Monday, October 24, 2011

Grandma: Boy in four foster homes in 14 months

By Rita Price
The Columbus Dispatch Monday October 24, 2011 6:01 AM

The weekly phone conversations are eagerly awaited but rarely make her feel better.

“I hear a defeated little boy,” Mary Ann O’Garro said.

Her grandson often says he wishes he were there, in Washington state, instead of at another new place, O’Garro said. The 8-year-old’s calls have come from many phone numbers.

Franklin County Children Services brought the troubled boy back to Franklin County last year after denying Lenford and Mary Ann O’Garro’s request for in-patient treatment near their home in the Seattle area, where they could visit and work with the child’s doctors.

Their grandson had been placed with them in 2008, a little less than a year after police discovered him beaten, burned and tortured while living with his mother — Mr. O’Garro’s daughter — in a suspected house of prostitution on Columbus’ North Side.

Months of love and therapy hadn’t managed to curb his bizarre and dangerous behavior, the O'Garros and Washington therapists said, so they wanted to try hospitalization.

Children Services disagreed. The agency’s former chief said he thought the boy could be better served, and stabilized, in a foster home here with people trained to support his therapy. But after 14 months back in Franklin County, the boy has lived in four foster homes in three school districts, his grandparents say.

Add in those who provide periodic respite for the foster parents, and the child probably has been in at least 10 homes, Mrs. O’Garro said. “In our minds, there’s no way this could not have damaged him further. He was already traumatized, then he was ripped from our house, and now he’s just bouncing around.”

Because the boy might have been sexually abused, The Dispatch is not naming him.

Chip Spinning, who recently took over as Children Services executive director after Eric Fenner’s retirement, said in an email that no one wants the boy to experience more trauma. But officials still think he should be cared for in a specially trained foster home instead of at an institution. He said the child is making progress and will receive “all recommended services to enable continued progress.”

The moves are unfortunate but happen for a variety of reasons in the child-welfare system, Spinning said. He said he couldn’t share the specifics.

Mrs. O’Garro said it’s hard to be hopeful. She said she has heard various reasons for the boy’s change of placement, including foster parents’ moving, an allegation of abuse against a foster provider, and the child’s intensive needs.

“I have not, to date, ever seen a single document that says he’s been stabilized,” she said. "His level of care has continued to increase. He’s been up to six psychotropic drugs.”

Children Services has acknowledged numerous mistakes in the case, starting with a failure to inform the O’Garros of the extent of the child’s abuse — and his likely need for psychological help — after he was placed with them.

The grandparents say they needed an attorney to get the agency to pay for the child’s initial treatment in Washington. The O’Garros have health insurance, but it isn’t sufficient to cover the expensive mental-health services.

After a review in late 2009, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services cited the agency for its handling of the case and ordered a plan for preventing future violations. Two employees were disciplined as a result of the agency’s internal investigation.

Mrs. O’Garro said she doesn’t know whether Children Services wants the child to return to his mother, to them or to be adopted.

Agency attorneys, a therapist and the child’s court-appointed guardian agreed last week that the boy’s mother, who has been released from prison, could have at least one supervised visit.

“He hasn’t seen her in nearly four years, since she was put in the police car and he was taken in an ambulance,” Mrs. O’Garro said. “That’s his last memory of her.”

The grandparents still struggle with their decision to surrender custody, a move that ultimately allowed Children Services to bring their grandson to Columbus last year. Their attorney, Susan Eisenman, has said the O’Garros made that difficult choice because they couldn’t pay for the treatment he needed and because they hoped the agency would approve a nearby Washington facility.

Instead, they had to put him on a plane.

Mrs. O’Garro cries when she thinks about all the boy has been through. Had he gone to a treatment center, “We think he’d be home with us,” she said. “All we can do now is just hope something positive happens.”


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