For three years, two Boynton Beach parents fed their son only milk and applesauce. They told police the boy didn't "like solid food."
Turns out, he "did not like toothbrushes," either, according to what his parents told police. When he turned up at a hospital with so many sores in his mouth he couldn't swallow, his parents said it had been more than a month since he had brushed his teeth.
The boy's father told officers the child kept "hiding the toothbrush" and wouldn't let anyone brush his teeth.
Now, the toddler, who weighed in at 25 pounds, is stuck in the hospital while mom and dad face child neglect charges.
Champagne Gillis, 31, and her boyfriend, Thomas Phillips, 38, were arrested Friday after police discovered their son at JFK Hospital with the sores, a 102-degree fever and a case of diarrhea.
Phillips told Sun Sentinel news partner CBS12 that he and Gillis didn't know how to get the child to eat.
"If your child doesnt want to eat the food, it becomes very difficult to feed him something he doesn't want," Phillips said. "If you try to force feed, it's abuse. If you don't shove food down their mouth, it can be taken as abuse"
Florida Department of Children and Families Southeast Region spokeswoman Paige Patterson-Hughes said the case is under investigation and the boy is still hospitalized, now at The Children's Hospital at Palms West. Gillis and Phillips, who the report said are unemployed, have two other children.
Those children are now staying with relatives, Patterson-Hughes said.
Boca Raton and Weston-based registered dietitian Meryl Brandwein said the lack of brushing combined with the milk and applesauce diet could lead to systemic problems for any child.
"There's natural sugars in those substances and if they're not being brushed away, there's tooth decay and gum damage," she said.
She added that such a limited diet without proper protein can harm brain, muscle and organ development. leading to long term problems.
"It's unfathomable how people don't know better," Brandwein said.
When police asked Phillips why he didn't take the child to the dentist or the doctor, he responded, "his girlfriend deals with that stuff," the report said.
"Phillips showed a disturbing lack of care and concern for his child's well being," the detective wrote in the report.
Paul Peluso, an associate professor in counselor education at Florida Atlantic University, said it's hard to tell what could have led to the parenting decisions Gillis and Phillips made.
"In general, we hear about awful neglect situations, and very quickly want to blame the parents," Peluso said.
While Peluso sees the parents as primarily responsible, he adds parenting is a learned behavior.
Gillis told police she didn't take the child to a doctor until he was 1. But she told police she wasn't happy with the doctor, so she was trying homeopathic medicine, according to the report.
When doctors told Gillis and Phillips the boy would have to stay in the hospital for a few days, Gillis said she would have the boy's grandmother come stay with him. She and Phillips had a "prior engagement" assisting backstage at a production of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," according to the report.
Both parents were booked in to Palm Beach County Jail and released Saturday after posting $3,000 bail each.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report
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