exposing the dark side of adoption
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Child with autism dies 2 months after adoption


By Alex Flippin and Gray News staff

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH/Gray News) - Aaron Carter was 6 years old when he left his foster family to go live with his newly adoptive parents. Two months later, he died.

KWCH investigative reporter Alex Flippin spent the last year asking questions about the death, about who failed the child and what needs to be done so it doesn’t happen again to someone else.

When Aaron came to stay with foster parents Jamie and Tina Miller just before his third birthday in April 2017, any communication at all was unthinkable. He only started to learn to communicate when he was 5 years old.

“When we got him, they said he was ‘normal,’ but there was absolutely something terribly wrong,” Tina Miller said. “He would go along the wall and run his hand down it and just follow and just circled the entire day, nonstop. And he didn’t talk.

“He didn’t look at you, and if he did, he looked right past you like you didn’t exist.”

He was a boy with autism who had made his way into the foster care system after a rough start to life. The Millers tried their hardest to give Aaron what he needed, even when he had no way to tell them.

“He didn’t have any form of communication,” Jamie Miller said. “If he got upset, he would yell and scream or throw a tantrum, but that’s the only way he could voice any of his feelings or opinion or anything was by throwing a tantrum. He was definitely a challenge.

“The most, I would say he was the most difficult child I was ever around, but he taught me the most of being a parent of any child I’ve been around.”

As foster parents, the couple estimate they have welcomed somewhere between 30 and 50 children into their home. They currently have 10 kids, and three of them are adopted.

Jamie Miller said when they first brought Aaron home, they had decided not to adopt him.

“After he’d been here for three years, we started rethinking that,” he said.

“I said, ‘I can’t let him go,’” Tina added. “(Jamie) was like ‘I’m glad you said that. I feel same way.’”

The Millers worked to find Aaron the therapy experts say was paramount to his development. Three years in, gone was the little boy who looked right through you.

They developed important routines and took precautions for his safety. Aaron began wearing a helmet to protect him during tantrums. It wasn’t the “normal” they may have been used to, but it was a new normal that they say was working.

He learned to communicate, both verbally and by using a special iPad. He helped with chores, at least as much help as any child his age could.

The dream of making Aaron a permanent part of the family, though, was wiped away by the reality of what it would take to do that.

“(Aaron) was assigned a case manager, so I was able to call her. And I asked her, I said ‘Well what if he was to be adopted, what services will carry over’?” Tina Miller said.

The Millers said they learned that if they adopted Aaron, they could not afford to provide what he needed. Shortly after, a Wichita couple said they could.

Jamie Miller said they were believers, lifting Aaron up in prayer every day and hoping when he went to his new family it would be what he needed.

The couple were young and recently married. They had three dogs and other pets but no children.

The Millers met them, shared dinner and then Aaron had some overnight stays to their home. Jamie and Tina Miller said they saw red flags.

“It was apparent immediately that they weren’t interested in the consistency and doing the things that we knew, we had proved over those years, that he needed,” Jamie explained.

The Millers say the couple felt Aaron didn’t need the helmet he wore to protect him during outbursts. The routine Aaron had come to rely on, they say, wasn’t followed during his visits to the couple’s home.

A pre-adoption family assessment by the Kansas Department of Children and Families, obtained by KWCH, stated one of the prospective parents struggled with methamphetamine and amphetamine addiction.

That parent also had a history of being “quick to anger.” The other parent struggled when people were disrespectful, the assessment stated.

The adoption process continued, and overnight visits with the Wichita couple continued as well.

The Millers said he left them Dec. 18, 2020, on what was supposed to be a four-day weekend with the couple before coming back to them for Christmas.

“But he never he never came back home,” Jamie Miller said.

The Millers say Aaron got sick, and he stayed in Wichita over concern it may have been COVID-19.

By Feb. 16, 2021, he was gone. An adoption specialist delivered the unthinkable news to his foster parents.

“She said that Aaron passed away. He is deceased. That’s pretty much all I heard, and I was just screaming at her on the phone,” Tina said. “I was just like, ‘I knew it. I knew this would happen. You all killed him. You put him there. You knew he didn’t belong there.’ And like, ‘He never should have left.’”

The person on the other end of the phone then asked if the Millers would like to bury Aaron at the state’s expense. They had no idea what they would learn by saying yes.

“His face looked horribly deformed,” Tina explained. “He just had bruises all over his face.”

“Every visible part that we could see was bruised,” Jamie added.

The Department of Children and Families summary of Aaron’s death is seven sentences in length. The autopsy reads that Aaron “had a tantrum” while taking a bath and hit his head on the tub.

It also details 68 other injuries covering his entire body. No cause of death is listed.

There is an open investigation by Wichita police, and DCF will not discuss the case. The foster agency, St. Francis Ministries, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the couple who planned to adopt Aaron.

Aaron’s foster parents said they are angry at the state, who they say set a young couple up for failure.

“The people that made the decision to move Aaron should have known, should have had the training, should have had the experience to know this isn’t going to go good,” Jamie said. “There were so many blatant things, blatantly obvious things that said, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ And everybody said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’

“I feel like he died to keep other people safe, because there are so many kids out there that could end up just like him if things don’t change.”

The people he leaves behind are left to wonder what happened and what needs to change so that it doesn’t happen again. What can the state do to set up parents, prospective parents and kids like Aaron to live and thrive?

“I firmly believe that Aaron won, because he’s in heaven now, and he can talk, he can communicate, he can ride a horse. He liked horses. He can do anything he wants to, so he won. That’s the way I see it see it,” Jamie Miller said.

In the second upcoming part of this story, KWCH sat down with an expert in the field of autism research to hear about current challenges in the state dealing with autism within the foster care system and what needs to change.

Copyright 2022 KWCH via Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

2022 Apr 12