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More help for adoptive families is needed

November 16, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
What makes a couple abandon an adopted child they have raised since infancy? Let's start with a broken mental health system and possibly poor follow-up services for adoptive families.

The Daily Mail reports that this week a couple in Cincinnati, Ohio were formally charged with misdemeanor reckless abandonment for signing over custody of their 9-year-old son, whom they had raised since the age of 3 months, to the county.

The couple have other children at home. Apparently they could no longer handle the boy, who allegedly has mental health issues that caused him to have outbursts of anger and threaten to kill everyone in the household with a knife. The boy had been hospitalized several times for his issues. The couple could get up to six months in jail for abandonment.

This isn't the first case in the news in recent months about adoptions gone wrong. There was a story earlier this fall about families "rehoming" their troubled adopted children, sometimes to highly unsuitable families they had met only briefly over the Internet. Some of these poor kids had been "rehomed" multiple times. In some of the cases, it sounds like there was little to no help available for the adoptive parents who were dealing with the severe behavior issues of their adopted children.

Adoption disruptions are more common than many people like to acknowledge, particularly when the family has adopted an older child with behavioral issues or they did not have adequate preparation or resources to deal with a child who develops problems as he grows up. Even a child who is adopted as a very young baby might have problems if his birth mother used drugs or alcohol during the pregnancy or was neglectful when the child was a baby or if he inherited some mental illness like bipolar disorder from his birth family.

I don't know what went wrong with the case of the child who was adopted by the Cincinnati couple, but it sounds like the parents did try pretty hard to get this kid help before they finally gave him up. This couple is fairly well-to-do, but residential treatment and in-patient treatment on a psych ward for a troubled child can add up to many thousands of dollars within just a few months, probably more than even an upper middle class family can afford. I have seen stories about families who were forced to give up troubled biological children just so the state would be forced to pay for the mental health treatment that the family could not afford.

The county prosecutor who brought charges said that parents are responsible for getting their children help and should not just abandon them. When they adopted the 9-year-old, he became just as much their child as any biological child. This is true, but it's also true that there's probably a lot more to this story. There needs to be better regulation of adoption in this country and more resources directed to follow-up services so families like this one don't become so desperate they have to give up a child.


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