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Malnourished Colorado boys face long road to recovery

DENVER Four undernourished Colorado boys who were living in squalor and unable to speak face a long and uncertain path to recovery, an expert said, but there is at least some hope for their future.

The brothers, ages 2 to 6, were removed from what police described as a filthy Denver apartment late last month and placed in state custody. Their parents, Wayne Sperling and Lorinda Bailey, appeared in court Tuesday on charges of felony child abuse.

"These kids have lived in such a bizarre environment that they probably haven't developed any level of trust," said Diane Baird, a licensed clinical social worker and a pediatrics instructor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

"These guys are going to have a really hard time through it. They need good therapists and good caregivers," said Baird, who isn't directly involved in the case.

Asked if they can recover, Baird said they could, to some extent. Then she added, "People change beyond my wildest imaginings sometimes."

Doctors found the boys were malnourished, were not toilet-trained and had poor and delayed verbal skills, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. They made "infant-like noises" to each other, one officer reported.

The apartment where they lived was littered with feces, cat urine and flies, police said. It had an unbearable odor like that of a decaying animal corpse.

The boys were taken into protective care. Confidentiality laws prevent authorities from releasing any details about how the boys are doing.

After the boys were taken, neighbors complained that they'd reported abuse more than a year ago without action. Colorado's child protection ombudsman, Dennis Goodwin, will investigate why it took so long for authorities to rescue the boys, The Denver Post reported Wednesday.

Goodwin said his office is gathering child welfare and police reports and that Denver County child protective services is cooperating. The ombudsman can make recommendations to Denver child welfare authorities and to the Colorado Department of Human Services.

Bailey, 35, is free on bail. She declined to comment after Tuesday's court hearing. Sperling, 66, was still in custody Wednesday. The state Public Defender's Office refused to release his attorney's name.

Baird said the four boys will spend their entire lives recovering from their early years.

"The first thing they need is a healing attachment relationship," she said, one that teaches them to trust that caregivers will attend to their needs.

"These children have had very distorted kinds of early experience," Baird said. Future caregivers will have to help them "undo what they think about the world and human beings."

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