26 Apr 2011

Christian evangelists in US plan to increase use of international adoptions to spread gospel and indoctrinate children

The Nation   -   April 21, 2011

The Evangelical Adoption Crusade

Kathryn Joyce

Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

In late March Craig Juntunen told a group of Christian adoption advocates assembled at a Chandler, Arizona, home about his plans to increase international adoptions fivefold. Just over a year before, the world had been riveted by the saga of Laura Silsby, the American missionary arrested while trying to transport Haitian children across the Dominican border. [see related articles below]  But the lessons of that scandal seemed far from Juntunen’s mind as he described his “crusade to create a culture of adoption” by simplifying adoption’s labyrinthine ethical complexities to their emotional core. Juntunen, a former pro football quarterback and the adoptive father of three Haitian children, has emerged as a somewhat rogue figure in the adoption world since he recently founded an unorthodox nonprofit, Both Ends Burning. He has commissioned a documentary about desperate orphans in teeming institutions, Wrongfully Detained, and proposed a “clearinghouse model” that will raise the number of children adopted into US families to more than 50,000 per year.

Juntunen acknowledges that many adoption experts find his proposals naïve, particularly in a year that witnessed scandals in Haiti, Nepal and most recently Ethiopia, where widespread irregularities and trafficking allegations may slow the once-booming program to a crawl. He met a chilly reception recently at the Adoption Policy Conference at New York Law School when he spoke alongside State Department officials. But Juntunen insists that his ideas for increasing adoption constitute a social movement, akin to the civil rights movement, and that the force of a growing “adoption culture” will help them prevail.

In this expectation, he may be right. In Arizona, Juntunen was speaking with Dan Cruver, head of Together for Adoption, a key coalition in a growing evangelical adoption movement. The event was the first of the organization’s new “house conferences”: small-scale meet-ups bolstering an active national movement that promotes Christians’ adopting as a way to address a worldwide “orphan crisis” they say encompasses hundreds of millions of children. It’s a message Cruver also emphasizes in his book Reclaiming Adoption —one in a growing list of titles about “orphan theology,” which teaches that adoption mirrors Christian salvation, plays an essential role in antiabortion politics and is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission, the biblical mandate that Christians spread the gospel.

Yet while Cruver and his colleagues have inspired thousands of Christians to enter the arduous and expensive process of international adoption, the adoption industry is on a steep decline after years of ethical problems and tightening regulations around the world. Since the mid-’90s, eighty-three countries have ratified the Hague convention regulating international adoption. By 2010 there were 12,000 such adoptions in the United States (including 1,100 exceptional “humanitarian parole” cases from post-earthquake Haiti)—almost half those at the peak in 2004. If evangelicals heed Cruver’s call en masse, it could mean not just a radical change in who raises the world’s children but a powerful clash between rapidly falling supply and sharply inflating demand.

* * *

Adoption has long been the province of religious and secular agencies, but in the past two years evangelical advocacy has skyrocketed. In 2009 Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the 2009 book Adopted for Life, shepherded through a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution calling on all 16 million members of the denomination to become involved in adoption or “orphan care.” Last year at least five evangelical adoption conferences were held, and between 1,000 and 2,000 churches participated in an “Orphan Sunday” event in November. And in February, the mammoth evangelical adoption agency Bethany Christian Services announced that its adoption placements had increased 13 percent since 2009, in large part because of the mobilization of churches.

“We expect adoptions will continue to rise as new movements within the Christian community raise awareness and aid for the global orphan crisis,” Bethany CEO Bill Blacquiere said.

One result has been the creation of “rainbow congregations” across the country, like the congregation Moore helps pastor in Louisville, Highview Baptist. An active adoption ministry has brought 140 adopted children into the congregation in the past five years. These children don’t recognize the flags of their home countries, Moore proudly noted at a 2010 conference, but they can all sing “Jesus Loves Me.”

* * *

After the Haiti earthquake, the evangelical adoption movement sprang into action. Next to longstanding religious relief orphanages, upstart evangelical missions appeared. Some flung themselves into adversarial activism, decrying international aid organizations like UNICEF for obstructing the speedy adoption of Haitian children.

In the United States, evangelicals and sympathetic politicians led the charge for expanded, expedited international adoption for what they had claimed before the earthquake was the country’s 400,000 or more orphans—a figure repeated widely, despite a UNICEF clarification that likely only 50,000 children had lost both parents. (Identifying which children fit this description is a matter of painstaking investigation.)

Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and staunch adoption advocate, argued ferociously to expand a “humanitarian parole” program that expedites adoptions in progress: “Either UNICEF is going to change or have a very difficult time getting support from the US Congress,” she told the Associated Press.

Others used the emotional language of rescue; a Mormon mission president said he had “negotiated the release” of sixty-six children bound for Salt Lake City homes.

But what most people will remember about adoption in Haiti is the saga of Laura Silsby and nine other Southern Baptists who were jailed after trying to transport thirty-three “orphans”—most solicited from living families—to an unbuilt orphanage in the Dominican Republic, to await prospective evangelical adopters. Throughout the scandal the group members maintained they were simply “ten Christians who obeyed God’s calling.”

* * *

Silsby’s claims to divine guidance attracted scorn from the media—one outlet accused her of “baby-snatching for Jesus”—but her language resonates with now-commonplace Christian adoption rhetoric.

The movement cuts across evangelical distinctions, with the Southern Baptists taking a doctrinal lead; charismatic prayer warrior Lou Engle, co-founder of TheCall, praying for “the most outrageous adoption movement to be released through the church”; and Rick Warren declaring that members of his Saddleback Church will adopt 500 children in three years.

Individual ministries abound, like Orphan’s Ransom, which helps evangelicals pay international adoption fees that can range from $20,000 to $63,000. Churches report a “contagious” “adoption culture” in which even small congregations have adopted dozens of children in just a few years. Movement leaders say this viral effect is key to building the movement. “Get as many people in the church to adopt, and adopt as many kids as you can,” said one speaker at the 2010 Adopting for Life Conference, noting the particular power of a pastor’s example. Following that advice, in June the SBC joined with Bethany Christian Services to begin subsidizing Southern Baptist pastors’ adoption costs.

Observers from adoption lobby groups mention two watershed moments for the movement: Warren’s entrance into the orphan care field in 2005 and President Bush’s decision in 2008 to name Jedd Medefind, a former Republican staffer in the California legislature, as head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Medefind is now the affable president of Christian Alliance for Orphans, a coalition of eighty Christian groups, and Warren’s church is helping to set up an adoption program in Rwanda.

“It was kind of a perfect storm,” reflects Tom DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), an influential secular adoption advocacy group that has sought to partner with the evangelical movement. “We hit that moment when a movement really starts to ramp up and get the attention of the public.”

The movement’s influence was on display in September in a closed-door meeting with UNICEF—frequently cast as “anti-adoption” for raising ethical concerns about adopting from disaster- or poverty-stricken nations—leveraged by six key evangelical adoption groups in an effort to find common ground.

As a way for conservative evangelicals to reclaim the social gospel message from liberal churches, adoption is a perfect storm, too, seemingly defining antiabortion activism as more truly “prolife”—or “whole life,” as one Bethany staffer coined it—while providing a new opportunity, as recent orphan theology texts explain, to spread the gospel. In Reclaiming Adoption, Cruver bluntly declares, “The ultimate purpose of human adoption by Christians, therefore, is not to give orphans parents, as important as that is. It is to place them in a Christian home that they might be positioned to receive the gospel.”

In person, Russell Moore denies that invoking the Great Commission means adoption is a vehicle for evangelism. But in Adopting for Life, he calls adoption “evangelistic to the core,” since Christian adoptive parents are “committing to years of gospel proclamation.” Likewise, although Medefind dismisses the idea of proselytizing through adoption, the Alliance membership agreement envisions “every orphan experiencing God’s unfailing love and knowing Jesus as Savior.”

Followers appear to have taken the message at face value. Last winter, in the wake of the earthquake, the Rev. Tom Benz announced his plan to “airlift 50 to 150 [Haitian] orphans” to a place called BridgeStone, a 140-acre retreat center owned by his Alabama church. Benz, a jolly pastor who runs an evangelical summer program for Ukrainian orphans next to the Black Sea, explained that the Haiti program would host children for ninety days, during which volunteers would teach them English, “immerse them in the gospel” and “incubate adoptions” with local church families.

Benz originally planned the program for Ukrainian orphans, but once he announced his Haiti plans, he says, he was overwhelmed by volunteer support and donations. Miles of new plumbing and electrical wire were laid for the center’s twenty-two cabins, and construction began on three permanent staff “lodges” (one for Benz’s family), almost all with donated materials and labor. Benz was optimistic that he could wrangle the system, with the help of a friend with State Department connections, by representing his plan as a foreign studies program.

“It’s not like we’re taking the kids permanently,” he said. “We’re taking them for ninety days, and then they’re going back.” Reminded of the adoption mission, Benz chuckled. “Well, that’s absolutely part of our agenda, but you know, that’s not the thing we’re going to emphasize to the Haitian government!”

Over the spring and summer of 2010, months wore on and passports for the Haitian children were not forthcoming. The only progress made was on the BridgeStone estate. After months of delays, a September fundraising missive asked donors for continued patience as Benz sought to “bring children out of darkness and suffering into faith and life in Jesus Christ.” Shortly thereafter, Benz’s Haiti blog came down, and he sent an announcement of the retreat center’s pending open house for the launch of its adoption program for Ukrainian children. By March it had resulted in eight adoptions that, Benz promised, would help the children “grow into mighty men and women of faith.”

* * *

For many adoption reformers, the Silsby affair changed the script for how adoption is discussed. Karen Moline, a board member of the watchdog group Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform, says Silsby “put a face to the worst part of what international adoption can be, which is entitlement,” meaning American parents’ sense of entitlement to developing nations’ children.

Susie Krabacher, an American and devout Christian, is director of Mercy and Sharing, a Haitian orphanage founded in 1994 to care for severely disabled, abandoned children, which does not perform adoptions. She says there is enormous economic pressure on Haitian parents to relinquish children. Many orphanages in Haiti provide for children whose parents can’t afford to feed them but who remain involved and visit often. But Haiti also has a history of unethical adoption programs. Post-earthquake, Krabacher says, they have become “the biggest money-making operation in Haiti.” Indeed, many orphanages, mindful of high international adoption fees, tell struggling parents that they should give up one of their children. The financial desperation in Haiti is so intense and the coercion so pervasive, Krabacher says, that the vast majority of Mercy and Sharing’s 181 employees “would have to look at the option of giving up a child if they didn’t have a job.”

This gets at the central problem in how most evangelical adoption ministries define the scope of the worldwide “orphan crisis.” As with the misleading estimates of Haitian orphans, the global numbers most frequently mentioned—ranging from 132 million to 210 million—paint an inaccurate picture, willfully misconstruing UNICEF tallies of developing nations’ vulnerable children, a category that includes children who have lost only one parent or who live with extended family.

Susan Bissell, UNICEF’s chief of child protection, says no good estimate exists of the number of orphans worldwide, but a 2004 UNICEF report calculated that there were at least 16 million children worldwide who had lost both parents.

“There are not 145 million kids out there waiting for someone in America to adopt them,” says Paul Myhill, president of the evangelical orphan ministry World Orphans, which he calls a “black sheep” in his field for its prioritization of in-country orphan care over adoption. “It’s unfair to bat these statistics around without using all the qualifiers.”

But those numbers have their effect. In July, Bethany Christian Services announced that “three of the largest Christian-based adoption agencies,” including itself, were “seeing record numbers of adoptions.” Bethany attributes the increase to the evangelical adoption movement as well as the crisis in Haiti, which inspired nearly 20,000 inquiries from across the United States, even though Haiti, post-quake, was quickly closed for new adoptions. Agencies like Bethany explained that they easily redirected this outpouring of enthusiasm to more open markets, like Ethiopia.

The problem is that Ethiopia, which last year was poised to become the world’s top “sending country,” is beset by numerous ethical scandals. In 2009 and 2010, investigations by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and CBS News found evidence that Christian World Adoption—a US agency whose slogan is “God is in control of our agency and your adoption”—had recruited and allegedly even bought children from intact families, some of whom didn’t understand the permanency of adoption. (CWA claimed that these cases were misunderstandings and charged that it was being persecuted for its Christian beliefs.) In January the State Department hosted a conference call to discuss ethical difficulties surrounding Ethiopia’s adoption program. Just weeks later came the announcement that the license for Minnesota-based Christian agency Better Future Adoption Services had been revoked by the Ethiopian government over accusations of child trafficking. And in March, Ethiopia’s government announced it was cutting the rate of new adoptions by 90 percent.

Just after the Haiti earthquake, the Christian Alliance for Orphans advertised that its sixth-annual summit would produce a “long-term response” for Haiti’s orphans. By late April 2010, when nearly 1,200 Christians gathered for the summit at a megachurch outside Minneapolis, organizers had to contend with the shadow Silsby had cast. Even Moore worried that the scandal would “give a black eye to the orphan-care movement.”

“We’re killing ourselves with these ethical lapses,” says Chuck Johnson, president of the secular adoption lobby group the National Council for Adoption (NCFA). “I think Christians are the worst at this sometimes, about the ends justifying the means. ‘I will do anything to save this one child’s life’; ‘I will falsify a visa application if I have to.’”

In early 2010, Johnson told me, NCFA held an online ethics seminar that drew roughly twenty-five representatives from religious and secular adoption agencies. As part of the webinar, NCFA took a blind poll of participants’ responses to various ethical situations. Either through ignorance or a willingness to bend the rules, 20–30 percent of agency representatives gave answers that were tantamount to committing visa fraud or other serious violations. “You’ll hear people saying, I’m following God’s law, not man’s laws,” Johnson says.

Brian Luwis, founder of the evangelical agency America World Adoption and a Christian Alliance board member, says ardent adoptive parents can wreak havoc for those coming after them. “I call them ‘adoption crazies,’” he says. “They’re such strong advocates, they’ll do things in desperation to have a child they think is theirs. Some are really unlawful, falsifying an adoption or something like that. Many won’t get caught, but once you get caught, what have you done to the system?” It’s not hard to imagine how movement rhetoric that casts international adoption as emergency rescue and spiritual battle could inspire a willingness to use any means necessary.

There are indications that such rule-bending occurs at the top levels of government. Blogging about the 2010 Adoption Policy Conference in New York for The Huffington Post, sociologist Philip Cohen reported a troubling statement made by Whitney Reitz, an official at US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—the Homeland Security agency that oversees the entry of international adoptees. Reitz, who is credited with crafting last year’s “humanitarian parole” program for Haitian children, told the crowd, “The idea was to help the kids. And if we overlooked Hague, I don’t think I’m going to apologize.”

Chris Rhatigan, a USCIS spokesman, explains that the comment was made during a closed-door session not meant to be open to the media and in the context of a devastating natural disaster, “where very extraordinary measures were taken.” “Our main goal at the time was to save those children,” says Rhatigan. “I think they did everything they possibly could.”

* * *

Despite the Silsby affair, the Haiti earthquake helped accelerate the rise of the evangelical adoption movement, and increased its influence. At the Christian Alliance summit, JCICS’s DiFilipo implored the audience to advocate for less restrictive adoption policies, pointing to the drop in international adoptions from nearly 23,000 in 2004 to a projected 7,000 by 2012.

These numbers underlie a feeling among adoption advocates that even though demand is increasing, international adoption is under siege. “The days of a large sending country are over,” Johnson has said.

The decrease is often attributed to the closure of Guatemala and the slowdown in China. DiFilipo says the threat is far broader, with eight or nine countries “functionally suspending” intercountry adoption within the past three years—something he attributes to “institutional bias” against international adoption rather than documented ethical lapses.

As the numbers have dropped, the adoption industry has constricted, with the closure or merger of 25 percent of US agencies since 2000. The shuttering of Guatemala in 2008—what Luwis called “the gravy train” for many agencies—was a major factor. JCICS felt the squeeze too. In an internal 2009 document, the organization described financial shortages that forced it to halve expenses and staff in recent years.

“In the last few years, a bunch of top placing agencies in the US met together kind of clandestinely,” recalls Luwis. “To me it was a ‘saving our rear’ meeting. I take no salary. But for some of the others, this is their livelihood. They place thousands of kids; this is the way they’ve done it, they’re not going to change.”

Even as adoption numbers decrease, advocates maintain substantial bipartisan support. A key ally is Senator Landrieu, a founding member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and sponsor of numerous pieces of pro-adoption legislation—many in collaboration with hard-right senators.

Landrieu was scheduled to address the Christian Alliance summit but was waylaid by the BP oil spill. In her place spoke fellow Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, another advocate who has made common cause with right-wing senators like Sam Brownback and James Inhofe. Klobuchar told me how, as part of the first senatorial delegation to Haiti, she urged President René Préval to revise the country’s adoption and parental rights policies. In a September letter to the State Department, she interceded for US families whose pending adoptions from Nepal were halted after indications that the country’s newly reopened program was again processing trafficked children.

It’s an illustration of how temporary were the lessons from Haiti, and how common the underlying problems its scandals exposed. “Congress’s slant is that international adoption is good, so let’s get those kids out,” says Moline of Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform. “They don’t understand what the business aspect of it really means, and they must answer to their constituents’ demands.”

One of the most significant recent initiatives on Capitol Hill is the Families for Orphans Act, drafted by the Families for Orphans Coalition, whose executive committee includes DiFilipo, Luwis and Johnson. The bill, which Landrieu’s office will reintroduce this year, would create a special State Department office to oversee adoptions and offer—critics say condition—developmental aid to countries that help obtain permanent parental care for orphans, including through international adoption. In an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner in March 2010, co-sponsors Landrieu and Inhofe dangled the promise that the office could facilitate the placement of tens of thousands more Haitian children with US families.

Juntunen of Both Ends Burning believes the chokepoint created as newly mobilized evangelicals enter the tightening adoption market will spark outrage that will transform the system—cutting red tape, and possibly needed safeguards, along the way. “We’ve created this culture of adoption, and now more and more people want to participate and are left frustrated because they’re denied the opportunity to pursue what they want to pursue,” Juntunen told me. “Well, that’s where social movements happen. I think that this culture of adoption will be the force, the catalyst, for change.”

And the pressure won’t be coming just from evangelicals. In June, Together for Adoption and other evangelical leaders will meet with Juntunen and his network of secular adoption advocates to discuss ways to reverse the international adoption freefall.

After a year of headlines concerning improperly adopted children, from Haiti to Nepal to Ethiopia, evangelical advocates admit that the system is troubled, but they insist that expanding international adoption is necessary and, if done right, beautiful. “There’s always going to need to be tremendous vigilance that compassionate intentions lead to compassionate outcomes,” says the Christian Alliance’s Medefind. “But if you’re not willing to deal with complexity, it would be wise to stay away from efforts to address the world’s needs.”

Despite the altruistic motives of many evangelical adopters, the size and wealth of their movement is likely to tip the balance of a system that already responds too blithely to the moral and humanitarian concerns raised by poor countries and all too readily to Western demand.

This article appeared in the May 9, 2011 edition of The Nation.

This article was found at:


Evangelical pastor charged with aiding international parental kidnapping of girl in custody fight between lesbian couple

Arrest of Baptist kidnappers in Haiti reveals evangelical movement using international adoption for religious conversion of children

U.S. Baptists charged with kidnapping Haitian children had lied to parents and officials about their intentions

Child snatchers for God: 10 American Baptists arrested for trying to smuggle children out of Haiti


  1. Curtain lifts on decades of forced adoptions for unwed mothers in Canada

    Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post March 9, 2012

    Karen Lynn was 19 when her mother sent her to a home for unmarried pregnant women in Clarkson, Ont., in 1963. There, she was known as Karen No. 1 to protect her family’s reputation, and said it was clear she would not have been allowed to stay there if she did not agree to an adoption. A year later, Sharon Pedersen was 20-years-old when she was drugged and tied to her bed during labour and then shown four different babies through the nursery window at a hospital in Victoria, she said.

    She ultimately signed adoption papers at the local children’s aid society, she said, but not before social workers held a pen in her hand and threatened to call the police because she was screaming and throwing furniture in protest.

    Similar accounts have begun to emerge across Canada, and there is now a growing movement calling on the federal government to probe this country’s historic adoption practices. Many decades have passed, and many women have since reunited with their sons and daughters, but they are speaking out against what they say were coerced and forced adoptions.

    Not every unmarried mother was coerced or forced into giving up her child, but the women going public today are not alone.

    Their stories sound eerily like the hundreds of testimonies submitted to a recent Australian inquiry into adoption from the 1950s to the early-1980s, and last month an Australian Senate committee urged the government to apologize to the “many parents whose children were forcibly removed” from their care.

    Beyond a push for an inquiry here, Canadian provinces from Quebec westward will soon be hit with class-action suits accusing the governments of kidnapping, fraud and coercion, according to the well-known lawyer heading the pending actions.

    “Clearly, this story is a sad and difficult one, and we’re just beginning to hear more about it,” said Bruce Gregersen, a spokesperson for the United Church, which co-ran Winnipeg’s Church Home for Girls, where one woman said she was told she could be criminally charged if she tried to keep her child. “This will warrant a great deal of attention.”

    Seven women spoke with the National Post, most telling their stories openly for the first time, in the hopes of airing what some say was more than a vague societal push for unmarried mothers to consent to adoption.

    Teenaged and unmarried, Valerie Andrews said she was unknowingly given medication to block her breast-milk. Hanne Andersen said her B.C. hospital records say “Baby for Adoption” even though the teenaged single mother had planned to keep the baby. Social workers in Sudbury, Ont., never told Esther Tardif she was eligible for social assistance and said if she loved her unborn child, she would let him go.

    Most of the mothers interviewed for this story said the coercion was systematic: From the church-run maternity homes where accommodation was sometimes predicated on adoption and where mothers had to write a letter to their unborn child explaining the separation; to the social workers who concealed information about social assistance and who told single mothers they could be charged with child endangerment; to the medical staff who called the women “sluts” and denied them painkillers, and who reportedly tied teenagers to their beds or obstructed their view of labour with a sheet.

    “To the Canadian establishment, this will come as a big surprise,” said Ms. Lynn, who heads the Canadian Council of Natural Mothers, which aims to expose the negative treatment of mothers in adoption practice. “What we hear all the time is, ‘You gave up your baby.’ What I say is that, at very best, it was a tragic choice.”

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    Ms. Andrews has studied Statistics Canada data on illegitimate births from 1945 to 1973 and the rough rate of adoption among unmarried women at the time, and offers what seems to be an astronomical estimate: that 350,000 unmarried Canadian mothers were persuaded, coerced or forced into adoption.

    But some unmarried women may have been grateful to know their child would grow up in a secure home and spared the stigma of being an illegitimate child, said Lori Chambers, who pored over thousands of archived children’s aid cases for her book, Misconceptions, about unmarried mothers in Ontario from 1921-1969. And not all ostracized women suffered in maternity homes — some would have appreciated the shelter, food and friendships that no one else would provide.

    “The question becomes not why unmarried women gave babies up for adoption, but how some women had the fortitude not to,” Ms. Chambers said. “Most of them gave up and released their child for adoption.”

    Ms. Andrews has spent much of the past four years documenting the treatment of unmarried teenaged mothers in church-run maternity homes, hospitals and children’s aid societies, at a time when abortion was illegal, birth control was not easily accessible, and unmarried mothers were seen as loose women too feeble-minded to parent.

    Joyce Masselink, a social worker who dealt with unmarried single mothers in Toronto and B.C. in the 1960s, said Ms. Andrews’ estimate “does not sound realistic,” and said girls were “treated very well” in the church-run maternity home she often visited in Vancouver.

    When Marilyn Churley found herself alone and pregnant in 1968, the former Ontario MPP said her social worker in Barrie, Ont., was the only friend she had — although she said the social worker never talked about alternatives to adoption and that she endured a “horrific” 24-hour labour without painkillers.

    “I didn’t know any social workers who forced or coerced women into adoption, and I certainly didn’t myself,” Ms. Masselink said, adding that some social workers were, however, rigorous in promoting the social values of the day. “I do know that probably went on, though. Women’s stories attest to that.”

    An April 25, 1961, Ann Landers column perhaps best illustrates how society viewed unmarried mothers. In describing a single mother’s love for her child, she wrote: “Such ‘love’ is questionable. It is a sick kind of love turned inside out — an unwholesome blend of self-pity mixed with self-destruction and touch of martyrdom.”

    Most of the mothers interviewed for this story said they kept their secret for decades, having been “groomed for shame,” Ms. Andrews said. But with last month’s Australian report, the women said it is time for Canadian mothers to know they are not alone and for their children to know they were not unwanted. Ms. Andrews has planned a two-day conference airing Canada’s history of adoptions this fall in Toronto, and is hopeful hundreds of mothers and adoptees will attend.

    The Australian committee called on the government to apologize — without reference to the social values of the day — and to compensate mothers, some of whom “recounted a pregnancy marred by systematic disempowerment,” according to the report.

    “I still feel the shame,” said an Ontario woman named Katie, who asked that her last name not be used because her daughter does not know she was conceived in rape. “It wasn’t until I got my hospital records and saw what they did to me that I could start breathing without this horrible weight on my shoulders.”

    Katie said she was given labour-inducing drugs and was not allowed to hold the child at a Winnipeg hospital, not far from the United Church home where she was living. The fair-haired 17-year-old was knocked out with what “felt like a chemical straight-jacket” and later shown a black-haired baby who was too big to be a newborn, she said.

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    Katie said she never signed an adoption paper but remembers nodding in a courtroom where she thinks she made her daughter a ward of the state.

    Ms. Chambers said until Ontario children’s aid societies started receiving substantial government funding in 1965, they relied mostly on donations, often from adopting parents. She said the societies were in a conflict of interest, then, and at times struck a deal with the father: If he consented to an adoption and paid a small sum, the society would not represent the woman in a costly child-support battle.

    Ms. Andrews, who heads Origins Canada supporting people separated by adoption, is urging the federal government to follow Australia’s lead and launch an inquiry here. She said roughly 100 mothers and adoptees have so far registered with the organization for a future inquiry, but said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s office told her this is a provincial matter. A spokesperson for the minister confirmed this is the government’s position.

    Ms. Andrews said a July, 2011, letter written by her Ontario MPP, Reza Moridi, to the Minister of Children and Youth Services has so far gone unanswered.

    “Nobody will acknowledge this because they don’t believe us, just like for years they didn’t believe the women in Australia,” said Ms. Andersen, who today heads Justice for Mother and Child, an advocacy group for those “unlawfully separated” at birth.

    She plans to file a police report this month to prompt an RCMP criminal investigation into women she said were “targeted” for their babies, many of whom were white, healthy and in high demand, she said. Ms. Andersen, who became pregnant at age 15 in 1982 and said she was allowed to hold her baby just once, will also be the lead plaintiff in a class-action suit expected to be launched against the B.C. government in the coming weeks or months.

    “My feet were still in stirrups and I had a sheet over my body so I couldn’t see the baby,” said Ms. Andersen, who claims her consent to adoption was invalid because she said she never actually had possession of her daughter in the first place. “They wrapped her up in a blanket … I said, ‘Stop! Where are you going with my baby? I asked three times and had to yell, ‘Bring me my baby now!’”

    A draft of the statement of claim says the class action will cover women affected by the “Baby for Adoption (BFA) protocol” and seeks general and special damages for the lost opportunity to parent, medical treatment without consent, and mental distress.

    “I don’t think there is any question there was a policy where, if a child was born outside of a marriage, that child was not to remain with the mother,” said Ms. Andersen’s well-known Saskatchewan lawyer, Tony Merchant, whose firm secured a $2-billion settlement in the 2006 Indian Residential School class action.

    In Australia, the inquiry heard the “BFA” policy often led to treatment in line with the then-popular “clean break theory,” which said it was in everyone’s best interest to avoid contact between the natural mother and her child after birth.

    A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development said ministry staff “don’t know of any concerted policy in the government back in the 1960s and 1970s that would have forced women to give up their babies.”

    Mr. Merchant said the class-action suits will attempt to saddle the provinces with responsibility for the wrongdoings of church-run organizations because they were provincially funded agents.

    John Murray, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army, said the government-funded maternity homes it ran — such as Maywood, the B.C. home where Ms. Andersen said she was starved, verbally abused and never told of any available social assistance — helped pregnant teens in a time of need.

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    “I can’t specifically comment on how the organization managed its operations 40 or 50 years ago,” said Mr. Murray. “That’s not to say there weren’t perhaps isolated situations … but certainly, I think historically the Salvation Army was welcomed and valued by people in the community.”

    A spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church in Canada, which owned the maternity home where Ms. Lynn stayed, said “there’s no one here now with any kind of living memory of what went on 40 years ago.” The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said it is up to each specific diocese to comment separately. Neither the Canadian Medical Association nor the Canadian Pediatric Society would comment. The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies passed an interview request to the Toronto Children’s Aid Society, which did not respond to a separate request for comment.

    Mr. Gregersen, meantime, said the United Church will now comb through its archives to find out what happened at its maternity homes, but said he invites mothers to come forward so researchers know where to focus their efforts.

    “Canada is so far behind on this,” said Ms. Pedersen. “I’ve been breathless ever since the Australian report came out. It’s about time it was acknowledged that these were forced adoptions.”


  5. Coerced adoption: Salvation Army launches review of maternity homes that housed unwed mothers

    Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post March 13, 2012 –

    The Salvation Army says it is conducting an internal review into its historic maternity homes, just as a retired Calgary judge — who was once a high-ranking child welfare worker in the city — has come forward and corroborated some of the claims mothers have recently made about coercive adoption practices directed at unmarried mothers decades ago.

    ‘These people thought they were doing good – they thought these girls were sluts. They thought they were rescuing these children from a life of poverty,” said Herbert Allard, a former social worker, who said he was prompted to speak out upon reading the National Post’s story on forced adoptions over the weekend.

    “At the time, I was divorced from the reality … It upset me in a way, but it’s just what went on.”

    His account appears to confirm the coercion was systematic: He said the Salvation Army accepted teen mothers into their maternity homes on the condition they would surrender their baby, city social workers purposefully withheld information about revoking the adoption or the option of temporary wardship, and that unmarried mothers were punished in a Salvation Army hospital for getting pregnant out of wedlock.

    “[Salvation Army] homes were operational during a time when there was a tremendous social stigma attached to being an unwed mother,” the church said in a statement responding to Mr. Allard’s account.

    “The Salvation Army is currently conducting an internal review of the operation of these centres 40 to 50 years ago, including the treatment of our clients.”

    The Alberta Ministry of Human Services, which includes Calgary and Area Child and Family Services, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

    Mr. Allard’s public airing of what he called a “cultural conspiracy” comes ahead of an expected series of class-action lawsuits against provinces from Quebec westward, accusing the governments of kidnapping, fraud and coercion, according to Tony Merchant, the prominent lawyer heading the pending actions.

    It also comes on the heels of a woman’s call for a public inquiry into adoption practices in Prince Edward Island, similar to an Australian probe that last month recommended the Australian government apologize to the “many parents whose children were forcibly removed” from their care.

    The United Church said last week the matter here in Canada “will warrant a great deal of attention,” and spokesperson Bruce Gregersen promised the church was committed to working with mothers to uncover what happened in its maternity homes.

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    He has since spoken with Valerie Andrews, the executive director of Origins Canada supporting people separated by adoption, and said a researcher has been assigned to comb through the archives for documents such as board minutes and correspondence.

    “Our role in this, among many things, is to help the story to be told,” Mr. Gregersen said Monday.

    Mr. Allard was a social worker and assistant director of Calgary’s children’s aid during the late-1940s and 1950s, and said every surrender document signed by an unmarried mother would have crossed his desk. He also dealt closely with one of the city’s two female social workers who worked with pregnant unmarried mothers, and who often visited them in church-run maternity homes and at the Salvation Army’s Grace Hospital.

    Beyond the claims already put forward by mothers now fighting for a federal inquiry into Canada’s historic adoption practices, Mr. Allard said the director of Calgary’s children’s aid had full discretion in deciding whether or not to honour a woman’s desire to revoke her surrender if she changed her mind within the cooling-off period.

    “Mothers were sometimes successful, particularly if the baby wasn’t attractive — if the father was Ukrainian, for example,” said Mr. Allard, 85, adding that an English, white girl was considered a “premium” child.

    "The more adoptable the child was, the less likely it was she would get it back."

    Mr. Allard said surrender documents were sometimes sanitized so a child would appear more attractive to prospective parents on paper. If the document said a mother had a criminal background and said nothing about the father, a children’s aid social worker might lie and say the father was medical student — “that was the classic example,” he said.

    He also said women often signed surrender documents while they were still recovering from labour.

    “What really bothered me was that some of these women were still in post-delivery trauma,” Mr. Allard said. “[The surrenders] were done right away, sometimes because the mother just wanted to leave and get out of there.”

    Mr. Allard said the social worker he dealt most closely with never told women of their right to revoke the adoption or to request a temporary wardship so they could find work and a place to live. In fact, he said she told the women their decision was permanent.

    “She had great sympathy for the girls, but she was also part of the culture where unwed women did not keep their child,” he said. “She really struggled with the pain of this.”

    He said the social worker sometimes came to his office crying because of the way the Salvation Army officers treated unmarried women in their Grace Hospital, where single women were segregated from married women, he said. In contrast to the accounts of women who said they were denied the chance to hold their baby, Mr. Allard said he knew of women who were forced to nurse their child, even after agreeing to an adoption.

    “The idea was that if you made it easy for women to hatch and give the baby away, then that would be a bad idea,” Mr. Allard said. “The bonding would remind them of what a terrible thing they’d done … It was also a form of punishment, because it broke the woman’s heart when they gave them up.”

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    A social worker’s decision to conceal information about a woman’s options appears to have been more widespread than isolated.

    Lori Chambers, who pored over thousands of archived children’s aid cases for her book,Misconceptions, about unmarried mothers in Ontario from 1921-1969, said social workers would not have wanted to encourage unmarried women to keep their baby.

    In a 1970 letter to what was then called the Ontario Department of Social and Family Services, an adoption coordinator named Victoria Leach said many of the young girls she visited in a Presbyterian-run maternity home were ill-informed about adoption appeals and short-term wardships.

    “I had things said to me yesterday like … ‘My social worker never mentioned that to me,” Ms. Leach wrote.

    She suggested the department publish a brochure, “not unlike our ‘Adoption Procedure in Ontario’ booklet, which … would outline in detail some of the avenues open to them.” At the bottom of the typed letter, though, there is a handwritten note to the attention of the director, Betty C. Graham, that said, “If the branch prepared it, I’m sure there would be undue criticism of the contents.”

    Karen Lynn, who was 19 when she was sent to Armagh in 1963, said no one ever asked her if she wanted to keep her unborn child.

    “Nobody who was unwed kept their baby,” said Ms. Lynn, who said she was known only as Karen No. 1 at Armagh, as part of the matron’s bid to protect her family’s reputation. “I’ve only met a handful of women who said [adoption] was their free choice. Everyone else understands we had no choice.”

    Mr. Allard, who was in 1999 celebrated by the University of Calgary as a community leader and awarded an honorary degree after 37 years of judicial service, was active in the United Church and in the 1960s helped close the church’s homes for “fallen women.” He said women there were sometimes punished by being placed alone in a “thinking room” with nothing but the Bible.

    “I don’t think it could have gone a different way, simply because of the culture at the time,” said Mr. Allard, who has since been outspoken about the need for open adoptions so children can trace their roots. “There were caring people out there, but the times inhibited them.”


  8. The fathers had no say: Men tell another side of coerced adoption story

    Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post March 13, 2012

    As more mothers come forward to push for an inquiry into Canada’s historic adoption practices targeting unmarried women, fathers have emerged to say they, too, were coerced into surrendering their children.

    In Sutton, Ont., Raymond Cave said he was never asked to sign a surrender document in 1967, even though the people handling the adoption knew he was the father. In Saskatchewan, Bernard Shepherd said he was only allowed to look at his baby before signing the surrender document, and said he was never told about the option for a temporary wardship so he could take some time to consider raising the child with his mother’s help. And an adoptee remembered how when she contacted her natural father, he had no idea she existed.

    “There’s a whole other side to this story,” said Mr. Cave, whose high school sweetheart, Linda Dawe, got pregnant at age 17 in 1966, when the couple was teenaged and too young to legally marry. “The fathers had no say — no legal rights. No one was ever supposed to know who the father was, let alone come ask me for a signature. It was like I didn’t exist.”

    The Salvation Army said on Monday it is conducting an internal investigation into its maternity homes after the National Post reported the stories of several women who say they were coerced into giving up their babies decades ago because they were not married.

    Since then, an adoption-oriented Facebook group has been flooded with comments from mothers. “Honestly I never thought I’d see this day,” a woman named Lori wrote on the Facebook page for Origins Canada, which is pressing for a federal probe into this country’s adoption practices. “Validation is an amazing healer,” wrote Sharon Pedersen.

    But Mr. Cave is telling the fathers’ side of the story, just as more and more mothers register with Origins Canada for any future federal inquiry. Governments across Canada are also expected to soon be hit with a series of provincial class-action suits, accusing them of kidnapping, fraud and coercion, according to Tony Merchant, the prominent lawyer heading the pending actions.

    Although Mr. Cave and Ms. Dawe lost touch soon after they surrendered their daughter, Karen, in 1967, they reunited in 2006 at their Sir James Dunn high school reunion in Sault Ste. Marie. Now married and reunited with their child, the couple are sharing their story.

    They fell in love in Grade 10, but when Ms. Dawe became pregnant, her religious parents sent her to the Salvation Army’s Bethany maternity home in Toronto, where she was told she had no choice but to give her up her unborn child, she said. Mr. Cave said the home permitted only family to visit Ms. Dawe.

    One month later, Ms. Dawe gave birth at the Salvation Army’s Grace Hospital, where she said she was not given any painkillers, despite needing 100 stitches after labour. She said she does not recall signing a surrender document then, but she did not leave the hospital with her baby in her possession. Ms. Dawe was eight months pregnant, Mr. Cave saved up some money and took the train to arrange a secret meeting. Ms. Dawe got a pass to leave the home for a few hours, and the couple met at the King Edward Hotel, where they said they struggled to scheme a plan to keep the child. They had sex, too, and laughed because “she couldn’t get any more pregnant,” Mr. Cave joked.

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    A month later in a Sault Ste. Marie courtroom, Ms. Dawe officially surrendered her child. When she asked to put Mr. Cave’s name on the surrender papers, she said the court clerk told her it was no use. His name would be whited-out.

    The couple said they were never told of their right to revoke consent if they changed their mind during a cooling-off period, nor of the option for a temporary wardship, which might have bought the couple time since Ms. Dawe had turned 18 and could legally marry.

    Herbert Allard, a retired Calgary judge who was a high-ranking child welfare worker in the early-1940s and 1950s, said fathers were treated as “non-persons.” They sometimes signed surrender documents under the threat that children’s aid would come after them for exorbitant amounts of child support, one historian has said.

    “We didn’t think they had rights at all,” Mr. Allard said, adding that some men took advantage of the cultural norms and left the woman to deal with the child alone. “If some men did want to keep the baby, it didn’t matter. They had no status.”

    Mr. Merchant said since the National Post’s report on Saturday, about a dozen more people have come forward to join prospective class-action suits. Mr. Shepherd, for his part, said he is considering joining any future suit in Saskatchewan and hopes he will someday connect with his son, who will be 31-years-old on Nov. 4.

    “I think if I’d had just a little time, if I’d been given some options, I at least could have talked to my family about it,” said Mr. Shepherd, who was 21-years-old when he got his then 19-year-old girlfriend pregnant in 1981. “That’s what was so disappointing.”

    Mr. Merchant said he now has prospective plaintiffs in all provinces Quebec westward, as well as in Newfoundland & Labrador and New Brunswick.

    “When a child is taken,” he said, “that cuts the father off from the child just as much as it cuts the mother off.”


  10. Lawsuit accuses Quebec's Catholic Church of coercing adoptions


    MONTREAL — A class-action lawsuit accusing Quebec's Catholic Church of kidnapping, fraud and coercion to force unwed mothers to give up their children for adoption is being organized by one of Canada's highest-profile law firms.

    The accusations date back to the 1950s and '60s, when the law firm alleges unwed mothers in maternity homes and hospitals were coerced by social-service personnel and hospital employees, often members of the Catholic Church working for the government, to sign documents giving up their children without being told they had the right to keep them.

    Lawsuits alleging similar abuses are pending against several provinces. One against the government of British Columbia is close to being launched, said Tony Merchant, head of the law firm orchestrating the lawsuits. Close to 200 women have come forward to take part in the lawsuits since the firm started the process half a year ago, Merchant said. To date, fewer than a dozen are from Quebec, but he expects the number to increase as publicity mounts.

    "The beliefs the Catholic Church (in Quebec) had about premarital sex and the judgmental approach the church had, made it particularly aggressive in pressuring women into putting their children up for adoption," Merchant said.

    On Saturday, the National Post launched a series of articles chronicling the experiences of unwed mothers that suggested a systemic pattern of coercion existed to prod them to give up their children. Valerie Andrews, who was forced to give up her child as a teenager, studied Statistics Canada data on illegitimate births from 1945 to 1973 and estimates 350,000 unmarried Canadian mothers were persuaded or forced into adoption. Several mothers are pushing for a federal government inquiry into Canada's adoption practices, the Post reported.

    Many of the cases will hinge on the allegation women were forced to sign documents allowing adoption within three days of giving birth, without knowing that was in contravention of the laws at the time. Others will note that the fathers, it is alleged, were never contacted to give consent. Women reported that church officials shouted at them in the delivery room while they were still drugged that social services would sue them if they didn't give the child up, Merchant said.

    "They thought they were doing the right thing — getting children and putting them in an adoptive home where they would be looked after financially," Merchant said, adding that possible plaintiffs can contact his law firm's Montreal office.

    Often, damages in a class-action suit are designed to compensate for a wrong, or stop it from continuing, Merchant said. In this case, it's more about women "wanting the peace of mind to feel they didn't make the mistake alone, that they were manipulated and pushed and defrauded into signing."

    Many of the plaintiffs are asking only that the government concede officials at the time were the wrongdoers.


  11. Ontario urged to consider inquiry into coerced adoptions

    Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post March 15, 2012

    Ontario’s NDP urged the Dalton McGuinty government Wednesday to look at launching an inquiry into the province’s historic adoption practices in the wake of accusations from women who say they were coerced by social agencies, medical workers and churches into giving up their children.

    “I would urge the Minister of Children and Youth Services in Ontario to give serious consideration to calls for an inquiry, and to listen carefully to the views of groups representing those who have been affected by these practices in maternity homes and elsewhere,” Monique Taylor, the Ontario NDP’s critic for children and youth services, said in a statement.

    The ministry said in an email earlier this week the Ontario government “does not have plans” for an inquiry.

    Ms. Taylor’s call comes after the Salvation Army and the United Church both announced reviews of their maternity homes’ practices from the 1940s to the 1980s, when abortion was either illegal or difficult to access, birth control was not easily accessible and unmarried mothers were viewed by authorities as too feeble-minded to parent.

    Also on Wednesday, two former social workers stepped forward to confirm that they had been part of agencies that had pressured unwed mothers into handing over their babies for adoption. One apologized for his role in a system he said was “stacked” against unmarried mothers.

    “It was a travesty of justice,” said Sam Sussman, a former children’s aid worker in Winnipeg and now an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Western Ontario. “I regret being part of the system. I bought into the philosophy of my peers and the people I looked up to…. I apologize.”

    Mr. Sussman, who arranged for unmarried teens to stay at church-run maternity homes during their pregnancies — a clear path to adoption, he acknowledged — said he is considering formally asking the Manitoba government to launch an inquiry.

    Despite obtaining a masters degree of social work degree from the University of Manitoba in 1965, Mr. Sussman said he was unaware at the time of a woman’s right to revoke her consent for putting her child up for adoption if she changed her mind, nor of the option for putting her baby into temporary wardship if she wanted to buy time and find work or a place to live.

    “These women didn’t know their options, so if that’s coercion, then yes, they were coerced,” Mr. Sussman said.

    Baldwin Reichwein, a social worker and former acting director of what was once the Alberta Public Welfare Department, said he would support a provincial inquiry in Alberta partly because he questions the validity of some women’s adoption agreements.

    Mr. Reichwein, who dealt with unmarried mothers in a community just south of Edmonton during the 1960s, said he was particularly concerned that some women signed surrender documents while they were in a vulnerable or disoriented state. In Alberta at the time, he said consent was valid so long as it was signed no sooner than five days after birth — a time when a woman could still be recovering from labour, confused, or still under medical care.

    “I’m not a psychologist, but what the hell is five days?” he said, adding that back then women were often in the hospital for about a week. “You can say, ‘She signed the consent form,’ but in hindsight, given the circumstances, I have some doubts about whether those consents would stand up.”

    Lori Tkach Blatz said she was heavily medicated the day she signed a surrender document in 1988 in Alberta, and that the person handling the paperwork told her to count backwards from 10 as a test of her lucidity. Ms. Tkach Blatz said she failed, but she said the woman told her it was “close enough.”

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    The National Post first reported on Saturday on a series of class-action lawsuits planned against several provinces that will accuse the governments of complicity in the kidnapping of babies, fraud and coercion, according to Tony Merchant, the prominent Saskatchewan attorney heading up the pending actions.

    Mr. Reichwein and Mr. Sussman add their voices to that of retired Calgary judge and former social worker, Herbert Allard, who on Monday corroborated some of the claims mothers have made about systemic and coercive adoption. Mr. Allard said the Salvation Army accepted teen mothers into their maternity homes on the condition they would surrender their baby; that social workers purposefully withheld information about the mother’s options for revoking the adoption or the option of temporary wardship; and that unmarried mothers were emotionally punished in a Salvation Army hospital for getting pregnant out of wedlock.

    “The mothers know their truth, but one thing we have been seeking is acknowledgment and validation,” said Valerie Andrews, who heads Origins Canada, a group supporting people separated by adoption. “This helps.”

    Today a social historian, Mr. Reichwein said he has copies of various historic reports proving the Alberta government had an agenda when it came to unmarried pregnant women decades ago. In response to an explosive 1947 report by the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire alleging coerced adoptions, Mr. Reichwein said three judges responded with a Royal Commission report to the Alberta Department of Public Welfare. In their report, he said they stated that an unmarried woman’s punishment should be “immediate and grievous” and that “the state ought to do whatever it can to remove the damage of illegitimate birth from the child.”

    “Surrender has been in the closet for too long, but it’s slowly starting to come out,” Mr. Reichwein said. “Social workers say they did the right thing, but did they? Did I? It’s hard, but we have a moral duty to look back.”

    Cathy Ducharme, a spokeswoman for Alberta’s Human Services, said earlier this week the ministry is “looking into the situation.” She did not respond to a follow-up request for comment on Wednesday.


  13. Our babies were abducted on the delivery table: North Vancouver woman

    Social workers convinced an unwed pregnant teenager in 1982 that she needed to give up her child; now a class-action suit wants to address the wrongs

    By NEAL HALL, Vancouver Sun March 16, 2012

    VANCOUVER - Hanne Andersen was an athletic 15-year-old living in North Vancouver when she was raped.

    Six weeks later, she found out she was pregnant.

    She had helped raise her younger siblings and wanted to keep the baby. But it was 1982 and social workers convinced her parents — neither were Canadian citizens at the time and unsure of the rules — that the best thing was to send Andersen to a Salvation Army maternity home for unwed girls called Maywood.

    Andersen didn’t realize it then, but that made her a temporary ward of the state and gave her no say in whether she could keep the baby. She was told she had to give the child up for adoption.

    “There was lots of indoctrination going on there,” Andersen, now 44, recalled Thursday.

    “We had government social workers give us lectures for hours about how we would end up drug addicts if we didn’t give up our babies,” she said. “There wasn’t any other option presented to us. I wanted to keep my baby and was very clear about it from the very beginning.”

    After a few months at the home, Andersen started losing weight. Her high school counsellor, who was concerned for her health and psychological well-being, helped her leave Maywood.

    She was at home for a brief period before she gave birth to her baby at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.

    “I had to ask three times to hold my baby,” Andersen recalled. “The last time I had to yell.”

    The nurse handed her the baby until Andersen blacked out. She later obtained her medical file and learned she was drugged and given a lactation suppressant, Andersen said.

    When she woke the next day, her baby was gone.

    “I cried for a year,” she recalled. “There was no followup. No social worker came to see me. I was close to killing myself. I know other mothers who committed suicide.”

    Andersen is contemplating signing on to a class-action lawsuit being filed today by the Merchant Law Group on behalf of unwed mothers who were forced to give up babies for adoption going back to the 1940s.

    Tony Merchant, head of the Merchant Law Group, said unwed mothers were put in homes operated by the province and were often pressured by people from the Catholic Church and Salvation Army to give up babies for adoption. Merchant said he filed a similar class action in Quebec.

    Andersen did not see her child again for 23 years — her daughter eventually tracked her down using birth records and set up a teary reunion in 2006.

    Andersen said she maintains a good relationship with her daughter today.

    “She is beautiful, a wonderful person.”

    But she is still bitter about what she calls the “abduction” of her baby from the delivery room.

    “My baby was taken from me, harvested,” she said. “We were used as reproductive slaves to supply the demand for healthy babies for infertile married couples.”

    Andersen has contacted police about pressing criminal charges for her baby being taken and plans to file a formal police complaint later this month.

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    She has also joined a group that has asked the federal government and United Nations for an inquiry into unwed mothers being forced to give up babies for adoption.

    “Our babies were abducted on the delivery table,” Andersen said.

    She became choked with emotion when she said she never had another baby, although she and her husband have been trying.

    “I lost the sense of myself as a person and thought I could never be a good mother,” Andersen said, crying, “because of all the indoctrination in the maternity home.”

    She said that a few years after reuniting with her daughter, she fell apart emotionally. She quit her $100,000-a-year job in the real estate industry and recently returned to school.

    She also started a group, Justice for Mother & Child, which has a website: www.JusticeforMotherandChild.com

    Andersen said she isn’t interested in joining Merchant’s class action for the money. “It’s about getting recognition and for people to know what was done.”

    So far, about 200 women across Canada have agreed to take part in the lawsuits since the firm started the process half a year ago, Merchant said.

    Merchant estimates there may be as many as 40,000 women in Canada who are potential class-action members. They include women who gave babies up for adoption starting in the 1940s and ending in the 1980s.

    The law firm has a form on its website for potential class members to fill out: www.merchantlaw.com/classactions/umaclass.php


  15. Nun accused of baby snatching

    The Irish Times March 17, 2012

    An 80-year-old nun has become the first person to be accused of baby snatching in the scandal over trafficking of newborns in Spanish hospitals in past decades.

    Sr Maria Gomez has been named as a suspect in the investigation into one of more than 1,500 cases of suspected illegal trafficking of babies who were stolen, sold or given away by adoption over four decades until the 1980s.

    Campaigners claim a network of doctors, nurses and nuns stole and sometimes sold babies in Spain up until the early 1980s. It appears what began as a system for removing babies from families deemed politically dangerous by the dictatorship of Gen Francisco Franco allegedly evolved into a business that targeted single mothers and the poor. – (Guardian service)


  16. Your baby is dead: Mothers say their supposedly stillborn babies were stolen from them

    Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post  March 23, 2012 

    This is how the woman, then young, remembered the August day in 1963 on which she gave birth to her illegitimate daughter: She was in an Edmonton hospital; the doctor ordered she receive an injection. She blacked out, and when she started to come to, a male voice said: “knock her out.”

    She claimed she woke up sometime later and was told she had given birth to a girl, but the baby had died.

    Her baby girl didn’t die, though. She was adopted by a married couple.

    “I never wanted to give up any child of mine for adoption,” the Edmonton mother swore in an affidavit before her recent death. “I went through my entire life believing that the baby I carried in 1963 had died…. I believe that I was lied to and my baby was stolen from me.”

    Since the National Post launched an investigation earlier this month into coerced adoptions between the 1940s and 1980s, dozens of mothers have said they were forced by social workers, medical staff and churches into surrendering their child because they were young and unmarried.

    But some of these women say they never surrendered their child at all: They say they were told their child was stillborn or died shortly after birth, when in reality they allege their baby was adopted or essentially handed to a married couple.

    “In those days, it was just said the child was dead because that way the mother wouldn’t look for it,” said Lise Pageau, a regional director at Mouvement Retrouvailles supporting adoptees and natural parents, adding that she has personally spoken with at least a half-dozen mothers who allege this happened to them. “[Nurses and doctors] would show the mother a very, very, very sick baby and say the child would not pull through the night. Sometimes the child was already promised to a couple.”

    The Edmonton mother’s daughter, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, is suing the woman who raised her and the hospital where she was born, alleging that her adoptive mother and a doctor wrongfully arranged for her adoption some 40 years ago.

    The daughter found her natural mother in 2004, but her mother thought she was “crazy,” court documents say. A DNA test later confirmed they were kin.

    It is difficult to know for certain how often Canadian women were lied to about their baby dying. Unless a woman was contacted by her child later in life, she would not know that her allegedly dead child was actually alive.

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    Still, the accounts of mothers, such as the one who swore the affidavit, suggest the possibility that at least some babies born to single women were immediately or eventually transferred to married couples. In her 2011 book, The Traffic in Babies: Cross Border Adoption and Baby-Selling Between the United States and Canada, 1930-1972, McMaster University professor Karen Balcom wrote that in Nova Scotia there were “numerous examples of birth mothers who were falsely told that their children were dead so they would not interfere in adoption placements.”

    Gary Whitbourn said his mother was 17 years old and unmarried when she gave birth to him in London, Ont., on Oct. 8, 1975. She named him Jason Albert, but hours later she was told he died, Mr. Whitbourn said.

    “Part of me was skeptical — maybe she just didn’t want to admit the guilt of giving up a baby and would rather blame it on someone else, but I’ve come to realize that can’t be true,” said Mr. Whitbourn, who met his natural mother in 1997. “It’s unnerving. You assume these things don’t happen in Canada.”

    A Canadian named Tina Kelly filed a UN report a decade ago alleging that, as an unmarried woman in 1970, she was falsely told her baby died overnight because of heart trouble. She claims she was not allowed to see her son, whose adoption she alleges was arranged by a doctor who took a bribe.

    The Australian Parliament says the so-called dead baby scam happened there, and a nun in Spain was charged last weekend with allegedly committing this very crime over the course of the 1950s to the 1980s. During those decades in Canada, abortion was illegal or difficult to access, birth control was not readily available and unmarried mothers were seen as loose women too feeble-minded to parent.

    An Australian Senate committee investigating that country’s historic adoption practices recently reported that especially swift transfers had a formal title, rapid adoption.
    “This generally referred to the process whereby a married woman whose child had been stillborn was offered a child for adoption in its place,” says the committee’s explosive February report, which urged the government to apologize for forced adoptions.

    One Australian woman named Valerie Linlow testified she was heavily drugged during labour and that medical staff told her she gave birth to a stillborn. Three decades later, she said a man knocked on her door saying he was her son.
    Here in Canada, Ms. Kelly claims a doctor told her he would work with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto to arrange for her baby’s baptism and burial. She alleges she was heavily drugged when a social worker from the society asked her to sign a document, which she says she thought was the paperwork for his baptism.

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    The 2003 UN report says she later requested a death certificate from the Toronto hospital where she gave birth, only to be told the records say her son was born healthy and went home with her. The Catholic society said its records show Ms. Kelly was a client in 1970, and that her son was made a Crown ward and ultimately placed for adoption.

    “Ms. Kelly’s version of events reflected in the UN report bear no resemblance to the information in our records,” executive director Mary McConville said in a statement.

    Ms. McConville also confirmed that in 2001 Ms. Kelly filed a lawsuit against the society, two physicians and the Toronto hospital. She indicated the suit was dismissed “on the consent of all parties.” Ms. Kelly declined an interview request.

    Other women, such as the Edmonton mother, say they are positive they did not sign an adoption paper. The lawyer in that case, Robert Lee, said his client alleges her mother’s signature was forged.

    “Most people would think my client is crazy for thinking she was stolen from her mom at the hospital,” said Mr. Lee, whose client declined an interview request for fear of legal repercussions. “It seems as if people thought they were acting in the best interests of the child or the mother, and out of their beliefs, they went on violating the rights of these families.”

    The defendants deny any wrongdoing, and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

    Sharon Pedersen, a B.C. woman who was unmarried and 20 years old when she gave birth in 1964, said she was not told her baby was stillborn, but said a social worker at the local children’s aid society nonetheless demanded she sign a death certificate, saying “Dear, this is just to help you realize this baby is gone.” Ms. Pedersen said she ultimately signed adoption papers, but not before social workers held a pen in her hand and threatened to call the police because she was screaming and throwing furniture in protest.

    Sheri Sexton said her mother was not told she was stillborn, either, and instead signed surrender papers after hours of coercion at the hospital in July 1968. Still, Ms. Sexton said she is listed as a prior stillborn child on hospital records a year later when her mother gave birth to a girl, who was apparently born dead. Ms. Sexton suspects her sister is alive and was unknowingly raised by adoptive parents.
    Ms. Sexton believes her own adoption is suspicious, too: She said her adoptive grandmother was her natural mother’s nurse, and said that while she was born in Ontario, her original birth certificate was from Quebec. She said the Ontario government has no record of her adoption, and that the Quebec government told her the adoption was private. She also said the same doctor is listed on both her and her stillborn sister’s hospital records.

    Ms. Sexton’s natural mother declined to participate in the story.

    Mr. Whitbourn, the Ontario man born in 1975, said he tracked down his natural mother after registering online at an adoption reunion site. He said she eventually knew to look for him because she received information from the London Children’s Aid Society suggesting her child had been adopted. But one of the society’s adoption supervisors said she finds it “surprising” that a mother would be contacted “out of the blue” with information about a child.

    Mr. Whitbourn said he was born healthy but that his mother was told he died overnight. His mother tells him she held her child, then named Jason, just once.


  19. You Wouldn't Believe How Fast Americans Are Losing Their Religion -- But the Fundamentalists Have a Plan

    As their power declines in America, fundamentalists are moving to developing countries not as far along the secularization curve. And they're causing massive damage.

    By Adam Lee, AlterNet March 15, 2013

    Sometime last year, the US quietly passed a milestone demographers had long been predicting: for the first time in its history, this country is no longer majority Protestant. Fewer than 50 percent of Americans now identify as Protestant Christians of any denomination.

    This change has come on surprisingly recently, and from a historical perspective, with breathtaking speed. As recently as 1993, almost two-thirds of Americans identified as Protestants, a number that had remained stable for the several preceding decades. But sometime in the 1990s, the ground started to shift, and it's been sliding ever since. Whether it's the "mainline" Protestant denominations like Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans or Presbyterians, or the independent evangelical, charismatic and fundamentalist sects, the decline is happening across the board. The rise of so-calledmegachurches, like Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California or Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill in Seattle, represents not growth, but consolidation.

    What's happening to these vanishing Protestants? For the most part, they're not converting to any other religion, but rather are walking away from religion entirely. They're becoming "nones," as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life puts it. It seems likely that this is the same secularizing trend being observed in Europe, as people of advanced, peaceful democracies find religion increasingly irrelevant to their daily lives.

    The spokespeople of the religious right have noticed this trend as well, but it's clear they have very little idea what to do about it. In a column from 2005, Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared that "theological liberalism" is at fault for Christianity's decline, and that the only thing they need to do to reverse it is to make "a bold commitment to biblical authority." Far from it, the evidence is clear that churches clinging to antiquated dogma are part of the problem, as young people turn away from their strident decrees about gays and women.

    But the footsoldiers of fundamentalism haven't been entirely idle these past few decades. As their power declines in America and Europe, they're increasingly moving abroad, to developing countries not as far along the secularization curve, where they often find a more receptive audience.

    The first example is Uganda, where the most despicable kind of American culture warriors have run amok with horrifying results. Since 2009, the country's parliament has been debating an "Anti-Homosexuality Bill," which among other things would establish a crime of "aggravated homosexuality," punishable by life imprisonment or death.

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  20. What's less well known is that three American evangelical preachers, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer, visited the country a month before the bill was introduced, giving talks about how "the gay movement is an evil institution" which seeks to prey on children, destroy "the moral fiber of the people," and abolish marriage and the family and replace it with "a culture of sexual promiscuity." Lively boasted that their campaign was "a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda," and later admitted to meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to help draft the bill, although he professed ignorance of the death penalty provision. Other American evangelicals, including Kevin Swanson andLou Engle, have also expressed their support for the so-called Kill the Gays bill.

    It's not just LGBT people in Uganda who've been harmed by the spread of aggressive evangelicalism. American megachurch pastor Rick Warren has a Ugandan protege, a pastor named Martin Ssempa, who has preached aggressively against contraception (in one bizarre public stunt, he burned condoms in the name of Jesus). Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni had formerly been a staunch advocate of the so-called ABC program (consisting of abstinence, monogamy and condom use) which successfully reduced HIV infection rates in Uganda; but thanks in part to Ssempa's influence and access,the government was persuaded to stop free condom distribution, and as a result, new HIV infections spiked again. (Ssempa, too, has called for the imprisonment of gay people. President Museveni also has ties to the Washington, D.C.-based fundamentalist group "the Family," which has called him their "key man" in Africa.)

    American evangelicals have spread their poisonous influence to other African countries as well. A report by Political Research Associates, "Globalizing the Culture Wars," chronicles in detail how American religious-right groups, especially the theologically conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, have worked together with their counterparts in Africa to foment homophobia and oppose feminism and gender equality. Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya, three major English-speaking African nations, have seen the brunt of this effort. As the report says:

    In Africa, IRD and other U.S. conservatives present mainline denominations' commitments to human rights as imperialistic attempts to manipulate Africans into accepting homosexuality -- which they characterize as a purely western phenomenon... As a direct result of this campaign, homophobia is on the rise in Africa -- from increased incidents of violence to antigay legislation that carries the death penalty.

    In part, religious conservatives are doing this as a power play against religious liberals in their own countries. Most of the mainline Protestant churches in America and Europe, particularly the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, have rival left-wing and right-wing branches, and the conservatives want to enlist the African branch of those churches to help them oppose and undercut liberal efforts for social justice. (Conservative Anglicans in America want African Anglicans to help them defeat liberal Anglican proposals to let gay people serve as clergy.) But it's the African people who bear the collateral damage of this cultural proxy war.

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  21. Africa isn't the only place the American religious right is trying to exert influence. Pat Robertson's legal group, American Center for Law and Justice, has branches in Russia, France, Pakistan, Israel and elsewhere, and recently opened a branch office in Brazil. If its American counterpart is any clue, the BCLJ will devote its time mainly to fighting against the expansion of rights for gay and lesbian people and advocating laws that give Christianity special privileges. With a booming evangelical population and its rapidly increasing economic and cultural power, Brazil is a natural place for the religious right to take root, if secular humanists and progressives aren't ready to counter them.

    And when they seize the reins of government here in the U.S., religious conservatives haven't hesitated to spread their views through hard power as well as soft. The most consequential example is the Mexico City policy, also known as the global gag rule. This rule, which was first enacted by Ronald Reagan and since then has been repeatedly reinstated by Republican presidents and canceled by Democratic presidents, states that any group which takes money from American aid agencies can't perform abortions, refer women to other groups that provide them, or even lobby for more permissive abortion laws in whatever countries it operates in.

    Since the U.S. has always been one of the largest supporters of international family-planning efforts, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), this puts recipients in an unenviable dilemma: to accept American money, they'd have to turn away women in desperate need of abortion, but if they turned the money down, they'd lose the capacity to serve many more women who need contraception, STD treatment, vaccination, and prenatal care. As Michelle Goldberg writes in her book The Means of Reproduction, the global gag rule has forced the closure of family-planning clinics in Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere, depriving women of access to basic health services like Pap smears.

    The point of all this is that stopping the religious right is a global issue. The harm they do in America isn't trivial, but they do far greater harm in developing countries where constitutional protections aren't as strong, and where American money exerts an outsized influence. If we can't stop them here, there are people all over the world who will suffer much worse repercussions.

    The more optimistic way of viewing this is that, when we defeat them at home, we weaken them abroad as well. When they lose elections in the U.S., they can't control foreign aid money to restrict women's right to choose. When we expose them as bullying, homophobic bigots, when we chip away at their following, we deny them the flow of donations they use to spread prejudice in developing nations. For better or worse, what happens in America resonates throughout the world. That's why standing against the religious right is a moral imperative: not just for the sake of people in the First World, but for the sake of people everywhere in the world.


  22. The Problem With the Christian Adoption Movement

    by Kathryn Joyce, author of 'The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption'

    June 2, 2013

    Several weeks ago, in honor of "Birthmothers' Day," the pre-Mother's Day celebration of women who relinquish children for adoption, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Fox News analyst Nina Easton. In it, Easton, an adoptive mother, called for a shift in language that would recast adoption not as abandonment, but as a heroic gift of life that a biological mother can make not only to her child, but also to would-be adoptive parents. In her opening paragraph, Easton lamented that adoption "carries such a social stigma that domestic placement of infants has plummeted -- even as the number of parents desperate for a baby grows." Changing the language around adoption, she suggested, to call "birthmothers" selfless and loving, could help encourage more women to relinquish.

    A week later, on May 17, families in the adoption community convened in Washington, D.C., for a march, "Step Forward for Orphans," advancing a different, but related message. These marchers, organized by a group called Both Ends Burning, were protesting what they see as unjust regulations and delays in the international adoption process that keep many potential adoptive parents waiting for years before they can adopt. Both Ends Burning, which had originally named the protest the "Empty Strollers March" -- a title centered more on the frustration of prospective adoptive parents -- advocates for the unlikely goal of increasing the number of children entering the U.S. for adoption fivefold, something that would be a dramatic turnaround from inter-country adoption rates that have steadily declined by around 60 percent in recent years.

    On their face, neither of these events seem to involve religion. But scratch the surface of either and you'll find the influence of one of the most significant developments in the modern evangelical community: the Christian adoption movement.

    Starting in the mid-2000s, a number of U.S. evangelical leaders began to expand their social engagement beyond traditional "social values" issues like abortion and gay rights. Motivated by the idea of the orphan crisis -- the argument that there are hundreds of millions of orphans in the world, and that Christians are called by God to care for them -- evangelical leaders, including culture-makers like Rick Warren and groups like Focus on the Family, started to trumpet the message that adoption and "orphan care" were uniquely Christian callings.

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  23. Adoption became a sort of perfect storm of a cause for many Christians. It offered a way for anti-abortion advocates to demonstrate they cared about children outside the womb -- to be more "whole life," as one leader put it. It was a means for compassionate conservatives to reclaim a social gospel they felt they'd long ago ceded to more liberal denominations. And as leaders crafted a strong "adoption theology," they described the earthly institution of child adoption as a perfect reflection of Christians' own salvation experience: evangelicals adopting children, just as God had adopted them. Hundreds of "orphan-care" ministries sprung up in local churches, and conferences and small-scale meet-ups proliferated around the country. The result of all this was the creation of what people within the movement called a contagious "adoption culture": large numbers of people within a congregation feeling called to adopt within a few years, often changing the complexion of their church as they did.

    But there are problems with this movement of well-intentioned believers. As a side effect of the thousands of Christians newly stirred to adopt came an unexpected bottleneck: many more prospective adopters were getting in line just as adoption rates, both domestic and international, were dropping rapidly. Whether it was domestic adoptions of babies born to unwed mothers or orphans overseas, there seemed to be too few adoptable children to meet the skyrocketing demand of would-be adoptive parents.

    How did this happen? In part, it's due to a fundamental misrepresentation of the "orphan crisis." The various statistics cited for the number of orphans in the world -- some say as many as 210 million -- don't actually refer to orphans as most people understand that term: a child who has lost both parents. Rather, the number refers mostly to children who have one living parent or who live with extended family, but are in vulnerable situations -- often poor families that could use additional support to keep their family together. While there are certainly still many children in need of adoption, both in the U.S. and overseas, most are not healthy infants, but children older than 5, or kids with special needs.

    But overwhelmingly, U.S. adoption demand is still for healthy babies or younger children, and when adoption fees of $30,000 to $40,000 enter the mix, unscrupulous agencies or local middlemen in developing countries may sometimes find a child to match prospective parents' requests, rather than serving true orphans who actually need new homes. What that can look like is agency staff or contractors recruiting children from poor, but intact families, who may not understand the permanency of adoption, or who may expect that relinquishing a child will connect them with U.S. sponsors.

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  24. The result has been a steady stream of scandals from adoption "sending countries" like Guatemala, Ethiopia, Uganda and Vietnam, where there have been problems with falsified paperwork, improper exchanges of money or coerced relinquishments from biological families. In part because of these scandals, many countries have suspended or greatly slowed their adoption programs, and the number of children entering the U.S. for inter-country adoption has fallen sharply with each closure.

    Domestically, there has been a squeeze as well. While in the days before abortion was legalized or single parenthood accepted, many women with unexpected pregnancies relinquished for adoption, today that number has dropped to around 1 percent in some demographics. But the demand for adoptable infants didn't fall with it, and conservative religious groups like the Family Research Council and crisis pregnancy centers have sought to turn those numbers around by encouraging more women to relinquish. One suggestion the FRC came up with after commissioning a study sounds familiar: changing the language around adoption to present adoption as heroic, selfless, loving and mature -- and conversely, portraying young or unmarried mothers who choose to parent their children as immature and selfish. It's hard to look at this, or the message of one Christian crisis pregnancy ministry -- that all children born to unwed mothers should be considered de facto "orphans" available for adoption (they say they're following the biblical definition of an orphan as a fatherless child) -- without thinking that something is wrong here.

    While most agree that the guiding principle of adoption is that it exists to help a child in need find a family -- and not the other way around -- the efforts to bolster adoption numbers seem most concerned with the desires of would-be parents. That's a dynamic that could grow as adoption demand continues to increase, inspired not just by couples contending with infertility, but now also a sense of religious calling.

    While it's certainly laudable that evangelicals want to help address the needs of poor children around the world, the movement needs to understand that the real crisis is often not one of orphanhood, but one of poverty, poor development and a lack of child welfare infrastructure that leaves many families turning to orphanages in a time of need and making permanent decisions for what could be temporary problems. Those realities are apparent to many people who work on the ground in developing countries, but it's a message that has been hard to hear for many adoptive parents -- particularly the very mobilized members of the Christian adoption movement. But if we really mean for adoption to be something that helps more than it hurts, we need to consider how both the system and our beliefs about adoption are in need of change.


  25. The following article is an update to a story reported in the first comment above on this page at 7 November 2011 12:41

    Sedro-Woolley parents guilty in death of adopted Ethiopian girl

    Associated Press September 9, 2013

    MOUNT VERNON — A Sedro-Woolley couple were convicted Monday in the malnutrition-and-hypothermia death of a teenage girl they had adopted from Ethiopia.

    A jury found Carri Williams guilty of homicide by abuse as well as manslaughter. Larry Williams was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter. The jury also convicted them both of assault of a child. The jury couldn’t reach a decision on the homicide by abuse charge for Larry Williams, and the judge declared a mistrial on that count

    Larry and Carri Williams face a maximum life sentence, the Skagit Valley Herald reports.

    Hana Williams died in the backyard of the family’s home in May 2011. Prosecutors said she was starved, beaten and forced outside as punishment.

    Defense lawyers argued that questionable parenting practices don’t necessarily amount to a crime.

    Hana is believed to have been 13, but no documentation of her birth in Ethiopia was available. The trial was postponed several times and her body was exhumed in January in an effort to determine her age. Tests on her teeth and bones gave varying estimates, and experts were unable to agree on her age.

    Her age was significant because the homicide by abuse charge applies only if the victim was younger than 16.

    Hana Williams was adopted in 2008.

    UPDATE, 4:38 p.m.| Reporters in the courtroom are tweeting:

    Larry Williams not found guilty of homicide by abuse. Jury was not able to reach a verdict on this count.
    Larry Williams guilty of first-degree manslaughter.
    Larry Williams guilty of first-degree assault of a child.
    Carri Williams guilty of homicide by abuse.
    Carri Williams guilty of first-degree assault of a child.

    ORIGINAL POST | MOUNT VERNON — A verdict has been reached in the trial of a Washington state couple accused of homicide by abuse in the death of their teenage daughter who was adopted from Ethiopia.

    The case against Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley went to the jury Friday in Mount Vernon.

    The two also are charged with manslaughter in the death of Hana Williams in the backyard of the family home in May 2011. The girl died of hypothermia and malnutrition. Prosecutors say she was starved, beaten and forced outside as punishment.

    Larry and Carri Williams also are charged with first-degree child assault, for allegedly abusing their son who also was adopted in 2008 from Ethiopia.

    They have pleaded not guilty to all charges. Defense lawyers told jurors that questionable parenting practices don’t necessarily amount to a crime.


  26. Breaking Their Will: The Sick Biblical Literalism That Leads to Child Abuse and Even Death

    Authoritarian parenting and abusive practices are all too common in some Evangelical households.

    By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet September 24, 2013   
    In 2008, Hana Williams was adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia and brought to the United States where she died at the hands of her Bible-believing American parents. Their notion of Christian discipline required breaking her will, http://religiouschildmaltreatment.com/ a remarkably common belief among conservative Evangelicals. To that end, they frequently beat her, shut her in a closet, and denied her meals. Ultimately, she was left outside where she died of hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition. They were convicted of manslaughter this month.

    In carrying out their obsession with child obedience, Hana’s adoptive parents drew tips from Tennessee preacher Michael Pearl, whose spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child book, To Train Up a Child, has been found  http://religiouschildmaltreatment.com/2011/11/the-real-michael-pearl/ now in three homes of Christian parents who killed their adopted children. The title comes from a stanza in the book of Proverbs: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

    M. Dolon Hickmon is the author of an  upcoming novel called 13:24 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1324book/13-24-a-hard-rock-thriller-about-child-abuse-survi that includes religiously motivated abuse. Hickmon was raised by parents who subscribed to this kind of discipline, and he knows first-hand about deep and long-lasting scars from Bible-based childrearing. Hickmon left  his 6,000 member megachurch after a pastor seized on Father’s Day as a prime occasion to teach the congregation how to shape and sand wooden spanking paddles. For Hickmon, the sermon triggered memories of the beatings he had suffered as a child—administered by Christian parents and justified by biblical teachings.

    While struggling to hold together his faith, Hickmon sent a letter soliciting advice from an online ministry run by the authors of a popular Evangelical parenting manual. He wrote as if he were a father experiencing marital conflict because his wife interfered when he hit their terrified, screaming six-year-old. In reality, Hickmon was describing his own childhood experience. (You can read his letter, which is full of intentional red flags, here http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/2013/09/a-survivors-conversation-with-christianity/ ) The response: Your wife is at fault in coming to your son’s defense. Your son uses her. Either she stays out of the way, or you will have to stop being a real Dad.

    Mercifully, secular courts don’t agree that inflicting physical wounds is an acceptable part of parenting. Hana’s parents have been convicted for her death at their hands and will be sentenced in October. Their seven biological children and adopted son—they had also adopted a boy from Ethiopia ironically named Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”— are now safe from their abuse. It is noteworthy, though, that American children are being made safer by secular institutions, not adherence to ancient texts and traditions.

    Child protections have become established in most countries, and conversations about child-friendly religion are gaining ground. http://awaypoint.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/child-friendly-faith/ Even so, many children are subject to patriarchal http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/02/what-is-christian-patriarchy-an-introduction.html groups that take parenting priorities from the Iron Age.

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  27. Evangelical Christians, fearing that their religion is losing ground, have ramped up recruiting activities targeting high school and college students but also young children. Their tool bag includes afternoon club programs and enticing camps. Some churches, like that of TV’s Duggar family, promote a high birth rate, adding young sheep to the fold the old fashioned way. Many churches encourage members—even those who already have numerous children—to adopt. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/opinion/sunday/the-evangelical-orphan-boom.html

    Kathryn Joyce’s book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption  http://www.npr.org/2013/04/16/177350912/how-evangelical-christians-are-preaching-the-new-gospel-of-adoption exposes Evangelical ministries that have resorted to even lies and bribes to pursue their mission of getting children into good Christian homes. A more common criticism is that Evangelical adoption priorities fuel construction of aid-dependent orphanages rather than addressing the underlying systemic issues that cause maternal destitution and death, leaving children parentless.

    Many Evangelical families provide a balance of love and structure and moderate discipline that helps kids thrive. But even well intentioned and loving parents can be thrown off by a church or books that hold up spare the rod, spoil the child as advice from God. When parenting practices derive literally from the Iron Age texts of Bible, the price can be enormous.

    As a child, M. Dolon Hickmon collected bits he’d heard in sermons and adult conversations, trying to understand his fear and hurt. Ultimately he decided the fault lay in himself:

    Here are the messages I gleaned from the church of my childhood: that beating children is acceptable—good for them, in fact; bruises and welts are of little consequence; that fear is desirable, as is pained screaming and broken sobbing. I’d heard that kids were to be whipped for the least act of disobedience, with belts and sticks and plastic racecar tracks; on bare skin, and as often as an adult thought was necessary.

    A child abuser, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t love you. A parent who never gives hugs because he is angry all the time. A child abuser is a drinker, a druggie, or at best some kind of wild animal. An abuser has no reasons or explanations. He just burns kids with cigarettes and gives them broken arms.

    My abuser loved me and hugged me, and he overflowed with explanations. I once got an hour-long lesson on disobedience for leaving a crayon on the floor. While the belt clapped with the measured rhythms of chopping firewood, I struggled to commit verses to memory and to answer quizzes on the metaphysical meanings of the word honor in scripture. . . .

    I tolerated being degraded, because that was what I thought a Christian child was supposed to do.

    Children generally have a hard time protecting themselves from abusive caregivers. Children who are made to believe that God is on the side of the abuser and that they deserve to suffer are all the more unable to fend off physical and psychological wounds. To quote Pat Benetar’s song “Hell is for Children,” love and pain become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child.

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  28. As of late, critics have been raising awareness of the link between certain kinds of religious parenting and abuse. Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, recently founded the Child-Friendly Faith Project, http://childfriendlyfaith.org/ a national nonprofit organization that educates the public about the impact that religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs and practices have on children.

    We now know a great deal about how children flourish and how adults can manage parent-child conflict for positive outcomes. Psychologist Laura Kastner distilled two decades of parenting research into seven basic principles, which provide the structure for her book, Wise-Minded Parenting. http://www.parentmap.com/article/wise-minded-parenting-7-essentials-for-raising-successful-tweens-teens  When asked to comment on recent tragedies, Kastner suggested that we may have learned a thing or two in the millennia since our sacred texts were written:

    Our growing knowledge of child development suggests that authoritative parenting grounded in mutual respect works better in the long run than threats and force. It is a shame that factions among us still support the use of the “rod” when we have abundant evidence that non-violent parental strengths are the key to building success and character.  

    Tragedies like the death of Hana Williams prompt soul searching. For example, the case has prompted calls for adoption reform. But what shape should reforms take? We cannot exclude prospective parents on the basis of their religious affiliation, nor should we. Many adoptive parents are inspired by their faith to step up and do the hard sustained work of loving and raising orphaned children despite their special needs and challenges.

    And yet beliefs matter. They can override compassion http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtues/22-compassion and common sense, http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtues/139-common-sense as Hickmon’s experience so clearly shows. Encircled by like-minded believers, parents and children may get little exposure to outside parenting practices. This means that religious leaders have tremendous power to either cause suffering or to help families develop skills that are grounded in a genuine understanding of child development. As we collectively muddle our way toward a better future, we need to engage in a thoughtful, complicated conversation about parental power and children’s wellbeing, and the positive and negative roles religion can play in finding a balance that helps kids flourish.


    Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. http://www.wisdomcommons.org/ She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light" and "Deas and Other Imaginings." Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

  29. The Evangelical Orphan Boom

    By KATHRYN JOYCE, New York Times Opinion September 21, 2013

    IF you attend an evangelical church these days, there’s a good chance you’ll hear about the “orphan crisis” affecting millions of children around the world.

    These Christian advocates of transnational adoption will often say that some 150 million children need homes — though that figure, derived from a Unicef report, includes not only parentless children, but also those who have lost only one parent, and orphans who live with relatives.

    Evangelical adoptions picked up in earnest in the middle of the last decade, when a wave of prominent Christians, including the megachurch pastor Rick Warren and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, began to promote adoption as a special imperative for believers. Adoption mirrored the Christian salvation experience, they argued, likening the adoption of orphans to Christ’s adoption of the faithful. Adoption also embodied a more holistic “pro-life” message — caring for children outside the womb as well as within — and an emphasis on good deeds, not just belief, that some evangelicals felt had been ceded to mainline Protestant denominations.

    Believers rose to the challenge. The Christian Alliance for Orphans estimates that hundreds of thousands of people worldwide participate in its annual Orphan Sunday (this year’s is Nov. 3). Evangelicals from the Bible Belt to Southern California don wristbands or T-shirts reading “orphan addict” or “serial adopter.” Ministries have emerged to raise money and award grants to help Christians pay the fees (some $30,000 on average, plus travel) associated with transnational adoption.

    However well intended, this enthusiasm has exacerbated what has become a boom-and-bust market for children that leaps from country to country. In many cases, the influx of money has created incentives to establish or expand orphanages — and identify children to fill them.

    In some cases, agencies may hire “child finders” to recruit children of the age and gender that prospective adoptive parents prefer, sometimes from impoverished but intact families. Even nonprofit agencies with good reputations may turn to such local recruiters in countries where they don’t already have established partners — or where the demand for children exceeds the supply.

    The potential for fraud and abuse is high. Orphanages tend to be filled by kids whose parents want better opportunities for them, while the root problem — extreme poverty — goes unaddressed, a Unicef worker in Ethiopia told me. Worse, some families in places with different cultural norms and legal systems relinquish their kids believing that it is a temporary guardianship arrangement, rather than an irrevocable severance of family ties.

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  30. In 2006, the family of three sisters adopted from Sodo, Ethiopia, said they were told that adoption would give the children a chance at an American education and that they would later return. The adoptive parents, then living in New Mexico, said they’d been falsely assured by an evangelical agency, Christian World Adoption, that they were saving destitute children orphaned by AIDS, who might otherwise have become sex workers.

    When the children arrived and were told the adoption was permanent, they were distraught. And when the adoptive family complained, the agency maintained that the adoption was justified under Ethiopian law and counseled the parents to trust in God’s plan. When the adoptive family complained to the Better Business Bureau in North Carolina, where the agency was based, it threatened to report the family to child protective services in New Mexico. (The agency has since gone bankrupt.)

    Though most are not as nightmarish, adoption complications are common. Some adoptive parents have even hired private investigators to try to verify the stories they were told about their kids.

    When scandals emerge, governments lumber into action. But then the demand just shifts to another country, and the problems start all over again. In the early 1990s, Romania saw an adoption boom after shocking images of orphanages — housing young victims of Nicolae Ceausescu’s compulsory birth policies — became public. But over time, stories of other Romanian kids’ being coerced into adoption or bought from their families surfaced. Romania halted international adoptions in 2001.

    Also in the 1990s, the number of adoptions from Vietnam soared, but the outrageous fees paid to child finders — sometimes more than $10,000 — caused the government in 2003 to press pause to reform the system. (But when the adoptions resumed in 2005, so did the problems.)

    At the height of Guatemala’s adoption boom in the middle of the last decade, nearly 1 percent of babies were sent to the United States, before stories of child buying and even kidnapping prompted a shutdown in 2008. Then the boom shifted to Ethiopia and, now, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Of course, adoption problems aren’t limited to Christian agencies, and they don’t originate with them, but some movement insiders say that evangelicals — whether driven by zeal or naïveté — have had a disproportionate impact on the international adoption system. Groups like Unicef and Save the Children have made clear that millions of “orphans” are, in fact, not eligible for transnational adoption, but advocates often disregard these warnings as signs of ideological opposition to adoption — a charge Unicef has denied.

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  31. After some high-profile adoption horror stories, the number of transnational adoptions to the United States fell to fewer than 9,000 last year, from a high of nearly 23,000 in 2004. Last year, only China and Ethiopia sent more than 1,000 adoptees to America, and only South Korea and Russia topped 500. (Russia this year banned adoptions by American parents.)

    This boom-and-bust, musical-chairs cycle does little to improve child-welfare systems in developing countries and has perpetuated a culture of aid-based orphanage construction — the reverse of the trend in wealthy countries, which have phased out institutions in favor of foster care.

    The United States must improve regulation. There are no specific limits to what agencies can spend in other countries and little oversight in the system, which relies on peer reviews from other adoption agencies. And often there is little political will to investigate agency wrongdoing. While the United States abides by the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption — a set of standards promulgated in 1993 to prevent abuses — American agencies can often dodge responsibility for abuses by blaming local partners. Moreover, many foreign children brought into America come from countries that have not signed the convention.

    Policy reforms, domestic and international, won’t be enough without a change in thinking, particularly among American evangelicals. Some Christian groups have begun to heed the call to do good works overseas, by focusing on aid that keeps families intact or improves local foster care and adoption. Some churches have backed programs overseas that provide emergency foster parents, or day care programs for widowed mothers. But many churches still preach the simplistic message that there are more Christians in the world than orphans, and that every adoption means a child saved.

    For too long, well-meaning Americans have brought their advocacy and money to bear on an adoption industry that revolves around Western demand. Adoption can be wonderful when it’s about finding the right family for a child who is truly in need, but it can also be tragic and unjust if it involves deception, removes children from their home countries when other options are available, or is used as a substitute for addressing the underlying problems of poverty and inequality. We can no longer be blind to the collateral damage that good intentions bring.

    Kathryn Joyce is the author of “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.”


  32. A child left unprotected

    State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife adopted a young girl through the state Department of Human Services. How did she, six months later, end up in the care of a man who sexually abused her?

    By Benjamin Hardy, Arkansas Times March 5, 2015

    On April 4, 2014, a 38-year-old resident of Bella Vista named Eric Cameron Francis was arrested by the Arkansas State Police for the rape of a 6-year-old girl in what the police said was his temporary care. Sexual crimes against children always attract a certain horrified attention, but this particular case earned additional scrutiny because Francis had recently worked as head teacher at a Christian preschool in West Fork owned by state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and his wife, Marsha.

    Harris, who said he was "devastated and sickened" by news of the abuse, told the Arkansas Times in April 2014 that Francis had been in his employ only about three months, from November 2013 to January 2014, before being fired for poor work attendance.

    "He came with a pristine record," Harris said at the time, noting that Francis was also a youth pastor at a church and had worked previously in early childhood education for the Bentonville School District and with a Head Start program. Harris added that he was confident nothing had happened to any of the children at Growing God's Kingdom Preschool, because of strict security protocols (the classroom contains a continuously operating camera that generates a permanent record). Indeed, no further charges against Francis resulted from subsequent State Police interviews of families at the preschool, although investigators uncovered at least two other incidents of sexual abuse of children in the community outside of the school. In November, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison on a negotiated plea.

    What Harris did not publicly disclose last spring, however, is how Francis came into contact with the 6-year-old victim. In prosecutor documents recently obtained by the Arkansas Times, state police investigators and multiple witnesses concur that the child was in fact the legally adopted daughter of Justin and Marsha Harris.

    The Harrises had adopted the girl and her 3-year-old sister through the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS). The couple also has three biological sons who are older than the girls. Pictures of the girls appeared on Justin Harris' social media accounts in early 2013 (the images have since been deleted), and Harris announced on Twitter and Facebook on March 6, 2013, that the couple had officially adopted the girls. Because DHS adoptions require an in-home trial period of at least six months prior to papers being signed, the girls likely entered the home no later than September 2012.

    And then, something evidently went amiss in the household. For unknown reasons, about six months after the adoption was finalized, the Harrises sent the two girls to live with Eric Francis and his family in Bella Vista.

    According to an Arkansas State Police investigative report prepared by Sgt. Kimberly A. Warren dated April 3, 2014, she contacted Crimes Against Children Division Supervisor Terri Ward who advised that "Mr. and Mrs. Harris placed the girls into the care of Eric Francis and his wife Stacy [sic] Francis in October 2013." The report further states that "It was later reported to the Department of Human Services that Mr. and Mrs. Harris had left the children with another family and had basically abandoned them. This incident was reported to the child abuse hotline and the children were interviewed."

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  33. After her husband's arrest, Stacey Francis told a state police investigator that she and Eric "met [the girls] through friends of theirs, Justin and Marsha Harris, who were looking for a new adoption plan for themselves ... Stacey Francis reported that she and Eric Francis brought [the girls] into their home with the hopes of being able to adopt them." The Francises already had three older children — two girls and a boy — who were adopted internationally. Stacey Francis said the Harris girls stayed with her and Eric "until February or March of 2014." That means the Harrises left the girls with Eric Francis and his wife even after firing him.

    The sexual abuse of the 6-year-old girl came to light only because of a call placed to the state's child maltreatment hotline on Friday, March 28, from an unidentified caller who said the Harrises "gave their adoptive children to a family" and "that family in turn gave the children to another family" and that they had "continued to accept adoption subsidy money even after giving the children away." Investigators evidently determined that this third home was a safe place for the girls because they remain there today.

    Arkansas's child maltreatment hotline is operated by the Crimes Against Children Division (CACD), a semiautonomous arm of the State Police tasked with performing the sensitive and highly confidential work involved in cases of child abuse and neglect. When the CACD needs additional resources, however, it can also draw upon the assistance of the State Police's Criminal Investigation Division (CID).

    "On the afternoon of March 28, 2014, the CID was asked by the commander of the Crimes Against Children Division to assist in determining where two minor age children might be, who had been adopted," said Bill Sadler, spokesman for the State Police. "By sometime late in the afternoon, CID had told CACD that the girls were accounted for — at the home of a family who appeared not to be the custodial parents of the girls." By the morning of Monday, March 31, the prosecutor documents indicate, the girls were interviewed by a CACD agent. During this interview, the 6-year-old disclosed the abuse by Francis, which Francis later told police occurred sometime in January 2014, while his wife was out of state.

    Although the hotline caller alleged that Justin and Marsha Harris had given away their adopted children, no criminal charges were brought against them, according to Sadler.

    If some readers are startled to learn that it's legal for adoptive parents to give their children to another family, they're in good company. As the State Police investigation unfolded last spring, one person kept apprised of its progress was then-Gov. Mike Beebe. Matt DeCample, Beebe's former spokesperson, said the governor was surprised as anyone to hear about the practice of "rehoming," as it's called in the adoption world. (DeCample said it was common practice for the State Police to alert the governor's office whenever it discovered a state elected official had an ancillary connection to a criminal investigation.)

    "As we were briefed on the State Police investigation into Mr. Francis and the circumstances around that case, none of us in the office, including the governor, had ever dealt with the rehousing of children who had been adopted through DHS," DeCample recalled. "It's not something that had ever come up before, and, frankly, we didn't know that it was something that could happen, or why it would ever happen.

    "The governor asked some of our legal folks to look at how that was legally possible in the state — or at least why there wasn't anything preventing it from happening. And everything we got back said there was not anything definitive in Arkansas Code prohibiting such an activity."

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  34. 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."

    "You don't know what we've been through this past year. You have no idea what my family has been through," he said emphatically. "I don't care what the people of Arkansas think about me. I don't care if I lose my position. I care what my wife thinks about me, and I care what my three sons think about me."

    Overcome with emotion, he then turned and walked away. Harris has not responded to repeated requests for further comment, even again this week when advised this story would be published.

    'It's just nuts'
    DHS spokesperson Amy Webb said the agency cannot comment on any specific adoption. Almost all records relating to foster care, adoption or child maltreatment are closed to the public under state law. However, she said the agency was aware of nine instances of rehoming that have occurred in Arkansas in the past two years. In some cases, the adoptive parents gave the children to families they barely knew. Webb acknowledged that the real number could be higher, since rehoming is by definition something that takes place off the state's radar. (DHS learned of the nine cases through the families themselves or by word of mouth.)

    "Even a few cases are concerning to us because the families do not go through the vetting process before caring for the children," she said. "If we hear of a situation in which there was rehoming, we will reach out to families. It's not something we want to see happen."

    Rehoming is a national issue. In 2013, a Reuters investigative series titled "The Child Exchange" drew attention to Internet forums in which parents sought to give away unwanted adopted children to complete strangers. Kids adopted from overseas are especially at risk: Stories abound of overwhelmed American families struggling to deal with Russian and Eastern European orphans with mental health issues, extreme behavioral problems and sometimes destructive or violent tendencies.

    Sometimes the families on the receiving end of such transactions turn out to be good parents seeking an easy alternative to the expense and bureaucracy of legal adoption; sometimes they turn out to be abusive or predatory. Reuters uncovered harrowing stories of kids passed between homes like unwanted puppies, of pedophiles effectively shopping for children online, of prospective parents whose backgrounds bristled with red flags but were never remotely vetted by any authority. In most states, with a simple power of attorney document, a child's guardian can delegate temporary parental responsibility to another adult.

    "We've got to protect these kids! It's just nuts!" Joe Kroll, the executive director of the Minnesota-based North American Council on Adoptable Children, said. Last summer, he testified before the U.S. Senate on the need for a federal law to address rehoming.

    "The bottom line is, two things," Kroll told the Times. "One, there should never be a transfer of custody of a child from one family to another — who are strangers; we're not talking about relatives here — without a court being involved. That's just the absolute bottom line. The second thing is, it should not occur without background checks and some preparation for the family."

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  35. Adopting a child through DHS is no small task for prospective parents. It typically involves six months' worth of various background checks and training. "We do home visits, home studies, and it's just a full and thorough vetting process," Webb said.

    If the parents pass muster, DHS will then place the children in the potential adoptive home for a period that lasts at least another six months. "It's basically kind of a trial, to make sure it works for everybody. We like to make sure it's the right fit for the kid, the right fit for the family, because we want it to last long term. And, of course, there's also court supervision all along the way. ... There's a [DHS] caseworker for the family and the kid, and there's an attorney ad litem who's representing the kid." Eventually, if everything goes smoothly, the adoption is finalized by a judge.

    "It's very thorough and extensive on the front end, and quite frankly we have some people complain," Webb continued, "but the reason is that we want to make sure that these families provide stable, loving homes for these kids, and we're going to take our time to do that."

    Once the adoption is complete, DHS and the courts step out of the picture almost completely in regard to oversight. In the eyes of the state, adopted parents should be treated essentially the same as biological parents. "We want these families to go out and live and be real families like anybody else," she said. "We want those kids to have a sense of normalcy, and if they're having to visit a DHS caseworker every week, that's not normalcy."

    But in the case of some adopted families, there are two ways that the state does remain involved. The first is subsidies. One of the sad realities of adoption is that some types of children are more in demand than others, so the state incentivizes, for example, the adoption of kids with physical disabilities. Families tend to want babies, so parents receive a subsidy for children who are 9 years or older. Then there's the racial dimension: Children of color who are 2 years or older come with a subsidy. DHS also subsidizes the adoption of sibling groups and kids with special emotional needs.

    Because DHS can't comment on any particular case, it's impossible to know for certain whether the Harrises received a subsidy for their children, but it's likely. The girls in question were adopted as siblings, and the prosecutor documents indicate at least one of the girls had significant behavioral problems stemming from past trauma. According to the CACD interview, the 6-year-old said she was sexually abused by someone in her biological family before entering the foster system.

    (In that same interview, the girl also indicated she was unhappy in the Harris home. A CACD agent writes, "She said she had to stay in her room; she said she had her books, but then they took away her books and she had nothing in there, just her bed. When asked why she had to move away from Marsha's house, [the girl] said 'because I didn't like it.' ")

    Webb said the pre-adoption training provided by DHS includes specialized instructions "on how to deal with children who have experienced trauma." The agency wants families to know what they're getting into when they adopt a child with a difficult past. "When that family is going through the adoption process, one of the things we do is make them fully aware of that kid's history ... the trauma they've experienced, any special needs they might have or special concerns," she said.

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  36. The second way that DHS may become involved with a family post-adoption is if the parents are in need of help coping with a child's behavior. "There can be situations where down the road, the families go, 'This is not working,' " Webb said. "Maybe it's a kid who's had behavioral issues and they've tried everything they can think of to address it. Or maybe they have concerns about protecting other kids in the home, and they just feel like they can't protect those kids from one of the adopted kids."

    In such cases, the family can ask DHS for a hand, Webb said. "We can intervene in a number of ways — do they need respite on the weekends? Does the kid really need some inpatient psych services, or additional therapy?

    "If none of that works, then they can come to us and say, 'We have exhausted all of our available resources. Please, help us. We cannot take care of this child.' And we will take that child back into custody if the family has exhausted all available resources, and we will do that without any repercussions for the family." (What exactly constitutes "exhausting all available resources" would be a question for a judge to answer, Webb said.)

    It is quite rare for an adoption to be dissolved after a family obtains full custody of a child. 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. A 2012 fact sheet published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that "studies consistently report that only a small percentage of completed adoptions dissolve — probably between 1 and 5 percent."

    The document also notes a variety of risk factors that increase the likelihood of a failed adoption, ranging from the age of the child to unrealistic expectations on the part of adoptive parents to inadequate parental preparation on the part of the agency. Perhaps the single biggest predictor is past trauma: "Children who had experienced sexual or emotional abuse had the highest rates of disruption."

    Webb said DHS sees dissolution as a last resort, but adoptive parents are made aware that it's a possibility. "Families who adopted from us would know that if they were having troubles, we want them to contact us. ... It's clear that they know there are options."

    This is one of the most puzzling aspects of the Harris case: Why didn't Justin and Marsha Harris ask DHS to take the children back into custody? With international adoptions, parents often have nowhere to turn after the adoption is complete — thus, for example, the infamous 2010 incident in which a Tennessee woman placed her 7-year-old Russian adopted son on a plane back to Moscow with a letter in hand declaring she was terminating custody of the child. Most rehoming takes place in the context of adoptions performed through private agencies; unlike those parents, families who adopt through DHS have an official emergency exit.

    "That makes no sense whatsoever," Kroll said when the facts of the Harris case were described. "I really haven't heard a lot of those kinds of situations. ... Usually, if you adopt a kid from the state with special needs, what you're going to do is go back to the state. You have somewhere to go back to. If you work with some private adoption agency overseas, once the child comes to you, they're done with you. They're not going to give you any support. But with a state agency, you should be getting support.

    "I hope they stopped getting the state subsidy when they transferred those kids."

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  37. This, too, is a question that can't be answered by DHS in specific terms. However, in August 2014, the agency began requiring those families receiving subsidies to sign off on this statement: "I (we) will not under any circumstances re-home my adopted child/children."

    The definition of abandonment

    Child maltreatment investigators sit at the intersection of social services and state criminal law. Although the State Police operate the child abuse hotline, it's DHS that maintains the central registry archiving the findings of the CACD investigation that follows any allegation of child maltreatment. Reports made to the hotline are determined to be either true or unsubstantiated, and this data is an essential part of background checks used for employment, professional licensing and other purposes. If one works with children, one's name is checked against the central registry as a matter of course.

    Although rehoming a child may not be a criminal offense, it could still potentially constitute a civil offense with serious consequences: child abandonment. The original call to the hotline that triggered the investigation is specifically noted as an "abandonment" referral. So what became of that claim?

    "We're in a situation where I can't confirm or deny if we were involved in a case or not," Webb said. "What I can tell you is that in order for an allegation to be determined true, it would have to meet the letter of the law as the law defines it. ... If it were an allegation of abandonment, it would have to fit within the abandonment law in order for us to find that true."

    Arkansas Code 12-18-103 states the definition of "abandonment" as follows: "[T]he failure of a parent to provide reasonable support and to maintain regular contact with a child through statement or contact when the failure is accompanied by an intention on the part of the parent to permit the condition to continue for an indefinite period in the future or the failure of a parent to support or maintain regular contact with a child without just cause; or an articulated intent to forego parental responsibility."

    "Essentially, in layman's term, abandonment would be providing no care or support for the children," Webb said. If a mother sends a child to Moscow with a note announcing her intent to terminate custody, that's clearly abandonment. However, what if a family gives their adopted children to someone else yet continues to pay for some or all of their care?

    "Financial support is support," Webb replied. "There is some case law and precedent on that." In a later email, she said that none of the nine recent cases of rehoming known to the state resulted in a true finding of abandonment.

    As mentioned previously, only 67 out of over 4,000 DHS adoptions from 2006 to 2013 resulted in a child being returned to the foster system. That number includes both parents attempting to terminate their adoption, and other situations: illness, abuse or neglect and so on. Of those 67 cases, 11 were considered "abandonment."

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  38. So why did the Harrises rehome their children rather than attempt to dissolve their adoption through DHS? For one thing, it appears rehoming brings little risk of either civil or criminal penalty; it can be performed quickly and quietly. Meanwhile, recall that DHS will take a child back into its custody with no repercussions for the adoptive parent if and only if they have "exhausted all resources" to the satisfaction of a judge. To dissolve an adoption through DHS can take some time, Webb acknowledged, because "we want to try to work with the family to make it work."

    Perhaps, in a tragic miscalculation, the Harrises felt the girls would be better off living with a family known to them rather than being returned to the foster system. Marsha Harris, according to social media posts from Justin Harris, was ill around this time — did that factor in? And Justin Harris has had a prickly relationship with DHS in the past.

    In late 2011, he tangled with the agency over overtly Christian practices at Growing God's Kingdom, which receives public funding under the Arkansas Better Chance program. At the request of an organization promoting separation of church and state, a DHS inspector investigated whether the preschool was using taxpayer money to teach a Christian curriculum; she found regularly scheduled Bible study in most classrooms, scripture posted on the walls and children singing "Jesus Loves Me." Around the same time, Harris tweeted that Webb was "giving out false info to the press."

    It must also be noted that Harris, as a legislator, has direct influence over the DHS budget. He serves on the Joint Budget Committee, which oversees all appropriations for state agencies. He also serves on the influential House Education Committee and is the vice-chair of the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth.

    Other questions remain. Who originally called the hotline, and how did he or she know about the issue? Why were the children moved to a third family sometime in February or March — that is, before the call to the hotline was made — and was this a choice made by the Harrises? Did the Harrises give all or part of any state subsidy that they may have continued to receive to the Francises or to the third family?

    None of the people who know the answers to these questions are forthcoming. Stacey Francis divorced her husband in August 2014; she has changed her name and moved out of state. When contacted by the Times, she declined a request for an interview, as did another witness cited in the prosecutor file who was familiar with the Francis family.

    When this reporter recently attempted to interview Eric Francis at the Benton County Jail, he said he had no interest in talking about the past. "Everyone made mistakes before this all blew up, and I obviously made the biggest mistake," Francis said. He said he originally met the Harrises through Stacey, who attended high school with Marsha Harris: "My ex knew them better than I did." Francis also confirmed that DHS was not officially informed when the Harrises transferred the girls to his home in Bella Vista in October 2013.

    "I've got to move on with my life," he said through the reinforced glass, clad in stripes. "I'm sorry, but that's all I'm going to say."

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  39. Perhaps no function of state government is more potentially fraught, subjective and morally complex than the child welfare system. The patchy safety net woven by DHS workers and CACD investigators is stretched across an impossibly wide chasm, between the statutory obligations of state bureaucracy and the most intimate and idiosyncratic of human relationships: those of parents and their children. There are sincere dilemmas contained in balancing our collective moral responsibility toward protecting children with the privacy of families to raise their kids — adopted and otherwise — with minimal intrusion.

    Yet rehoming is an example of a genuine flaw in the system. In May 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a memorandum to state social service agencies (including DHS) that cited the Reuters investigation.

    "Parents have a legal responsibility to protect and care for their children," the memo said. "Delegating responsibility for a child to an unfit and unsafe individual through a power of attorney does not insulate parents from state laws regarding imminent risk of serious harm. ... We encourage states to review their laws that govern these areas to ensure that the issues that arise through the practice of rehoming are adequately addressed."

    Four states — Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida and Louisiana — have passed laws regarding rehoming. The laws in Wisconsin, Colorado and Florida focus on criminalizing the advertisement of adoptable children, although Wisconsin also requires any family that wishes to transfer custody to a non-relative for more than a year to get court approval. The Louisiana law is the toughest — it requires court approval for transfer of custody to a non-relative for any length of time.

    In Arkansas, DHS has taken a first step by adding new language on an adoption form that would allow the agency to stop subsidy payments in cases of rehoming. Marilyn Counts, the state adoption manager for the Division of Child and Family Services within DHS, is spearheading Arkansas's attempts to address the problem. She joined a national workgroup on rehoming in May 2014 and was recently elected to the executive committee of the National Association of State Adoption Managers.

    "Even if there is just one [rehoming case] that's a problem; it's atrocious," Counts said. She told the Times that the agency was also considering proposing legislation. "We're at a point where we're studying and looking at the issue, but not at a point where we make a recommendation," she said.

    This is a story about how adoption can go wrong. The most fundamental problem facing children in the foster system, however, is not that adoptive parents sometimes do the wrong thing. It's that the kids desperately need good homes. The adoption and foster system depends on the willingness of the right adults to make a lifetime commitment to a child. It's easy to find fault with the actions of the Harrises from a safe remove; it's not so easy to be the right parent.

    We can only hope the third family, the one that eventually ended up with the two girls, is the right place for them. After the events of last spring, DHS presumably vetted the home, because the sisters continue to live there with the evident knowledge of the agency. The Times was able to identify and contact the adoptive parents, who declined to be interviewed for this story. The mother did, however, offer one comment.

    "I don't like that they took this path to get here, but they are home now, and they are loved and cherished. This is God's plan. They are our daughters. They are precious, precious, amazing girls, and we are so blessed to have them."

    Leslie Peacock contributed reporting to this story.

    Think this reporting is important? Help us provide deeper and broader coverage of Arkansas's child welfare system by contributing to our crowdfunding campaign.


  40. Casting out demons

    Why Justin Harris got rid of kids he applied pressure to adopt

    Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.

    By Benjamin Hardy, Arkansas Times March 12, 2015

    An emotional Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork), his wife at his side, told reporters at a press conference last week that he sent his two adopted daughters to live with another family, where one of them was later sexually abused, because he would have faced abandonment charges by the state.

    Responding to the Arkansas Times' report that uncovered Harris' "rehoming" of his children, the state legislator said he was "failed" by the Department of Human Services when he told employees the girls were too difficult for the family to handle. He said DHS' threat to charge him with abandonment could have cost him custody of his three biological sons (and, though he did not say so, could have cost him his business as well, Growing God's Kingdom preschool). The lawmaker also said DHS "misled" him about severe behavioral issues with the girls. He said they suffered from reactive attachment disorder, a condition sometimes occurring among children with unstable backgrounds that results in severe emotional and social problems.

    Harris spoke for the first time of a third, older sister that he said DHS made him adopt before he could take the younger sisters into his home. The Times had reported on the third sister before the press conference, held Friday afternoon in the old Supreme Court chambers in the state Capitol. The older girl, who would have been about 6 years old at the time she entered the Harris household, presented an imminent danger to his older three sons, Harris said. DHS ultimately placed the child into a hospital after just a few months of living with the family, and the Harrises did not proceed with the planned adoption. He also said the younger sisters, ages 4 and 2 when they entered the Harris home, were violent. He said one of the girls — the implication was the middle sister — had to be medicated to stop hurting her sister, and that he was advised by therapists to treat her RAD by removing toys and other belongings from her room.

    After one of the two younger girls crushed a family pet to death, Harris said, he and his wife were advised by "a therapist, a psychiatrist and a pediatrician" to remove the children from the Harris home. He said he sought DHS assistance at that time but was given none. He said he thought he'd found the "perfect solution" in handing the girls over to Stacey Francis, a longtime friend of his wife's, and her husband, Eric Cameron Francis. Eric Francis is serving 40 years in prison on charges of raping the child the Harrises rehomed and sexually assaulting other children.

    This story will refer to the three girls taken in by the Harrises by pseudonyms: We will call the oldest sister Jeannette, the middle sister Mary and the youngest sister Annie. When they began living with the Harrises in 2012, Jeannette was around 6, Mary was 4 and Annie was around 2.

    Nearly a dozen people interviewed by the Times tell a different story of Justin and Marsha Harris' dealings with DHS and their relationship with the three young girls. Among them: two foster families who cared for the girls prior to the Harris adoption, the girls' biological mother, a former DHS employee familiar with the proceedings and a former babysitter at the Harrises' West Fork home.

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  41. Cheryl and Craig Hart, an experienced foster couple who housed Mary and Annie for a year and a half before their adoption by the Harrises, said they tried to talk the Harrises out of adopting the sisters. The Harts said that a local team working on the adoption — including themselves, DHS caseworkers, adoption specialists, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and therapists from Ozark Guidance, a mental health provider — made the Harrises fully aware of the girls' history of neglect and sexual abuse and cautioned them that they were unprepared to handle children from such a background, especially considering their home included young boys. The former DHS employee confirmed this account.

    The Harts also said the adoption was allowed to proceed despite their objections because of the direct intervention of Cecile Blucker, head of the Division of Children and Family Services, the arm of DHS responsible for child welfare. They say Blucker exerted pressure on the Washington County DHS office on behalf of Justin Harris to facilitate the adoption. The former DHS employee confirmed this information as well.

    Chelsey Goldsborough, who regularly babysat for the Harrises, said Mary was kept isolated from Annie and from the rest of the family. She was often confined for hours to her room, where she was monitored by a video camera. The reason: 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.

    Multiple sources who interacted with the family confirmed Goldsborough's account that the Harrises believed the children were possessed, and another source close to the family said that Marsha Harris spoke openly about the supposed demonic possession.

    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."

    Mary and Annie stayed in the Harris home for no more than 14 months (not two years, as Harris said at the Friday press conference). For about half of that time, from the end of 2012 to summer 2013, Goldsborough would babysit the Harris boys, Annie and, in an unconventional sense, Mary. Goldsborough said she would watch Mary on a monitor linked to a camera in her room, but usually only entered the room to provide food or water. Goldsborough, who is now a college student in Bentonville, said she would stay at the Harris house for three to four hours after school many days during the spring semester of her senior year of high school.

    "The first night I was over there, I just broke down and cried with this little girl because I just felt so bad for her," Goldsborough said.

    According to Goldsborough, the two girls were kept in separate rooms that were outfitted with locks, alarms and video cameras. They were not allowed to be around each other because of the Harrises' belief in demonic possession and telepathy, she said.

    While Annie would be allowed to roam the house and interact with other family members, Mary was often confined to her room, Goldsborough said.

    "We couldn't ever take [Mary] out. I'd watch her from a camera. I think it's crazy. They were adopted, so they're going to want TLC."

    Goldsborough said the "exorcism" was performed by specialists from Alabama who came to the house to orchestrate the event. Other sources confirmed to the Times that Marsha Harris told them at least one "exorcism" was performed on the girls.

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  42. Goldsborough said the Harrises showed her "a picture of [Mary] where they're like, 'You can see the demon rising from her back,' and it just looked like a little 6-year-old to me." [Mary was 4 or 5.] The separate source close to the Harrises reported seeing a video that Marsha Harris said showed a demon interacting with one of the girls. The source said demons were an "obsession" with Marsha Harris.

    "They consider it to be spiritual warfare," the other source said. "I'm a Christian, and I have these beliefs, but this was completely beyond anything I've ever seen or heard about."

    Goldsborough said the reason the family removed Mary's toys was "because a demon told [Mary] not to share. ... Demons told her to not appreciate [her toys] and all that, so they took away all the toys and her colored clothes."

    Although she was disturbed by what she saw in the household to the extent that she reported it to DHS*, Goldsborough said she felt compelled to continue babysitting for the sake of the girls. "I think everything happens for a reason, so I feel like I was there for a reason," she said. "In some ways I did break the rules and give [Mary] attention. When it was just me and her one night, I took her on a walk down the street to hang out and took her to the playground."

    When asked whether either of the girls displayed any signs of violence, Goldsborough said, "Yeah — they'd throw a fit sometimes if I made them eat their broccoli. They were like any other kid I watched."

    At the Friday press conference, Justin Harris said he and Marsha had their biological sons sleep in their room for "their protection" from the young sisters. The source close to the Harrises said the pet — a guinea pig belonging to one of the boys — was killed not by Mary, but by the oldest sister, Jeannette, who had long since left the home by the time the Harrises, allegedly on the advice of therapists, rehomed the girls with the Francises.

    Asked about the death of the guinea pig, Wells, the Harrises' lawyer, said via email, "A family pet, which was a guinea pig, was crushed to death by one of the children. Another pet, which was a hamster, was hurt but not killed by another child. We don't want to identify exactly which child did what. It may be in the report you have, but just in case the minors' identities are known, we don't want to be specific for their own protection."

    The lawyer had not responded to a long list of other questions from the Times by midday Tuesday.

    Goldsborough said Mary and Annie were moved to the Francis home in Bella Vista months after she moved away for college. "But I knew they had talked about it, they were going to rehome them," she said. "They were looking for a new house because Marsha had gotten sick." Doctors found that Marsha Harris had a possible cancerous mass sometime in 2013; Goldsborough believes that's why the Harrises eventually sent the girls away. "She just felt tired all the time, and she went in [to the doctor] and they found something and she said, 'I just don't know if I can handle all this.' "

    Justin Harris said they took Mary's toys away from her at the suggestion of professionals from Ozark Guidance. But Dr. Peter Jensen, acting director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said that did not sound like an appropriate therapy for RAD.

    Children with RAD may be successfully treated, especially if reached at an early age and placed in a stable, loving home, Jensen said. But "parents cannot use normal parenting. ... They have to learn skills most parents don't have — such as how to talk a child down." Therapists need to become involved. "You can have a degree in child development, but that's not a degree in child development run amok, gone wild."

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  43. To allow a child with RAD to emotionally attach to her new caregivers requires a focus on positive reinforcement; any punishment must be kept gentle, Jensen said. Attachment to a mother or father figure is "a deep, biological need and necessary for normal social development," Jensen said. With attachment comes a sense of security; without it, a child may experience a heightened wariness of his or her environment, become withdrawn, and be unable to respond to attempts at comfort.

    "We see this happening in orphanages and kids moved into foster care at a young age. ... Basically, they haven't had their emotional needs met, or they've been taken away," Jensen said. When a child has repeated changes of caregivers, "that child is learning that the world is not to be trusted and there is no one there for me at a critical time, and I might be bounced out at any moment," he said.

    Taking toys away for long periods of time — "that's just the wrong thing," a naïve idea, Jensen said.

    "Sometimes you see kids put in a safe environment and all hell may break loose. Now it's safe for them to show all the disturbance that has been hidden," Jensen said. But "even that can be treated."

    'This was my winning battle'
    "All I wanted to do was to make sure my girls were safe and in a good home, you know? To at least keep them together, instead of DHS taking my rights," said Sarah Young, the biological mother of the three sisters, in an interview with the Times.

    That is why, in 2011, Young approached the Harrises and asked them to adopt her daughters, then in foster care. She said she was originally introduced to the Harrises by a former friend. After Friday's press conference, Justin Harris gave a lengthy interview to a KARK-TV, Channel 4, reporter in which he told a similar story about how his troubled adoption began.

    "A mother ... heard that we were wanting to adopt," he said. "[She] heard about us ... through the church on Dickson Street [in Fayetteville] where they gave free meals. So she called us out of the blue, the mom, and said 'Will you take my three girls? Because I'm about ready to lose them to DHS.' "

    The girls had been taken into DHS custody in early 2011 after suffering through a staggering sequence of chaos and abuse. First, Young discovered her husband sexually assaulting Jeannette, the oldest of the three girls, and turned him in; he is now in prison. (Other sources claim Young waited for days to turn the husband over to the police.) Young then became involved with a man who cooked and sold methamphetamine; a fire started by his meth lab provoked a police investigation that sent that man, too, to prison. The child abuse hotline soon thereafter received a call from an individual concerned for the girls' safety, and investigators found the children in the care of a woman in a house with multiple adults who tested positive for meth; one man at the home had been sexually abusing both Jeannette and Mary, and he is now serving a 120-year sentence. When DHS collected the children, the eldest was 5, the middle girl was 3 and the youngest was under a year old.

    The two youngest girls were taken into the Harts' foster home. "We got the little one first; I'm pretty sure it was the first weekend of March 2011," Cheryl Hart said. "The middle girl came maybe two months later — she had a potential adoptive family that for some reason changed their minds very suddenly and said she had to be out right away, so we took her, too."

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  44. The Harts kept the two younger sisters until October 2012, and their descriptions of the girls' behavior throughout those 18 months stands in stark contrast to the harrowing picture painted by Justin Harris.

    "They were not a challenge compared to a lot of kids we've had, but we were familiar with their kinds of behaviors," Cheryl Hart said. The girls had regular counseling at Children's House in Springdale, a center specializing in mental health treatment for young victims of abuse. "They got therapy every day — play therapy, occupational therapy, anger management."

    With 15 years fostering some 70 children, the Harts were veterans at living with tough kids. Mary, they said, had some problems at preschool — tantrums and occasional inappropriate behavior. She "didn't have boundaries," Cheryl Hart recalled. "If the checker at Walmart asked if she wanted to go home with her, she would. They were thrown in with a lot of transient people in their lives before us.

    "But she was such a sweet little girl. We could reason with her and talk to her. The neighbor kids liked her. She loved to dress up."

    Craig Hart objected strongly to Harris' implication that the girls were dangerous. "Our friends, our neighbors, our church — we can get as many character witnesses as you want for those girls," he said. "And also, they're both small children for their age. Unless he gave them guns, they weren't dangerous."

    He felt especially offended at Harris' statement in the press conference that they had to "medicate" the middle child to prevent her from "hurting her sister." He said Mary displayed only affection and kindness toward her younger sister. "They loved each other. The older one was very protective of the younger one."

    "If they were violent [in the Harris home], they were taught violence. We had a dog, a little Bichon, that they were around all the time and there was never once any issue with her abusing an animal. ... They thrived in our home," Cheryl Hart said.

    Kyra Guthrie, a Fayetteville resident and friend of the Harts, sometimes provided respite care for the foster family. "I knew the two girls for over a year and spent many hours with them," Guthrie told the Times. "They're just normal little girls. They were very delightful, fun, energetic ... never an ounce of threat from them. They played with my adopted son in my home."

    But what of Jeannette, the oldest daughter and the first to be taken in by the Harrises, who the lawmaker said "sometimes spent about eight hours every day screaming and in a rage" and threatened violence upon his sons?

    After Jeannette entered DHS supervision in early 2011, she bounced around between foster care and inpatient psychiatric treatment before landing in a therapeutic foster home in May 2011. The mother in that household, who asked that her name not be used in this story, still refers to the girl as "my daughter" and describes her as simultaneously one of the most disturbing casualties of sexual abuse she's ever encountered and a remarkable, resilient child who she grew to love as deeply as her own biological son.

    "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."

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  45. Therapeutic foster parents are trained to deal with the intense demands of traumatized children and nudge them toward healing and bonding with intentional, careful steps. Gradually, the foster mother said, this troubled girl's behavior began to change.

    "She did so good. It was hard. She was the toughest kid I ever had, but when she finally came through and I realized I could take her to our homeschool co-op, she was just like a normal kid. She'd get overexcited or scared, and we'd come back out and she'd calm down with me. I'd take her to parks and she wouldn't run off or act all crazy or beat other children to death — she was just another kid."

    Meanwhile, Sarah Young, the biological mother, had made a plan of her own. When DHS takes children from a home, it's usually assumed to be temporary — the eventual goal being reunification with the birth family — but the agency will move to terminate parental rights if it determines the birth parents are unfit.

    Given the abuse the kids had endured while entrusted to her care, Young believed that it was unlikely a judge would return her children. She mistrusted DHS and disliked the foster system. She told the Times that she wanted to get the girls into a permanent home — and to keep the three of them together, above all else — in large part because of her own unhappy childhood spent in foster care in Minnesota.

    "When I was a child, I was abandoned, then adopted, and then my adopted mom threw me back in the foster system because she didn't want me. Because of my behavior, my problems. That's something I didn't want for my girls. I knew how foster homes are — some are good, some not." And then, she found the Harrises.

    Justin and Marsha Harris always evinced a keen, sincere interest in helping vulnerable kids. In the KARK interview, Justin Harris noted that he and his future wife met at Children's House. She was a volunteer and he an intern, confirmed a source familiar with the Harrises. They married four months later.

    "We had wanted to adopt from the very beginning. ... We had decided to add on to our house in order to expand the family, and we couldn't have any more children, so at that point we had decided we were going to adopt. We just always kept that in our mind," Harris said.

    To both Young and the Harrises, it must have seemed like providence. Here was a young, desperate mother pleading for help, seeking a home for her three little lost girls. And here was a stable family with a successful business, the father a state representative, seeking new children. "Marsha was showing me these really beautiful pictures of these rooms that they had supposedly set up for the girls," Young recalled.

    So one day in late 2011, a few months after they were first introduced, Young met with the Harrises. "Their attorneys pulled up all the paperwork for me. They came in to one of the church lunches and had me go to the bank with them to have it notarized and all that stuff to take it back to their lawyer.

    "DHS was still trying to go after me, and when they talked about terminating my [parental] rights, I said, 'I don't have any rights. I turned them over to these people,' " Young said. "I never signed any parental rights away to DHS. I figured this was my winning battle. ... I felt it was better. It was the only chance I had to keep my girls together. This was my last effort at being a good mother."

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  46. The adoption

    "Our idea was going to be to have a private adoption," Harris said in the KARK interview. "[The biological] mom wanted to have control of what happened to the children ... and Marsha and I said we didn't want to go through DHS because of some issues we'd had with them in the past." (Roughly around this time, in late 2011, the Harrises were feuding with DHS over an investigation involving Growing God's Kingdom that found the school included overtly Christian instruction despite receiving public money.)

    DHS, Harris said, would not let him and Marsha adopt the girls privately — that is, via the legal documents drafted by their attorney attempting to transfer custody from Young to their family. Instead, "they wanted us to do it through the system." Even once the couple began the lengthy process of adopting through DHS, though, he said the agency "fought us the whole way. ... They felt like we had an ulterior motive to wanting these children in the first place."

    But it was not just DHS. The two foster families themselves strongly objected to the Harris adoption, whether done privately or through the system. When the therapeutic foster mother argued that troubled Jeannette in particular should not be placed into the Harris home, she said, Justin Harris waved away her concerns.

    "She was a kid that needed an experienced family," the mother explained. "The problem was simple hubris. He saw it as, 'I'm with God. God's going to solve this.' ... There are lots of children you could adopt — you don't need to take the most traumatized ones out of the system. He was told by many people in DHS, 'These are not the kids you want to just jump into.' ... That's why I'm angry. I knew [Jeannette] wouldn't last five minutes there."

    But Justin Harris now says he and Marsha were pressured to take Jeannette against their wishes. He said at the Friday press conference that they wanted only to adopt the younger sisters but were forced to accept the eldest as part of a package deal: "Marsha and I always planned to have five children. ... We decided to adopt two girls. After initiating a private adoption, we were informed in a meeting with DHS, CASA, the attorney ad litem, and Ozark Guidance that we could not adopt the two children unless we also took their older sibling."

    Harris contradicted himself in the KARK interview later that same evening, stating that Sarah Young asked him, " 'Will you take my three girls?' ... and we said, 'Yes, we will take your three girls.' "

    Cheryl Hart also vividly remembers the roundtable meeting described by Harris, which she said occurred on Valentine's Day 2012. What she recalls is that Justin and Marsha Harris did not heed the warnings of person after person familiar with the sisters' special needs, who uniformly counseled against placing troubled girls in a home with young boys and busy parents.

    "We tried to sort of put all our cards on the table and say why this was a bad idea," Cheryl Hart said. "But the Harrises were hell-bent on having it happen. ... Organizations, counselors, therapists, caseworker after caseworker told them, you don't know what you're getting into. They just were in denial the whole time about how troubled these girls were. ... 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.

    "I asked them point blank, 'Why would you put your sons through that?' Because [Jeannette] at the time was aggressive — that's how she learned to get things in her life. And they knew [Mary] had been sexually assaulted, and she would have some anger issues." The former DHS employee the Times contacted for this story independently confirmed this account of the Valentine's Day meeting.

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  47. Cheryl Hart also remembers Justin Harris often mentioning the name of DCFS director Blucker, the person ultimately in charge of adoption and foster care for the state of Arkansas. As a legislator, Harris knew Blucker personally — and has some influence over her budget.

    "In most conversations with us, [Harris] would mention Cecile's name. 'Well, Cecile said this, Cecile said that,' " Cheryl Hart said. It is her opinion the Harrises called Cecile Blucker "to expedite things."

    That summer, the adoption case went before 4th Circuit Juvenile Court Judge Stacy Zimmerman in Washington County. And in court, Cheryl Hart recalled, something strange happened: Everyone on the DHS team that had previously opposed the adoption changed their recommendations. "Everyone testifying before the judge had stipulations, like 'To be followed up,' 'To continue their therapy at Children's House,' but nobody would say, 'We really don't think this is a good idea.' " The Harts believe Blucker's influence made the adoption happen. They said she exerted pressure on people in the local DHS team on Harris' behalf.

    DHS can't comment on specific cases, but when the Times previously asked DHS spokesperson Amy Webb whether senior agency officials at the state level ever override the recommendations of a local adoption team, she said, "I'm sure that's possible that's happened. That's part of the process you want. That's why we have supervisors and area managers ... because you want as many eyes as you can to help make sure we make the best, most appropriate decisions for those kids. So, sure, higher-ups will get into discussions about what is best and what is not."

    However, a source familiar with the workings of state-level DHS informed the Times that Blucker supposedly remarked in 2012 that "Harris threatened to hold up the budget for the division if he didn't get to adopt those girls."

    Justin Harris suggested he used his influence to obtain the three girls during the adoption hearing, according to Cheryl Hart.

    "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 Hart added. "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 sisters soon followed.

    The Harts reject Harris' claim that the family didn't want the oldest child. "They said the whole time in court they wanted all three, and that's why they were chosen [to adopt] ... They fell on their knees when they were told they could take her."

    As for the transfer itself, Craig Hart said, "It was not the process normally followed when we had kids go into an adoption situation ... the court said there should be a transitioning period between us and them, and we saw them only once after they moved in [with the Harrises]. We still are in contact with a lot of our former fosters who have been adopted. They cut us off completely, quickly — they just thought they knew so much."

    Cheryl Hart said their offers of respite care — that is, extended childcare to allow parents time away from difficult kids — went unanswered. "We offered to be respite for them, to give them relief, to help out any way that we could because we'd been living with [Mary and Annie] for a year and a half. They never once called us."

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  48. Faith and forgiveness

    The Harrises sent Mary and Annie to live with the Francises in October 2013, just a year after they had taken them into custody. The girls remained with the Francises until February or March of 2014 — a month or two after Francis stopped working at the Harrises' daycare. In the interview with KARK last Friday, Harris said Francis left to spend more time studying for a seminary degree and that the parting was amicable. When news of the rape came out in April 2014 and Harris was questioned about his former employee, he told the Times he'd fired Francis for a poor work record. The lawmaker did not reveal at the time the child Francis raped was Harris' own.

    For unknown reasons, Mary and Annie left the Francis home in early 2014 to live with yet another family, where they remain today. This couple, the girls' fourth set of parents in two and a half years, has now legally adopted them.

    Although they still decline to share the full circumstances of their adoption, the parents said they felt compelled to respond to the statements Justin Harris has made this past week that portray the girls as dangerous and violent.

    "We are aware of the very public conversation going on about events pertaining to our daughters," they said in an email to the Times. "We are deeply grieved over Justin Harris' accusations toward our daughters in order to self-protect; it is inexcusable. Like the Harts, we also have two small dogs and the girls have only been gentle towards them. These girls are happy, healthy children who have gone through things no child should ever have to endure. Since they have been home with us, they have adjusted beautifully and are thriving in our home with unconditional love and patience. We are truly amazed at our daughters' ability to love and bond with us, given all they have experienced. They are both extremely protective toward each other and love each other with all their hearts. They are a beautiful example to us of God's amazing grace and the power of love to heal the broken heart. Our daughters are a precious gift from God and truly a blessing to each one of our lives and our extended family and friends. We love them deeply and are committed to do everything we can to help them live healthy, happy lives.

    "We choose to forgive the Harrises and hope they will truly follow Christ in humility and repentance for the mistakes they made in our daughters' lives. Due to the sensitivity of our daughters' story, and out of respect for them, we are asking the public for privacy during this time."

    (Jeannette was eventually adopted by a therapeutic foster family and is said to be doing well. That family could not be reached by the Times.)

    Craig Hart also raised the issue of faith when addressing Justin Harris' comments about the girls. "We started through our church. I know that the Harrises talk a lot about Christianity, but we're Christians. We [started fostering] because of our Christianity. We took all of the kids we had to church and Sunday school. We kept a loving Christian home for them to be a part of it. It really repulses us what he said. It's really upsetting."

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  49. If Harris account of the girls as violent and threatening holds little water, however, the other half of his narrative presents a more immediately sympathetic defense: DHS is not a friend to parents in need.

    "We care deeply for the girls but we were failed by DHS," Harris said at his press conference. "Despite what you may have read, we reached out to DHS numerous times and were met with nothing but hostility." He grew emotional describing his dilemma: "We were threatened with possible abandonment charges and potentially losing our own boys as well if we returned the girls to DHS custody. In fact, a past DHS employee at the time came to us and confirmed that the plan at DHS was to seek abandonment charges if we returned the girls."

    Harris later suggested in the KARK interview that the agency was threatening him because of his political beliefs. "I hold DHS accountable ... And I'm not sorry for doing it," he declared.

    He also mentioned Cecile Blucker's name, but this time not in a congenial context. "Cecile Blucker knew where the kids were. They kept up with the kids," he said, referring to the rehoming. On Tuesday, shortly before this story went to print, Harris sharpened his accusations, telling KTHV-TV, Channel 11, that Blucker — the state's top official for child welfare — knew he gave the girls to another family and did not report it. A source familiar with DHS indicated that there may be at least some truth to that claim. The rehoming of Mary and Annie officially came to the attention of DHS on March 28, 2014, thanks to an anonymous call to the child abuse hotline operated by State Police. But the source told the Times that Blucker was made aware that the girls had been rehomed days before the call was received by the hotline. According to the source, Blucker made contact with Harris, who agreed to return the girls to DHS custody at a specified time, but Harris did not show up at the office — and Blucker did not notify State Police that the girls' wherebouts were unknown.

    When asked if Blucker had prior knowledge of the rehoming, Webb, the DHS spokesperson, said the agency could not comment due to the confidentiality of adoption cases. Because adoption proceedings are so closed, it is nearly impossible for Blucker or DHS as a whole to refute Harris' statements that the agency (or individuals within it) provided insufficient support, threatened him and ultimately turned a blind eye to the rehoming. Webb did offer this statement after Harris' press conference, however: "Though Rep. Harris is talking about this adoption, by law we cannot do so and are concerned about the very sensitive and protected information that has been released about vulnerable children. We also are prohibited from clarifying any inaccurate information."

    While Harris slings barbs at DHS, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has ordered a review of the agency's practices regarding adoption. Three separate bills have now been filed in the legislature to prohibit rehoming, and the governor is supporting such legislation. Harris has said that he will support rehoming legislation as well, although if such a law had existed when he sent his daughters to live with Eric and Stacey Francis in October 2013, he would have been committing a felony. For the most part, Harris' peers in the legislature are keeping quiet about the controversy, but the public at large is paying attention to the story. As of Tuesday, a Change.org petition calling for Harris' resignation had garnered 5,000 signatures.

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  50. While some individuals from West Fork had nothing but harsh words for the Harrises, both Chelsey Goldsborough and the source close to the Harrises said they took no joy in speaking out against the couple. "It's odd, because they're not bad with children," said Goldsborough, relating how the Harrises had her watch educational videos about child development before she baby sat. "It's just — I don't know. Something somewhere along the line got them out of hand with their own children."

    The unnamed source close to the Harrises felt torn about speaking up. "I'm not trying to devastate them ... but people should know what they've done to these poor little girls. They genuinely had a commitment, I think, but it wasn't near as easy as they thought that it was going to be. And I'm shocked, because they did work with these children at Children's House, and they saw how difficult foster parents have it with little kids who have mental issues. You don't just change them in a couple of weeks to be the way you want. I was shocked they seemed to have that mentality that they could fix these girls in a short amount of time and have a big happy family."

    One of the many people who contacted the Times after the original story broke was a therapist who works with children with reactive attachment disorder and who is familiar with DHS. Speaking anonymously, she expressed frustration with both adoptive parents and DHS.

    "The failed adoptions that we have seen are parents who think they can love their child into being good," the therapist said. "In a good disclosure meeting, all the child's current and potential behaviors are discussed in depth and there is a clear road map of what it will take to make this adoption successful. ... Adoptive parents don't believe us. They think their family is different. They think they are the fairy godmother and their charity is to save themselves a Cinderella."

    But regardless of the facts of this particular case, DHS is often culpable in failed adoptions, she said.

    "DHS has a long history of avoiding, lying, or otherwise hiding kids' behaviors in attempts to place children quickly. There are far too few foster parents, and children often end up having to stay at the DHS overnight with a worker, sometimes for several days on end because there are no placement options. They get desperate. It is not OK, but I understand. Some adoption specialists do a hell of a job. The ones that are good, that is their life." Others, she said, don't care.

    "Without significant support and education, parents grow to dread and then hate their child. In weak moments a parent might feel like the child is less than, not deserving of compassion and basic dignities (albeit these thoughts happen mostly after much physical aggression, sexually acting out towards parents and kids, homicidal thoughts or statements, hours-long tantrums, etc.).

    "I do have compassion for parents in the throes of dealing with this. Our whole staff does and understands that it just isn't always going to work out. But we also know this for sure: There is nothing more traumatic for a child than losing their birth parents. Equally as painful is being promised a family that you will never have to say goodbye to and then losing them. Now imagine that happening three different times. I'd be pretty pissed off, too."

    *This story has been updated since it was originally published.

    Think this reporting is important? Help us provide deeper and broader coverage of Arkansas's child welfare system by contributing to our crowdfunding campaign.


  51. Adopted in Sixties Scoop, man comes to gathering hoping to meet long-lost sister

    Conrad Prince was reunited with his mother and brother in 2000 before his mother passed away

    By Sarah Lawrynuik, CBC News July 24, 2015

    Conrad Prince landed in Winnipeg Thursday evening after flying nearly 2,000 kilometres from Barrie, Ont. for the Connecting Our Spirits gathering at the University of Winnipeg.

    Connecting Our Spirits is aiming to bring together indigenous people that were adopted in what has become known as the Sixties Scoop. For Prince, he is hoping that he will have the chance to reunite with his sister that he has never met.

    A mother on the run

    Prince's mother had her two eldest children taken from her while she was living in Manitoba. When she became pregnant with Prince, she decided she needed to run, hoping that she would be able to keep her youngest son.

    But in Alberta, Prince too was taken from his mother.

    Prince and his siblings were among about 20,000 indigenous children that were taken from their families by child-welfare services in Canada between the 1960s and 80s, in what is now known as the Sixties Scoop. Those children were then placed with mostly white families and as a result, many lost touch with their culture and traditional language.

    Greg Selinger, Manitoba premier, apologizes for Sixties Scoop

    At the age of two, Prince was adopted by a white military family that moved to Germany months after he was put in their care. He grew up learning German as his first language. Later in life, his adopted family moved him around southern Ontario until he left home at 16.

    "It was very challenging. They did their very best at trying to raise me as their own but they did not have the cultural supports necessary to raise a minority child. There were instances where I would end up going to school and be subject to racism and it was more chalked up to behavioural issues on my end," Prince told CBC on Friday.

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  52. Partial reunification

    At 16, Prince walked into a Native Friendship Centre and found the help he needed to start the process of finding his biological family. He applied for his status card which gave him access to the open adoption records available in Alberta.

    "That was one of the scariest moments of my life because of the fact that I could have been rejected. But the drive was so powerful inside me just to want to find out where I was from, it overcame that fear," Prince said.

    In 2000, after seven long years of working with the Southern Manitoba First Nations Repatriation Program, he found his family. He met his brother, Michael Muller, and they flew to their mother's home in Vancouver.

    "[My mother] is the strongest woman I've ever met in my life. She had so much courage to try to keep us but it was devastating for her," he said, his mother has passed away in the years since.

    The reunification was missing one of the pieces of the puzzle since Prince's sister backed out of the process.

    "That's one of the reasons why I'm out here. I'm hoping to meet her one of these days," Prince told CBC.

    Prince has been told his sister's name is Nicole, and his mother had heard she was a part of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at some point, but he doesn't have a lot to go on. He does know she was adopted in Winnipeg, so he's attending this conference with the hope that she too will be there.

    "If she's out there and she hears, please try and look me up. I would love to meet her," he said.

    This is not the first Sixties Scoop adoptees gathering Prince has been to. He has also attended events in Ottawa and Edmonton. It's important that they all be able to share their stories in a safe place, he said. And he added that he feels compelled to share his story of coming home, for those who weren't as fortunate as he was.

    "Despite being out there alone, we were really never alone. And now moving forward, we actually have each other to lean on and heal together and move forward in a good way," Prince said.

    "Take a lot of that anger and even that shame and to turn it around and see it to be our strength and our resiliency. So when we go back to our communities, when we go back to our families, we're stronger. So we can rebuild."