or any genetic defects that would account for their stunted growth."
In addition to caseworkers not reporting the condition of the Jackson children, DYFS officials also failed to notice the youths when a safety assessment of all children in the agency's care was conducted as part of a landmark settlement with the child advocacy group Children's Rights.
Last Thursday DYFS announced it had completed its assessment of more than 14,300 children in foster care. It said 31 of those children were deemed unsafe, but the Jackson's 10-year-old foster daughter was not among them.
The Jacksons also have two adopted daughters, ages 5 and 12. Those girls, and the foster daughter, who was living in their home pending adoption, are now in foster care.
The couple also have five biological adult children, four of whom lived in their house.
Sarubbi said the couple's daughters and biological children appeared healthy.
The Jacksons are being held at Camden County Correctional Facility in lieu of $100,000 bail each.
-- From CNN Assignment Editor Jonathan Wald