MARICOPA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The stunning case of accused child abuse involving a Maricopa woman behind a popular YouTube channel is reverberating through several families.
Machelle Hobson, 48, is accused of brutalizing her seven adopted kids who starred in the videos, including pepper spraying them, dunking them in ice baths, and locking them in closets for days without food.
One friend said Hobson fostered at least 12 children over the years, and likely more. Four of the seven adopted children were from different families, according to two sources. The biological relatives of those children are now learning about the allegations through news coverage.
"I fell to the floor sobbing because I knew it was my son," said one Phoenix woman who asked not to be identified.
The woman said she is the biological mother of Hobson’s youngest son. Adoption records are sealed in Arizona, but the woman provided pictures of her visiting the boy with Hobson and some of the other children present.
"How could she do that to him? For them to take him away from me like they did and then to go into an abusive home, where I thought he was going to be safe? Where the state and everybody thought he was going to be safe?" she said, adding the allegations brought her “gut-wrenching heartache.”
The woman said she lost custody of the boy shortly after birth because of issues with drugs. What hurts her the most, she said, is that her brother -- the boy's biological uncle -- fought hard to adopt the child when he was 9 months old. Ultimately, a judge awarded the adoption to Hobson.
"He should have gone somewhere else. He should have gone with my biological family. The family members that went through the steps to get him," she said. "I believe the state didn't properly do their job.”
"Somebody needs to be held accountable for this," she added.
Douglas Gardner is a family law attorney not involved with the case.
"There is some statutory requirement that the court consider blood relatives, but at the same time the court has to consider the stability of the child," he said.
In the case of very young children, the judge will consider the fact that the foster home is the only home they've known, he said. In this case, the woman said Hobson fostered the boy since just after birth.
"A lot of times the judge does end up giving a priority to the foster families because it's the least impact, the least change, the least upset on the child's life," Gardner said.
The woman acknowledged she never saw any red flags during her visits with Hobson and the boy, but she said something about the foster system is clearly broken.
"I'm not going to stop until something happens. Until some kind of law or something changes," she said.
In a statement, the Department of Child Safety said foster parents undergo a thorough vetting process that includes a background check and monthly home visits. The state oversight ends, however, when an adoption is finalized.
"We would also like to mention that while a small number of people with bad intentions do manage to make it past the rigorous licensing and court process, the vast majority of Arizona foster parents are kind, charitable people and we appreciate their dedication to Arizona’s most vulnerable children," said DCS spokesman Darren DaRonco.
Here is the full statement by the Department of Child Safety:
"The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) can confirm that we removed the children from the home of Machelle Hackney on March 14, 2019.
While we cannot comment or release information on specific aspects of this case due to confidentiality laws, we can comment in general on how DCS licenses its foster placements.
The Department requires all potential foster placements undergo a thorough vetting process before acquiring a license.
This process includes full background checks, a central registry check for prior DCS history, a fingerprint clearance card issued from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, home inspections, reference checks, and licensing classes through a provider agency.
Licensed foster placements also receive quarterly home visits from their licensing agencies in addition to monthly DCS visits.
As an added oversight, the court must approve out-of-home placements. Also through the court, foster placements are scrutinized by the biological parents’ attorneys, the children’s attorneys, the Guardian Ad Litem, which is an attorney who works in the best interest of the children, the Foster Care Review Board, and the judge.
Once parental rights are severed, the foster parents begin the adoption process.
After an adoption is approved by the court, DCS is no longer involved with the family.
Despite all of these safeguards, people are sometimes able to avoid detection, especially if a person has no prior criminal or child abuse history.
We investigate all reports of abuse and neglect and work with law enforcement agencies to ensure those who abuse and neglect children are brought to justice.
We would also like to mention that while a small number of people with bad intentions do manage to make it past the rigorous licensing and court process, the vast majority of Arizona foster parents are kind, charitable people and we appreciate their dedication to Arizona’s most vulnerable children."