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Vermilion Schools: 'Family had complex medical needs'

Sandusky Register Staff • Nov 13, 2012 at 6:41 PM

School officials confirmed today three of the family's seven children were enrolled in special education programs with the school district. At no point did school staff suspect the children were neglected.

Erie County officials are looking into the cases of suspected malnutrition, which resulted in the death of an 18-month-old boy and landed four other children in a Cleveland hospital.

Vermilion schools staff said the children had complex medical needs.

For more on this developing story, pick up a copy of Wednesday's Register. Read Tuesday's follow up below.

With one child dead and four of his malnourished siblings now in a Cleveland hospital undergoing treatment, Erie County deputies said they're working to pin down answers from the parents, medical professionals and social service agencies.  

Isaac Brothers-Bartholomew, 18 months old, died Nov. 6 inside his family's Risden Road home in Vermilion Township.

Since then, deputies and social workers have taken his six siblings — five boys and one girl — out of the home and placed them into county custody.  

An 11-year-old and 4-year-old are in foster homes, while four — ages 7, 6, 6 and 2, all boys — remain at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Erie County deputies said.

Isaac's official cause of death will hinge on pathology tests, although Erie County Chief Deputy Jared Oliver said a pathologist has already said Isaac was severely malnourished.

A preliminary autopsy indicated he suffered brain bleeding and was "thin and small for age," with "prominent rib markings."  

The parents — James Brothers, 33, and Adrienne Bartholomew, 34 — told deputies some of the children suffered eating problems and some were disabled.

In an interview with the Register Friday, James Brothers said Isaac seemed normal when he put him down for a nap at about 5 p.m. Nov. 6.

The oldest child, 11, discovered Isaac unresponsive in a crib a few hours later.

Brothers said he tried to resuscitate Isaac until paramedics arrived. The toddler was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Brothers also said the children's grandmother was their home healthcare provider, a detail deputies are still trying to sort out.  

Oliver said he's working to obtain medical documents to determine what health problems the children suffered, and he's also trying to figure out if the children had been to a doctor anytime recently.

Brothers told the Register a social worker visited his home about a month ago and raised no issues.

Karen Balconi Ghezzi, executive director at Erie County Job and Family Services, said social workers from her agency did not have an active case on the family.

Brothers also said his family was involved in the Help Me Grow program, an Ohio Department of Health initiative administered locally through the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities.   

Carrie Beier, interim superintendent of the Erie County developmental disabilities board and the head of the local Help Me Grow program, confirmed some of Brothers' children were involved in the program.

She declined to comment further, deferring to the county sheriff's investigation.

"It's really, really a sad situation," Beier said. '"It's under investigation and it's confidential. I can't say anything at this point.

"I can tell you that the family was receiving services," she said. "I don't want to jeopardize this investigation."  

Help Me Grow provides various support services to families of children with disabilities.  

Brothers and Bartholomew's children had been receiving services for "some time," Beier said.

Brothers told a Register reporter he moved to Vermilion Township from Cuyahoga County about four years ago to provide his children a better life and a home that had a bigger yard. He said he and his wife did not work, as they were busy raising their children.

Balconi Ghezzi said her agency handled Brothers and Bartholomew's case from Cuyahoga County a few years ago, as it was transferred to Erie County when they moved here.

Balconi Ghezzi declined to comment on the years-old case, citing the ongoing investigation.  

Oliver has said he's also trying to figure out if any social workers or other professionals had visited the family's Risden Road home in recent months.

Help Me Grow in Erie County, meanwhile, has three service coordinators tasked with visiting clients' homes to help them create "family plans," prioritizing special services for children from birth to age 3, Beier said.

She spoke only generally about the program, not about this case. The service coordinators help families find ways to meet a child's various needs, such as obtaining medical care, development assistance and such.  

She said the developmental disabilities board is aware of the case.

"I made them aware when the baby died," Beier said.  

When a child turns 3, Help Me Grow refers the family to its local school district for guidance.   

According to a woman in the Vermilion Schools administrative office, at least two of Brothers and Bartholonew's children are registered in that district. (Editor's Note: The Register confirmed Tuesday three of the children were enrolled in Vermilion schools programs.)

The woman declined to comment further, so it's unclear if the children actually attended school there or if they were home-schooled and only registered in the district.  

For her agency's part, Beier said if anyone went to the home and noticed any problems, they surely would have said something.

"If there was anyone in the home and there was a concern and they were aware of it, that's something they would have reported," Beier said. "That's what anybody who serves kids does."

Deputies said they're also looking into information from Geauga County, where Brothers allegedly has a case involving unpaid child support. 

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