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Family giving up custody of abused boy

5:46 PM, Dec 29, 2008   |    comments
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There were six children under the age of 6 found in a motor home in the dead of winter in January 2002. The children were dirty and cold, the temperature inside was just 36 degrees. There was no running water.

Jefferson County Human Services soon discovered the conditions inside the motor home that kept the family on the run for years may have been the most pleasant part of the children's existence. Those who were old enough, soon began to detail stories of widespread sexual abuse at the hands of both parents along with physical violence and neglect.

Now, four years following the conviction of their parents, Gerald and Eva Hurley, the children are still reeling from the experience. The pain has spread to the families who decided to take the children in as their own, hoping to give the children a new life.

Despite their best efforts, the family that eventually adopted the youngest of the Hurley children has made the heart-wrenching decision to give him up.

9NEWS is not using the legal names of those involved with this family to protect the identity of the child, who is now 6 years old. He was just a few weeks old when his parents were arrested and was adopted 18-months later.

"Mike" and "Lisa," who live in Jefferson County, adopted the boy we're calling "Bobby." They already had one child of their own when they decided to adopt. The couple says shortly after bringing their new son home they realized his behavior was not normal, even for a newly-adopted child.

"In the home he would attack us randomly," Lisa recalled. "He would run up behind you and bite you on the thighs or attack his siblings."

Lisa said the toddler, then 3 years old, even attacked the family dog.

"He tried stabbing the eyes out of the dog," she said.

After Bobby was kicked out of three day cares, Lisa says she decided to stay home. Nothing the couple tried seemed to work.

"It came to a point he was so out of control it was absolutely unsafe for himself and everyone else," she said.

After a 90-day hospitalization at The Children's Hospital, the couple says Bobby lashed out at his brother again.

When they took him to the state mental hospital at Ft. Logan he broke a nurse's nose. Doctors there recommended another local residential treatment center where he's been ever since.

Earlier this year, Jefferson County Human Services told the couple they would have to prepare for Bobby to return home. The couple says they were told funding for the boy's care had run out.

Jefferson County Human Services cannot comment on the specific case because of privacy concerns. They do say it is their policy not to hospitalize children forever. A spokesperson says the county is always looking for a more permanent home.

The couple was faced with what they describe as an impossible decision, bring the boy home to the three other small children in their home or face a civil charge of dependency and neglect.

"We had to choose our healthy children over our unhealthy child and that's been awful," Lisa said holding back tears.

She and her husband say they were told Bobby wouldn't develop the same behaviors his siblings were showing because he was so young at the time of the abuse. They say those promises turned out to be wrong.

Two people who know a lot about the behaviors the Hurley children display are Jim and Vickie, former state lawmakers who are foster parents to Bobby's siblings. 9NEWS agreed not to use their last names or the first names of the children for the children's protection. 

Jim and Vickie say they do not plan to adopt any time soon. "She asks me all the time when am I going to adopt," Vickie told 9NEWS earlier this month speaking abrbout her foster daughter she's been caring for since 2002.

Vickie and Jim had adopted four children before taking in the Hurley children and say they need to protect the rest of their family from the same kind of future Lisa and Mike are facing.

"No family should adopt a special needs child until the county of record guarantees that they will pay any out-of-home treatment or voluntary placement," Jim said.

They say they fear their foster children will someday need residential treatment and they say they can't afford to foot the bill alone.

"It's very likely that our kids will need some kind of help in the future that we can't afford and the only way we can provide it to them is to not adopt them and keep them as foster kids," Vickie said.

Jim and Vickie think state laws need to change to help parents such as Lisa and Mike. They feel the law needs to address situations when parents are faced with a decision like Lisa and Mike's.

Once they relinquish parental rights, Lisa and Mike will have one last meeting with Bobby to say goodbye. Then, they will be allowed no more contact with the boy.

"He's 6," said Mike, also holding back tears. "He knows who his parents are."

The parents say this was the best decision for them and for the boy they could make at this time. Bobby's Guardian Ad Litem (an attorney who fights for the rights of the child) agrees.

Rep. Mo Keller, (D-Jefferson County), known as a mental health advocate, says sometimes the county needs to force decisions like this. Counties, she says, need to make a long-term plan for the placement of children like this that does not include life in an institution.

"You don't want to have children confined in an institutional setting for multiple years or for the rest of their lives," Keller said. "We have found through many years of experience this is not the best for themv because they become institutionalized," she continued.

Keller says there is one way for families to give up custody of a child but not sever all ties with him or her. It is what Keller describes as a lower category of dependency and neglect called "beyond the control of the parent."

Dependency and neglect cases are typically filed in juvenile delinquency cases involving human services. The civil action is also used less frequently in cases such as Lisa and Mike's.

The parents say their lawyer has advised them that having a dependency and neglect action on their record could be detrimental to their other children and their business.

So, on Dec. 30, despite the fact the couple wants to remain connected to Bobby in someway, they will share with a Jefferson County magistrate their plans to give up their parental rights. Joe Stengel, an attorney with Benson & Case who represents the family, says he feels the county sends a bad message.

"Our society encourages people to adopt and when they do and things go wrong you see what happens to good parents," Stengel said. "The system has turned against them when all they wanted to do is be good parents and take a child into their lives and make them have the best life that they could give it."

During an interview with 9Wants to Know in 2004, the boy's biological father Gerald Hurley said Jefferson County made up the charges against him so they could sell his children. A court order severed his parental rights following his conviction.

The boy will most likely stay in the treatment facility he is in right now until his adoptive parents relinquish their rights, according to Keller. Then, she says, the county will make plans which could include a stay in a therapeutic foster home where he could remain, unless he is adopted again, until he is 18. After that, he will be on his own.

Hurley received a 12-year sentence in a plea deal. Both he and his wife received relatively short sentences because the county could not prove where the abuse occurred.

Hurley is serving his sentence in Canyon City. He could be eligible for early release in 2013. His wife, Eva, has already been released from prison. She is now a registered sex offender in Tyler, Texas where she is working at a local ice cream shop.

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