No miracles for town that heeded adoption call

A decade later, families have hands full trying to raise troubled children

Feb 2, 2009 / Associated Press

POSSUM TROT, Texas - When a small-town pastor persuaded his congregation to adopt 72 of the most abused and neglected foster children in Texas, the church won praise and publicity from Oprah, People magazine and a reality television show.

A decade later, the families who took part are struggling to raise troubled children in a poor, rural town. And Bishop W.C. Martin is frustrated by the lack of support his black church has received from surrounding communities, which are mostly white.

"Do you think for one moment they recognized us?" Martin said, his voice rising like he's delivering a Sunday sermon. "For being the entity that brought the type of recognition to this town? Nothing. Not even a thank-you letter. It's pitiful."

In 1998, Martin exhorted his Baptist congregation of 200 members to adopt six dozen kids from foster care. The kids had been abused and abandoned and would be a challenge to raise.

Two of the children had been found eating from trash cans in Dallas. Baths terrified one small boy who had been punished with scalding water. One 5-year-old girl had been raped by her mother's boyfriend.

Raising children with such physical and emotional scars would be difficult for any parents. But it presented special hardships in Possum Trot, a backwoods town of clapboard shacks and trailers about 160 miles northeast of Houston. Many of its residents earn meager paychecks carving up chickens at a nearby poultry plant.

'How did I get into this?'

"These parents are having a hard time with these kids. They come with some baggage that is unbelievable," Martin said. "It's not easy. Everybody looks at it and says, 'Ooh, you're doing such a wonderful thing.'

"Yes it is. But nobody knows how we feel on the inside. What is going on to make us sometime have to go somewhere and sit down and say, 'How did I get into this?'"

The last child was adopted in 2003. Although state officials have continued to hold parenting classes for adoptive couples, no new children have been taken in.

Martin's frustration is growing. Another area church leader said things "got a little ugly" at a meeting of ministers when Martin became flustered over how churches were spending their resources.

"He feels like he's the only one doing so much. But he's not the only one doing things," said the Rev. Michael Hale of First Baptist Church.

Meanwhile, the kids have turned out better than many people expected. Some steal and cut school, but so far that's the worst of their behavior.

"You can't stop them from acting out. This is what they've been through," said Ricky R. Cartwright, 44, who adopted three children. "What they've seen, we don't know. All we can do is read a file. But things trigger them. It's something they've been through in life."

Looking for community support

When it began, the project drew attention from Oprah Winfrey, national news programs and Reader's Digest. Prominent religious leaders such as James Dobson and Pat Robertson toasted Possum Trot for its efforts.

Well-known visitors still stop by. Kay Warren, the wife of megachurch leader Rev. Rick Warren, is visiting next month.

The attention is gratifying, Martin said, but he gets no such praise from his own community.

A reality show titled "Renovate My Family" camped in frigid rain and wind for three weeks to build Possum Trot's adoptive families a gymnasium and learning center.

Four years later, Martin says, the church cannot pay the utility bills for the center.

Miracle in a small town?

Last year, Dobson's Focus on the Family ministry published a short biography titled "Small Town, Big Miracle" about Possum Trot. But some adoptive families say their own neighbors will not pick it up.

"I can to go to Nacogdoches and be talking about the book, and people don't know anything about it," said Diann Sparks, referring to a town 30 miles away.

Martin's wife, Donna, says God told her to adopt foster children after her mother died. She does not expect anything from the community.

"I meet people on the street. I greet them. I feel that people should give from the heart or respond to whatever means something to them."

The Possum Trot families have long been shadowed by whispers that they adopted the children merely to cash in on state assistance checks.

And county leaders say deep-rooted racism could also explain why some have not embraced Martin's church despite its national prominence.

Claims of racism

Shelby County Judge John Tomlin, the county's highest elected official, called race a "big-time" issue. He agreed the area has not embraced Possum Trot, but he would not speculate why.

"If he sees he can take care of a child and make a little money on the side, I don't have a problem with that," Tomlin said. "I don't really believe that's his motivation. I think he's a man of God."

Martin said the community has "some good people." But, he added, "the racism is out on both sides, black and white sides."

He hopes his neighbors will reconsider their attitudes after Kay Warren visits town next month.

"I'm hoping through God she will help bring more unity in the county," Martin said. "If we get the love and compassion for one another, I think everything else will fall in place."

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should they get paid to adopt

odds are all 73 kids have adoption sub... Texas is a high sub rate (they probably get $600 and up per month per child $43,200 per month going into that small town and church ...

should they expect more hand outs?

is it really a black/white issue?

or is it all for the ratings?

Although I am not familiar with Possum Trot and its inhabitants, it does show the level of amateurism involved in child care. While the media may laud these families and religious leaders may praise their efforts, it in fact shows how little thought child care is given. In a sense adoption is the sewer of the child protective system, for $600/month the state of Texas rids itself of a problem and hands over children with serious problems to a small congregation that doesn't know what it got itself into.

Does Possum Trot need more money, does it need more attention, does it need hand-outs? It's hard to answer the question not knowing the details. What I do know is that religious zeal mixed with an uncaring government can be a combustive combination. From the late 1960's to half way the 1980's, the Nason's adopted almost 80 children. They were on national television several times and portrayed as living saints. In the early 1990's they were convicted of racketeering (two children in their care had died because of neglect too).

Both religious leaders and the news media love stories like that of Possum Trot and that of the Nason's, even though that love usually doesn't extend the 15 minutes of fame they have to offer. It's a good story that sells well. In the mean time very few really consider the consequences of the children involved.

Whether or not the people from Possum Trot do this for fame and glory, for the $600/child/month or whether they do it because children need a better place to live, remains to be seen. For the news media reporting about it, the interest of the children involved seems to be the least of their worries. At least they have modern day saints to report about and that is what sells.

Jonestown

also, many of the kids and young adults killed at Jonestown were from foster care system in California.... there were a lot of specials on Jim Jones and Jonestown a year or two ago...

they took in poor old people and were at one time the placement of choice for several counties in California for troubled foster children...

I found this piece of information hard to take...

The people of Jones' church also were paid by the government to care for these children...

and the gov. take

http://www.gao.gov/products/109518

wow, so between 19 and 150

It's a sin, isn't it?

.... what some people will do in the name of church, charity and the promise of a new/better life?

Those are times I ask:  Is God really watching all of this?

It's really hard not to get very depressed and upset about the cruel realities in this world.  All I can say is this -- I believe the very worst thing we can do as human beings (with a conscience and spirit), is turn our backs, close our eyes and pretend these problems do not exist in our every-day lives.

I have to seriously pace myself posting information within out History of Child Placement pages, because it is just so terribly upsetting seeing, reading and knowing how so many children have been hurt, betrayed, and mal-treated by those "in authority".

But you know what?  People need to see how children have been treated by other people.... whether it be their parents, the police, the clergy, or those working for the government.  More people need to see and appreciate just how history keeps repeating itself over and over again in all sorts of big and small ways, especially as it relates to "unwanted children" and the child placement industry.  More and more people have to see when and where the good turns bad and the lies mislead.  It's important to see man's inhumanity towards man and men's self-serving schemes so we can learn how NOT to be in the future.

Above all else, we have to become a society that cares about what is being done NOW because it DOES determine the future fate of the next group of parents and children.

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