RICHMOND -- The Virginia Court of Appeals yesterday upheld a judge's decision to terminate the parental rights of a man who kept his eight children isolated in a tiny, dilapidated home without electricity or plumbing.
A three-judge panel rejected Granville Frazier Toms' claims that there was insufficient evidence to terminate his rights and that officials should have tried to help him before taking his children.
The family's primitive living conditions came to light when Hanover County sheriff's deputies responded to a domestic disturbance call on Jan. 28, 2003.
All but one of the children fled into the woods, without coats or gloves to protect them from near-freezing temperatures. They emerged about eight hours later, at 3:30 a.m., and were taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Deputies described the Toms residence as a trash-filled, 16-by-16-foot unfinished structure with no separate rooms. The family used an outdoor bathtub and a crude outdoor latrine, and the yard was littered with liquor bottles and beer cans.
Toms showed up about 30 minutes after deputies arrived. He refused to help find the children and was arrested, and the children were put in foster care.
Toms remains in prison after being convicted of seven misdemeanors and two felonies for child abuse and neglect.
Circuit Judge John Richard Alderman approved the Hanover County Department of Social Services' recommendation to terminate the parental rights of Toms and his wife, Laura, and to seek adoption for six of the eight children.
Testimony at yesterday's hearing indicated that the children had received no education or health care. They scored below the first percentile on developmental tests and initially communicated with a court-appointed guardian only by grunting and body language.
Toms suffers from delusional thinking, paranoia, social phobias and other mental health problems, experts testified, along with a history of alcohol abuse dating to age 6.
The appeals court agreed with Judge Alderman that it was unlikely Toms could remedy the problems quickly enough to be able to provide the children a decent home life.
"Toms' life has been badly scarred by destructive patterns of alcohol abuse and debilitating bouts of mental illness," Judge D. Arthur Kelsey wrote in the unanimous opinion.
"These long-standing conditions go back to his childhood and cannot be explained away as recent, readily correctable, maladies.
"And they were severe enough to cause Toms to cloister his children in inhumane living conditions, to deprive them of routine medical care, and to do nothing to stop the steep regression in their developmental skills."
The court ruled that officials were not legally required to try to rehabilitate Toms before terminating his rights if they determined reunification would jeopardize the health and safety of the children.