A year after four malnourished boys were taken from their adoptive home, the children have doubled in weight and are rapidly recovering from years of neglect, state officials said.
A neighbor found Bruce Jackson, 19, rummaging through the trash for food before dawn on Oct. 10, 2003. The teenager was so small -- 45 pounds and 4 feet tall -- that police thought he was only 9 or 10.
He now is around 100 pounds and nearly 5 feet tall, state Human Services Commissioner James Davy said.
The three younger boys -- Michael, Keith and Tyrone -- are living in a foster home together.
Two adopted sisters and a foster sister were of normal size.
The children's parents, Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, are charged with aggravated assault and child endangerment. Authorities said they systematically kept the boys from eating and at times the children subsisted on pancake batter and gnawed on wallboard.
At least once a week, the boys see Bruce and the two adopted girls, who are also living in other homes, Davy said.
Davy said the three younger boys were doing somersaults and shooting baskets when he saw them recently. They are attending school and rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, he said.
"It's a very loving, nurturing foster home," he said.
Marcia Robinson Lowry, the director of New York-based Children's Rights Inc., is suing the state of New Jersey on behalf of the three younger boys. Because Bruce Jackson is an adult, he has his own attorney.
Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, who are free on bail, have moved out of the home they had rented in Collingswood and have not spoken to reporters.
Lawyers for the couple say the boys' small sizes were the result of eating disorders.
"The defense that the four boys had eating disorders is absolutely nuts," Davy said. "It's blown out of the water by the fact that all four of them have more than doubled their weight and grown substantially in stature."
The New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services became part of the Jackson case because caseworkers regularly checked on the family's foster child but did not take action about the bone-thin boys.
Since the boys were found, more than 300 caseworkers have been hired, with plans to add more in the next few months. Foster families are being vigorously recruited. Nearly 5,000 children in foster care -- about half the state's total -- now have a managed health care plan.
But to Lowry, whose nonprofit advocacy group filed the lawsuit that led to a settlement over how to reform DYFS, the lessons from the Jackson case were broad and horrific.
"It told us how terrible, how incredibly neglectful the system really can be," Lowry said.