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Watchdog: Mother concerned about abuse, but no report filed

By Gabe Semenza
Dec. 18, 2011 at 6:18 a.m.


HAVE A QUESTION FOR 'WATCHDOG'?

To submit questions, email watchdog@vicad.com or call Advocate Public Service Editor Gabe Semenza at 361-580-6519. No topic is off-limits.

Peggy Angle said she wants her 15-year-old adopted son to return home because she saw him at Thanksgiving marred with bruises.

Her son suffered those bruises, the 53-year-old mother said, during a residency at Devereux's Victoria campus.

Devereux is a nonprofit group that aims to treat vulnerable and underserved children and adults who have emotional, behavioral and other problems.

"He reports to me that he is being beaten up and threatened by other patients," the mother, who lives in Frisco, said. "He has bruises on his arm that look like fingerprints. A chain I bought him for his birthday was also broken in an altercation with staff."

Angle could provide no further evidence that residents or staff at Devereux abused her son. The allegations rest on the teenager's words and her belief.

Devereux staff declined to comment about Angle's adopted son, citing federal privacy laws. A search of state records shows Angle filed no formal complaint.

Regardless, Angle wants Devereux to release her son now - and the nonprofit will not. The image of her troubled and adopted teenager distressed and hundreds of miles away reminds her of the first day she saw him.

Angle first met her adopted son when he was 13 months old. The infant, a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome, had been removed from his original home because of neglect.

For months, the infant held his breath every time Angle left the room - an apparent harmful reaction to the neglect he endured before the adoption. After caring for the boy for three years, the Angles adopted him.

But the boy's development had already been stunted - his IQ is 54, Angle said - and carries with him emotional problems. When the boy's adoptive father died, the troubled youth became suicidal and disruptive at school.

"I needed help to get him under control," said Angle, who is disabled from a spinal chord injury.

In November 2009, the son began to receive care in a state hospital in Wichita Falls - until funds for his treatment ran dry. To pay for his care elsewhere, Angle voluntarily agreed to a joint conservatorship with Child Protective Services, which had the funds to enroll him in Victoria's Devereux, beginning in October 2010.

By joining with Child Protective Services in such a way, however, Angle gave the state managing custody of the teen, which created problems when she traveled from Frisco to Victoria to bring him back home.

After viewing his bruises, Angle insisted Devereux release her adopted child, but the state forbid it because Devereux doctors said he was unprepared to leave, the mother said.

"I want to get out of this CPS agreement, and I want him to come home," Angle said. "He's freaking out because he thinks he might be there another year."

Marrissa Gonzales, a Dallas-based CPS spokeswoman, confirmed there exists a joint conservatorship between Angle and the state. The state weighs doctor recommendations when deciding whether to side with a treatment facility or adopted parent, she said.

"While I can't comment specifically on (Angle's son) because he is a foster child, I can tell you that we've checked into it, and no one has made any reports to the state abuse hotline about maltreatment at Devereux matching Ms. Angle's allegations," Gonzales said.

If such a formal allegation existed, certain public paperwork would be available - and it is not, said Mary Walker, a San Antonio-based CPS spokeswoman.

Angle said she did not file a CPS report, call the state's hotline or contact police. She did, however, address those concerns in person at Devereux and via a conference call with CPS, she said.

"I have hired an attorney to help me get my son home so I can protect him," she said.

Fred Williams is the administrator of Victoria's Devereux campus. Federal privacy laws bar him from even confirming a particular child is in his care, he said.

"What I can tell you is that the single most important thing to Devereux is the safety and well-being of the children in our care," he said. "There is simply nothing more important to us. The nature of residential programming is that we are working to help very troubled children, and families in deep crisis. In this environment, many different kinds of allegations are often made."

Williams reports all allegations to licensing bodies and the appropriate authorities, he said. Then, the nonprofit partners with those groups to perform a detailed investigation and corrective plan if necessary.

"Again, out of privacy laws, I am not commenting specifically on this case, but it's important to understand that the families we deal with are often in deep crisis and may say things or act out of desperation or fear, that just are not the truth," Williams said.

Now that Angle hired a lawyer, the chances of understanding the validity of her son's claims likely increases. The mother admits, however, she should have reported his allegations differently.

If you or a loved one experience abuse, the state suggests that you:

Call the abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400.

Call 9-1-1 in cases of emergency.

Call your local police.

Angle said her son cried until he turned blue when they learned Devereux would not release him just months ago.

"I can't get that image out of my head," she said. "I won't stop until I get him back."

Gabe Semenza is the Public Service Editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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