Aunt: Neglected kids OK
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodayAVON PARK - Months after the three girls, ages 2, 3 and 4, were removed from a residence filled with cockroaches, dirt and rotting food, they are thriving, their great aunt said this week.
Published: January 27, 2013
Published: January 27, 2013
"All three of them are very happy," said Amy Jackson, the great aunt. "They're healthy, their skin is healthy. Overall, they are much better."
Jackson said that's a far cry from when she and her husband, Roy, gained custody of the children on July 9, 2012.
That was two days after Avon Park police and emergency medical responders went to the residence of the three children and found a fourth child, 10-month-old Milo Rupert, dead.
Authorities said in reports that the house was filthy and crawling with cockroaches and the children were malnourished and dirty. The floors were soiled with rotting food, garbage cans overflowed and every part of the house was dirty except for video game area, the reports said.
Earlier this month, authorities charged the parents, Sandra Michelle Jackson, 25, and Kyle Lee Marsh Rupert, 22, with one count of child neglect with great harm and three counts of child neglect without great harm. Earlier this week, they were also charged them with aggravated manslaughter after an autopsy showed that Milo died from non-organic failure to thrive because of underfeeding and neglect.
Jackson, whose husband is the brother of Sandra Jackson's father, said they gained custody of the three other children because "no one else stepped up to the plate."
"My husband and I were not going to let them go to foster care," Amy Jackson said.
When they first took custody of the children, "they were filthy; they were undernourished; they were scared and confused," the aunt said.
She also said they were covered with lice from head to toe, had pinworms and cockroach bites, Jackson said.
Now, she said, "Their appearance is a 1,000 percent better."
Before being notified of Milo's death, Jackson said that she and her husband, who live in another county, had never been to the residence of her niece. She said they saw the niece and her children several times at other venues.
"They never looked clean," she said, but added that they weren't nearly as filthy as they were in July and they didn't appear malnourished during the prior contacts.
"If I had known it (the situation at the residence) was that bad, I would have taken the children out of there myself," she said. "I don't believe there's any adult who could have seen that situation and turned their head away."
"This is one of the situations where you say, 'this happens to other families,'" Jackson said. "Well, this was our family. It breaks our heart that this happened."
Jackson gives credit to Nathan Coogan, a Highlands County Sheriff's Office deputy who was previously with the Avon Police Department. She said she appreciates his hard work on the case.
But, she said, she believes the death could have been avoided. She said she's aware of family members who called the Florida Department of Children and Families.
DCF officials have said that caseworkers visited the home twice before July 2012 and found that the family was dealing with the cockroach situation, leaving no grounds to remove the children.
Jackson said the problems should have been recognized.
"I don't believe the caseworkers are themselves the problem, per se," she said. "I feel that it's the system. They're overworked and they're just not able to do their job properly. There's too many children and not enough foster parents. That's half the battle," she said.
"It's unfortunate it took the death of my nephew for these children (the three nieces) to have a fulfilling life," she said. "Now they're away from that situation and they're never going to be in that world again."
Carrie Hoeppner, a spokeswoman for DCF, said that while it's natural for family members to feel more could have been done, DCF did what it could, based on the situations at the time of the inspections.
"It is apparent the conditions and environment deteriorated after a child protective investigation concluded, and did not support allegations of present abuse or neglect. We would not have left a child in such home, in such condition," she added.
"When you know the outcome of a case, particularly a tragic outcome, it's easy to reflect back and feel more could have been done," she said. "In a preventable death, more could always have been done."
Meanwhile, the other three children for the most part don't understand what happened to Milo.
The 4-year-old understands to some degree, Jackson said.
When she asks about Milo, Jackson said, "We tell her he's in heaven."
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