Oklahoma Couple Want to Return Troubled Adopted Son to State
11-year-old is Violent Towards Other Children, Has Killed Animals and Runs Away Regularly, Parents Say
By RYAN OWENS and SUZAN CLARKE/ABC news
Dec. 21, 2009—
Melissa and Tony Wescott are afraid of their son. They're so afraid of the boy they adopted that they're trying to have Oklahoma law changed so that they can return him to the state's care.
"He tried to burn our home down. The note said, 'I'm sorry you had to die,'" Melissa Wescott told "Good Morning America."
She said she and her husband have found butcher knives under his mattress and lights hidden in his bedroom.
The Wescotts' 11-year-old son has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital in Tulsa, Okla., for nearly a year. But now doctors say he's not a danger to himself or anyone else, and the boy is scheduled to be released from the hospital next month.
Despite the doctors' opinion, the Wescotts say they are so afraid of having him back home that Melissa plans to stay awake at nights while her husband sleeps.
Adopted Son Diagnosed with Several Mental Health Disorders
The trouble started shortly after the couple -- who couldn't have children of their own -- adopted the boy in 2007. His behavioral problems became so severe that he needed inpatient care.
Within a year of the adoption, the Wescotts told the Tulsa World, the child was diagnosed with reactive detachment disorder, disruptive behavior disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.
The parents said the boy became violent toward other children and nonresponsive to adults, hurt and killed animals and ran away regularly, requiring help from police.
So they're trying to return him to the care of the state's Department of Human Services, but the state says adoptive parents should be treated no different from birth parents.
Adoptive Parents Treated the Same as Biological Ones, State Says
"A parent is a parent," Karen Poteet, who runs the state's post-adoption program, said. "It doesn't matter where the child came from."
Poteet says all parents are warned that the children they are adopting were abused or neglected and that the symptoms of that treatment could manifest themselves years later.
Poteet, who adopted two sisters in 2001, knows that all too well.
"My children were abused from the moment of conception because their birth mother chose to drink the entire pregnancy. That's no fault of my children," she said.
But the Wescotts say their son needs more care than they can provide. They are afraid to let him back into their home. If they don't, though, they could face felony child abandonment charges.
"It's not like we are trying to return an itchy sweater," said Melissa Wescott, who said she loved her son "unequivocally."
She said she believes loving him means letting him go.
Poteet said the last thing adoptive children need is to be rejected by another family, although that's rare.
Groups Tries to Change Law
There are 11,0000 children in Oklahoma's adoption system. This year, only 13 adoptions have been dissolved -- an expensive and lengthy legal process that's similar to a divorce.
The Wescotts can't afford it, so they're trying to have the law changed.
The Wescotts are part of a group seeking changes in state law that would allow adoptive parents to return custody of foster children to the state in certain circumstances.
"If a family can show that they have exhausted every resource ... every opportunity they can ... to save their families and this is what they're left with, then I think they should have this as an option," said Tina Cox of the Adoptive Parent Support Group. "No one should be held hostage in their own homes."
Adoption Issues Being Studied by Task Force
A Oklahoma legislative task force is evaluating issues involving adoptions of children in state custody.
Advocates of changing the law say adoptive parents should not be punished if their children have major disabilities that were not known or disclosed ahead of time.
"We knew what we could handle and what we couldn't," Melissa Wescott said, adding that they requested a child who wasn't "violent or acting out sexually."
DHS disclosure documents call the child "well-behaved" and "polite and well mannered." He is described as "respectful toward authority" and "makes friends easily." The papers say he has no "significant behavioral problems which would be considered abnormal for a child his age."
Poteet said adopted children have to have people who will stand up for them.
"If we don't do it, who's going to do it?" she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.