Teen says DHS failed her after surviving nightmarish abuse in adoptive home
TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) -- It's a story of abuse and neglect that happened in a crowded home in Delaware County.
Investigators say adoptive parents Deidre and Jerry Matthews had nine children in their home. The couple was once recognized as Northeast Oklahoma's Adoptive Parents of The Year.
But then the bizarre stories of abuse came to light.
Grace Barnes was one of the children inside that home. It's been four years and she's never spoken publicly about the things she endured or how the foster system failed her, until now.
As Grace Barnes explains, "It was far from good, that's for sure."
The road for the 18-year-old has been long and hard.
"That house had more cockroaches than anyone I've ever seen," she said. "You would move a cabinet and it was just solid. It was disgusting. So all the food was gross because it would have cockroaches or ants or something like that in there. We don't really want to eat that so the food we did have, it was just disgusting."
For Barnes, normal could be defined as abuse, neglect and many times silent cries for help.
"Locking your kid in a dog cage so they don't get up in the middle of the night to get food," said Grace. "In the time I thought that was OK 'cause my little sister she would get up and get food 'cause she was hungry. But like, in the moment, that would make me mad 'cause I thought, you know she's not supposed to do it. But then now I know that she's not, like she wasn't in the wrong she was just hungry."
She says that was just part life. Grace lived in a two-bedroom mobile home parked on a farm. It was home from around the time she was 4-years-old to about 14.
"Stuff like everyday that happened, normally that I thought it was normal. That was far from normal," she said.
Like the day she says she was doing chores and a monkey on the property bit her, but there was no trip to the doctor.
"He got me twice. He got me once right there and then once right there. That side required stitches, which my mom ended up sewing up by herself. She gave me six shots, three on the bottom and three on the top to numb it."
The scars on her arm are nothing compared to the lingering emotional scars. One of the hardest things she lives with is the belief that DHS could have done more for her and her siblings.
"Even without us saying anything, just the looks of the place. One specific time that they came out there was a dead dog on the porch. The window by the door that they walked in was broken out, the glass was all over the porch. When they walked in it was disgusting inside." explained Barnes.
And she said if DHS asked about marks on her body she would make up different stories hoping someone would notice something was wrong. Eventually Barnes spoke up to an officer. Soon after, she and her siblings were removed from that house. She is speaking to us because she wants to see changes.
"Their whole point in their job is to protect the kids and make sure that where they are putting them is safe and that they are happy. And they are finally living the life that they should have lived when they were born, but they didn't do that," said Grace.
Barnes says she wants all kids to know what it means to feel loved.
"I want kids to be able to go to sleep at night and know that they are loved and that they have a family and they are not going to have to worry about the meal that they are gonna, if they are gonna be able to eat or if they are going to be able to go outside and play with their friends the next day."
Barnes says her current adoptive parents have shown her great love and kindness. She wants to graduate high school, go to college and have a family of her own one day.
As for the people Barnes once referred to as mom and dad, Deidra Matthews is in prison on multiple convictions of felony child abuse. Jerry Matthews took a plea deal in exchange for testimony and avoided jail time.
Barnes and her eight siblings are now involved in an ongoing lawsuit against DHS.