Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Couple Recount Horror of Being Labeled Abusers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Couple Recount Horror of Being Labeled Abusers

Article excerpt

John and Noel Ampleman remember with absolute clarity the afternoon six years ago when child-abuse investigators turned their family upside down.

"It was like a visit from the Gestapo," John Ampleman recalled Friday. "They brought five cop cars, a detective car, the DFS worker's car, and a crime scene unit car. Our kids were scared to death."

The Division of Family Services and the St. Louis County police were investigating a complaint to the child-abuse hot line from the principal at Michael Ampleman's school. Michael, 12, had told the principal that his father sometimes confined him in a dog cage as punishment for being expelled from religion classes.

The allegation cost the Amplemans custody of their son for six months, and John Ampleman lost his job. He says he came close to committing suicide.

The experience also turned the couple into the area's most outspoken critics of the state's child-abuse investigation system. For the last five years, John Ampleman has headed the local chapter of Victims of Child Abuse Laws. He has testified before the Legislature many times on the need to reform child-abuse laws.

Looking back on their experience with DFS, the couple admits the family needed help.

"We couldn't figure out what to do with Michael," said John Ampleman, who is 47 and an independent insurance broker. "He did whatever he damn well pleased. The discipline we had used with our other children - grounding and taking privileges away - didn't work."

Noel Ampleman, 47, a secretary, said: "Michael had behavior problems for many years, both in school and at home. He'd been diagnosed with learning disabilities and a behavior disorder in the second grade. We tried everything we could to get his attention, to make him realize that when you do something, there are consequences. We were at the point where we didn't know what else to try. …

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