Couple say adopted son beyond their help
By: GINNIE GRAHAM/Tulsa World
December 6, 2009
The scrapbook pages show a smiling 8-year-old boy on his first day of school, opening Christmas gifts and hanging around with new friends.
Melissa Westcott's hand-written messages next to the photos shower affection on her "little man" and "baby."
The pages don't show the turmoil that started brewing months after the adoption of the child from the custody of the state Department of Human Services.
The Tulsa resident and her husband, Tony, love the son they adopted two years ago, but now say he is too much for them to handle.
After the adoption, the boy became violent toward other children and nonresponsive to adults, hurt and killed animals and ran away regularly, requiring law enforcement help, they say.
Within a year, he received diagnoses including reactive detachment disorder, disruptive behavior disorder, major depressive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome. He has frequented in-patient therapeutic facilities.
"We were told he was a normal boy who would have the normal adjustment issues any child in foster care would have," said Melissa Wescott. "We have been his biggest advocates and strongest fighters. But we are scared of him, and that hurts us."
The Wescotts are among a group seeking changes in law to allow adoptive parents to return custody of foster children to the state in specific circumstances.
A legislative Adoption Review Task Force is evaluating issues involving adoptions of children in state custody.
DHS takes the position that adoptive parents are the legal guardians and should be treated as any parent with a biological child.
Some say it is unfair for adoptive parents to be legally punished for not being able to care for a child if severe disabilities not known or disclosed are discovered.
"Do you know how many times we grieved for him? Grieved the loss of him?" said Wescott. "We want the best for him, and that is not in this home."
'Out of options'
The couple understand abused and neglected children will have some emotional issues but requested a child not experiencing severe trauma, said Melissa Wescott.
"We knew what we could handle and what we couldn't," she said. "We had to say no to children who were violent or acting out sexually. We have had experience with children facing physical disabilities and that didn't scare us. But severe mental health, emotional or behavior problems are more crippling for us."
In 2007, the couple found an 8-year-old boy who had been taken from his parents, who had chronic substance abuse problems. By then, he had spent about three years in DHS custody. The World is not disclosing his name to protect his privacy.
DHS disclosure documents call the child "well-behaved" and "polite and well mannered." He is described as "respectful toward authority" and "makes friends easily."
"He has no difficulty with attachments and he knows right from wrong, " the documents state. "He does not demonstrate any significant behavioral problems which would be considered abnormal for a child his age.
"(The child) has not received counseling services and these services have not been indicated as a need for him at this time. (The child) is developmentally appropriate."
While challenges arose the first few months, the couple considered it typical. But problems intensified after signing the DHS disclosure agreement, which states the agency gave all information available to the couple, and final adoption.
It became a daily battle as the child isolated himself and started a pattern of lying, Wescott said.
Several knives and fire-making materials were found under his mattress, and a trash can in his room had been set on fire. He soon was caught killing frogs by throwing them against a barn, and he hurt the family's pet dogs. He attacked a neighbor child with a board, and running away became common, she said.
"No discipline seemed to work," Wescott said. "It's like he had no sympathy or empathy for anything. We tried everything to bond with him, and it's like he's not capable. He has so much rage, anger and hurt."
The foster mother claims she informed DHS of the child's violent behavior, Wescott said. No DHS records reflect any claims made.
DHS officials do not comment on specific cases.
After he ran away in freezing temperatures and three law enforcement agencies were called to search, officers suggested several therapeutic facilities.
"They knew we couldn't do this anymore," she said. "We were out of options. I was scared to death for him and for us."
The Wescotts fear their son's release from in-patient care in mid-January, saying he has made little progress. They would prefer DHS regain custody and place him in a group setting.
The only options are to sue DHS, which they say is too expensive, or risk a felony abandonment charge.
"I believe every child should have a home," Wescott said. "But not every child does well in a mommy-daddy type home. It hurts us to see him like this, but he doesn't want to be with us. We didn't do this to him. This happened before us. We just want him to get the help he needs."