This Victim Wants To Adopt
July 5, 2014 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Do I need to disclose the fact that I was a victim of domestic violence five years ago in my home study/international adoption application? If I don't, is there any way they could find out about it?

I'm a single woman looking to adopt a child (internationally) and am in the early stages. I'm just getting started on the mountain of paperwork for the home study and international approval and have come across a question that I don't want to answer truthfully. Here it is:

Does Applicant have a history, either as a victim or perpetrator, of child abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, or domestic violence whether or not it resulted in an arrest or conviction?*

Five years ago, my then boyfriend (who was a psycho) bruised up my arm and threw me into the front yard while being a psycho. I called the police and he was subsequently arrested and convicted and I haven't seen him since. No incidents since then. No other history or incidents of violence in my past (and of course, I've never been arrested for anything).

My questions:

1) I'm pissed off that this incident (where I was the victim) may be coming back to haunt me and threaten my adoption approval. Am I right to think that this will look bad on my application?
2) What if I just lie on the application? Is there anything they can do to investigate me and find out that I was a victim of this case? Do such victim databases exist? If so, I'm offended.
3) Do I have a right for this not to be used against me? Can I be denied on the basis of this incident in my past?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It might be helpful to know which countries' laws would apply!
posted by steinwald at 6:26 PM on July 5, 2014

Having been once assaulted by a crazy ex-boyfriend who you then separated with and pressed charges against does not mean you have a history of being the victim of domestic violence. Tick no.
posted by Quilford at 6:39 PM on July 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

To me, that question reads as being about the possibility of a CHILD being/having been abused: were you ever the perpetrator of any abuse (of anyone, child or adult), or were you yourself abused AS A CHILD?

I do NOT read that as inquiring if you were the adult victim of abuse.
posted by easily confused at 7:09 PM on July 5, 2014

I think there is no possible way in which this can help you. Unless he did a tit for tat accusation of you, do not mention it.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:10 PM on July 5, 2014

If it comes up (which it won't) just say 'i don't think of myself as a victim', and 'it wasn't a history - it was a single event'.

but really, don't mention it imo.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:13 PM on July 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think you should probably be looking for an attorney who specializes in international adoption, preferably one who is already familiar with the agency you want to work with, who will already be familiar with all these things and how both the agency and the country you're dealing with will view them and what exactly they're looking for.

Yes, it's an incredibly personal question, but can you really not see how such a thing could be relevant? I was in an abusive relationship, once, although it the actual violence was not over an extended period--and the guy was still stalking me periodically for years afterwards. I think I'm reasonable in believing I'm free of it, now, but five years after it happened, I can see why someone might have been concerned about placing a child in my household when he was threatening about twice a year to come show up on my doorstep. You've got supporting details towards the idea that this is not the situation you're in presently. If there's no way you can ask someone who really knows, I would err on the side of disclosure but with all relevant details provided. It's a hard question, an emotional question, but that doesn't mean they're trying to use your past against you. Unless you've got evidence otherwise, operate on the good faith assumption that they're just trying to keep the kids safe, not punish victims of abuse.

So, teal deer, I am not in the industry but I don't think the specifics of your situation would make you look bad, and I don't think they're trying to "use it against you", but if possible I wouldn't disclose without some assurance that this is really what they're asking.
posted by Sequence at 7:50 PM on July 5, 2014 [22 favorites]

Depending on the databases used for your background check, it may well come up. Fair or not, a history of domestic violence is a risk factor for child abuse. It sounds like your situation is clearly not part of a pattern or an ongoing issue, and I doubt it would raise any red flags, but failing to disclose might. Is there someone at the agency you trust? Maybe you could run it by him/her verbally?
posted by charmcityblues at 7:50 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's room to explain, right? It's not just, like, "Check Yes or No; if you check Yes, just tear this application up." So check Yes and explain it. Attach a letter with the facts (and as much documentation as you have) if you need to.

If you check No, and they run a background check on you, and this comes up, then you are very likely to be denied, and they will not buy that you forgot, or that you didn't think it applied to you, because as Sequence points out, it is something that they should be asking, if only to open a conversation about the details.
posted by Etrigan at 8:10 PM on July 5, 2014 [14 favorites]

I have been through this process twice!

Lots of good ways to view your experience already mentioned above.

You could always ask your social worker in person/voice if you feel it appropriate before you check anything. Your social worker is your go-to person through this process.

Hoops, my friend, you have a huge bunch of hoops to jump through to become a parent through adoption. At your point in the game, you are just entering the course and need to lessen yourself this one hoop. Whatever you answer, it'll seem like a tiny hoop very soon.

Good luck and congratulations! I'm sure you have a strong group of adopting or in-process parents/families around you (or you sure will soon) but memail me if you have any questions you think I might be able to help with.
posted by mamabear at 8:18 PM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Let me get this straight. You want to take on responsibility for another human being's welfare, but you don't want to answer a (very relevant) question about your past because it pisses you off, and because you think it might negatively impact your candidacy? Whose best interest do you have in mind, here?

I totally understand that what happened with your boyfriend several years ago is not your fault, but it's not your potential adoptee's fault, either. Be honest about what happened, and let the process do its job, which is to center the needs of the children being adopted.
posted by zebra at 8:40 PM on July 5, 2014 [22 favorites]

If it comes up (which it won't)

I don't share your confidence there. A background check is part of the process. Whether that check turns up this particular piece of info is TBD.

OP, honesty is the best policy. You are talking about potentially becoming the most important person in this child's life, and vice-versa. Begin this relationship with integrity. Anything less is a disservice to you, the child, and your lifelong relationship.

Even if no one finds out, it is still a lie. If your child someday asks you about the process, are you going to lie to him/her as well? Or, are you going to bring him/her into the secret, and ask him/her to lie on your behalf if anyone ever asks?

I suspect you have much more to gain by being upfront about this early in the process, before you've invested too much time, money, and emotion.
posted by nacho fries at 9:02 PM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have gone through the adoption process twice, and I know it's nerve-wracking. But it's a mistake to lie on your paperwork. From where I'm standing, lying on your paperwork is a much more serious issue than checking yes and writing an explanation of what happened. You will have to do a couple of background checks. You don't want to go back and change your answer because something showed up.

If you check yes, and give an explanation, they might ask about it -- but, why assume it'll mean you can't adopt? In fact, given the facts as you've stated them, this situation sounds like it reflects well on you (meaning, the situation sounds horrible, but it sounds like you handled it the best way possible).

I know several folks with mental illness -- including recent and on-going treatment for anxiety, depression, etc -- who have been approved to adopt. I know folks with serious physical health conditions. Typically they've gotten doctors' notes explaining the situation, and it's been fine.

If they find out you lied about this on paperwork you signed, you were likely raise their suspicions about many other things. They are not the enemy -- it's a reasonable thing to call them and ask about this question and what it might mean.

The job of the home study agency is to provide a good, safe home for a child -- not to provide children for adults. I know this feels harsh, but help these folks do their jobs by being honest and disclosing the truth.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:04 PM on July 5, 2014 [13 favorites]

The question specifically asks if you were a victim. You won't get denied for being the victim, but you will be expected to show that you have resolved the trauma of that period and are no longer in the same circumstances so that you are able to parent safely. Basically, they're going to want to know exactly what you did which is: you left him, you have no contact with him and you are okay now - that makes you pretty badass actually.

It's very unlikely to have you excluded from adopting. Lying will cause far more delays and get you excluded. Talk to your agency or lawyer first about it, but this is minor. They're looking for people who have pressed charges on a partner that they're still living with, not people who kicked the abuser out.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:38 PM on July 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

You should speak with someone who is professionally knowledgeable about these forms in particular, but if I were in your position and answering that question with no access to counseling or experienced advice, I wouldn't answer affirmatively simply because "a history of" is different than "any incident of." They could have asked, "have you ever been the victim or perpetrator of blahblah," but that's not how it's phrased.

If I had one migraine headache years ago, and the doctor asks me if I have a history of migraines, I'm going to say "no."

But this casual parsing of what those words actually mean is going to be much less helpful than the guidance of someone who is thoroughly familiar with this process and all the required documentation, which is what you really need.
posted by taz at 10:41 PM on July 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

I was once denied joining Big Brothers Big Sisters due to answering no to exactly this question in a similar situation. If they can find this stuff out, so can your adoption agency. Don't lie or mislead or bend the truth! That will automatically disqualify you while answering truthfully may simply lead to more questions.

Like others have said, ask your social worker or lawyer.
posted by valeries at 2:34 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Answering yes will give you an opportunity to explain, and to demonstrate how you coped and dealt with the situation which will go some ways to demonstrating your resilience and strength. Coping, resilience and strength are all positive qualities they are looking for in an applicant. I would assume they will find out about this if the background check is at all thorough (which it will be if it is a reputable agency) and use it to your advantage.
posted by goo at 3:29 AM on July 6, 2014

I can understand how this annoys you. It definitely would tick me off, even though I can understand why the agency might consider it important. But, lying on something like that is never a good idea. Would you feel better answering the question if it said something like "do you have a history of involvement in domestic violence, either as a perpetrator or as a complainant" (rather than "victim")? Under your circumstances, I definitely would, since it sounds like your reaction was decisively appropriate and you ended the relationship after a single incident.

If that resonates with you, it might be worth asking a lawyer whether you could answer "no," but then add the explanation that while you were never a victim, you were a complainant in such a case. It might seem like semantics to some, but the framing of these situations can be very important psychologically, and by doing it that way, you would not be withholding information that the adoption agency might consider relevant and could find out some other way.
posted by rpfields at 4:46 AM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

1) I'm pissed off that this incident (where I was the victim) may be coming back to haunt me and threaten my adoption approval. Am I right to think that this will look bad on my application?
Lying would look much worse. In fact, I think this situation (with explanation) will make your application look better. They aren't necessarily looking for someone who has a storybook life, they want someone that will be a responsible and stable parent. You were involved in one incident of domestic violence, immediately called the authorities, shut it down, and never spoke to the perp again. This is a good thing and reflects well on you and your emotional strength. You have shown that you don't take this kind of crap and will protect yourself (and therefore likely your child as well) if a similar situation arises in the future.

2) What if I just lie on the application? Is there anything they can do to investigate me and find out that I was a victim of this case? Do such victim databases exist? If so, I'm offended.
Do not lie. This was an incident in the past. You handled it well. It's in the past. Your lie is a present indiscretion that shows current lack of judgment. There is (likely) not a victims database, but often the name of the complaining witness is part of the record. Also, just because something is supposed to be sealed/deleted (e.g. a juvenile offense, an expunged record, a rape victim's name), doesn't mean that it actually was sealed/deleted. One wrong keystroke, one lazy employee, one overstaffed can't rely on the "secrecy" of information.

3) Do I have a right for this not to be used against me? Can I be denied on the basis of this incident in my past?

No; yes. You don't have a right to adopt a child. They are free to establish whatever criteria they want (I'm sure there are legal limits, but laws are not self-enforcing; what are you going to do, sue them? That would certainly not look good on your future applications).

Get an experience adoption attorney. Tell the truth. Expect this process to take a LONG time. This is not the first "unfair" question you will encounter.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:30 AM on July 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's totally understandable that you would be upset by this question. In fact, although I ultimately think it's reasonable for them to ask this, I'm not a big fan of the fact that they lump "victim or perpetrator" into the same question. However, I can see how they would want to know if someone had been a victim of domestic violence or child abuse, because if someone has experienced something like that, it seems important for the agency to be aware of this so they can discuss it with you to make sure that this is an issue which has been resolved.

With that being said, I agree with the advice above to talk to an experienced attorney or social worker, and ultimately it sounds like it probably will be in your best interest to disclose it. The way you handled your specific situation really does reflect very, very well on you, and I can't see how it should in any way harm your application, although your best course of action is to check with someone who is very knowledgeable about this process. What could reflect badly is if this came up on some kind of background check and the agency felt that you lied by failing to disclose this on the application.

I am sorry that you experienced this in the first place and that you might have to dredge all of this up again. I think it's great that you are planning on adopting, and I wish you the best of luck in the application process!
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:42 AM on July 6, 2014

I agree with Sequence: you need to be using an attorney familiar with adoptions in the country from which you are trying to adopt. Your experience and your feelings about your experience and/or their potential effect on the outcome of the adoption attempt ought not play a part here.
posted by dfriedman at 6:53 AM on July 6, 2014

I don't know about international adoption, but my first real job out of college was doing CPS (now DFPS) home studies for adoptive/foster parents.

This question is asked for two reasons: First, they need to know whether you have unresolved emotional issues from long-term abuse. Second (and much more importantly) they need to know whether you are the type of person who will allow abuse in your home if it becomes an issue in the future.

Ask your caseworker, but your situation should be fine. "My partner abused me once, I called the police and severed contact" is an ideal way for that situation to go down. "My partner abused me for three years, I allowed that situation to continue without doing anything, so please put a child in my care I promise I will not allow any future abuse to continue for quite that long" is not an ideal answer.

edit: Just some unsolicited advice, but make sure not to lie about anything you may think won't show up on a background check. Way more than you think will be dredged up.
posted by Willie0248 at 10:49 AM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

My wife conducts home studies for adoption. She is also a therapist in private practice whose primary professional experience is treating the sequelae to trauma. She would be much much more concerned to find that you had lied on your application than she would be to hear that you had an incident like this in your past.

People find the adoption process incredibly intrusive with good reason. The people who look the worst in the process are those who react to this intrusion by being resistant to the process. It sucks, but it's an elective process, and the people you cause to question you by being resistant are the people who hold the power in the process. It can help to keep in mind that people working in adoption want to help you to adopt a child, not keep you from doing so.

(Keep in mind, too, that people honestly adopt kids just to abuse them. That's real, and a nightmare. I assure you that you cannot even think of the worst things people have adopted children in order to do to them.)
posted by OmieWise at 11:16 AM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

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