A child's death in Mexico

Date: 2009-03-16

The Oregonian

It would be unfortunate if the wrong issue overwhelms the debate over an American girl's death at the hands of relatives in Mexico.

In The Oregonian's Sunday and Monday editions, reporters Michelle Cole and Susan Goldsmith told the story of 4-year-old Adrianna Romero Cram. In 2004 the state of Oregon sent her to Mexico to live with an aunt and uncle who viciously abused her for months until she died of her injuries while still legally in the protective custody of the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Adrianna's story isn't just heartbreaking. It's also infuriating.

Goldsmith, who traveled to the Mexican village of Omealca last month to interview witnesses, and Cole reported in painful depth how the girl endured months of torment despite alarms raised by her school principal, teachers and grandfather.

The problem wasn't just that Oregon officials signed off on a horrific home for Adrianna. That mistake was compounded by her Oregon caseworker's complete oblivion to her abuse as he relied almost exclusively on contacts with her abusers and derelict Mexican welfare workers.

The Cole-Goldsmith reports have touched off a worthwhile debate, but too much of it is sidetracked on the issue of whether American children should ever be adopted by relatives or other people abroad. That's not a particularly useful discussion, as Oregon case studies are full of successful stories of such placements in countries from England to Germany, and from Canada to, yes, Mexico.

The real issue here is whether American children should ever be adopted abroad if authorities in this country can't adequately monitor the kids' well-being. And the answer to that question is an emphatic "no," whether the child is placed in Omealca or in Oregon City.

Oregonians can take some solace from the fact that the state's Department of Human Services today is not the same agency it was four years ago when Adrianna was killed. DHS has new leadership and a new mission to change the department's culture and improve its outcomes.

For example, agency officials insist that today's DHS would not have accepted the flimsy two-page home study that led to Adrianna being placed in a dangerous home. Today, they say, Mexican authorities would have to work with DHS and meet Oregon's standards for such a study.

The department also claims it has increased training on international adoptions, improved the oversight process and hired a new manager with experience in international adoption.

Still, it was telling that as this newspaper prepared to publish Adrianna's story, Oregon's child welfare division announced a moratorium on sending foster children to other countries while DHS works with the U.S. State Department on a plan to guarantee better protection for kids.

The decision, purportedly a response to a new international treaty on adoption, stalls plans to move five Oregon children to Mexico to be raised by relatives. That's reassuring, because no child, American or otherwise, should ever be sent off to suffer the fate of Adrianna Romero Cram.


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