New scrutiny on re-homing of adopted kids
March 9, 2015 8:41 AM   Subscribe

"Re-homing" is the largely unregulated practice by which parents of adopted children in the U.S. hand over those children to new families, with little or no government oversight. While some states started cracking down last year, the issue has gained new attention with the story of Arkansas Representative Justin Harris and his wife. They adopted a pair of girls, 3 and 6, who proved more troublesome than they seemed. Harris and his wife gave the girls to a worker in the religious school he owned, who subsequently raped the 6-year-old. The girls' previous foster family has now raised questions about Harris' story. [Previously, a 2013 Reuters investigation: The Child Exchange - Inside America's underground market for adopted children] posted by mediareport (61 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Even without the horrific result in this case, if the first sentence of this post doesn't outrage you, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:47 AM on March 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


This is outrage filter... And I'm fucking outraged.

What in the actual fuck is going on in people's heads here? And what can we do?

Also: what is the relationship between re-homing and the various Christian dominionist practices of corporal punishment and active resistance to child welfare investigations?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:50 AM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I tried to present the issue in a clear, un-outraged way, but since you asked, the ABA article in the "cracking down" link discusses strategies and concerns about regulation, which you can use to contact your own state legislators if you're feeling like doing something other than feeling outraged.

For its part, the Adoption Committee of the ABA Family Law Section has informally discussed re-homing, but it has no plans to take active steps such as drafting a model statute, says family lawyer Carl Gilmore, the committee's chair.

"I'm always hard-pressed to say under all circumstances that a practice should always be illegal," says Gilmore of Woodstock, Illinois. "I can see circumstances where replacement of children might be advantageous, such as when there's been no attachment between the child and the family. But there needs to be oversight." Re-homing must be viewed "with a great deal of caution" and include, at the very least, investigations and criminal background checks, he says.

posted by mediareport at 8:54 AM on March 9, 2015


Many parents of adopted children are desperate. Serious problems erupt when agencies don't screen potential adoptive parents or the child's special needs aren't disclosed. Often, those needs result from neglect or mistreatment by birth parents or at overloaded orphanages.

This is the problem. A big one.
posted by Melismata at 8:54 AM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also:

Last summer, Louisiana also banned nonlegal adoption,

Um, what?
posted by Melismata at 8:57 AM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I read the story of Harris and his crap excuses the other day, and am still too pissed off to read any more about it. The thing that really got me is that the girl his employee raped was in foster care because she'd been sexually abused. Her life is now a complete nightmare, and Harris had a lot to do with that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:58 AM on March 9, 2015 [23 favorites]


anotherpanacea - I was first made aware of this story by the community of ex-Quiverfull and ex-fundamentalist bloggers who monitor child welfare stories. There is definitely a very troubling trend of Christian churches that put an emphasis on adoption of children with special needs, which seems like a good thing until stories very much like this one surface, or stories of children who die in foster care or in their adoptive home

This case is especially outrageous because the Harris family from all appearances is very privileged. They can't really fall back on the claim that they couldn't get the support they needed to deal with the children or to rehome them through proper channels if the adoptive relationship did fall apart.
posted by muddgirl at 9:01 AM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's interesting (horrifying) that the article says out of the 4,000+ adoptions between 2006 and 2013, "only 67 children were returned to foster care." That seems like a pretty big number, even if it's such a small percentage. That's quite a few families who were either unprepared or unwilling to keep the child they adopted. Not at all saying it's always the family's fault. If you don't know what to be prepared for, that's not fair either.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:01 AM on March 9, 2015


Also, families who adopt a high-needs child naturally don't have much support from anywhere else because we don't have a meaningful social safety net, and as a society we disapprove so much of parents who struggle to parent. So I imagine that it just gets worse and worse, people don't want to talk about their struggles and their judgement erodes. One strategy for all this would be providing more resources and more relief care - after all, kids need homes, and while screening parents is a great idea, giving those same parents more resources later on seems necessary too.

At the same time, I truly do not understand how - even if you were desperate and exhausted - "I know, I will send this child to a complete stranger, that can't possibly go wrong because good people totally seek random children on the internet" could seem like a good idea. How could you not immediately think, "that type of person is almost certainly abusive in some way and they're proactively trying to get kids to abuse"?
posted by Frowner at 9:10 AM on March 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


If you don't know what to be prepared for, that's not fair either.

Yeah, but if you read the link "The girls' previous foster family has now raised questions about Harris' story"--DHS tried to prevent the adoption, but Harris went to someone he knew who was in charge and forced it through!
posted by leesh at 9:12 AM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


I read that Reuters investigation last night, spurred on by the Harris controversy. Besides the foreign adoptions and lack of oversight, the foster child adoption is also fraught with trouble. I had a neighbor who always took in 2 to 3 foster children and once suggested it to me as an income stream. She had set up some basement bedrooms and specifically requested girls. She also requested girls with special needs as the stipend was greater. She adopted two that both had been diagnosed with learning disabilities with the understanding that she would continue to receive SSI money on their behalf. She received a lot of recognition as a champion of kids, but her activities were somewhat mercenary. She also told me that social workers at DCFS often gave the kids diagnoses that would enable them to receive more state funding making them easier to find foster parents for and eventually more adoptable.

I watched the girls after school (my neighbor worked part time as a crossing guard) and never noticed the disabilities but they were in a good home and doing better than they might have been so in this case it worked out. But knowing all this has made me look at fostering and adoption with a more jaded eye.
posted by readery at 9:14 AM on March 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think part of the problem is that a lot - I'm not saying most, but a lot - of people who hear about the current stipulations for adoptions think they're ridiculous and too high of a barrier to adoption. You hear all the time about people being unable to adopt for a lot of incredibly trivial reasons because of the government system. So going outside the government system doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Like, if they had re-homed the children and the next family had turned out to be awesome and great and loving, I'm not sure I personally would have had problems with that. I would have thought it was a net good. But the implication is that the government would have been able to tell that the next family would have included a rapist, but I just don't think that's likely - the government gives foster kids to people all the time who wind up sexually abusing or molesting them.

People rehome their biological, non adoptive children, all the time without comment - to grandparents or parents or relatives who they think are better able to care for them. I don't see why it's a problem only for adoptive children. Obviously this situation was horrific, but it wasn't horrific because they gave the children to another family, it was horrific because that family included a rapist.
posted by corb at 9:26 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Last summer, Louisiana also banned nonlegal adoption,

Um, what?


"Nonlegal" doesn't mean "illegal." It's just a confusing way of saying "unofficial," i.e. without papers and stuff.

But, yeah. 'Bout time.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:31 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


But the implication is that the government would have been able to tell that the next family would have included a rapist, but I just don't think that's likely - the government gives foster kids to people all the time who wind up sexually abusing or molesting them.

To horribly paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, you miss 100 percent of the predators you don't screen for.
posted by Etrigan at 9:35 AM on March 9, 2015 [28 favorites]


But the implication is that the government would have been able to tell that the next family would have included a rapist, but I just don't think that's likely

corb, one of the points made in the Reuters investigation is that the family one adopted child was transferred to had numerous and serious red flags:

• Child welfare authorities had taken away both of Nicole Eason's biological children years earlier. After a sheriff's deputy helped remove the Easons' second child, a newborn baby boy, the deputy wrote in his report that the "parents have severe psychiatric problems as well with violent tendencies."

• The Easons each had been accused by children they were babysitting of sexual abuse, police reports show. They say they did nothing wrong, and neither was charged.

• The only official document attesting to their parenting skills – one purportedly drafted by a social worker who had inspected the Easons' home – was fake, created by the Easons themselves.


I think the basic point that there should be at least some oversight by government officials during these transfers is clear and obvious.
posted by mediareport at 9:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [21 favorites]


That's quite a few families who were either unprepared or unwilling to keep the child they adopted. Not at all saying it's always the family's fault. If you don't know what to be prepared for, that's not fair either.

What often happens (and I say this from a lot of first-hand experience) is that latent issues do not present until a child gets older, and "love" does not conquer all, at least not in the way that a lot of people are raised to love other people who have better than average environments. There are two big things that make this a late-game issue, often after an adoption is completed:

1. The number of kids who come into the system because they were exposed to drugs prenatally is really, really, high. These children often start out with some issues, and many of them seem okay, but behavioral issues start later, after a child has been officially adopted. For some reason many kids seem like they are doing pretty okay until they get to three or four, and then behaviors related to the drug exposure start. For some kids, it's earlier, but then what you don't hear is that they simply aren't adopted and go back into the system.

2. Psychological attachment issues are very real, in terms of a person's long-term ability to love and receive love. What I mean is that a consistent and primary care giver for the first few years of life to allow for an emotional grounding is pivotal to the long term emotional success of a person. The foster system is not set up to encourage long-term placement, and kids get passed around a lot. Unfortunately, many of these issues don't present until after adoption or a longer-term placement, as well. Survival requires that you often get along with your temporary placement. Once a child gets older, or they trust that they can be emotional in a more permanent placement, issues often start to present themselves.

My wife and I are from privileged backgrounds, and we have resources through an adoption agency and the county. But holy cow is the system not ready to handle either of these issues in a way that allows foster families to get the training that they need. For the first one, it is so pervasive that the system can't keep up with it in a way that is overly helpful. In the second, it's burgeoning area of psychology that is only starting to trickle down practically through the system, and the old-guard (in the courts and in social services) doesn't always participate like they need to and actually do things that are detrimental to the long-term health of children (like moving them around a lot with no sense of permanency). If my wife wasn't already a social worker and tenacious as all get-out to advocate for the children we've cared for, we would have been lost, too, although technically there are numerous resources floating around out there somewhere. A lot of it also is just ignorance regarding the actual needs of children, and a system that doesn't allocate resources to better help get past that ignorance.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:49 AM on March 9, 2015 [20 favorites]


The idea that there should be no oversight except by amateurs is ridiculous.

People are doing a complicated thing that is hugely important, they're doing it under pressure and in bad circumstances. And they only do it once - it's not as though a family trying to rehome a child has a lot of experience assessing the potential new homes. Plus, they don't have access to all the databases that the state does, and they probably don't have enough savvy to use the ones that they can access. (It doesn't sound like most of the people in the Reuters article are using the internet in an especially sophisticated way.)

Something that is complex and important needs to be done by people who have skills and experience, not by amateurs who are already anxious to pass a child along. It needs to be done to high standards. There need to be actual benchmarks against which a situation can be assessed. There needs to be a way to track the results.

Amateurs can't do this stuff. I come from a political tradition in which people are always trying to DIY heavy-duty stuff like dealing with in-community sexual assault. That kind of thing is very, very difficult even for people who have lots of amateur experience and lots of community support, even when there are good, disinterested guide materials available.

The solution to "the state is not that great at this" is not "let's just toss out everything and everyone will just do what they feel, starting...now!!!!"

Getting amateurs to handle complicated tasks at a high level of skill and reliability is a huge undertaking. It's certainly possible, but it requires a strong culture of mutual responsibility and a lot of scaffolding.
posted by Frowner at 9:52 AM on March 9, 2015 [20 favorites]


The Harris case is kind of the ultimate clusterfuck version. He and his wife already had children, but had some burning need to adopt these children? Why? Because another election was coming up? How else can you explain them yanking (not pulling) strings to get these kids, against repeated advice of the people who knew most about them, and then the sudden about -face/dumping of them with a random man they had briefly hired, then fired? Who does that? Who treats children in that way?

Did they really yank these children around, and make their already hard lives worse, and subject them to additional abuse, for a whim or election optics? It's hard for me not to think so.

There is a lot of documentation on Christian quiverfull/fundamentalist families adopting or fostering children as a way of gaining status, but what actually happens to those children is often very bad. Especially nonwhite children, they get treated as indentured servants or simply abused or even killed. "Rehoming" (ugh, that word) happens too.
posted by emjaybee at 9:54 AM on March 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


There are lots of interesting issues going on here.

As corb points out, plenty of families will ask another family to care for their child for a while (in my case, it was my grandparents who took care of me for six months) for a variety of reasons, not all behavioral: it could be due to financial pressures on the original family, or a divorce, or parents having a short-term job overseas, or simply because the child is going through a particularly tough time with a parent. Or the child is simply too much to handle.

This has long been flying under the radar, because who would want to (or think to) check with DHS before asking Aunt Mary to take little Damien off their hands?

But with adopted kids, there's follow-up and there's record-keeping (not perfect, but it's there) and so the state can track how many kids get surrendered. It's higher for adopted kids than biological kids, by the way: according to the excellent Arkansas Times article,
DHS facilitated 4,055 adoptions in the state between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2013. Among those, only 67 children were returned to foster care — that is, 1.65 percent of the total. Those figures are consistent with national estimates.
This is double the national rate for all children entering foster care, which is about 0.8% (source: 510,000 children in foster care, out of a US child population of 64.4 million). I don't think, by the way, that this is indicative of problems with adoption per se, but rather that adopted kids bring with them a larger set of issues (older kids, abandoned kids, cross-cultural adoptions, etc).

And because there'a record-keeping, the state and the media know that some (very few) adoptions don't work out, and when you combine that with the advertising of children on the internet for "re-homing", it all becomes very big news.

What particularly bothers me about this article is the idea that adopted children should be or could be "re-homed", as if home was a fungible commodity. There is no re-homing. There is only your home. Adopted children are treated no differently in the eyes of the law than biological children, and they should be treated no differently in the eyes of their parents.

What I'm saying is that the neglect and abandonment of children is not an adoption problem, although that's the way it's portrayed in these articles. It's a parenting problem. And not necessarily because of problem parents, although that could be the case, but because of the problems of being a good parent. The problems of doing everything you can to raise up this small human who loves you one moment and hates you the next. The problem of how humiliating it is to reach the end of your rope and to have to reach out for help. The fear of being branded a bad parent, the terror of having your children taken away from you.

There's some help with the normalizing (in the better parenting blogs) of these kinds of feelings, as then the parent doesn't feel like they're the only one who Just Can't Cope. But beyond that... as SpacemanStix writes above, this is just a systemic problem that even the best of us would have trouble dealing with.
posted by math at 9:55 AM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


You hear all the time about people being unable to adopt for a lot of incredibly trivial reasons because of the government system. So going outside the government system doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

If we take the second Arkansas Times piece at face value, the oversight issue wasn't just with the re-homing, it was with the original adoption out of foster care:
An experienced foster family that housed the two younger girls for a year and a half prior to their adoption by the Harrises has approached the Times with their story. Craig and Cheryl Hart say, among other things, the adoption was allowed to proceed over the objections of the foster parents and local DHS staff only because the head of the the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Cecile Blucker, exerted pressure on behalf of Justin Harris. DCFS is the arm of DHS responsible for child welfare...

"And at the hearing, the ad litem attorney — you know, the one who is representing only the interests of the children — said, 'When we met less than a couple of days ago, everyone's recommendation was for these kids to not go to this home. Now, what has happened in the last 24 hours that everyone's recommendation has changed?'"

"Harris' face was getting all red," Cheryl said. "And the ad litem asked him, 'Did you make calls?' And he finally said, 'I did what I had to do to get these girls.' I expected the judge would [stop the adoption] but she gave them the oldest girl." The younger two soon followed.
If that's true (a reasonably sized 'if'), then going outside the government system in this case (by using personal political pressure to overrule staff) was a terrible idea, in that following the established system would have left them unable to adopt these children -- and therefore not in a position to send them to a new home.
posted by cjelli at 10:00 AM on March 9, 2015 [23 favorites]


This is INFURIATING.

The foster family that had the 2 youngest sisters for LONGER THAN HARRIS as well as the attorney whose only job was to advocate for these 2 girls PLUS others were all DEAD AGAINST this Harris person and his wife taking these 2 girls.

The older girl had been sexually abused and the Harris household already had OLDER UNRELATED BOY CHILDREN. And red-faced Justin "Jesus-will-do-whatever-we-need-because-we-are-blessed-so-don't-make-me-angry-by-trying-to-tell-me-that-I-don't-have-the-God-given-right-to-ANYTHING-I-want" Harris bullied some people into forcing this agency to give him these little girls (who I'm sure nobody really cared enough about to get into a fight over them with this entitled, little Napoleon).

And the foster family, who said the girls had been no trouble, who have many witnesses and friends who will testify to the girls' not being violent or even aggressive with the family's tiny Bichon, cared enough about these girls volunteer to do anything needed to help the Harrises, to give them breaks if they needed them, because as experienced Foster Parents they knew what could be coming for girls who had been through what these girls had been through.

And the Justin "arrogant sonofabitch" Harris immediately lost their number, and acted like they didn't even exist, even though THESE GIRLS HAD FORMED ATTACHMENTS TO THIS FAMILY OVER THE YEAR AND A HALF THEY HAD LIVED TOGETHER.

I am against the death penalty.
I don't think dehumanizing people is a good road to go down.
I think sometimes people do evil things, but there are very few people who are so broken as to be actually evil.

Despite these beliefs, I am shaking with rage and grief on behalf of these children and all the children like them that I have known.

For them to have actually come so close to finding a family, and a community of loving people who actually treated them well and cared about their well-being, only to be STOLEN by Harris and then thrown to the fucking wolves when his MAGICAL BULLSHIT didn't work...is sickening.

He should be charged as though he kidnapped these girls and gave them to the family where the new sexual abuse occurred EXPRESSLY FOR THAT PURPOSE.

If you force someone into an unsafe vehicle with no seatbelts, against the advice of people who know better, and then you fucking bail while the vehicle is in motion, and that person DIES...you are a fucking murderer.

Fuck Justin Harris. He and everyone who helped him should be charged as accessories to child-rape.
posted by mer2113 at 10:15 AM on March 9, 2015 [42 favorites]


from the link about the foster family raising questions:

According to the Harts, those who worked on this adoption case attempted to talk the Harrises out of adopting the girls. A local team of people highly familiar with the case — including DHS caseworkers, the attorney ad litem and the foster family — felt the Harrises were not prepared to handle girls who had been subject to sexual abuse (especially considering the Harris household contained three young boys — not a good combination).

"DHS attempted to talk to them about the girls' issues, but I feel like they were in denial," Cheryl said. "They were very defensive about it. They repeatedly told us they had degrees in Early Childhood Development, they had therapists there at their preschool, and they had God to help them through this."


Professionals in child development who worked SPECIFICALLY with the girls in question felt this was not an appropriate home for sexually abused young girls. How is that everyone objected to it yet they were overruled?

Sweet jesus, I feel for these girls. In their eyes, they have been betrayed by every adult who has claimed to care for them, even though many of those adults tried very hard to stop further harm from occurring. This is ridiculous.
posted by sio42 at 10:20 AM on March 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


Mr. harris has some gnomes hard at work keeping details from making it to his Wikipedia entry now.
posted by ocschwar at 10:28 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


He and his wife already had children, but had some burning need to adopt these children? Why? Because another election was coming up? How else can you explain them yanking (not pulling) strings to get these kids, against repeated advice of the people who knew most about them, and then the sudden about -face/dumping of them with a random man they had briefly hired, then fired?

If we're trying to assume the best rather than the worst: lots of people want children of both genders. It looks like they did have children, but only boys. There there were these two little girls, looks like age 4 and 2, right around the age when children are their most adorable. If the girls resembled the family at all, they could have thought it was perfect. The fact that they tried to get the older sister too - to keep the whole family together - reads as admirable rather than deliberately awful.
posted by corb at 10:29 AM on March 9, 2015


There's this real, persistent narrative amongst some Christians that parenting children with special needs is just not that hard -- that all these kids need is discipline and prayer if their needs are emotional or mental-health related, and that they are perfect little angelic substitutionary atonement machines if they have disabilities. I think part of it ties into anti-abortion activism, to be honest; otherwise, how would you adequately shame people who make the difficult and heartbreaking choice to terminate a pregnancy after an adverse prenatal diagnosis? But even beyond that, there's just this persistent rejection of the science of child development and psychology, and the belief that suffering brings you closer to God, and so it's important to bring these children into your life so that you may suffer along with them and thereby increase your piety. . . but there's never any real thought given to the idea that these children might actually be, you know, PEOPLE, with needs that have fuck all to do with your fucking piety.

And then, when it doesn't work out, is it the Godly, loving parents' fault for doing something incredibly ill-advised for which they are incredibly ill-prepared? No. It's because they are being persecuted, or the kid is afflicted by demons, or something. Look at how angry Harris is at the suggestion that maybe they fucked this one up hardcore:
In February, the Arkansas Times asked Rep. Harris to comment on the case and explain what became of the girls he and his wife had adopted. He refused, and stated that the Times was attempting to "smear" him. "It's evil," he said, becoming visibly upset.

When asked whether he rehomed his adoptive children with another family, he replied, "I'm not confirming that." When asked about the statements made in the State Police report in the Francis case, Harris said he hadn't read the file because of the disturbing descriptions of sexual abuse that they contain.

Harris then quoted Isaiah 54:17: "No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you."
Not only are the people doing the investigations evil and attempting to smear him, but he hasn't even read the case file -- because learning about what befell his children is too disturbing for him. Faugh. Instead of Isaiah, Harris should spend some time with Matthew 23:27-28: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."
posted by KathrynT at 10:29 AM on March 9, 2015 [41 favorites]


> People rehome their biological, non adoptive children, all the time without comment - to grandparents or parents or relatives who they think are better able to care for them. I don't see why it's a problem only for adoptive children. Obviously this situation was horrific, but it wasn't horrific because they gave the children to another family, it was horrific because that family included a rapist.

I don't agree. The bar for oversight needs to remain high for children who have been in foster care. We already know that this kind of disruption in a child's life causes psychological issues even when the foster care is excellent.

Meanwhile, that first link that claims that pets can be rehomed straightforwardly...must not have explored adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue group lately. A signed contract strictly forbidding rehoming is a pretty common requirement.
posted by desuetude at 10:32 AM on March 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


"DHS attempted to talk to them about the girls' issues, but I feel like they were in denial," Cheryl said. "They were very defensive about it. They repeatedly told us they had degrees in Early Childhood Development, they had therapists there at their preschool, and they had God to help them through this."

Doesn't want to know the details of the abuse history. Doesn't want to hear how they might not be as equipped as they claim to care for kids with history like that. But God will provide!
posted by rtha at 10:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]



There's this real, persistent narrative amongst some Christians that parenting children with special needs is just not that hard


Today's Evangelicals have been thoroughly influenced with pop-psychology, to an extent that reaches being non-Biblical. (The ones I know I've challenged to go find talk about a "personal relationship with Christ" in the Koine Greek.) And that leads them to think they can supplant it with their theology.

Truth be told, Evangelical "Christ therapy" is better than a lot of cockamamie ideas from the late 20th century's corpus of theories of psychology. But it's no substitute to keeping foster kids under the watchfull eye of people who can distinguish ass from elbow.
posted by ocschwar at 10:42 AM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]




First sentence? Fuck, just the word "re-homing" makes me grit my teeth, as it sounds like "re-gifting", as if the kid were the equivalent of that tacky Christmas sweater that you keep trying to palm off at white-elephant exchanges.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:38 AM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Dan Rather recently covered this in a two-hour documentary that made me so furious and upset that I almost had to be physically restrained. The entire thing makes me feel like something is so fucking wrong with our society and culture, something dark and terrible that cannot be fixed, and feeling this way makes me in turn so ashamed and dysfunctional and bleak.
posted by mynameisluka at 11:58 AM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Interesting, if we're learning one thing with these scandals, ala the Catholic church child abuse scandal, it's that an important fraction people with power will find ways to abuse their power to abuse other people.

I meant to write an #OpDeathEaters fpp based mostly on Vice's article Behind Anonymous’s Operation to Reveal Britain’s Elite Child-Rape Syndicate, etc etc but never found time (see marienbad's previous attempt).
posted by jeffburdges at 1:10 PM on March 9, 2015


I too have been following this for the last week. Money. That's the missing motive. Harris and his wife are about as godly as a tuna sandwich, and much smellier.
posted by spitbull at 1:26 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, families who adopt a high-needs child naturally don't have much support from anywhere else because we don't have a meaningful social safety net...

...something is so fucking wrong with our society and culture...


The bottom line is that our society doesn't really don't give a crap about actual living children. Because somebody somewhere might get something they're not entitled to.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:29 PM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Professionals in child development who worked SPECIFICALLY with the girls in question felt this was not an appropriate home for sexually abused young girls. How is that everyone objected to it yet they were overruled?
Phone calls were made:
By the time the Harris adoption went before a juvenile judge in the summer of 2012, Cheryl said, many on the DHS team had changed their recommendations. "Everyone testifying before the judge had stipulations, like 'to be followed up', 'to continue their therapy at Children's House [a specialized treatment center for abused kids],' but nobody would say, 'We really don't think this is a good idea.'

"And at the hearing, the ad litem attorney — you know, the one who is representing only the interests of the children — said, 'When we met less than a couple of days ago, everyone's recommendation was for these kids to not go to this home. Now, what has happened in the last 24 hours that everyone's recommendation has changed?'"

"Harris' face was getting all red," Cheryl said. "And the ad litem asked him, 'Did you make calls?' And he finally said, 'I did what I had to do to get these girls.' I expected the judge would [stop the adoption] but she gave them the oldest girl." The younger two soon followed.
posted by edheil at 1:40 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, families who adopt a high-needs child naturally don't have much support from anywhere else because we don't have a meaningful social safety net and because high-needs children require an absolute ton of time and money and thick skin to take care of. Don't blame everything on the social safety net.
posted by Melismata at 1:45 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is the first time I've come across the term "rehoming" applied to human beings.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:11 PM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah I get that phone calls were made. I'm just wondering why in the hell who took those calls felt it was appropriate to continue.

This is all just fucked up and the more I think about it, the more it seems like this is gonna be some weirdo Law and Order SVU type thing.

I really hope not but my cynicism is running higher than my hope right now.
posted by sio42 at 2:18 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Melismata: "Last summer, Louisiana also banned nonlegal adoption, "

Actually this is an interesting practice with a rich history! The roots of the practice go all the way back to slavery, when plantation owners routinely broke up families (and/or killed slaves) and slaves developed robust community systems for caring for parentless children. After the Civil War, black families in the South, often denied access to the courts, safe orphanages, etc., afraid to bring DHS authorities into their homes in abuse situations, and subject to far higher mortality rates for young parents (more dangerous jobs, less-good medical care), and often with less-stable family structures that come with poverty, created a rich cultural tradition of informal adoptions for children left parentless or in abusive homes. Many of these families lived without "papers" (birth certificates, etc.) anyway; black births routinely went unregistered through the 1960s, so it was relatively easy for a relative or family friend to begin taking care of a child, give the child her family's last name, and never be questioned about it by authorities.

I became aware of it because there have been some super-ugly estate cases when the biological children of a parent challenge the informally-adopted child's right to inherit, which made it into my law school casebooks, but there's a lot of scholarship on it, and here's a 1993 NYT story that covers the very basics.

A lot of states have worked to regularize the practice over the last 20 years or so, and hearteningly they've done so largely by trying to meet in the middle -- providing more rapid and easier guardianship and fostering approval for relatives or close family friends, allowing children to stay in the "informal" foster home while waiting for official approval, creating systems that give weight to keeping a child in his or her community (which could mean physical community or extended family) even if those homes are "less-resourced," training social workers much more thoroughly on cultural norms other than "white middle-class," and hiring a lot more black social workers. Making sure kids in "informal adoptions" have some contact with the system provides important advantages -- including oversight that has a better chance of catching kids in abusive situations, but also access to all kinds of state support that can make those arrangements much more stable and get those kids better services/health care/etc. AND it ensures kids who are in "informal adoption" situations can get the papers they need -- like passports, or social security cards -- to go on a high school trip to France or pick up a summer job at the supermarket, which has historically sometimes been a problem.

Louisiana probably was just cleaning up state statutes related to these kinds of "informal adoptions."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:47 PM on March 9, 2015 [31 favorites]


The word "rehoming" and the hideous practice has been well known in the adoption reform world for some time. It is heartening to see this ugly term and practice getting out to the general public and creating some outrage, instead of the usual sentimental reaction to anyone adopting and "saving"a poor little orphan for God.

Our whole adoption and foster care system is badly broken and money-driven, domestic and international. Children are just the product, so it makes some warped sense that an inferior product can be returned to the seller, or passed on to somebody else. The current fundamentalist Christian push for "Orphan Care" has exacerbated an already bad situation, with families who already have enough children, adopted or biological, urged to take more and "God will provide" regardless of the special needs and serious issues these children are already struggling with, or the lack of ability of the naive adoptive parents to deal realistically with taking on more than they could ever successfully handle

Many of these families believe in corporal punishment and overly strict standards of obedience, and live isolated lives off the grid with home schooling and no oversight. This is bound to make things worse for kids coming out of chaotic and abusive situations like the girls the Harris family took in, mostly to make a nice photo op when he ran for election. When they were too much trouble, it was off to whomever wanted them, in this case a pedophile. That he tries to excuse this and blame the children....well, the mind boggles and the stomach turns.

This is not an isolated freakish case, but the tip of a very dirty iceberg. There are rehoming websites and "therapeutic"ranches where unwanted adopted children can be swapped like trading cards, or finally warehoused when nobody else will take them. All this flies under the radar of child welfare authorities unless something monstrous like sexual abuse, slavery, or murder are discovered and the authorities step in.

It is gratifying to see Metafilter shining a light on this practice, and I hope that discussion and disclosure and outrage continues until it can be stopped.
posted by mermayd at 3:47 PM on March 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


It really does look like these people should have their own kids taken away from them, too. Especially if they're giving them "intensive in-home therapy" that utilizes the techniques of solitary confinement in a prison.

From an August 6th article:

"The Harrises provided the girls "intensive in-home therapy" and on the advice of the Ozark Guidance removed the middle girl's "toys and belongings" and were to slowly reintroduce them as a way to treat her "reactive attachment disorder." (The middle child, the 6-year-old abused by Eric Francis, told investigators that the Harrises had taken all her books and toys away and that she did not like them.) Harris also said they had to "medicate" the 6-year-old to prevent her from "hurting her sister."

I know torture is wrong.
But, when I look at this man's smug, little, fucking, ferret-face, I reeeeeally want to see him sobbing, isolated from everyone he loves, and screaming in terror because he is convinced that he is absolutely powerless and in extreme danger. In other words: traumatized.

The way he traumatized these little girls when he took them from a good foster home.
tried to punish, torture and drug them into obeying his commands, and ignored their history of abuse and basic humanity.

(They took her fucking BOOKS?! A 5 year-old at the time?! Who has maybe a handful of things she can call her own, and maybe one or two things that she treasures. How could you take a "NON-ABUSED" FIVE YEAR OLD CHILD'S SECURITY BLANKET and then torture the child for FLIPPING OUT ABOUT IT? And this particular child had been horrifically abused, bounced around from home to home, terrified and betrayed over and over again, and at home exactly NOWHERE in the world, yet these gungho fuckknuckles thought that her REAL PROBLEM WAS THAT SHE HADN'T BEEN PUNISHED ENOUGH. Or, perhaps, that nobody had ever thought to take her toys and books away from her and give her whatever meds they give 5 year olds who need more punishment nowadays.

She wasn't even allowed to escape from this fresh hell into her own mind. He had to prove that they owned all of her and she would submit or suffer.)

I wonder if he and his religious wife let the older girl take her toys and books with her when they realized they couldn't beat her into submission and threw both girls out like garbage.
Somehow, I doubt it.

Somehow, I think the Harris's curled their piggy, pink lips up in hateful, little snarls and made sure, out of spite, that the girl who would not behave didn't get "rewarded" for her disobedience. I'd bet dollars to donuts that they did not lovingly give the girls their few prized possessions and send them off with hopes for a better future.

I can not imagine that the Harris's were anything but pissed when these children caused them to sully their beautiful minds, even for a moment, with the filthy thoughts that they had failed.

And I hope Jesus is signing some re-homing papers of his own on their behalf, right now.
For the surprisingly warm and demon-infested eternal life they fucking deserve.
posted by mer2113 at 7:10 PM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


You hear all the time about people being unable to adopt for a lot of incredibly trivial reasons because of the government system. So going outside the government system doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Reasons beyond "cost?" Because really, as an adoptive parent I have to say that the government's involvement was probably the least challenging thing in our adoption, other than the cost involved in crossing those tee-s and dotting those eye-s. The process of actually finding a child to adopt and the complicated interpersonal relationship necessary to match a birth mother to adoptive parent(s) is, I think, a bazillion times tougher.

The ABA Journal article doesn't really spell it out, but the big difference between the state's involvement in our adoption and this re-homing nonsense amounts up to the creation of a big-ass document called a "home study." When we brought The Boy home there was some additional legal fooferall because we were going from one state to another, but that's done after you've gone through this more intensive process of creating the home study.

The home study is created by a licensed social worker based on a bunch of paperwork you fill out about yourself, some criminal background checks, and some interviews. It amounts up to an annotated story about you and your family background and beliefs and something resembling proof that you're not a complete nutter.

Some people find it terribly intrusive but maybe having filled out paperwork and having answered questions for government security clearances I'm atypical; it was tedious but I never felt violated. You're doing all your talking with a social worker who you picked, so its not like other government interactions where you don't get a say in whether you want to talk to these specific people. That's part of what makes it expensive, rather than when you answer questions at the DMV, but you get to decide what temperment you want to deal with.

The whole point of this document is that it's filed along with your various paperwork to complete and finalize the adoption. At the point when the actual government workers are getting involved they're just reading the forms. The home study is just another supporting document for them like the 1099 form you staple to your tax return.

Having been through it all, I don't know how big a difference it would really make in preventing malfeasance like this Harris case. There's a format the home study has to be in but what actually goes in it is based on the social worker. If someone can corrupt one, or if the social worker is invested in the social goals of whatever Quiverfull-type community is doing these transfers, then you could get a home study. And for that matter...

But with adopted kids, there's follow-up and there's record-keeping (not perfect, but it's there) and so the state can track how many kids get surrendered.

The follow-up visits we had were with - can you guess? - the same social worker who did our home study.

It was expensive and time-consuming and I certainly don't think it has to be a part of every time a family group changes who is primarily responsible for a child. But nothing in it made me think that it was government trivialities preventing people from becoming adoptive parents.
posted by phearlez at 7:52 PM on March 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


The current fundamentalist Christian push for "Orphan Care" has exacerbated an already bad situation, with families who already have enough children, adopted or biological, urged to take more and "God will provide" regardless of the special needs and serious issues these children are already struggling with, or the lack of ability of the naive adoptive parents to deal realistically with taking on more than they could ever successfully handle.

This is a bit of an uniformed perspective, in my opinion. I've been in many circles and seen many demographics who have participated in adoptions and types of reform, and without fail, Christian circles (even and perhaps especially of the evangelical type), while not perfect, are often motivated by values of heartfelt concern to help, because that's what good communities do for those who are disadvantaged. Additionally, they have done more than just about any other sector that I've seen to put together resources to help children in ways that genuinely help psychologically and socially, and not simply with some empty theological rationale. They also do more at the grass roots level to bring more social attention to this need than just about anyone else I've met. To say that most of them write it off as theologizing their sanctification through uninformed suffering, as someone else mentioned, is pretty off the mark; but you know, they are easy targets, usually stereotyped based on limited media instances.

This isn't to say that there aren't problems with improper motivations at times and over theologizing. And it's not to say that there aren't horrible cases that have Christians at the center in some places. But I will say, without a shadow of a doubt, that there is far far far less damage done in Christian communities when it comes to adoption and foster care than is done in other places, including our courts and social services (which I've seen first hand), and probably other demographics that are just in it for the money (which I think is quite a worse motivation than thinking God may approve of good behavior and just might, you know, lend a helping hand). No sector is perfect. But it's primarily because of the examples of other Christians that my wife and I thought we'd even have an ounce of what it takes to wade into the cesspool that is our system, help however we could, and in the end have a couple of great kids who we think were probably spared a lifetime of suffering.

Again, this isn't to say that we shouldn't talk about constant improvement to imperfect systems and personal motivations. But in my opinion, the current emphasis on churches to help orphans because it's a good thing to do has only been a net good for society, if only in part to draw attention to a problem that is often not even on most people's radars, and as such, pretty much invisible.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:05 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]




Our adoption was foreign (China), but I was surprised that phearlez got to pick the social worker who did the home study. Ours was assigned by the agency, and she was no pushover. I'm pretty sure she had what amounted to veto power over the adoption, too. (In fact, she has personal friends in higher places than Rep. Harris does, so even if she had no such explicit authority, she could have stopped the adoption.)

At any rate, I believe that those home studies can and probably do prevent tragic outcomes like the one Harris caused. Not all the time, but even some of the time is a major good. That someone like Harris could subvert the process is terrible.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:27 AM on March 10, 2015


Those who think the Fundamentalist Christian response to the dubious "orphan problem" is a good thing should read Kathryn Joyce's book "The Child Catchers" which documents the many problems this trend has caused. Here is her web page:
http://kathrynjoyce.com/
Her book is well researched and not "uninformed".

That some people who adopt for religious reasons turn out to be decent parents does not excuse the many horrible abuses churches pushing adoption have caused. It is not all Christian congregations who do this. Mainstream Christian denominations are not the problem.
I am a Catholic Christian myself, so am in no way demeaning Christians in general, but a specific subset like the Harris family and Quiverful believers whose extreme beliefs include having or adopting as many children as possible to save souls.
posted by mermayd at 4:59 AM on March 10, 2015


Well we got to pick the agency, who may have assigned different social workers but we still got to get a feel of the kind of place and their culture. Perhaps less populous regions are different but here in metro DC there's probably close to a dozen we could have gone with. Now, caveat again, that's domestic. If you need an agency that will also do the search for you then they might insist they do your home study and you may have fewer options.

But my point was meant to be that the concept of government for this isn't really accurate. The government's role in modern adoption in the US is as the people who license the agency that will do the study and as the people who will process the paperwork. If we institute the same standards on these informal custody arrangements they're still highly game-able.
posted by phearlez at 6:31 AM on March 10, 2015


Reasons beyond "cost?" Because really, as an adoptive parent I have to say that the government's involvement was probably the least challenging thing in our adoption,

It has been my impression - though please, please correct me if I'm wrong! - that currently, in the US, when you want to adopt, it is incredibly difficult to get babies or young children, especially young children with no disabilities or children who are considered the "cream of the crop" and so thus, there are a lot of hurdles to face - that single women have a hard time with it, that non-married cohabitating couples (even longtime ones) have a difficult time of it, that home visits demand a level of housing and financial stability far above what is actually necessary to take care of a child, and that the background checks resemble a security clearance in the length of time it takes to process, such that by the time the adoption is through, the child is a full year older. If that's not correct that is great and I'd really love to be wrong!
posted by corb at 11:15 AM on March 10, 2015


or children who are considered the "cream of the crop"

The inclusion of this criterion makes the rest of your statement meaningless, because depending on one's definition of "cream of the crop", the universe of acceptable adoptable children grows to "all of them" or shrinks to "the exact one I want." The "hurdles" you speak of may in fact be a result of the prospective parents being too restrictive in what kids they'll accept, and not anything to do with the apparatus of the state or private adoption agencies.

It's well-known that adoption is easier if you're willing to take on children with special needs, older kids, children in the foster system, etc. No one has an inalienable right to adopt kids meeting all of their criteria, and if certain kids are more sought after, this is naturally going to increase the scrutiny applied to prospective parents.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:24 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are more people who want to adopt infants than there are infants to adopt. The documentation process can be expensive. Some states have rules that prohibit/inhibit singles and same-sex couples. The standard of living expected is indeed higher for an adoption than if you "grow your own," but it really amounts up to "not unsafe, a place for baby to sleep and a storage box for clothing."

Honestly, to go from You hear all the time about people being unable to adopt for a lot of incredibly trivial reasons because of the government system to the above list of It has been my impression makes me think that your statement just meant "I presume the government is keeping this from happening but have no actual knowledge of the system." So additional 101 work I leave as an exercise to the reader.
posted by phearlez at 1:48 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


The more that comes out, the worse it gets: "The Harrises believed the girls were possessed by demons and could communicate telepathically, Goldsborough said. Harris and his wife once hired specialists to perform an "exorcism" on the two sisters while she waited outside the house with the boys, she said."
posted by Taystee at 9:52 AM on March 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


WHAT THE ACTUAL SHIT?
posted by corb at 9:53 AM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


You have to read the new story. Fucking horrifying what these girls went through, before and after the adoption.
posted by Taystee at 9:56 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


/speechless with horror
posted by rtha at 9:57 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm just getting through it now...and the biological mom as well, who decided to give her kids to the Harrises specifically because she thought they were stable and the kids wouldn't be bounced around like she was in the foster system...hell.
posted by corb at 9:59 AM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


From Taystee's link
The Harrises deny those claims. Their attorney, Jennifer Wells, said in a statement: "Exorcisms and telepathy are not part of the Harrises' religious practice. They followed the techniques in a book called 'When Love Is Not Enough, a Parent's Guide to Reactive Attachment Disorder' by Nancy Thomas, who is a recognized expert on therapeutic parenting techniques."
Even if we look at the most benign claims that the Harrises have admitted to - that they locked "Mary" in her room and took away her toys, this does not match the usual techniques for dealing with reactive disorder. Isn't isolation and mental boredom absolutely the last thing they need?

Nancy Thomas's book says:
* "It is not legal or safe to lock a child in their room. Don't do it!"
* "Children need to have playtime everyday"
* "Fun activities that do not require earning (these 4 are not privileges): Reading...; Legos, Lincoln Logs...; Drawing/coloring...; Jumping on a mini-tramp..."
posted by muddgirl at 10:10 AM on March 11, 2015


Also, I don't believe for one minute that the concept of spiritual warfare is not part of the Harris's belief system, especially when it comes to unruly children. It's incredibly mainstream in many denominations; even if it's not preached from the pulpit, it's spread grassroots. I can walk into any CVS or Walgreens in Texas and buy a book that explains how to pray the demons out of your misbehaving children.
posted by muddgirl at 10:14 AM on March 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, I don't believe for one minute that the concept of spiritual warfare is not part of the Harris's belief system, especially when it comes to unruly children.

Given that his wife gave a five star review on Facebook to Joyce Meyer Ministries, which specifically includes instructions for how to cast out demons to treat your mental health issues, neither do I.
posted by KathrynT at 11:11 AM on March 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


i'm reading this new article and i'm just in utter despair for these girls.

wtf is gonna happen to them? i'm not even done reading the article. i'm at the part where they're discussing the birth mother.

i still want to know what happened with the pets and why that hasn't come up before.

also, locking a kid in a room and takingn away all of her colored clothiing? what the f is up with that?

i hope both the harrises go to jail and their kids are given to more a loving and sane family because i'm startign to get just as concerned for their sons as i am for these girls.
posted by sio42 at 11:03 AM on March 13, 2015


wow... the eldest child...how was she allowed to go away from the places that were providing her with treatment? i don't understand.


"Now, I'm really good with kids with sexual trauma. But this kid was so sexualized, I'd never seen anything like it," the therapeutic foster mother said. "My husband was so worried of any allegations that he wouldn't go down the hall to her room.

"I had a big dog outside, and I caught her trying to stick a stick up the dog's nose. So you think of the typical labels these kids get, like 'Oh, they're a sociopath,' but when I asked her what she was doing she said, 'I was trying to get him to kill me, so I could go to heaven.' It wasn't about controlling an animal — she was so sad about everything that happened to her, she really wanted to die."


can you imagine being 6 or 8 and your life being so fucked up you are trying to get a dog to kill so you can die? obvs she could just hurt herself but she's a kid so she doesn't even know enough about life to know how to commit suicide. that is how young and fucked up her life is.

jesus wept. and is weeping. i am almost shaking i am so overcome with emotion. i can barely parse what i am reading. how can a system to protect children fail them so, so, so miserably?
posted by sio42 at 11:10 AM on March 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


i am relieved to find out that the girls are supposedly doing well.
what a goddman tragedy of a story.

i want incredibly awful things to happen ot the harrises and at the same time recognize that any punishment will also indirectly fall on their sons.

fucking mess, this is.
posted by sio42 at 11:23 AM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older This wall pees back!   |   WHAT HAPPENED ARE YOUR LITTLE BOOBIES LEAKING? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments