Interrupting an adoption?
August 26, 2009 9:43 AM   Subscribe

My parents want to give up the teenager they adopted a few years ago. Can they do this?

I’m in my early thirties and have been living on my own for well over a decade. Four years ago, a sixteen year old, who I’ll call Ryan, was adopted by my parents from an Eastern European orphanage and came to the US to live with them and two of my biological siblings who still live at home. Ryan has mild fetal alcohol syndrome (he was never tested because my parents maintain a kind of arrogance about the input of “experts” and believe that everything will be okay with the Lord’s help. However, even without testing it is fairly clear that Ryan was affected, given that we know from the orphanage that his mother was an alcoholic). This developmental issue seems to have impacted his social skills and learning abilities, but not tremendously—he reads below grade level, but let’s also keep in mind that he arrived here four years ago not speaking a word of English, not to mention the emotional trauma of living in an orphanage from age 1 to age 12, not to mention that part of his problems interacting are due to hearing problems that remained untreated for years.

Aside form a lingering accent when he speaks, if you were to meet him, you’d think he was your average teenage boy, good hearted, dorky, occasionally socially inappropriate--- but not a fringe case, not the sort of violent or maladjusted teen who drives parents to consider “disrupting” their adoption (the industry euphemism for getting rid of an adopted child). I’ve seen him with children, with animals, with me and my other sisters, and he’s sweet. Any other family would get him testing, counseling, care. The problem—you guessed it-- is my parents. They were not in complete agreement about the adoption in the first place. My mom wanted it, but my father was more ambivalent. Their marriage was unstable at the time, and my father thought adopting a kid would keep my mother busy; my mother in turn thought adopting would give her some purpose in life. Cue the ominous music. To make matters worse, my father is in his late 60s. He’s tired and in recent years he’s been suffering chronic pain following some surgeries. If Ryan had been flawless, easy, perhaps everything could have been fine. But he is imperfect-- he’s stolen a few things: money from my mother’s wallet, a stack of DVDs from the library. Thanks to Ryan’s social awkwardness and inability to fit in right away (in my family fitting in = being quiet and obedient), my father never properly warmed up to him and these latest incidents convinced him, irrationally, that the kid is on some kind of downward spiral, headed toward a violent end. Recently the two of them got into a screaming match, each accusing the other of theft, and ending in my father banning him from the house. Ryan went to stay with a neighbor family, my father insisting he wasn't welcome back home. My parents then spoke with a Christian family services agency about sending him to a different family, and, amazingly, instead of insisting on family counseling, the agency set up a meeting with a foster family willing to take him in. The agency seems eager and compliant and willing to make all this ugliness go away (I wonder how much they're being paid) and has just advised my mother that these foster parents could be made into Ryan’s “guardians,” -- a simpler process than foster parent status, they tell my mother.

If you are wondering why my mother is going along with this decision, it’s because she is afraid of losing my father. She’s practically admitted as much. In spite of everything I say, she’s too overwhelmed and seems to have lost her ability to take a moral stand.

Can my parents legally deposit their child into the foster care system or assign someone else as his guardian? The foster/guardian process is being conducted through a Christian organization, and I have my doubts about the accountability of the process. They didn’t, for instance, consult the rest of the family about this. They took my parents' word.

I refuse to let a sibling of mine be disposed of, and will invite him to live with me, if necessary (although my parents disapprove of me - for religious reasons - and would probably put up a fight, preferring strangers over me).

What steps can I possibly take here? What's the legal basis for what they are doing?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I am really sorry to hear of your family's situation, but do I really have to tell you to consult a lawyer about this? It would be your best bet for reliable information, particularly if you'd like to be the boy's guardian.
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2009

If he was 16 for years ago, he's 20 now, and an adult, no?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2009

Wow, this is sounds incredibly shady, and must be so difficult for Ryan. I don't know anything about adoption law, but your willingness to take Ryan in is big-hearted and, if you can afford it, it would probably be the best decision for him, at least for the short term. This kid needs someone who really cares about him and stability; it sounds like you can offer him at least the former.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:49 AM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

He was 12 when they adopted him, he's 16 now.
posted by iconomy at 9:50 AM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

It will be very hard to answer this question, even to the extent that it's possible to answer these sorts of questions, without knowing where all this is taking place. Can you email a mod and get them to add the information?

In the two places I'm familiar with, DC and Maryland, what you are describing your parents arranging is not possible in that way.
posted by OmieWise at 9:50 AM on August 26, 2009

I'm confused, is he sixteen now or twenty? If he's twenty, why do you need anyone's permission besides his to just go get him?
posted by crankylex at 9:51 AM on August 26, 2009

Is it possible to get his school counselor involved?
posted by k8t at 9:58 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

As iconomy pointed out, he was 12 when adopted, and is 16 now
posted by Danniman at 10:02 AM on August 26, 2009

I've been googling around. I would suggest calling your county's department of social services. They should be able to help you understand your brother's rights, and your rights.

Please send me a mefi email if you'd like help tracking down a number or other information. I promise I won't reveal your secret identity, and I'd be glad to see what I can find out. I would need to know where you live.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:07 AM on August 26, 2009

Poor Ryan! Since you seem so passionate to help out, certainly contact a lawyer with some expertise in adoption/family law and try to apply to be his guardian. I THINK but do not know) that an adopted child is like any other child. Guardians can be set that are unrelated to the family if the law decides it is the best thing to do. It isn't illegal to give up a child, although there's usually a bit more of a fight to keep everyone together than what you're describing.

"The foster system" is different than "a guardian" - but both require legal action, and courts decide a guardian, not some whack "Christian" family service center. Random strangers are, unless I'm sadly sadly mistaken, NOT legal guardian material.
posted by caveat at 10:12 AM on August 26, 2009

Do you have a throwaway email address?
posted by elisabethjw at 10:29 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Government-run social services foster systems do place children whose families cannot or will not take care of them. The goal is stability for the child, sometimes reunification, sometimes not. What you're describing sounds like some sort of private foster system. Many private institutions are certified by the social services to provide placement or care for children in the foster system, but that is all overseen by the courts, or the department of social services. Children have to be placed into government-run social services, and it doesn't happen because the parents say "here, take this kid".

However, families often abdicate responsibility for their children without the involvement of social services--find friends or neighbors to take in a child who is disrupting the household, whether it is the child's problem or the parents' problem. This was often the case with my juvenile clients. It's not illegal to ask someone else to care for your children, even for an extended period of time, even if your only reason for asking is that you don't want to be bothered. The question of whether it's justified or fair or selfish or weird is something entirely different. Whether it will help or harm the child is also a different question. That is the question social service or courts decide. Your parents have chosen this for what is, in fact, a problem, to them. If you believe it is a threat to your brother's health and well-being, you should seek some sort of social services intervention. A lawyer or legal clinic that specializes in children's rights is a good place to start.

It is illegal to abandon your children--and, as far as I know, not possible to revoke an adoption--but it is not illegal to seek emancipation or guardianship or long-term-non-court-supervised-substitute care for a child you cannot (or will not) take care of. Again, this often happened to my juvenile clients, but not always. And, again, the question of whether it's justified or fair or selfish or weird is something entirely different.

If I were the concerned sibling, I would contact the county social services department where your brother resides and tell them you are concerned that your brother has been thrown out and you don't know what to do.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:29 AM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Your question about if it being possible for your parents to place R in a foster home is only answerable according to your state. Some states allow a parent to relinquish rights. Some states do not and may press criminal charges against your parents. If they relinquish R into foster care, that should happen through the appropriate state agency, not necessarily a private agency. If they relinquish, they may be held accountable for child support for him. Again, this depends upon your state.

Assuming it is viable for them to relinquish him, the reason why the agency is pushing for legal guardianship to be granted to the identified family is to remove the financial obligation the state or the agency then has for him. Kids with a legal guardian or a custodian don't receive services as foster children. The families caring for them do not receive services or funds to use to help the child. It does offer some stability though.

What your parents are doing to your brother is so completely wrong. They're dumping him without ever having tried to help him. From your description, if he belongs in foster care, it is because of your parents' actions; NOT his.

As a foster mom, I strongly encourage you to take him in if at all possible. What does it tell R when not only his parents turn away from him, but also a sibling? What does he learn about "family" when he sees he's being abandoned for behaviors which are pretty minor? Sorry, I'm not trying to guilt you here. I'm putting down the public worthy comments and thoughts I'm having over this situation.

He's your brother and he's only got 2 years until he's legally able to be on his own. If your parents are already distant from you due to religious reasons, are you really going to be seriously impacted in your relationship to them? Honestly, I believe you should read the other threads about taking in a teen relative. Consider them as you evaluate taking him in. They encourage you to establish rules he'll have to follow while living with you. They advise you listen to what he has to say.

If you do take him in, and if CPS is involved, you may end up with a kinship placement and may be able to receive services to help him. If he moves in with you, talk with your HR director at work to see about making him your dependent and if he can be covered on insurance. If he can be on your insurance or if your parents maintain his insurance, then use the resources available through insurance to get him the services he needs.

Good luck. Memail me if you need more. I hope R lands in a loving, stable home.
posted by onhazier at 10:53 AM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

The foster system can be daunting or scary, but it can also be better than a rotten household. Better than the unknowns of foster system would be if you would take him in. To me, this sounds like a win-win situation, especially if you have an extended support system (close family or friends near you who could help with Ryan).

Of course, being at odds against your parents makes this tricky. Have you offered to take Ryan in? It seems like they want him to go to "a good Christian home," but are you so far gone from their family that they wouldn't think of passing him to you, versus giving Ryan over to a Christian foster system?

Good luck.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:54 AM on August 26, 2009

This is difficult to diagnose without knowing what state you're in. As your parents are the legal guardians, they should be able to go to court and transfer guardianship to another party if that's what they want. I think they could even informally have the child stay with another party without transferring the legal and medical responsibility, but transferring guardianship in family court is definitely an option. The other possible option would be what is called a voluntary placement into foster care (the procedure and acceptance of this varies by state) or putting in a Persons In Need of Supervision Petition (PINS) petition for the child in court, which some parents do for their unruly children, which could eventually lead the child into foster care.

If you want to take custody of the child yourself I would recommend either that you speak with your parents directly as an informal arrangement or begin a dialogue with the social services agency identifying yourself as a resource in case the child is placed in care. You should also plan to attend the court dates with an attorney to plead your case if you think you have a good enough relationship with the child to make a solid case for keeping him in the family. This is because it's not a sure thing that the social services agency will advocate for you as a resource - you may have to advocate for yourself in the courtroom. The courts I'm familiar with definitely favor family or "kinship" resources over strangers.

This will likely be a protracted affair. Court will take a while and have multiple sessions months apart. The foster family may not "stick" as teenage placements can be very unstable, so you could have a good shot as a resource if you can prove that you have a good relationship with the kid and are committed to providing for him and working as a parent.

Some things to consider: do you want a legal guardianship arrangement, an informal arrangement or are you willing to become a foster parent if the child is placed in care? If your parents allow him to just "stay" with you, they will still be in charge of legal stuff like registering him for school and authorizing medical care, so you will be dealing with them for that. With legal guardianship (if they agree to transfer it to you) it will all be up to you. If the child is placed in care (depending on if your state will allow your parents to make a voluntary placement) and you become a foster parent (which will require training and a lengthy licensing process) you will get a state subsidy and all of the social work meddling that goes with it. Although most states cut foster care off at 18, so he'll be on his own in a few years anyway. New York goes to 21, but this is the exception. The other upside of foster care is he will have access to services more easily if he has special needs that you think need attention, and when he ages out he may have access to scholarships and benefits (depending on what state you're in) and the federal section 08 housing subsidy (everywhere if they're still offering it), which will make it easier for him to live independently. Without a child welfare social worker, you will be on your own to set anything like this up and will not be eligible for the subsidy.

This is my top-of-my-head advice based on a 6 year stint in NYC independent living (teenage) foster care and adoption in a former life several years ago - things may have changed. I am not a lawyer, and you should probably find one who specializes in family law.
posted by Marnie at 11:01 AM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

i would also like a throw away email address to write you at.
posted by nadawi at 12:25 PM on August 26, 2009

I have seven nieces adopted from foster care, and just met the eighth last weekend—a 13-year-old girl being given up by her adoptive parents. It may take years to convince her that this time she really has found her "forever family."

However great a foster family Ryan ends up in—and, despite the stereotypes, many foster families are great—it will not be the same as remaining a part of your family. One of my nieces asked her parents after meeting them, "Will I be able to spend Christmas with you when I'm grown up?" By taking him in, you'll be showing Ryan that "family" is more than just a legal arrangement that ends when he turns 18.

I'm not a religious guy, but God bless you for even considering this. And good luck.
posted by Knappster at 12:42 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

With any legal question, the state and sometimes the city is an absolutely mandatory piece of information. This question has been on the front page for 3 hours and we still don't know the state, and it's about to scroll off, so I'm thinking you may be well advised to repost this in a week with clarifying details if nothing is forthcoming.
posted by crapmatic at 1:12 PM on August 26, 2009

Do your parents have a minister/clergy who might be able to influence them to alter the repugnant course they are on? I'd think that would be an angle for you to work, though it seems to me that the best outcome to work towards is for you to take on your brother for a few years.

I'm not sure the best way to get there, but if persuading your parents to give the child up to you isn't straightforward then you probably still have a good case to make to social service agencies.
posted by Good Brain at 1:17 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is it really in Ryan's best interest to stay with your parents? It sounds like they treat him pretty terribly, and it will only get worse if they are forced to take him for the next two years against their will.

If you care this much about him, perhaps you should take him in.

Talk to social services and explain your concerns.
posted by spaltavian at 3:16 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have what might sound like a bad idea to Americans, but we had a family friend who sent their American-born and raised child (he misbehaved pretty badly and was very disrespectful to his parents, and his mother became very depressed) to a boarding school in India. They paid his tuition (it was a very good school and it was very cheap for Americans, probably). Maybe your adopted brother can be sent to a boarding school abroad? I know it seems horrible for people in the US, who think all of India is like Mumbai and Slumdog Millionaire, but it was a very well-regarded school in the mountains and not expensive in US dollars. Maybe see if he'd like something like that. It might help settle him down and make him feel more in control of his destiny.
posted by anniecat at 5:19 PM on August 26, 2009

Oh wait. I'm sorry. He's not totally adopted yet. Well, I don't think my idea would work then.
posted by anniecat at 5:21 PM on August 26, 2009

I was adopted at age 7 months. When I was 13, I was rejected, incarcerated, but not told it was because of my (adopted) father. When asked if I wanted a foster home, I refused, out of loyalty to my family, most especially, as it happened, to my grandparents. I was afraid of loosing them.

I am now 52. I read a thread like this and wonder how different it might have been, had I gone into foster care. Much worse? Worlds better? Maybe a home where the adults actually read books? Maybe a home where I'd actually have been beaten, and worse? But maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't still be hurting, these 39 years latter.

Really, this shit can hurt, forever.
posted by Goofyy at 9:32 AM on September 10, 2009

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