Adopt and Abandon – the Parents

As I write this, the news is on fire with the story of Torry Hansen “returning” her seven-year-old adopted son to his birth country of Russia via one-way airline ticket. As the adoptive mom of a mentally ill child (albeit domestically), I’m interested in the story. But I’d rather blog today about the Westcotts.

The Westcotts live in Oklahoma and adopted a nine-year-old boy from foster care who was so violent and dangerous he set their home on fire, leaving a note that said, “I’m sorry you had to die.” They’ve found knives and lighters hidden in his room. He’s killed small animals. He rages violently out of control. He has been in a long-term psychiatric treatment facility for a year, but he will be released to their custody soon, and the Westcotts are terrified. They want to dissolve their adoption. Their son has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, PTSD, and major depressive disorder.

When the Westcotts read the DCFS documentation on their son pre-adoption, he was described as “well-behaved,” with “no difficulties with attachments and knows right from wrong,” who “(does) not demonstrate any significant behavioral problems which would be considered abnormal for a child his age.” Additionally, the boy’s foster mother says she contacted DCFS to tell them of his violent tendencies before he was placed for adoption.

So what are the Westcotts to do? They are trying to dissolve their adoption but in Oklahoma, as in most other states, it’s simply legally impossible without suing DCFS. They can’t refuse to pick up their child from treatment without risking being charged with felony child abandonment. If they receive an adoption subsidy (and I don’t know if they do), the Oklahoma adoption subsidy for an emotionally disturbed child is about $575 a month – a far cry from what long-term residential treatment would cost if the Westcotts paid out of pocket. Yet if their son had remained in foster care, the state would place him in therapeutic care or a residential treatment facility with no issues. Oklahoma has one state-run psychiatric facility for children and adolescents and, if Oklahoma is like most other states, the facility is probably full of children who have their treatment paid for my state Medicaid – wards of the state (note: I could find no statistics on the percentage of the population that is in DCFS custody).

The Westcott’s child needs more help than they can financially (if not emotionally) provide. It seems to me that, if the State of Oklahoma’s goal is really to preserve the adoption, they would extend Medicaid to this child so that he can remain in intensive treatment as long as needed. I’d like to extend an invitation to the Westcotts to join other parents who understand their situation at both the CABF Adoption Support Group and at The Village Project parental support group. I feel for them, as well as for their child. This is a wicked road to hoe for any parent. I hope the state helps keep this family together with the support and services they need.

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  • Anonymous April 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Yes, but the Westcotts don't seem to be asking for anything other than to return their product. They didn't get what they thought they were getting, and it is only too likely that the boy's problems increased because of the trauma of yet another home to adjust to. Can I return my natural child to the state? She developed severe mental health problems at this age, too. Life isn't fair. US style health insurance is even more unfair, making a desperate situation even worse. But, again, I didn't pick up that the Westcotts are wanting to keep at this for the long haul.

  • Chrisa April 11, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Neither of us know the root cause of the Westcotts desire to dissolve the adoption. Children that have been abused and/or neglected, and spend significant time in the foster care system, have a high rate of emotional damage. The Westcotts should have known that going in. They did say that that they told their caseworker that they did not think they could handle a child with severe sexual abuse or emotional issues – and the DCFS disclosed paperwork shows the state was, at best, not monitoring the kid well enough to realize the extent of his issues and, at worst, deliberately hiding them.

    Adopting an older child is not the same as giving birth or adopting an infant. Parents who adopt older kids do so deliberately, knowing that the child they bring into their families will most likely have some problems. It's not the same – if it was, they'd assign kids randomly to adoptive parents.

  • Anna Kyle April 13, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I thought that bringing a child into your family, by birth or adoption, was for better or worse. We can't "divorce" our children! There are long term care facilities for the severe kids through DHS. They're not the best, but if they just can't find anything else there are safer places out there than putting a child back in foster care. In Arkansas they are called Human Development Centers and work with kids and adults who are MR or don't fit into other facilities. Stories like these reinforce my desire to adopt children with mental illness even though I'm already caring for my 2 mentally ill sons we have by birth.

  • Chrisa April 13, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Ah Anna – I think you hit it right on the head. You would choose to adopt a child with a mental illness. The Westcotts made it clear they did not.

    Obviously I don't believe in "cut and run," or I wouldn't still have my son – or my daughter, for that matter, who has issues of her own. And there are lots of adoptive – and biological – parents who have found a way to find the resources to get through illness as severe as this.

    Here's another question I'd love to get everyone's input on – is it REALLY in the child's best interest to go back to adoptive parents who clearly don't want him in their home? Legally binding contract or not, is that what's BEST for the child? Isn't that what's most important?

  • Anonymous April 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I think the Westcotts have lost in the court of public opinion. They profess to love their child but clearly not enough to do what other parents must do, which is to stick by them. What were they thinking when they officially adopted an eight year old? That there would be no baggage ever? That there was a warranty and therefore an escape clause? How does anybody know what is best for the child? Usually, it is based on what you feel is best for you. I can't imagine that being officially unadopted as being best for the child. Then there is the problem of precedent. I didn't see that this couple had any other children, but I may have missed something. If they don't have other children, they must have a naive view of their ability to roll with the punches.

  • Chrisa April 14, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Well, you know what they say about opinions….they're like a certain bodily orifice – and everyone's got one.

    They haven't lost in my opinion. My internal jury is still out.

  • Anonymous March 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    As an adoptive parent of two RAD children, I totally feel for this family. I had to let the first childs BIO mom adopt her from me just to save my family. I am now fighting to get help for the 2nd child. They say that everyone has her best interest at heart but all they care about is sweeping the child under the carpet somewhere. If you call the police they say call C & Y and when you call them they say call the police or you adopted her and she is your problem. Not exactly what you want to hear when your 13 year old is throwing punches at you and your family. There is no help for kids in this situation. If she was still a foster kid they would put her in Residential. My kid spent 1 1/2 years there already and didn't make any changes. She didn't even get off level one. Insurance was tired of paying for her so they knocked her down to a CRR host home after my refusing to take her back into my home. Now they are trying to send her home again. I was threatened to be charged yesterday if I don't pick her up upon discharge. I have a family to protect and can't be bullied into taking a very disruptive RAD child back into my home. I will go to jail first and I will expose everyone that refused to help this child. All of us should unite. Unless you have one of these children in your home you should not judge those of us that do. How would like to be scared to go to sleep at night or to leave your grandchildren in the same room with them? How would you like to wake up to a dead dog? How would you like to lose your job because you keep getting called to pick up your child from school? How would you like to never go on vacation? How would you like to let a child dictate what your entire family does that day because they have the power to do so. How would you like to be cut off from extended family events because everyone is afraid of your child? Don't judge!!!! I will be happy to share my 13 year old with you and let you see with your own eyes.

  • Chrisa March 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    I totally get it. I've got a RAD kid of my own (not Tim, The Girl).

  • Patricia December 28, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    We adopted a sibling group at the time of the adoption DHS knew that we were having problems with the oldest child. They even said at the adoption meeting if it did not work out we could return her. We were shocked. But, she said, we don't like it, but it does happen. When we adopted the oldest girl we were told she only had ADHD. We later found out after almost 5,000 worth of damage to our home and car that she has RAD Reactive attachment disorder, Meaning she never learned as a child to bond. ODD oppositional defiant disorder. Meaning she does not like to be told what to do. Along with depression. We tried everything with her. The more we did for her, the more she came against us. She stole clothes, shoes, wedding pictures, knives. She destroyed so much property that we couldn't keep up with the repairs. She took a knife and carved up my kitchen counter. She took a culinary fork and jabbed holes in our kitchen table, bedroom furniture. She took a flathead screwdriver and went down the side of my car with it. She tore the ceiling above the shower, because we made her take showers. She stored wet toilet paper in the bathroom cabinet. Where the bathroom smelled like pee. When they confiscated her purse from her at school. They found a lighter, a pair of large scissors. She would hold the scissors open against her nose on the school bus, and lick them. She gave away most the clothes I bought her and only wore sleeveless night shirts to school, showing as much flesh as she could. She told everyone at school that she had been pregnant 4 times, and had 4 kids. She told them at school that she had sex with her real dad and got pregnant. I found my clothes shredded or they would just disappear. The kids at school are scared of her. The kids at home are scared of her. She's burnt our kitchen cabinets. Right now she's in the hospital. Do we want her back _NO. I can't take the stress. We did not damage her. She was damaged when we got her. She was a victim, but now she is the predator. We gave her a home and love, and she didn't appreciate it. She said because we/I did so much that I was and insult to her bio mom. She said at the time that she wanted to be adopted, but her sister says she just wanted someone in the family to step up and adopt her. When we asked her why she did all the damage to our home and car, and not to her aunt that she had lived with. She said because they were family. I couldn't do that to family. She told us right then that we accepted her as family, but she didn't us. She said it all, we weren't her family. How can I let a child back into my home that has destroyed or taken the most sentimental things to me, when she herself says, we are not family. I am just opening myself up to be a victim and allowing her to be the predator. She either goes to a group or back to DHS, or Juvenile Detention. She's 13 and accountable for her actions. Our family is terrified of her including her half sister.

  • Patricia December 28, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    I understand! We are in the same boat. You don't know until you wear those shoes.

  • Patricia December 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    What we need to realize is that kids are coming into the system more damaged by drugs or sexual abuse then ever before. Until DHS recognizes this we are opening our homes to be victimized. There has to be a solution when adoption doesn't work. Some of these kids are so angry at their bio parents because they are forced into another family. Our 13 year-old confessed she did drugs crystal meth, pot with her bio family, and sex. We were not prepared for this at all. She was not prepared to live in a house with rules and structure. My husband and I opened our home to children, but we are older and I don't have the strength to hold her back if and when she comes at me.

  • Anonymous October 21, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    I also live that life with two rad kids in Oklahoma as a single mom. I am bereft of hope for either them or me

  • Chrisa Hickey October 21, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    I'm so sorry.