Monday, March 16, 2015

Arkansas Re-homing Atrocity

This story has pretty much all the triggers, fyi.

Sometimes adoptions get "disrupted" after finalization.  There are cases when it is in a child's best interest that he or she join another family because their current one cannot meet their needs.  This tends to happen to older children with extremely difficult-to-handle emotional and behavioral problems.  Sometimes the family wasn't honestly informed about the child's issues pre-adoption, and the child poses a significant physical danger to to others in the household.  Sometimes disruption is done with the supervision of professionals, and the child goes to a family with a valid home study where the parents have been trained to help a child with severe issues, or they go to a residential treatment program for those with mental illnesses.  It is always a tragedy, but sometimes is a tragedy with the transition conducted in a responsible, loving manner.  This post is not about one of those times.

"Re-homing" is a term used in the adoption community when parents simply give their adopted child or children to another family, often with minimal vetting and no supervision by any sort of adoption professionals or governmental agency.  They just sign over guardianship and wash their hands of a child they no longer want in their house.  It's a horrible practice that leads to lots of abuse and trauma for the kids, as you might imagine.  It's something most people never would consider doing if they had a bio kid with difficulties rather than an adopted one.

In Arkansas, a state legislator (R-Crazytown) named Justin Harris adopted two little girls, age 2 and 4 at the time. The elder one had been sexually abused in the family of origin.  Mr. Harris and his wife were allegedly informed of the child's emotional issues.  They were, in fact, strongly discouraged from adopting the children by the girls' foster family and by various social workers who felt that the couple were not equipped to handle their needs.  They ignored this advice, because Jesus, or something?  Anyhow, they adopted the girls against advice, allegedly by exerting pressure on the head of DHS, whose budget Mr. Harris just happens to oversee on his legislative committee.

After about a year of doing things like locking the older girl in an empty room for hours at a time and conducting exorcisms failed to heal her trauma (shocker, I know), they turned the girls over to some guy who used to work for them-- at their government funded super-Christian preschool, natch.  New dad promptly began raping the older girl, and he is now in prison.  The girls are now apparently doing okay in yet another new family.  Mr. Harris, of course, blames everyone but himself and his wife for this horror show.

Adoptions that go terribly awry tend to do so because best practices are ignored by agencies and hopeful adoptive parents.  For some reason, this seems to happen more frequently in a certain part of the Evangelical community that is really into promoting adoption and large families.  Most of these situations could be prevented if people would simply do proper research, listen to people who know what they are talking about, think things through, and not take parenting advice from wingnuts,  I don't just blame the adoptive parents in these situations.  Many of them have the best of intentions when they decide to adopt.  Agencies and DHS need to do more to stop bad placements.

Reasons I think you should not adopt an older child with a history of trauma or other special needs

1)You think love is enough.

Everyone wants to believe that love is enough to heal a broken heart.  It isn't.  Love is necessary but not sufficient.  You also need knowledge and professional help to assist a traumatized child in recovering, attaching, and learning to thrive.

2)  You think you can pray it away.

I go to church every week.  I pray every day.  But God gave us brains so we can use them.  We have psychologists.  Go to one who specializes in adoption and trauma.  You can pray all you want in the car on the way there.

3)  You already have a boatload of small children

High needs kids need lots of attention in order to recover.  That is kind of their whole bag.  There are only 24 hours in the day.  You think God will make a way?  Maybe his way is another family with fewer demands on the primary caregiver's time and energy.

People act like there is no way to foresee that a mom home-schooling five other kids under the age of 12 can't handle a 4-year-old with an emotional problem or a health issue that requires four doctors' appointments a week.  Anyone who has a grip on reality can see that train wreck coming.  It isn't fair to the new child nor to the ones you already have.  Why do agencies let people do this?

4)  You're adopting out of birth order

Do not adopt a special needs 3-year-old when you have or are expecting a new baby.  That high-needs kid needs to be the center of attention for at least a couple of years.

5) You have an authoritarian parenting style

I'm not saying you can't have rules and structure in your home.  I'm saying if unquestioning obedience and submission to authority is what you require of your children, a child with a trauma history is not a good idea for you.  Quite frankly, I think it's a terrible idea with any kid, but with a traumatized kid, it is a disaster.

You can't punish kids into forming healthy attachments.  You can't use the rod to make them trust you.  You certainly can't regularly lock them in a room all alone with no toys or books for hours on end because you think they are possessed by demons and expect that they will get better.  That makes you a child abuser, not a parent, and they shouldn't let you adopt a hamster much less a child.

6) You're going to treat your adopted kids like second class citizens in their own home

Your new kids will be able to tell if you treat your bio kids' health, safety, and happiness as more important than your adopted kids' health, safety, and happiness.  Kids aren't stupid.  How good do you think that is for attachment?

7) You have a savior complex.

It is noble to want to help a child who needs a family.  It is horrible to place obligations on a child to be grateful to you for "saving" them, or to teach a kid that their home country is a horrible place you saved them from, or that their family of origin was terrible.  It's wrong to adopt because your church is putting pressure on you to do so or because you want to look like a saint or a martyr.  It's gross and harms the kids.

Families in crisis need more resources.  Particularly in international adoption, once that adoption is finalized, sometimes parents have nowhere to turn for help.  Mr. Harris claims DHS threatened them and refused to help them when they asked for assistance, and that the head of DHS knew about the rehoming,  If true, that is a real problem.  But in in addition to providing resources for these families, more care needs to be taken pre-placement to ensure that the fit for the child is a good one.

The Harrisses abused these girls and then turned them over to a monster.  They should experience consequences for that.  But they also should never have been allowed to take those girls home in the first place.


  1. I wholeheartedly agree! The Harrises were BEYOND reckless and negligent when it came to their treatment of these children. No matter what special needs a child has, he or she deserves no less than the utmost care and love. This breaks my heart.

  2. Nice piece, AM. What a tragic situation for that little girl.