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House Panel Looks at N.J. Starvation Case

November 6, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The plight of four malnourished boys led members of Congress Thursday to question the effectiveness of New Jersey’s child protection agency and to consider new national standards and restrictions for the care of adopted and foster children.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee said they were shocked and infuriated by the case of Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, a Collingswood, N.J., couple charged with starving four adopted sons.

``People treat their pets better than New Jersey is treating kids in this instance,″ said Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.

The family’s pastor warned that an innocent couple is being presumed guilty. ``Believe me folks, these are not monsters,″ said the Rev. Harry L. Thomas Jr., holding up a picture of the Jacksons.

Representatives of Gov. James E. McGreevey’s administration emphasized that reforms to New Jersey’s perennially troubled child welfare system had begun earlier this year and included creation of a statewide child advocate.

But lawmakers said Congress may need to consider placing new requirements on states in exchange for the billions in federal aid distributed each year for child welfare services, foster care and adoption subsidy programs.

The hearing by the Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources came just two weeks after police arrested the Jacksons and charged them with endangering their four adopted sons.

The boys, ages 9 to 19, each stood no more than 4 feet tall and weighed no more than 45 pounds when they were discovered Oct. 10 after the oldest was found foraging through a neighbor’s trash for food.

Also in the Jackson household was a foster child who had been visited numerous times by the state child protection agency, the Division of Youth and Family Services, during the past several years. State officials say those visits produced no reports of problems in the house.

Since Oct. 24, the child protection agency has fired nine workers involved in the oversight of the household, and prosecutors have said charges could be brought against the workers.

Camden County Prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi said the four boys have gained a total of 55 pounds since being taken under state supervision on Oct. 10.

Thomas, who has acted as a spokesman for the parents, discounted the reported weight gain, saying the children’s weight had fluctuated before. Thomas, senior pastor at Come Alive! New Testament Church in Medford, N.J., was the only witness at the hearing who spoke in defense of the Jacksons.

``I’m telling you these people are innocent,″ he said. ``They had three meals a day like everybody else, and there were serious difficulties with these children they had to deal with.″

He said he believes the oldest boy, 19-year-old Bruce, who was discovered foraging, has an eating disorder known as rumination, characterized by the regurgitation and rechewing of partially digested food.

Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., whose district includes Collingswood, said Congress should evaluate whether the federal government can better oversee state programs for child welfare.

``I’m not in favor of federalizing all these situations, but it strikes me that someone may have to watch the watchers,″ Andrews said.

Chairman Wally Herger, R-Calif., said the subcommittee will hold additional hearings on the case.


On the Net:

House Ways and Means Committee: http://waysandmeans.house.gov/

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