' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: When "best interests of the child" violate reason and decency

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When "best interests of the child" violate reason and decency

Last week Harry’s Law presented the familiar drama of a child adopted illegally and his natural parents suing for his return. We know from the beginning that the judge, lacking the Wisdom of Solomon, will rule for the adopters (the most perfect of couples), citing the best interests of the child.

The Harry’s Law segment had a contemporary twist: the aggrieved couple is Chinese. Their child was stolen by corrupt Chinese officials and given to an African-American couple. The Chinese parents come to the United States and sue for return of their child. The judge, an African-American who had been adopted as a child by a white couple, rules for the adopters, repeating the old platitude about how it’s not about the rights of the parents but about the rights of the child. To overcome any lingering doubts the TV audience might have about the correctness of the decision, the Chinese girl is shown happily singing and swaying to Gospel music along with African-American children.

There’s an equally popular variation of the best interests story which was told in the 1995 film Losing Isaiah: judge rules for mother but she returns the child, recognizing that his adoptive family is his family, selflessly putting the child’s interests before her own. 

These stories and countless others like them reinforce the very wrong idea that a child should stay “in the only home he has ever known” no matter that he got to the home through gross violation of his parents’ rights.

The truth is that children transferred from an adoptive home to their natural parents’ home can do just fine in spite of the opinions of mental health experts only too willing to weigh in for the adopters. Courts returned both Baby Richard and Baby Jessica to their rightful and natural parents at age four and two-and-a-half respectively. Although they became poster children for the failings of adoption laws to protect adopters, follow up stories showed that these children did fine. Baby Jessica, who was Anna Schmidt, says she has no memory of the Deboers, who fought the Carla and Dan Schmidts in the courts as long as they could before they turned over a screaming child in front of the TV cameras they made sure were there. A followup story by Diane Sawyer several years later showed a healthy, happy and well adjusted teenager.

Despite dire predictions that Danny Kirchner (Baby Richard), taken at age 4 from the "only parents he had ever known," would suffer irreparable emotional damage, he was "a well-rounded 7th grader," shown in pictures in a book published by the psychologist, Dr. Karen Moriarty, who counseled the biological parents, Daniela and Otto Kirchner. In both cases, the baby had been adopted with out the permission of the father. Moriarty, who published a book on the case and its aftermath in 2007, was considered to be "on the wrong side" by the public and the media, particularly Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene, who wrote literally a hundred skewed Baby Richard columns.

Partly because of Greene's unrelenting campaign against the child being returned to his natural parents, Moriarty received hate mail and threats, required police surveillance at her home and office, fielded fallout from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and then First Lady Hilary Clinton, and eventually retired early and moved from Chicago, with her husband, to Florida, where she wrote Baby Richard--A Four-Year-Old Comes Home.

A more recent case was that of Benjamin Wyrembek, a father who fought for his child while the hysterical adopters, Christy and Jason Vaughn, mounted a Facebook and religious campaign to stir up public opinion against Wyrembek. As Lorraine wrote in 2010: Most of the of the media stories have been skewed towards the "only family he has ever known," the Vaughns. A columnist for the Huffington Post got into the fray with this kind of language:
 "That child, now Grayson Thomas Vaughn to me and Grayson Bocvarov [Note: mother's last name] to others, is three years old and may be ripped from the only family he has ever known: Christy and Jason Vaughn -- his mom and dad. [Emphasis added.] 
There has been no word yet how the boy is doing. We assume he is doing fine with his natural family, as did the two other children mentioned above. For us involved in adoption as first/birth mothers, this comes as no surprise because the similarity in personality, talents, and interests, more than made up for the lack of common experiences, especially when the child is returned to his natural family at a young age. The children received an added bonus, avoiding the fear of abandonment, identity confusion, and other issues reported by adoptees.
“Best interests of the child” stories like the Harry’s Law segment and Losing Isaiah help promote adoption, always popular in the land of make-believe, by presenting faddish views of what constitutes the "best interests" of children as superior to the time-honored fundamental bond between parents and children. These shows set the stage for laws like Utah’s and other “adoption-friendly” policies, which in effect grant a sort of squatter’s right to adopters.

As Justice James Heiple of the Illinois Supreme Court wrote in the Baby Richard case:
"If ... the best interests of the child is to be the determining factor in child custody cases ... persons seeking babies to adopt might profitably frequent grocery stores and snatch babies from carts when the parent is looking the other way. Then, if custody proceedings can be delayed long enough, they can assert that they have a nicer home, a superior education, a better job or whatever, and that the best interests of the child are with the baby snatchers. Children of parents living in public housing or other conditions deemed less affluent and children of single parents might be considered particularly fair game."
This has already occurred in international adoption according to recent news reports about children taken illegally and sold on the American adoption market. Shows like the Harry’s Law segment allow adopters who realize that their child may have been stolen to feel comfortable in looking the other way and keeping the child.


  1. I believe, after many years of watching, reading and education, that it isn't just adopters that pretend that they are unaware of the truths about adoption and child procurement. Adoptees often blame the biological parents for negative adoption outcomes and extended biological family often join in that belief.

    Yesterday I posted, on my blog, a news report regarding how social services steals children.... which is what happened with my daughter. I had, however, the added bonus of being a former foster child. It makes a difference in the reality of adoption.

    When assumptions and willful ignorance are running the show, we face horrific fallout later on. Right now adoption and the fallout are the most pervasive ill of our social group.

  2. Very nice putting these stories together. I appreciate your work!

    Perhaps for another day or another writer was the story about the adoptee identifying as black...and the judge skirting the question about her own identity as black or white.

  3. It was a repeat. At LEAST visitation was ordered but all i could think of was a kidnapping! If a kidnapper provided a loving, stable home - as is often thee case in in-family custodial kidnapping - do they get to keep the child because of the length of the time the child was with them? i think of Mr Goldman who the country cheered on as he retrieved his son from overseas where he was being raised by his mothers' family. No one said it was 'the only family' the boy had known for most of his life. I do not understand why a kidnapped child who is then laundered through adoption undoes the means by which the child was originally obtained. This show was of course fiction, but it is being played out in real life by the Monahans who have violated the order to return the child who was kidnapped from Guatemala. And out gvt is turning a blind eye.

  4. I think if you asked any parent of a biological child, "If your child was stolen or kidnapped by a stranger or spouse or friend, wouldn't you do anything and everything in your power to get your child back?" Even if it had been years and that child was being raised in a loving home and was happy and adjusted? Of course they would want to get their child back!!! And no one would expect them to act otherwise. How is this different?

    I can't believe that people would not side with the fathers.

  5. I quit my therapist this week. I told her I was against international adoptions. I said that the money adoptive parents spend would be put to better use helping children stay with their mother's in their own country. Her reply was, "why would they want to do that? They want those babies". This is a licensed therapist, who listed adoption as one of her specialties. A PhD!!! I told her no woman has a right to another woman's child. What about the best interest of the child? We went back and forth the whole session about adoption issues. I told her that adoption wounded me very deeply, and she informed me that , "not everyone feels that way". She told me my parents were selfish people to give me up. Her cousin adopted 3 children who, "never wanted to search". OMG, this was someone who I went to for help.

  6. Looks like tonight on Modern Family the couple two men will be shopping for a "birthmom" we live in an adoption biased society adoption is best even if the child is kidnapped or coerced from it's own mother.
    Do you remember the baby that was fought for by his mom in New York. The adopters took off with the adoptee and twenty plus years down road they were discovered. They were older and of course they weren't considered kidnappers. Even the adoptee didn't want them punished after all they were "his" parents. To the court they were not
    and his family out on raising him. Stockholm Syndrome is all I can think of where captive sides with captors. Patty Hearst ring a bell?

  7. PS
    on the way home from the therapist I heard Squeeze's "up the junction" in the car and I just started bawling my eyes out.

  8. Mirah,

    The explanation is not kidnapping versus illegal adoption but American chauvinism. If a kidnapped child were brought to the US, many would be all for keeping him here.

    Remember the Elian Gonzalez case where a judge placed Elian with distant US relatives rather than sending him back to Cuba to the only family he had ever known? Fortunately, Janet Reno did not buy into this nonsense.

  9. "...is three years old and may be ripped from the only family he has ever known: Christy and Jason Vaughn -- his mom and dad.."

    Children happen to be 'ripped' from the only mother they ever knew when they are adopted by genetic strangers and lose their entire family and heritage. Why is that okay, but a child being returned to his rightful parents/ father who want them and will fight for them is such a travesty?

    I am astounded that public opinion and support is most often for the adopters, no matter what tactics they employed in procuring someone else's infant, while the natural parents are demonized and dehumanized. This of course is always due to the perceived "best interest of the child."

    I think they mean to say the "best interest of the paying customers..."

    I find your examples of how well the children you wrote about are doing now to be wonderful. I also find it interesting that we never hear about these stories; of a well adjusted former adoptee happy and healthy with their rightful families. That may just hurt the adoption is so wonderful message everyone seems to relish in promoting in this country. We can't have that, now can we? I would love hear more stories like this and hope I do.

    Of course they are doing well. They got to grow up in their rightful FAMILIES, where they belonged from day one...

  10. Michele, Yikes and you did good!

    So many people buy into the "all adoption is good" idea, and it comes as a huge shock when someone who is adopted says otherwise. It is like a blast of cold air on their fairytale image of adoption. Oh wait, fairy tales usually have nasty step mothers and second mothers, and good natural mothers!

    When such a therapist puts out a shingle that says "adoption" is their specialty, they are most likely talking about dealing with adopters and people who want to adopt. I wonder if she has ever seen or heard the what the therapist in the short video I've posted in the right sidebar has to say.

    Michele, You stood up for your beliefs and let your former therapist hear unpleasant truths about adoption. I myself quit therapy a zillion years ago when I only had PMS, and would be depressed one visit out of four.

    Take pride in giving voice to what you know in your heart. And thank you for letting us know what you did.

  11. Mother: The story I am thinking of has to do with a couple who fled to Florida. I can't recall the name, can you or anyone? I think the birth mother had an Italian name, and Florence Fisher tried very hard to help her, when the couple left the state and could not be found.

  12. I am terrified that the foster parents of my step-daughter are going to fight to keep her. I'm very glad that you keep posting about children who have been returned at older ages who did fine. My step-daughter has been in foster care for so long that she only knows the foster parents as mom and dad. Due to very limited funds we cannot go see her more often as she is over 600 miles away. The mother fled our state to keep the child from her father and attempted to have a stranger adopt but before that happened the child was taken due to neglect. If anyone knows of more cases I can use to build up against "best interest" please share with me at: (nickname) at gmail

  13. Barry and Judith Smiley were the abductors. Matthew Propp was the name of the young man.

  14. The NY to Fl. case was the DeMartinos, adoptive parents, vs. Olga Scarpetta, birthmother who tried to get her daughter back. The child was "baby Lenore".Olga was from a South American country but living in the US. The agency was Spence Chapin. She changed her mind about the surrender within two weeks, but the case was drawn out forever as those things often are so by the time a judgment came down the child was almost two, if I remember correctly.The media buried the fact that the mother had changed her mind immediately and went on and on about "the only parents she knows." Finally a judge ruled in favor of the mother, and the DeMartinos fled to Florida with the child, which had different laws, and there they stayed.

    Many years later there was an interview in some women's magazine of "Lenore" who praised her adoptive parents and had nothing but scorn for her birthmother. It was depressing to say the least.

    My take on these contested adoption cases is that the child grows up happy with where they ended up if the parents are half decent, be that with natural or adoptive parents and tends to defend those they know as parents. From what I have heard "Baby Jessica/Anna who was returned to her natural parents is fine with that too. These awful cases would not happen if babies were returned promptly to mothers who contested the adoption rather than dragging on for years.

  15. Lorraine - was it the Baby Lenore case?


  16. Yes, Maryanne filled in all the details about that Baby Lenore story. All I could remember was the Scarpetta last name, and a quick search on Google led to restaurants.

    The ending is so sad for the mother, who did all she could to raise her own child, and then the child, as an adult, sees her as the interloper. The same appears to be true with the Mary Beth Whitehead and the daughter she gave birth to, who was named Melissa Stern, and raised by the people (William and Elizabeth Stern) who used Mary Beth's egg and womb as a surrogate.

  17. Oh Michele - I am so sorry you got the "not everyone feels that way treatment" and from a therapist no less! I have heard that more times than I can count, and unfortunately it has often come from my friends and relatives, people who not only know my situation but also have no firsthand experience whatsoever with adoption. And it hurts every time! People just don't want to believe that adoptees miss their mothers and mothers miss their children, because if they believed that, well wouldn't it be awfully hard to condone adoption? I actually found my current, amazing therapist through a friend but before I agreed to meet with her I made sure that she had absolutely no adoption connections. It seems counterintuitive but I really feel like it worked out for me. But maybe my therapist is just a really understanding, open-minded person.

    On the best interests of the child topic, this week a very good friend of mine was telling me about a PAP friend of hers who almost got a baby but was "devastated" when the mother decided to keep her child after the PAP had already gone to the hospital and held the baby. The nerve of that mother! :) My friend seemed to feel that since she already had been allowed to meet the child that the mother shouldn't have been able to change her mind. When I told her that I can't help but be happy that the mother and child stayed together, she told me that the child would end up on welfare. Sigh. I told her that babies need more than just money. This is a person who knows that I am a first mother and how devastating it was for me. It truly feels like I am invisible sometimes, or maybe just that the rainbows and unicorns adoption myth is just so pervasive that people refuse to give it up even when looking the truth directly in the face.

  18. Anon,

    Got it it was a male adoptee kinapped by adopters after mom won him! Never heard anyone objecting about this
    it was a kidnapping and adopters did it.


  19. In most States, the best interests standard applies when a birthmother changes her mind. It doesn't apply in the case of a birthmother or birthfather never having consented in the first place.

    I haven't seen this TV show but it seems unlikely that birthparents from China would even be able to find out who the adoptive parents were in the case of a government sanctioned kidnapping. I have never heard of an African American couple adopting a baby from China but I suppose it could happen.

    The idea that someone who wanted to adopt internationally would instead chose to donate their money to the birthmother seems unrealistic to say the least. The bulk of adoptions are driven by a desire to address the problem of infertility, not by a desire to solve the worlds problems.

  20. Maryanne does not have all the details of the Baby Lenore case correct. The birthmother waited 5 months before revoking her consent. A New York court ordered the baby returned because they judged the birthmother capable of parenting and there was no "Best Interests" standard in New York law at the time. The adoptive parents moved to Florida which did have a "Best Interests standard" and whose courts found in their favor.

    As a result of that case, New York passed new laws limiting a birthmother's right to revoke. Currently a birthmother has 30 days for an agency adoption and 45 days for a private adoption before her consent becomes irrevocable. If she does revoke within that time, the law requires a best interests determination to be made and custody is awarded solely on that basis.

    Should the birthmother allow the revocation period to expire or should she be in an unfavorable position to win a best interests case, she can of course attempt to enlist the birthfather (who has six months to show an interest in the child) or she can attempt to invalidate her consent by claiming she didn't know what she was signing.

  21. Anonymous:

    Since you have so much information it would have been more authoritative if you have given us your name, and how you happen to know so much about a case that is many decades old, as well as the law in New York. But thank you anyway.

  22. Anonymous. That is certainly true about babies being used as cures for infertility. This is not lost on adoptees. It is certainly not "in our best interests" though.

  23. Not with the programJanuary 13, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    At one point in our history, it was considered legally and morally correct to bring people from other countries to america against their will for the benefit of some Americans. That was called slavery. Now it's called adoption.

  24. To anon who says I have the facts wrong on the Scarpetta case, I don't think so. Believe me, having just surrendered several years before, I watched that case very carefully and with growing horror as the mother was made the villain night after night on the news, and the poor, poor DeMartinos the saviors and "only parents she had ever known."

    What was buried was that Olga went back to Spence Chapin very early on, around two weeks, but that the agency delayed any legal action for months.That's probably where the "5 months" comes in. The agency should have just given her baby back when she asked, then there would have been no legal issue.

    Quick, forced surrenders with no recourse are NOT in the best interest of mother, child, or prospective adoptive parents. Florida was known as a mecca for black and grey market adoptions for decades because of their lax adoption laws. Hardly a state where children were really considered first.

  25. Maryanne: Thinking back to that time...I didn't have a television for a couple of years right then when the Scarpetta case was in the news. I think that I why the details are so fuzzy to me. I only remember how involved Florence Fisher was, and how sick she was when the De Martinos absconded with the baby. The sad thing is, reading the stories here and there and out of Utah, and the several cases we have covered her, not much as changed. The one time I read about a couple who surrendered their son when the mother and the father showed up in court--from a Latin America country no less, which one I forgot--and then relinquished the child without further fight, I was impressed and pleased that they had the heart to do that. I suppose it must happen now and then, without the fanfare that these that make news generates. Adoptive parents who keep the children must feel that they are chosen to a higher power, aka God, to keep another woman's baby.

    The mind is amazing. It can talk you into believing what you want is the only "right" decision, despite all other evidence to the contrary.

  26. Autumn, aside from infertility, the other popular motivator for adoptive parents is religious conviction combined with a savior complex. I think most adoptees are better off with the infertile couple.

  27. MaryAnne, you are correct that the Agency (Spence Chapin) delayed informing the Birth parents that the birthmother had changed her mind. They did not find out about the revocation until 5 months after the adoption. According to the birthmother, she informed the agency 4 weeks after the surrender. However, she didn't actually sign the surrender until 2 weeks after the baby was born.

    Under current New York adoption law a birth parent has 30 days to revoke an adoption consent when an agency is involved. (45 days for private extra-judicial). However, at the time there was no such limit and an adoption could be contested anytime prior to finalization. Therefore the actual timing has no legal significance. In the interests of completeness it should also be pointed out that if a birth parent executes the consent in front of a Judge that consent is irrevocable.

    Lorriane, very few adoptions are actually contested. Most consents aren't revoked. I don't think it's that uncommon for adoptive parents to give a baby back if consent is revoked after they have only had the baby for a few weeks. If they have had the baby for months or years though, they will have formed an attachment (assuming they are not sociopaths). It's unlikely that they will not believe that keeping the child is in that child's best interests. At a minimum they may question the birthmothers commitment to the child given the prior surrender of hat child. Their attorneys certainly will, but it is ultimately up to the court to decide what is in the child's best interests. The are the higher power in this instance, not God.

    In the extremely rare case of a kidnapping, it's going to be much harder for them to convince themselves they are doing the right thing.

  28. I may be going against popular thought here, but if a birth mother does contest a surrender of her child, I would think that she really is committed to that child, as she would have to know that such an action would cause problems and that she may face huge opposition and criticism.

    I assumed that revocations of consent were rare.

  29. It could be argued either way. I am sure the birthmother's attorneys wold make an argument similar to yours.

    Which argument seems the more reasonabl will depend on the perspective of the person considering it.

  30. Anon:

    That's why the "law" is always open to interpretation, but too often in the case of children, the inndivudal who is the judge comes down on the side of 9/10 of ownership is possession....in other words, who has the child at the time, and agencies often have continued to rule in favor of their money-paying clients, ie, the adopters as contested cases go on and on and on.

  31. In which States do agencies get to rule on contested adoptions? I am fairly (but not completely) certain that such a decision can only be made by a Judge,

  32. Judges make the final decision in all contested adoption cases in all states.

  33. I was adopted, through the LDS church, in 1975. For as long as I can remember, my parents have told me that I was adopted. The best thing I ever heard was one of the things my mom would tell me, "You didn't grow under my heart, you grew IN it."
    With the new law in Illinois, I may finally get my original birth certificate. I want to do genealogy and learn medical history.
    I have never resented either set of parents. I have never feared abandonment. I have never felt like a "castaway." I won't say I am glad I was adopted, though I probably have had an easier time of things with parents who were older and mature when they got me (birth parents were 16-17, adopted parents were 37-38.)
    The point is, if the adoptive parents handle things properly, the child can be very well adjusted and content knowing (s)he was adopted.

    On the other hand, I have a cousin who will be 18 next year, which is when her dad plans to tell her the truth of her birth. She knows she was adopted, but was given false information about it to hide a dirty family secret, and I can predict a major schism when the truth finally comes out.

    Bottom line: whether as a birth parent or an adoptive parent, tell your kids the truth from an early age, they'll thank you for it later.

  34. Natt H: In a couple of days at the blog we will be posting a sample letter on how to approach your first mother. I hope you find some useful advice there.

    Good luck!

  35. I recently was pressured into adopting
    my baby out. I changed my mind when
    the baby was born. I felt pressured
    by family and friends. I went thru
    with it because I felt like I didn't
    have any support. In Colorado bparents
    only have four days to change their
    minds once the bmom signs the papers.

  36. I’m not a mother & have no connection to adoption but as a trained mental health professional for the courts I can assure you that the data & many cases show that children like Baby Richard who are suddenly & traumatically pulled away from parents they’ve bonded with & attached to may seem ok as kids & teens but that’s not it. As adults deep emotional problems manifest resulting in failed relationships (they feel they can’t trust anyone or get close emotionally as that person may one day just be gone from their lives), substance abuse problems (drugs &/or alcohol), and a host of mental disorders. You never see the real damage until those children become adults. That’s the sad fact that no one considers. Baby Richard was a bad call and my heart goes out to him today; I hope he has been able to receive ongoing therapy to help him emotionally & psychologically. Without it, I fear his life will be exceedingly painful.

  37. Dr. Bell, since you testify for the courts, I would gather that your experience is largely related to children moved from one foster home to another or see-sawed between relatives. Baby Jessica cases are rare, thank goodness.

    Children adopted illegally and returned to their legal parent is different. These children join parents who look like them, enjoy the same types of food and entertainment, and whose minds work alike. The need for adopted people to connect with their original family is strong. Many spend years and often much money to learn their origins; the task made all the more difficult by laws sealing records.

    Adoption is always traumatic for children, stripped from the comfort of a womb into the arms of people they don't recognize. Laws which protect the rights of natural parents also protect children from being needlessly adopted. To allow the adoption industry to play fast and loose with these laws is to legalize kidnapping.



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