"It's inconceivable how a case worker could go there and not detect these atrocious conditions," Gov. James E. McGreevey said during an appearance in Jamesburg.
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. The oldest of the boys, 19-year-old Bruce Jackson, was just 4 feet tall and weighed just 45 pounds when he was found earlier this month.
Social workers from the state Division of Youth and Family Services visited the home at least 38 times, state officials said. McGreevey's child advocate — appointed earlier this year after a fatal child abuse case in Newark — will investigate and subpoena workers if needed, he said.
The investigation will focus on actions by DYFS managers who should have been aware of the conditions, McGreevey said. Eight workers have been suspended and more will follow, he said. The lead caseworker resigned after prosecutors filed charges against the parents.
"People who made bad decisions will be held accountable," McGreevey said.
The 19-year-old remained hospitalized Monday in a cardiac unit, while the other three boys, ages 14, 10 and 9, were doing well in foster homes, Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Authorities said the boys were locked out of the kitchen and fed a diet of uncooked pancake batter, peanut butter and jelly and cereal. The boys, who told investigators they also gnawed on wallboard and insulation, were found after a neighbor discovered Jackson rummaging through trash for food.
"This case apparently just fell through the cracks," Sarubbi said.
Raymond Jackson's brother, William, said his nephews were in 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."
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.
The Jacksons' biological son and daughter, both in their 20s, also lived in the home.
"We have a caseworker who went to a house 38 times in two years and many of those times she saw all seven children," the state's child advocate, Kevin Ryan, said Sunday.
"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," he said.
The case is the latest in a series of widely publicized problems involving the state child welfare agency.
In January, 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.