Tammy Herstad feels like a failure. A mother of three adopted sons and one biological daughter in the Chicago suburb of Bartlett, Herstad spends much of her time worrying about her adopted son, Adam. The 9-year-old has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and other emotional disturbances that manifest in violent, destructive behavior at the slightest provocation.In the 70s & 80s there were a lot of cases of failure to inform adoptive parents of information about the children they were adopting. An adoptive parent might not be told about known sexual abuse of the child, or of known significant physical and mental health diagnoses. The first court to recognize a legal cause of action for this failure to provide information, usually called "wrongful adoption," did so in 1986. The publicity associated with these cases led many states to enact legislative reform, creating obligations to provide medical, psychiatric, educational, social, and family information about a child prior to adoption.
“Right after the adoption, he fell off the deep end,” Herstad says. “He would wake up in the middle of night and destroy things. He would take (his brother) Abel’s diabetes syringes and stick them in things. He would break glass, he would hurt our dogs, he couldn’t sit in his seat anymore. He was hearing voices…(he was) aggressive, violent. It was just absolutely crazy.”
Herstad says she feels like she failed Adam because her love and parenting skills weren’t enough to stop his damaging and dangerous behavior. But Tammy Herstad also feels let down herself. She says she wasn’t warned about Adam’s bipolar disorder, reactive attachment disorder and other issues. And she’s not the only one who feels left out of the loop.
Illinois Times spoke with five families in Springfield and around the state who say the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, along with the private agencies with which DCFS contracts, fails to give families the full picture concerning the children they adopt. Undisclosed tendencies toward violence and self-harm can lead adoptive families to throw up their hands in desperation, jeopardizing the future of an adopted child.
Does DCFS keep potentially explosive information from adoptive parents or offer promises it doesn’t keep? The answer is nuanced, but not very comforting.
I think many have come to believe that the problem of informational deficits has been solved by these reform efforts, at least in the domestic adoption context. This article suggests that that is not the case, at least not in Illinois.