The message posted to the Yahoo group for parents who have adopted children from Ethiopia was startling to many who read it.
“I am helping a friend look for a new family for her daughter,” it said, and went on to detail the 5-year-old child’s family and medical history: Born to a single mother who died from AIDS. HIV positive. Diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Inappropriate sexual behavior. On the plus side, the post said, the girl had learned English easily, is bright and loves to dance and sing.
“They cannot continue to have her in their home as they are not equipped to deal with her needs and they have other small children they need to protect,” the writer explained.
The post ignited a firestorm among group members.
Some were outraged at the public disclosure of the child’s personal information and the seemingly cavalier approach to finding her a new family. Others were dismayed the adoption had failed a little more than a year after the family brought the child to Utah from Ethiopia.
There were defenders of the family as well, saying they understood the havoc and heartbreak of a problematic adoption.
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In May, the Yahoo group heard of another failed adoption — this one involving a 12-year-old Ethiopian girl whose adoptive father is charged with sexually abusing her just months after her arrival in Utah. Her mother also decided to find a new home for the girl and her younger brother
Experts say most foreign adoptions succeed, but these cases illustrate that screening of children and families isn’t foolproof, preparing parents for inevitable challenges is critical and post-adoption support is a must.
As the debate swirled among the Yahoo group, the first girl’s mother came forward to apologize for what she said was unintended use of her daughter’s life history and to offer her own defense.
“I understand that this path doesn’t make sense to everyone,” wrote Lacey, a pseudonym The Salt Lake Tribune is using for the Utah mother. “We have worked and prayed and loved a child who could not love us back because of the traumas she has faced in her very short life.”
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Once Lacey made the decision to find a new family for her daughter, her first call was to the agency. She said the agency was “wonderful, supportive” but did not have any families ready to adopt a child with her daughter’s needs. She also couldn’t afford its nearly $1,000 fee.
So in May, she began her own search.
“We chose to lay it on the line, saying, ‘Here is a little girl who needs a family,’ ” said Lacey, who at this point was desperate, exhausted and overwhelmed.
But that do-it-yourself approach — also used by the 12-year-old girl’s family — puts a child in a potentially risky situation, with few safeguards or oversight.
“People trying to take care of an extraordinary situation without professional help is a formula for more problems,” said Adam Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute based in New York.
Lacey said she talked to hundreds of people about her daughter before finding a new home with a single woman she knew “somewhat” through a “friend of a friend.” She gave the Washington woman temporary guardianship of the girl and then began a private adoption, which would have included a home study and background check.
But the placement fell apart quickly. The new adoptive mother was arrested during a domestic violence incident that Lacey said involved an argument over the child’s behavior.
The next stop for the child was a relative’s home, where she remained until August, when Lacey found another family for her. Lacey and her husband’s parental rights have been terminated and the new adoption is proceeding.
“It is not like I am just discarding this child,” Lacey said. “I have fought more for this child than I did while she was in my home. All I can say in the end is we did the best that we could.”
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