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.
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.