Seeking justice: Mother of adopted son trying to move forward after alleged inappropriate contact

FLINT (WJRT) (11/22/2017) - Years after her adopted son was involved in an incident at the Whaley Children's Center in Flint, a mother is still battling the scars and fighting back against the people she believes are responsible.

Whaley Children's Center

She adopted her son as a 1-year-old after he was born into an environment full of abuse and neglect. That left him with a number of hurdles to overcome already.

"He needed round the clock supervision and psychiatric care and counseling to kind of work through some of these things," the mother said.

The boy, who is not being identified, was just 7 years old when his mother says he was inappropriately touched on the playground on Whaley Children's Center in July 2015.

She said the incident has set her son's progress back some, which is why she said she's seeking justice not only for him, but for other kids who may find themselves in a similar situation.

"He tends to shut down and it's hard to move forward with all that trauma and getting to the root of it all," said the mother, who also is not being named to protect the boy's identity.

At the recommendation of her son's therapist, she voluntarily placed the 7-year-old in Whaley Children's Center in June 2015 for treatment. The nonprofit residential child care facility treats severely abused and neglected children.

"It was never easy to let your child leave your home and say you're going to be so far away from our house and we're going to be able to see you so long," said the mother, who lives in Wayne County.

Just weeks after leaving her son at Whaley, the mother said she got a disturbing phone call.

"We were told that our son disclosed that another peer had done inappropriate things to him and that he went directly to the staff and disclosed right away," she said.

Days later, she says she learned the whole story about the abuse during a face-to-face meeting at the center. Most of the details are spelled out in a civil lawsuit she recently filed against Whaley and a staff member.

The lawsuit claims a 15-year-old Whaley resident, who was known to have a history of inappropriate sexual behavior associated with his condition, sexually victimized the woman's son in an area hard to see behind some playground equipment.

"There's a slide and a couple of other pieces of play equipment that can block the line of sight and the staff was too far away and too far out of ear shot to be able to pay attention," the mother said.

Her attorney, Bradley Peri of Goodman Acker in Southfield, said the nearest employee was 50 yards to 100 yards away sitting on a picnic table with his back turned to the children.

"All that needed to be done was an employee simply walking over, standing next to them and this would have never occurred," Peri said.

He believes the incident is not isolated. Records from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs show at least six cases on file, where the state investigated reports of inappropriate contact between children at Whaley.

Most violations were due to a lack of staffing. Whaley was then required to submit a corrective action report.

Mike Manley, an attorney for Whaley, said the center demands the highest standards from its employees and is willing to work with any regulatory agency to improve its operations.

Still, he believes the mother has to meet a high legal threshold to prevail in the lawsuit.

"Even though terrible things have happened in this child's life from the day he was born, they are going to have to prove that any issue this child has was the result of an alleged 10-second encounter," Manley said.

He is skeptical whether a jury would rule in the mother's favor.

"To come back and say that Whaley is the cause of this child's problems, I don't think is intellectually honest," Manley said.

Even after the allegations and the mom voicing her concerns, he pointed out Whaley continued to help her son.

"Whaley takes the toughest cases of children that are in need and they would never turn their back -- and they haven't turned their back on this child," Manley said. "They would embrace this child again."

The mother just hopes her son can recover someday.

"We just want our son to know what happened isn't OK, it's not his fault, we're here for him regardless and we're going to be -- and we want him to be able to find that he can move forward and let this heal and have a better future and have a family component that's better for him," she said. "It's going to be a long road."

The mother moved her son out of Whaley in October 2015. He's now in the Metro Detroit area at another facility.

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