Fairview case draws scrutiny from Liberian ambassador
BY ANN KELLEY Oklahoman
FAIRVIEW — The Liberian ambassador to the United States says he’s monitoring the controversial child welfare case involving four Fairview children adopted from his country. Ambassador Milton Nathaniel Barnes said the girls’ attorney, Melvin Johnson, of Atlanta brought the case to his attention last month.
Fairview case draws scrutiny from Liberian ambassador "We are watching this case and others that involve Liberian children with great concern,” Barnes said. "In many cases these children are adopted by well-meaning people, but things somehow go terribly wrong.”
The four sisters, ages 5 to 16, were removed last week from their parents’ custody. Ardee Tyler, 51, and his wife, Penny Tyler, 45, of Fairview were convicted in February of abusing a fifth adopted daughter. The couple received 10-year suspended sentences.
Separate from the criminal case is a controversial child welfare case that has dragged on for two years. The case now includes state prosecutors, and a new judge is reviewing a previous judge’s decision to close the case and allow the four girls to remain with their adopted parents.
This is thought to be the first time in state history that judicial review is being used in a child welfare case, authorities said.
Fixing a problem
The Liberian government in September placed a one-year moratorium on international adoptions to allow officials there time to make changes to the adoption system, Barnes said.
He said his home country, having been damaged by civil war, was like any country coming out of a chaotic disaster. Government officials didn’t have the resources to monitor adoptions closely.
"We started to see problems,” Barnes said.
A Liberian national in Philadelphia was caught adopting children and moved them to the United States for sex trafficking, he said. More recent is a California case in which a Liberian-born child is alleged to have been beaten to death by her adopted parents, he said.
Even worse, many African parents putting their children in orphanages didn’t understand the Western concept of adoption. Many of them thought they would have contact with their children, as if they were sending them to a relative’s home to be cared for, Barnes said.
Attorney seeks investigation
Attorney Melvin Johnson said he wants the Tylers and the people who helped them adopt investigated for potential fraud.
The children were adopted by the West African Children Support Network. The U.S. State Department in January reported the adoption agency, founded by Liberian-born Maria Luyken of Eden Prairie, Minn., was ordered by the Liberian government to suspend operations pending an investigation into whether it was properly caring for children.
A 2005 home study that helped Ardee and Penny Tyler adopt the five African sisters painted a picture of a strong, stable family excited about having more children.
What it didn’t uncover were allegations that a son had been abused, rifts with family members over their children and a possible misrepresentation of their financial ability to support the girls.
The Oklahoman obtained a copy of the home study, which was completed by Oklahoma Home Study of Edmond before the Tylers adopted the girls in 2005.
Calls to Chris Foell, executive director of Oklahoma Home Study, and Erlene Logan, the adoption worker who completed the study, were not returned.
Logan’s report says Ardee Tyler’s 28-year-old son, Jeremy Tyler, was interviewed and supportive of his parents adopting.
Jeremy Tyler said he was beaten and abused by Penny Tyler as a child and would have recommended against the adoption if asked. No one ever called him, he said.
The report claims Penny Tyler has a good relationship with her siblings, except her sister, Robyn Raveling. It never says why.
Raveling said she sent her children to live with the Tylers while she was going through a divorce. A month later, the Tylers refused to return the children, and a custody battle ensued, she said.
Raveling said she got her children back and hasn’t spoken with the Tylers since. The home study indicates the Tylers have an annual income of $83,000, a figure that contradicts a presentence investigation that reveals they bring home about $60,000 less.
In an April 10 interview with the Tylers, the couple denied claims that Jeremy Tyler was an abused child and defended the home study. Penny Tyler said it’s possible the agency has a letter from her stepson to prove they contacted him.
"We don’t have any way of knowing for sure if she interviewed all the people she said she did, but why would she lie?” Penny Tyler said.
"We never put ourselves out there to be the perfect family, but whose family is?”
Adoptive parents urged to be prepared
Along with a thorough home study, it’s important that any adult considering an international adoption be well educated about the problems that can transpire, said Dr. Dana Earnest Johnson, a member of the University of Minnesota’s adoption medicine program and clinic. One of Johnson’s areas of study is the effects of institutionalization on the growth and development of internationally adopted children.
Johnson has addressed the U.S. Congress on international adoption issues. He also has firsthand knowledge — he and his wife adopted a son from India.
He said not all, but many children coming to the United States arrive with a complex set of problems that adoptive parents aren’t skilled to deal with. Some parents are so eager to adopt that they’re afraid to ask about the child’s history, Johnson said.
He said many children, especially those coming from countries with political unrest, are abused, neglected, starved or raped and have witnessed atrocities happening to other people.
As a result, the children might not grow physically as they should, and have delays in motor skill development and language skills, Johnson said.
In some instances, children so hurt in their former lives develop Reactive Attachment Disorder, making them unable to trust adults. Those children can work against the very adults who are trying to help them, Johnson said.
"The most important advice I can give any adoptive parent is be prepared,” Johnson said. "If you see problems, get help immediately.”