Gravelle children deserve answers

A jury of seven men and five women heard the evidence during the course of a four-week trial in Huron County Common Pleas Court, and
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

A jury of seven men and five women heard the evidence during the course of a four-week trial in Huron County Common Pleas Court, and after nearly three days of deliberations they returned guilty verdicts against Michael and Sharen Gravelle on charges they neglected and abused some of their 11 adopted children.

We have faith in the jury system and appreciate the hard work it must have been for these jurors to listen to all the testimony and then carefully weigh the evidence before reaching the decision.

Getting guilty verdicts, however, was the easy part for state and county officials. Targeting the Gravelles for prosecution was no monumental task compared to the real work that should be done to fix a very broken children's welfare system.

The hard lives these children were born to did not begin, nor we fear, will it end, with their removal from the Gravelle home. After all, the evidence suggests Huron County caseworkers knew as early as 2003, or should have known, the Gravelles were making the children sleep in the "enclosures" that prosecutors called "cages." That was the meat of the prosecution's case, and it means that for about two years, the agency charged with protecting children was unable to protect these children. It's difficult to have confidence this agency, which was awarded custody of the children in an earlier trial, will be any better able to protect them now than the track record already suggests.

You might see that as finger pointing and that may well be exactly what it is. But we're not asking for another criminal investigation to determine if others also are to blame. There's enough blame to go around, and we are well aware that employees at child welfare agencies across the region are overworked, and the agencies are understaffed and face daunting tasks. These caseworkers are heroes to many children every day, and they will continue those noble efforts despite the huge challenges.

There are many who should be held accountable for the horrid lives these children were forced into, starting with the drug-addicted biological parents who were so consumed by their inability to cope that they let their own flesh and blood suffer miserable existences. The state, however, removed the children from those abusive homes and placed them with ... the Gravelles.

How that happened and why are legitimate questions that demand answers. Those answers won't come if the case ends with the successful prosecution of the Gravelles.

How was this couple able to adopt child after child and bring them into a home that was far less than adequate for a normal youngster, let alone these children with their severe behavioral problems? Why was the plight these children suffered in the Gravelle home not addressed for two years? Who knew what, when, and where did the system fail? How can those failures be remedied?

These are questions state and local officials must ask, and lip service or censored reports will not bring about any answers. The state should launch a formal, and very public, inquiry, and officials should not stop asking these questions, and many others, until some answers and some solutions are found.

The Gravelle children, and other future potential victims of a broken child welfare system, deserve nothing less.