Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Baby Vanessa: The law worked; no need to change it

Would-be adoptive parent Stacey Doss, has vowed to go to “Capitol Hill and elevate children’s rights so they are equal to parental rights.”

Doss who sought to adopt Vanessa over the objections of the child’s father Benjamin Mills, Jr. has been appointed Vanessa’s permanent guardian with visitation rights granted to Mills, his mother, Rena Jordan, and Vanessa’s biological sisters in a settlement reached by the parties this month after nearly three years of litigation, according to the Dayton Daily News


As we wrote here, Vanessa was born in Ohio to Andrea Conley who already had two daughters with Mills. These children lived with Mills’ mother, Jordan. Conley decided to surrender Vanessa for adoption, through AdoptHelp, a group of attorneys running an online adoption business. She selected Doss who lived in California to be the adoptive mother. Conley stated falsely that she didn’t know who Vanessa’s father was. (We've heard that adoption practitioners sometimes encourage mothers to deny knowing who the father is in order to keep him out of the picture. This may have been the case here since clearly, by selecting Doss who lived several thousands miles away, Conley was trying to keep Vanessa away from Mills.) Mills, however, made his claim to Vanessa by registering with the Ohio Putative Father’s Registry. but AdoptHelp failed to check the Registry before moving ahead with the adoption.

Doss filed a petition in a California Court to adopt Vanessa. Doss filed an action in Ohio to have himself declared Vanessa’s father and obtain custody of her. Jordan also filed a petition in the Ohio case seeking custody. Ohio Children’s Services entered the fray. Mills had a criminal history including a conviction for domestic violence and had abused his oldest child, the child of a different mother.

The California court shipped the case to the Ohio court. After an eight day hearing, the parties reached what appears to be the best resolution. Doss was appointed Vanessa’s permanent guardian and Vanessa will continue to live with Doss in California. Vanessa's mother, Jordan,  Vanessa’s aunt, Katrena Mills,and Vanessa’s sisters will visit Vanessa in California. Doss will bring Vanessa to Ohio for visits. Mills will have visitation only under Jordan’s supervision. As Katrena Mills observed, Vanessa "is certainly a lucky little princess to have two families love her and truly do have her best interests at heart.”  

The law worked.

Nonetheless, Doss, who asserts on her blog Operation Vanessa: “I was put on earth for one reason: To love my daughter Vanessa,” wants the law changed "to elevate children’s rights so they are equal to parental rights.” Doss is apparently unaware that children’s rights already supersede parents’ rights under state laws designed to protect children from abuse and neglect. 

Susan Zajac of the Save Vanessa Campaign phrases the desired legislative reform as giving “more weight to the child’s best interests.” The law, of course, already gives all the weight to “the child’s best interests.” Although this is hard for some to swallow, the fact is that children’s best interests generally lie with remaining with their birth families which constitute “the preferred means of providing family life for children” (Child Welfare League of America, 2000).  Courts, however, tend to favor prospective adoptive parents in best interests cases because they typically have more stable lives and are more affluent.

I suspect, however, that Doss and her supporters really want is a law that would deny fathers’ rights once children are placed in an adoptive home, regardless of whether the placement is based on fraud. They would like the law to give prospective adoptive parents a sort of squatter’s rights to children although they couch it in terms of preventing “reactive attachment disorders,” promoting bonding, or whatever psychological lingo carries the day. (Outright nullifying fathers’ rights is not an option unless the United States Supreme Court overturns its 1972 decision Stanley v. Illinois upholding parental rights of unmarried fathers.)

The danger is that under the best interests banner, legislatures will pass laws eroding the already fragile rights of birth parents, making it virtually impossible for them to contest adoptions. If Doss and her supporters have their way, the United States will be one step closer to a society where the state has the authority “to break up stable families and redistribute its infant population to provide each child with the ‘best family’” Justice Barbara Madsen, Washington Supreme Court In Re Custody of Smith (1998).

Doss seems to have overlooked the real villain in this case: AdoptHelp, which neglected to check the Ohio Putative Father’s Registry, allowing Doss to believe she would be able to adopt Vanessa without Mills' consent. Doss claims to have spent $400,000 on attorney fees (which seems excessive) and has made public pleas for contributions to help her pay these costs. Doss might consider looking to AdoptHelp for help in paying her attorneys.
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Lorraine Here: Reading over the story about this case in the LA Times, one can't help but notice that the writer is so obviously biased towards Doss (A happy ending for Baby Vanessa's adoptive mother) writing about the pains of saying goodbye and how Doss is "the only mother she has ever known," the phrase that is designed to make us all bend over in grief should the child be returned to his biological/birth parents. However, it's also true that when one is born, and given up for adoption, all babies then lose "the only mother they have ever known." A second point is that Doss is not adopting Vanessa; she will be her permanent guardian at this point, not her ADOPTIVE mother.  I know headlines are difficult to compress, but in this case, it is simply wrong and misleading.

The headline in the Dayton Daily News is not better, perhaps worse: Baby Vanessa custody case could improve children's rights...as the implication is that the child, once again, should have the right to stay with...the only mother she has ever known. But at least this writer, Mary McCarty, sees it as a positive that Vanessa will grow up knowing her full biological siblings.

The story in the LA Times, by Nicole Santa Cruz, also mentions in an isn't-it-too-bad way two other cases where children were raised by people over the objections of the biological parents; The Indiana couple, Christy and Jason Vaughn, who kept a boy they named Grayson from his father, Benjamin Wyrembek, for three years before returning him to his father at the end of October; and Sarah and Jack Napier of North Carolina who kept a boy for 13 months before they returned him. It's this kind of attitude on the part of the public that makes it hard for father's rights to take precedence when mothers are unable or do not wish to raise their children.

my granddaughter....is quite grand
I'm tuned into this more than usual right now as my granddaughter, Lisa, received her adoption file from Wisconsin recently and it clearly states that her father tried to keep her, and visited her as well, long after my daughter relinquished her. I can't sugar coat those words, and they are hard for me to write, but they are true. This was in 1986, long after the Supreme Court Case Jane mentions above. Apparently without the wherewithal to fight the case in court, his legal right to parent his daughter was simply ignored by those involved. Lisa is both upset at how the law took her away from her father, yet conflicted because she did grow up in a family she loves with a father she feels close to. You can read some of her thoughts about this as her blog: Today is the first day.

6 comments :

  1. "As Katrena Mills observed, Vanessa "is certainly a lucky little princess to have two families love her and truly do have her best interests at heart.”

    I don't like comments like this that make adoption sound like a good thing. This little girl was far from lucky to be the subject of a 3 year legal battle with no stability and security in her life and her future up in the air. Having a stable, good, loving biological family is what a child really needs not being in a tug of war between two families even if they both love her. It's hard for me to see a child in the midst of a very public custody battle as being a little prince or princess.

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  2. I read the link included with your post, and I must say the biofather is a "piece of work". Very rarely do these custody arrangements work for ALL involved. I hope Ms. Doss has an iron-clad guardianship contract written-up that allows her to truly be the parent to Vanessa that she needs. You have two sets of people from very different life experiences that all have access to the child with Ms. Doss footing the bill.

    Again, I hope her lawyer has included some provisions in the contract that allows her to determine who, in the future, should be in Vanessa's life( regardless of bio ties) because I can see this guardianship isn't going to work. The father is allowed to see the child with supervised visit with the mother??? That's insane! It proves that he is a danger to be around.

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  3. I was offended when I read the LA Times article. It was so blatantly biased I would have been surprised if I hadn't seen it all before. A lot of what you said got me thinking but it was kind of long for a comment so I blogged about it on www.73adoptee.com. I think there are some serious questions that need to be asked about how adoption agencies set prospective adopters' expectations.

    Robin, I agree, I don't like comments like that either. It makes it sound like the situation is win-win when it's really lose-lose.

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  4. I have just noticed on a side link in the Dayton News article that the taxpayers of Ohio PAID for the biofather to visit Vanessa in California and all he did was complain about (travel, food and lodging)it not being "enough".

    ow I REALLY KNOW this guardianship isn't going to work.

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  5. Nobody won this one, least of all the child. This is a sad, ugly case that is not going to do the cause of birthparent rights one bit of good.

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  6. Best of luck to your beautiful granddaughter, Lorraine, as she opens this new chapter of her life!

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