After losing their infant son to a dog mauling and twice battling state officials for custody of their remaining children, Quintin and Chantel McGrew have one hope for the future — “to be left alone.”
The McGrews’ life has been a mix of chaos and grief since their 2-month-old son was killed in an April dog attack at their Ridgeville home, prompting child welfare officials to remove their surviving children for nearly two months.
They got their kids back in June, but lost them for a second time last month after their 7-year-old daughter told counselors that she saw homemade porn films of her parents and watched them engage in a sexual threesome with a woman.
The children again reunited with their parents Saturday after state Department of Social Services investigators determined that the allegations against them were unfounded, the McGrews and their attorney said.
They hope this will mark the end of their battle with the state.
“I’d like for people to see we’re a loving, caring family and that we will do anything for our kids,” Chantel McGrew said.
“Yeah,” her 7-year-old daughter chimed in. “We’re the McGrew family!”
DSS spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus confirmed that the girl and her younger brother were returned to the McGrews’ care, but she declined to discuss why the agency took that step.
Dorchester County sheriff’s Lt. Tony Phinney said his agency continues to investigate the girl’s claims. He would not comment on DSS’ decision to return the children to the home.
Chantel McGrew said there was no truth to what her daughter told counselors. She said the girl has walked in on her and her husband once or twice during an intimate moment, but they immediately told her to leave.
There was never a third party involved and no stash of porn in the house, the couple said.
The McGrews said the 7-year-old has a vivid imagination and has told other wild stories to counselors in previous interviews, including tales of a ghost living in the house and her mother having paranormal abilities.
They said the counselors at the Dorchester Children’s Center should have recognized the tall tales for what they were rather than alerting DSS officials, who, in turn, called in law enforcement.
The couple’s attorney, Andy Savage, said the case “exemplifies what is wrong with the level of proper evaluation and assessment of child-abuse allegations.” Counselors are quick to rush to judgment and notify authorities without properly vetting claims that can tarnish reputations and ruin lives, he said.
Counselors were well aware that the daughter was prone to fantasy and had developmental issues, but they failed to take that into account or share that information in their initial reporting to DSS, Savage said.
“I think that does a huge disservice to the child and the child’s family,” he said. “And it takes away from the credibility of what the center is doing.”
Center officials referred questions to Executive Director Kay Phillips. She did not return phone calls placed to her office Tuesday and Wednesday.
Scrutiny of the McGrews began after the family’s Labrador retriever mix snatched their baby, Aiden, from a bouncy swing and mauled him on April 20. Quintin McGrew was home at the time, but sleeping when the attack occurred. Investigators charged him with unlawful conduct toward a child. He is free on bail while awaiting trial.
DSS placed the girl and boy with Chantel McGrew’s mother while the couple completed a mandated treatment plan that included parenting classes. A judge returned the children to their care in June.
Chantel McGrew said everything seemed fine until her daughter spoke with counselors at the Dorchester Children’s Center in early August. DSS promptly removed the kids from the home and barred the McGrews from seeing them.
“I was devastated,” Quintin McGrew said. “It was like everything was starting all over again.”
He said he was frustrated and embarrassed when details of his daughter’s story were released in a police report. The couple felt like people were staring at them when they left the house, and his computer-repair business fell off.
The family’s reunion came just in time to celebrate their son’s third birthday on Labor Day. They shared spaghetti and strawberry cupcakes at their Sandpit Drive home and shouted encouragement to the boy as he tried to blow out an oversized candle shaped like a 3.
The family also paid a visit to Aiden’s crypt in a Summerville mausoleum. “When we’re done, we always say to Aiden, ‘I’ve locked you up tight so nobody can get you,’?” the sister said.
The two kids rolled around on the couch Tuesday afternoon, giggling as they tossed toy letters at one another and hid behind their parents.
Photos of the family lined the walls of the modest mobile home, including a shot of them posing with Aiden at North Charleston’s Riverfront Park. Nearby, a sign read “Luck of the Irish.”
The family still keeps a dog in the house, though the retriever that mauled Aiden has been euthanized. They have added a cat and a pair of turtles to their pet collection as well.
Chantel McGrew said the children are handling everything as well as can be expected. They all still are processing Aiden’s death and trying to keep a positive outlook.
For Quintin McGrew, that means not dwelling on his upcoming trial.
“The more I dwell on it, the more it will affect me and my family,” he said. “I leave my faith in God and Andy, that they’ll take care of it.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.