Three of four boys allegedly starved by their adoptive parents were doing well in new homes, a prosecutor said Monday, as officials tried to determine how the case fell through the cracks despite dozens of visits by a caseworker.
The fourth boy, the oldest at age 19, remained hospitalized in a cardiac unit Monday. The three others had improved enough to go to a mall and attend a birthday party.
"The reports we've received ... is that the kids seem to be doing well," Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said Monday in a broadcast interview.
The boys' adoptive parents, Vanessa Jackson, 48, and Raymond Jackson, 50, of Collingswood were arrested Friday and were being held on four counts of aggravated assault and 14 counts of child endangerment.
Sarubbi said Bruce Jackson had gained 8 pounds since he and the three younger boys were found Oct. 10. At that time, the 19-year-old was 4 feet tall and weighed 45 pounds.
Authorities said the boys, also ages 14, 10 and 9, were locked out of the family's kitchen and fed a diet of uncooked pancake batter, peanut butter and jelly and cereal. The boys, who told investigators that they also gnawed on wallboard and insulation, were found after a neighbor discovered Bruce Jackson rummaging through trash for food.
"This case apparently just fell through the cracks," Sarubbi said. "I know that sounds simplistic, but it's still too early to tell (what happened). We're going through voluminous records and it's going to take time to go through this."
Sarubbi said the three younger boys, who were released into other foster placements after being briefly hospitalized, were in "fairly good condition" and were adjusting to their new families.
Raymond Jackson's brother said the children were in such bad shape because of problems with their mothers' pregnancies.
"It has nothing to do with being neglected," William Jackson told The Sunday Star-Ledger of Newark. "They were born with drug addiction and eating disorders. As long as I've known these kids, they've never grown."
The Jacksons' biological son and daughter, both in their 20s, also lived in the home.
Three other girls in the home — two adopted and the third a foster daughter the couple wanted to adopt — all seemed to be in good shape, authorities said.
State and county officials continued to investigate why a Division of Youth and Family Services case worker, who visited the family as they tried to adopt a girl, did not intervene in the boys' case. That case worker has resigned, and eight other DYFS workers have been suspended with pay.
Newly appointed state child advocate Kevin Ryan said Sunday his office plans to interview the case worker and her supervisors this week.
"We have a caseworker who went to a house 38 times in two years and many of those times she saw all seven children and she reported in the case record that those children were all safe despite the fact that the utilities had been turned off for the last six months, the kitchen doors were locked shut and the four boys were obviously starving," Ryan said Sunday.
The case is the latest in a series of widely publicized problems involving the state child welfare agency.
In January, Gov. James E. McGreevey ordered emergency measures to overhaul DYFS after authorities found the decomposing body of a 7-year-old boy in a Newark basement. Two other boys were found near-starved in an adjacent room.
By Geoff Mulvihill
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