Unfortunate Son, and an Aborted Adoption

A local parent says DSHS misled him about the boy who became his adopted son.

By Laura Onstot

February 10, 2009 / Seattle Weekly

J.D. seemed like a polite, shy kid the first time Keith Cordell Robinson met him at a local McDonalds on a chilly Sunday in March 2003. Robinson, a licensed foster parent, "wanted to be a dad in the worst way," he says. "I wanted to have the Christmas trees and the toys and go to hockey games and Broadway shows--all that stuff."

For the first few weeks after they met, the then-10-year-old J.D. and Robinson seemed a perfect fit. The two hit the movies and a toy store in Seattle. Robinson says J.D. immediately took to his two cats. He thought he had found his son.

But Christmases and Broadway shows were not to be. Six years later, J.D. is back in foster care and Robinson is waging a court battle with the state Department of Social and Health Services, seeking to undo the adoption and recover the money he paid the agency for J.D.'s care after the boy allegedly attacked Robinson and his husband (Robinson is gay) in their Vancouver, B.C., home.

According to J.D.'s DSHS file, a previous attempt to adopt the boy failed. Robinson claims case workers told him there was a problem with the parents' ability to care both for J.D. and a natural daughter. They discouraged him from contacting the previous adoptive parents, saying the father had "issues" and wouldn't give an accurate picture of the child. J.D.'s file also included notes that he might have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and possibly Tourette's syndrome.

Robinson told case workers he just didn't have the ability to take on an extremely high-needs child. But case workers assured him that the previous adoption had failed because of the parents, not J.D—and the other notes were nothing to worry about. In court documents, Robinson claims case workers assured him J.D. was "one of the good ones." In July 2003, Robinson became J.D.'s legal parent. Later that summer, he and his son moved to Canada with Robinson's partner so the couple could get married.

It wasn't long before J.D. started having trouble. An assessment showed him to be well behind in school, and his behavior became increasingly problematic, Robinson claims in court records. Making matters more difficult, Robinson was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery during J.D.'s first year at home. After the surgery, he says, J.D. became increasingly violent—lighting fires, stealing knives from the kitchen, and threatening Robinson and his husband.

In October 2005, Robinson says in court records, his son attacked him, though he doesn't include details of the debacle. After that, he had his son involuntarily committed to Fairfax, a psychiatric hospital in Kirkland, for several months. J.D. was then moved to a Children's Home in Seattle, where the people treating him didn't believe Robinson could handle his son's "extreme mental health needs," Robinson says. So J.D. went back into the DSHS foster care system.

Robinson hired an attorney and attempted to have the adoption rescinded, claiming DSHS officials misled him about the extent of J.D.'s problems. They were unsuccessful, so Robinson still lives in British Columbia while his son bounces among foster homes in Seattle.

But J.D. is still legally Robinson's son, and state law allows DSHS to charge child support to anyone with a kid in the system. The state assessed Robinson monthly $708 child-support payments for the care of his son from December 2006 through March 2008, when Robinson first hired an attorney to contest the legitimacy of the adoption. In December, Robinson sued DSHS in King County Superior Court to recover the money he paid to support J.D., collect damages for allegedly misleading him, and overturn the adoption.

DSHS spokesperson Thomas Shapley (formerly a Seattle P-I editorial writer) says he can't comment on the specifics of Robinson's case, but that similar problems with adoptions are "very rare." Currently there about 13,000 adopted kids living in the state whose placements were handled by DSHS. Of those, says Shapley, around 60 are back in the system at any given time, temporarily or permanently, either because the state removed the child for abuse or neglect, or the parent was unable to care for the kid, as in Robinson's case.

When a parent has a child go into the system, Shapley explains, the state has the right to collect child support. "You're still, as a parent, responsible for the care of that child," he says.

Before any parent can adopt a child from DSHS, they have to sign a statement saying they reviewed the child's entire case file. Gay Knutson, an adoption counselor with Adoption Advocates International who specializes in DSHS adoptions, says that can mean a tremendous amount of information to sift through. "I've used the boxes for footwrests," she jokes.

Knutson adds that even with all that data on a child, adoptive parents, like birth parents, can't be sure how their child will turn out. "There are caveats—we can't know everything," she says.

It is possible to sue for wrongful adoption. In 1993, Bellingham attorney Philip Buri represented a couple in a suit against the state when they discovered, three years after completing the adoption of their daughter, that she had fetal alcohol syndrome. Buri helped them sue under a 1984 law requiring DSHS to make all medical records available to prospective adoptive parents, along with "all known and available information concerning the mental, physical, and sensory handicaps of the child."

Buri's clients, the McKinneys, won. "That's the first case that established the tort of wrongful adoption," he says. But in that case medical records had actually been withheld, and Buri says he's unaware of any other current lawsuits alleging similar instances of DSHS withholding information from prospective parents.


Robinson received J.D.'s entire file, but claims case workers misled him about the severity of what he saw in those records. "I was told by everybody, 'Don't worry about this, you have a great kid and it's a great match,'" he says. "I was relying on them being totally upright and professional in this case."

The state Attorney General's office responded to Robinson's suit in court last month with a standard denial for each of his claims. No additional specifics were provided.

Robinson says he tried to make things work with J.D.—sending him back into the system was a last resort. He says he started keeping a log of incidents, and spent hours on the phone with officials at DSHS, trying to get help with his troubled son. But ultimately he couldn't manage. "I was afraid of the kind of person he was going to grow up if he didn't get help now." he says. "If it's hard for me, I can't imagine [how hard it is for] J.D."

Robinson hopes any attention he gets from his case keeps other prospective parents from being blindsided when adopting through DSHS. Says he, "I don't want any child or parent to go through this heartache."



The Image v. The Reality

"I wanted to have the Christmas trees and the toys and go to hockey games and Broadway shows--all that stuff."

Such simplistic beliefs really bug me, especially when a full-grown (mature?) adult thinks such dreams will come through the grateful eyes of the adopted child no one else wanted.

What, exactly, are PAP's expecting when they are adopting children who have been moved from place to place, and exposed to the sort of things most adults fear to imagine... like sexual abuse, neglect, torture, and experimental treatments/medications?

It's people with these grand family expectations that scare me... the kind that require simple easy children to fulfil a gap neither a dog nor cat can fill.

I don't feel sorry for the misguided AP's who no longer wants to pay child custody -- I feel pure sadness for the child discarded because he didn't fit the perfect image an AP wanted for himself and his partner.

I had some of these ideas...

I had adopted two children, who were/are everything a parent could want for their child to be.  NOT perfect; just a part of me.  And then I got slap-happy...  thinking I was such a great parent (gag) who could handle anything.  AP's do have starry eyes in thinking about the two Christmas trees, one on either side of the fireplace, with the mounds of presents under the trees for those grateful little ones.
Next scene:  REALITY
Just like you, Kerry, I feel sorry for the children who have gone through hell before entering the domain of some starry eyed AP who hasn't done their homework.  It's not the child's fault.  WE are the adults.  WE are required to think it through.  Yet, time and time again, PAP's only see the picture... and NOT the WHOLE picture.
Teddy is sad...

What did I ever do to deserve this... Teddy

The unfortunate child

I have huge triggered issues when I learn ANY person uses a child to fill personal gaps and losses... it just seems wrong and unfair to expect a child to repair damage caused by other people, but I know this "wishful thinking" IS a sad reality for many... adopted or not.

What caught my attention in the above article was the timing of certain events -- events that could have easily triggered "bad" behavior in the older adopted child.

First, the child was moved to a new house/area.

Then one of his ("new") parents got sick.

These are serious losses for a child.  Don't the adults in his life see this?  Don't AP's know lots of adoptees see "normal changes" more seriously and personally because each change could lead to more loss and pain?

APs who are educated about

APs who are educated about adoption DO know that changes and losses are felt more seriously by most adopted children, and those loses and disruptions can trigger problems. Unfortunately, not enough education is provided in some cases, and of course some potential parents ignore it. Those type parents should not be allowed to adopt.

Educating the public

Those type parents should not be allowed to adopt.

There are TONS of people who should not be allowed to parent/adopt a pet let alone a child... yet adoption agencies let all sorts of people get what they want because they can jump through the legal hoops and pay the required fees to get "the child of their dreams".  [It's amazing to me how proof on paper is NOT the same as proof in reality!]  This is especially disturbing to me because it's been proven even pedophiles can be pre-screened and approved to parent another person's child... as if that's to be considered "safe child placement"!

Without universal standards, mandates and regulations within the adoption industry, how can such high-risk people be weeded-out of the parent-pool for adoptable children? 

Would limitations set by adoption agencies be seen as "discriminatory" -- even if such limitations are based upon the long-term interests and needs of each child placed within a  new family?

I for one would LOVE to see ALL adoption agencies require higher standards for their AP's but when you have some AP's clamoring for Adoption Reform (in the guise of shorter waits in the adoption process), I don't see how quality will win over quantity. 

what if...

What if only people who could not have biological children were considered as PAP's?  What if they had to go through a rigorous month long boot-camp where they are put through a battery of tests and situations and the results scrutinized
for another month in order to be chosen as ready to adopt?  I don't think anyone could pretend for a whole month...  They could see if there was fighting; or just how quickly they became mad in certain set situations.  I know they ask nothing about PAP's sex lives and that is a place that would tell a whole lot about that couple.  What if there were several sessions with a psychologist; together and separate.  And what if the PAP's didn't have to pay for this, making it impossible to hand pick the psychs?  What if the process of being okayed for adoption took a year?  What if there had to be a set time to interact with the child off and on for another year; which could mean the child would be one year older, but that happens in overseas adoptions already.  What if there were no more overseas adoptions?  Wouldn't that elimiate the 50 year old woman with the baby in her arms?  These would be higher standards by default...
Teddy would not be Teddy...

What did I ever do to deserve this... Teddy

Pound Pup Legacy