Considering Adoption Reform

Whatcom Mom had an interesting comment which I would like to highlight.

I’m hoping the readers here will have some ideas about improving adoption home study practice, based on what we have learned from the deaths of Hana Williams and Lydia Schatz and injuries to their siblings.

So you know where I’m coming from. I’m an adoptive parent of now adult daughters, one adopted as an infant from a local nonprofit agency, the other as a toddler through state foster care. I’ve been active in pre-adoptive education and post-adoption support and have had plenty of occasion to reflect on issues that arise in transracial, special needs, and international and open adoptions. I have long been concerned about adoption agencies that place especially needy and difficult children with naïve, unprepared (and maybe overconfident) families and then fail to follow up with oversight and support.

I followed the Williams trial especially closely because the family lives in my area and because I know people who have worked for, and adopted from, the agency that placed Hana and her brother Immanuel. Reading about the trial has brought me into several thoughtful blogs and websites run by people who, unlike me, are current or former conservative Christians and who are, like me, appalled at the parenting attitudes and discipline techniques that led to these deaths.

As a secular person and a retired public school teacher, it could be easy for me to simply vilify conservative Christian homeschoolers with large families, but I do know better. I know skilled, successful, gentle adoptive parents who fit all those categories. I also homeschooled for a time myself when that was what my daughter needed.
Here are my assumptions:
Carri and Larry Williams did not set out to be abusive and finally lethal parents; they walked down this road a step at a time.

There had to be red flags in the Williams adoption that a better home study would have revealed.
The flaw was not simply in the particular caseworker but in the whole home study process.
Parenting, and especially adoptive parenting, and even more especially adoptive parenting of children with special needs, demands flexibility. What works with one child may not work with another; what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. We have to be able to adapt and we have to be willing to seek help from people with different perspectives.
Children placed in homeschooling families belonging to small, tightly knit communities are particularly vulnerable if the situation becomes abusive, because they live outside the purview of outsiders who can get to know them away from their parents and sound the alarm. When I taught high school, students often confided in me about difficult home situations. Very occasionally, as a mandated reporter, I had to contact CPS. Much more often I could simply be a listening ear as they sorted out their feelings and their options. Hana and her brother, and the Williams’s biological children, had no one in that role—no teacher, no youth pastor, no 4-H leader, no parents of peers. This was not an accident of geography; it’s the way their parents chose to raise them.

So here, finally, is my question:

If you were the caseworker charged with saying yes or no to an adoption application, what would you ask?
What kind of questions or discussions in a home study could identify families who are too inflexible, too wedded to their own perspective, and too isolated from meaningful feedback to be trusted with a child, particularly a child who is likely to be traumatized and challenging? This isn’t about weeding out religious people; it’s about dangerous perspectives on parenting.

I would so appreciate ideas on this topic. Following this trial has been harrowing. Reading comments that stop at calling the Williamses monsters and the agencies venal and the caseworkers idiots doesn’t give me much hope that we can reform adoption practice to prevent future tragedies. I would love to see some constructive suggestions.
Feel free to cross post this to other forums that might yield insights.
Many thanks,

I have heard that the adoption agencies do not allow corporal punishment. That should be the case and it should be enforced. Carri insisted under oath that she did tell them that they spank although it was not on the application. I assume that they did not sign a pledge not to spank the adopted children. However, I have heard of Christian adoptive parents doing so and then spanking anyway. The adoption agencies certainly need to follow up and check on adopted children at the very least, once per year.

They should probably also ask what books have influenced their parenting. I just remembered that the Pearls have one article on Rodless Training for those who cannot use corporal punishment. And now that I think of it, the principals within (taken to their logical extreme) are what killed the 3 adopted children.

The one—most important—principle is to never allow his rebellion to be successful. Always win the contest. You can do this because of your position as banker, cook, house cleaner, playtime supervisor, work detail manager, etc. Stand your ground. If you develop a reputation as a winner of conflicts, you will be home free. If you develop a reputation as a vacillating wimp that whines and complains about how you are treated, they will run over you like a discarded aluminum can. The key is to win. Always win. Stand by your demands. Be just. Be reasonable. Be consistent. Be tough. Be there all the time, ever in his face, loving, laughing, smiling, and demanding compliance as foreman of the home.

So, I strongly believe that no family who follows the Pearls’ teachings can safely adopt a child. There are many other teachers out there with dangerous teachings, too many to name them all. However, asking them about books and their homeschool curriculum will weed out many. If they are involved with ATI, IBLP or Vision Forum or cite the Pearls’ or Ezzo’s books as being influential, that would be a huge red flag. They can also look for such books during home study before the adoption. As far as discussions, they could ask the family how they discipline and look for harsh rigidity.

Speaking of home study, they should also look at the biological children. If they are always calm, speak only when spoken to, always stop everything and reply “yes Mama,” any time the mother speaks to them, they are likely to be Pearl followers. They will appear to be content, probably always smiling, but never shouting and laughing uproariously. Happy is the only acceptable emotion.

I realize that not all Pearl families will take the teachings to the extreme of killing the adopted child, but most people agree that the teachings are inherently abusive and there is great risk at letting them adopt.

Note:  Please see Sarah’s answer here.

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Along similar lines, Homescholers Anonymous is asking for testimonies of those who used or were raised by Pearls’ teachings.


  1. jillian rodrigues on December 12, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    I came across this website while researching about the Duggars and was immediately interested. I myself was raised by the Pearls teachings, not completely comsidering my family was not at all religious and we lived a far more modern life. I was adopted at the age of two from an abusive household. My adoptive parents were determined to be the best parents they could be. I was spanked as a child but was not spanked until nearly a year after being adopted. My parents wanted to know me as much as they could until they brought something like spanking into the picture. This is where a lot of parents who adopt fail. They don’t account for how the child was treated before being adopted, how the child may be emotionally affected from what happenend before they were adopted. Luckily I had parents who did. They used the pearls methods I actually remember sitting with my dad as he read ‘To train up a child’ and he did train me. He didn’t train me not to cry but what not to cry for. This type of training resulted in me never having temper tantrums that many kids do have. Although it’s absolutely ridiculous to expect a child not to cry while being spanked, which my dad clearly understood. I was allowed to have as many emotions that a person was born with and was not expected to be constantly happy. I’m not trying to defend the Pearls methods at all but to explain that they can work when used in a proper and realistic way. I was spanked until I was 12 usually bare bottom until I reached around age 9 were I noticed self changes that my dad could respect me enough not to do it bare anymore. I was soanked with a belt up to 20 times but usually no more than 10 spanks. Our parents spanked up till an age of maturity when they believed we knew how to make good choices. This age was not the same for all my siblings and I but came around the same time. I still deeply love my parents and do believe I grew into a great adult and person. Although I do not train my children my husband and I do spank them an love them deeply. When adopting parents should be open minded to the circumstances the child has been through and not assume they are kids that have never been through anything in their lives. Training or spanking are not for every child and kids can turn out just great without either.

    • Hermana Linda on December 13, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      I’m glad that you do not seem to have been harmed by the Pearls’ teachings. It would appear that your parents did not follow the teachings to the letter, which no doubt helped mitigate the damage considerably.

  2. […] Week, I mentioned that Homeschoolers Anonymous was collecting stories and testimonies from those who were affected by […]

  3. Miles on September 11, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Where would be a good place for an adoptive parent to turn if they feel discouraged with their adopted child. Not sure how to handle behaviors, learning disabilities etc… and feeling like the stress is overwhelming? I have a dear friend who is having such a hard time and I don’t know what to tell her because our adopted son has transitioned so well into our family so I can’t relate.

    • Hermana Linda on September 11, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      This has become a huge problem (as shown in this article) and I’m not sure if there is any particular answer for all locations. I would encourage her to check out Empowered to Connect. She might also ask the agency who helped her adopt for help.

    • Whatcom mom on September 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      In many communities post-adoption support ranges from pathetically little to none. People who adopt special needs children domestically may be eligible for support in the form of Medicaid, respite care, and (in some cases) a stipend that could be used to, for example, hire a companion to spend a few hours a week after school with a child who needs constant supervision. Folks who adopt internationally are on their own in this regard.

      When my children were young a group of parents in our area started a support group for special needs adoptive familes: we incorporated as a nonprofit, wrote some grants, and created family activities, a weekend summer camp, workshops, a lending library of parenting materials,etc. The best part was just being able to talk to other parents who weren’t shocked or judgmental. I also was helped tremendously by online support groups, though you have to shop around to find ones that aren’t just electronic pity parties. If there are adoption-competent therapists in the area, both parent and child should get appointments STAT.

      I’m a bookish sort myself, and I got insights from several books on adoption of traumatized and difficult children. Adopting the Hurt Child is one I remember. The Explosive Child is another. No doubt there are others written since my own need for them ended.

      This can be a long and lonely road. So many times I felt I was failing these children who were placed in my care–that I had made a mistake in thinking I had enough strength, patience, love, or skill to see them through. It’s hard to bring back that feeling now that they are grown, both college graduates, both lively, lovely and loivng young adults, but it was there.

    • Angie on October 25, 2013 at 10:55 am

      I have 3 adopted children and read TTUAC when my son was 2. Even when I tried it, the whole thing seemed wrong to me and even though I couldn’t figure out why, I absolutely understood this wasn’t what my son needed. Since throwing this book out (didn’t even sell it at a yardsale) we laugh and hug a lot more. Since then, I read an article by Michael Pearl that says adoption isn’t a valid way to grow a family. Um…ok. Isn’t that how we got into God’s family? Having read some of the articles in this website, it resonates with me so much. Thanks for putting into words the things many of us have felt but couldn’t quite articulate.

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