No jail for mom who gave up her son

By Lane Degregory, Times Staff Writer
Published February 13, 2008

TAMPA - Cheryl Holley won't go to jail. But on Tuesday morning, she learned that she will be charged with abandonment for turning her 12-year-old adopted son over to the state.

Holley, a 42-year-old single mom, asked social workers to take custody of her son in January so that he can get the help she says he needs. She shared her story with the St. Petersburg Times in a story that appeared Tuesday in the Floridian section.

Her son, who she adopted at age 5, suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and is mentally handicapped. He was sexually molested as a young child and, for the past seven years, has been acting out sexually against other children and adults.

Holley took him to doctors and therapists, but can't afford the $60,000 fee for the long-term residential treatment she says he needs. By giving up temporary custody of him, she hopes the state will place him somewhere he can get proper therapy - and keep him from hurting others.

"I have to meet with the Attorney General's Office on Friday to work out a plan of what they want me to do - and see how the state can get him help," she said after Tuesday's hearing in juvenile dependency court. "Then I have to go back before the judge Feb. 26. That's when they'll formally charge me."

Abandonment is "both a criminal and civil charge," said her attorney, Clay Oberhausen of Tampa, who plans to fight the charge. "I am going to argue that the charge should be one of 'potential neglect.' Nothing has happened to this child. Yet. Ms. Holley is just trying to get him help."

If the abandonment charge sticks, Oberhausen said, Holley may lose her license as a private investigator. Whenever there's an allegation of child abuse, that person's name goes on a national register. "That usually means the person would lose professional licensing, and wouldn't be able to work around children," the lawyer said.

The boy, who is in a group home in New Port Richey, is not getting therapy there, Holley said. On Friday, she will ask the Attorney General's Office to find him treatment. And the state will lay out a plan for Holley. "I predict they'll ask her to participate in individual and family counseling," her lawyer said. And she might be asked to pay child support.