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Erie County JFS got 3 calls on malnourishment family

Sandusky Register Staff • Nov 16, 2012 at 5:21 PM

A week later, those same administrators are now saying they received three phone calls in recent years from people who had some types of concerns about the family.

The social services agency's sudden about-face came Thursday, a day after an Ohio Department of Job and Family Services spokesman said the state plans to review Erie County's past involvement with the family of Isaac Brothers-Bartholomew.

Isaac, 18 months old, died Nov. 6 in his family's Risden Road home in Vermilion Township. He weighed just 12 pounds, about half the typical weight of a child his age.

Since then, his six siblings — ages 2 to 11 years old — have been removed from the home and placed into county custody. Four of the children remain in a Cleveland hospital, where they're being treated for suspected malnourishment.

Erie County deputies continue to investigate the case, poring over medical records detailing health problems Isaac's parents said the boy had suffered.

The parents — James Brothers, 33, and his wife, Adrienne Bartholomew, 34 — had been investigated by Cuyahoga County Job and Family Services about five years ago, officials in that county said.

The case was transferred to Erie County Job and Family Services when the Brothers-Bartholomew family moved to the Risden Road home in 2008.

Erie County Job and Family Services director Karen Balconi Ghezzi said her agency's workers were involved with the family for about a year before the case was closed.

In a recorded interview with the Register on Friday — four days after Isaac died — Balconi Ghezzi said her agency never received complaints about the family after 2008.  

The Register recorded the interview only with the agreement of the five employees involved in the meeting, which included Balconi Ghezzi and Angel Young, a supervisor at Erie County Job and Family Services.    

When asked repeatedly if Erie County Job and Family Services had any contact with the Brothers-Bartholomew family from 2009 — the year the old case was closed — and Nov. 6 — the day Isaac died — Balconi Ghezzi said no.   

"I can tell you, frankly, there was no contact with this family since 2009," she said.

When asked if there were any complaints, Balconi Ghezzi initially said, "I can't tell you that."

When pressed, she said there would have been contact if there were complaints.

"I'm telling you, because, when I say we've had no contact ... if we had a complaint ... we would have had contact, not necessarily a case," she said. "We have to investigate every complaint."

On Thursday, Balconi Ghezzi said the three phone calls the agency received about the family from 2009 to 2012 did not merit an investigation.  

One of those phone calls was from a person who said they had a "gut feeling" something was going on with Brothers and Bartholomew's children.

Young has said her social workers can't investigate something based on someone's "gut feeling" — there are strict guidelines and protocols to trigger an investigation.

Balconi Ghezzi refused to say what the other two phone callers had told her agency.

Last week's Register interview with the agency's employees was rife with statements about the complexities of the social services field.  

At one point, Balconi Ghezzi told a reporter: "Everything that we can tell you, we can't tell you."

Multiple other public agencies were also involved with the family, an angle Erie County deputies continue to look into.

Other agencies involved in recent years include Erie County Department of Developmental Disabilities and its Help Me Grow program; Vermilion Schools; and Erie County family's court's Wraparound program.

Administrators at Help Me Grow said their agency would have taken action if they noticed anything unusual about the children, and Vermilion Schools administrators said their employees saw only a "loving and caring family" whose children had complex medical issues.

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