Parents deny neglecting child

GREENFIELD — A Hancock County couple is speaking out against the neglect charges prosecutors filed against them last month, saying investigators misrepresented their toddler’s development when reporting he was malnourished and underweight.

Andrew Swafford, 37, and Ashley Swafford, 30, of Charlottesville face felony child abuse charges amid allegations they neglected to take their son, Revan, to a doctor during his first year of life and fed him only 30 ounces of breast milk a day — not enough, investigators said. At the time of the couple’s arrest, the 15-month-old child weighed 15 pounds, the equivalent of a 3-month-old, investigators said.

But the Swaffords — who were released from jail on bond days after their arrest April 15 — said Revan is underweight because he was born prematurely, not because they neglected him. They admitted they did not take their son to recommended wellness checkups but said that’s because they don’t believe in taking children to the doctor unless they are sick.

For investigators, that amounted to a lack of proper care, and prosecutors say they stand by their case — two felonies for each parent: a Level 5 charge of neglect causing injury and a Level 6 charge of neglect endangering a dependent. The Level 5 felony charge the Swaffords each face carries a penalty of up to six years; the Level 6 felony carries a penalty of up to 2.5 years. Both charges carry up to $10,000 in fines.

Revan was born Dec. 8, 2014 — six and a half weeks before his due date, his parents said. He weighed about 4 pounds, and he spent the first 25 days of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit at Community North Hospital in Indianapolis.

Revan always has been tiny, his parents said. They feed him only organic food, so much of the fatty content present in processed food that would have made him gain weight faster is absent from his diet, they said.

In addition to solid food, he also drinks 30 ounces of breast milk daily, they said. The Swaffords get the milk from other nursing mothers who are friends of the family — something else investigators criticized, arguing the family should have utilized a milk bank, where milk is tested for viruses and pasteurized.

A 3-month-old baby falling into the 50th percentile for development weighs 14 pounds; a 15-month-old baby in the same percentile weighs 24 pounds, according to growth charts created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Revan now weighs 17 pounds and is in the care of other family members, per a judge’s order. The couple reads articles online about child development and believes the boy is healthy because he now weighs four times his birth weight.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton disagrees. He said it’s not what the Swaffords did but what they failed to do — including feeding their son enough to help him gain more weight — that placed the boy in danger.

“When children are not provided the basic necessities of life, it’s troubling; it’s scary,” he said.

The couple’s decision to forego regular medical appointments, which would have given doctors the chance to educate them about their son’s condition was neglectful, investigators said.

Doctors recommend babies be seen once every two months until they are 6 months old, according to the National Library of Medicine. After that, doctors prefer to see babies once every three months until they are 18 months old.

At those appointments, a baby’s height and weight is monitored, motor skills are tested and vaccines are given.

Dr. Tara Wakefield, a pediatrician for Hancock Physician Network, said these visits are important because they give doctors a chance to address concerns about a baby’s development before any chronic problems arise.

Aside from visits to clinics because of a cough or a cold, Revan rarely saw the inside of a doctor’s office until the Department of Child Services began investigating. His parents didn’t think regular visits were necessary, they said.

“Doctors are for when people are sick,” Ashley Swafford said. “If I’m healthy, and nothing is wrong, I’m not going to the doctor.”

Their beliefs aren’t rooted in religion, the couple said; they’re just a mother and father’s opinion about what is best for their son.

The charges Andrew and Ashley Swafford face alleged they caused injury to Revan by not having a doctor monitor his development, and Prosecutor Brent Eaton said he stands by that decision.

The couple said they believes the case boils down to differing opinions about what’s best for the boy.

“Essentially, our child was removed from our care because of how someone felt,” Ashely Swafford said. “It’s philosophical differences.”

“It’s just a doctor’s personal opinion,” Andrew Swafford added.

The investigation began after the Indiana Department of Child Services received two calls about the boy being underweight — one just a month after he was born and another in early March, court records state.

Child services follows the same screening protocols for every anonymous tip it receives, spokeswoman Michelle Kalogeros said.

Once a caseworker is alerted to a possible case of abuse, they are required to visit the child’s home, Kalogeros said. A caseworker speaks to the family, collects any evidence and determines whether the department should intervene to ensure a child’s safety.

The Swaffords said a caseworker came to their home in March after someone reported Revan wasn’t well-fed. The caseworker gave the couple five days to take the child to the doctor.

Doctors at Riley labeled Revan’s condition as “failure to thrive” — meaning his weight and rate of weight gain was much lower than other children his age, according to the National Library of Medicine. He was “severely anemic and off the growth chart for weight” as well as malnourished, dehydrated and had vitamin D and iron deficiencies, court records state.

The Swaffords said doctors put Revan on a feeding schedule that required him to drink PediaSure five times a day – despite the couple’s requests their son be given breast milk instead.

The couple protested the doctor’s recommendations, which investigators characterized in their report as interfering with the child’s medical care.

“Just because I was like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ doesn’t mean I was resisting,” Ashley Swafford said. “I’m trying to advocate for my child.”

The couple is scheduled for trial in Hancock Circuit Court on Sept. 13. Meanwhile, they are allowed only child services-monitored visits with their son.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.