Will Couple Be Jailed for Returning Adopted Son After Nine Years?

Photo: Emilie Duchesne/Getty ImagesAn Ohio couple who have returned their adopted son to the county after nine years now face charges of reckless abandonment by a prosecutor with little patience for the situation.

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“I want to provide as much deterrent as I can for parents who think, 'Oh, I’m honked off at my child; I can just abandon him,'” Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser tells Yahoo Shine. “After reviewing [the parents’] financial and psychological abilities, I couldn’t wrap my brain around any defenses people in these circumstances could have about wanting to give back a child.”

The parents, Cleveland and Lisa Cox, adopted the 9-year-old as an infant through Butler County Children Services; they brought him back there in October, citing issues of “aggressive behaviors” for which he had refused help, according to the Associated Press.

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Now the child remains in protective custody as a ward of the state, Gmoser explains, awaiting the outcome of a grand jury trial. That’s when a judge will have the final say over whether his parents will be able to abandon him for good, and whether they could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted of the misdemeanor. But, the prosecutor adds, his office has not yet been able to locate the boy’s family, which includes an undisclosed number of siblings. Consequently, he has not been able to serve the Coxes their indictment.

Children’s Services did not return a call from Yahoo Shine, and the Coxes could not be reached for comment. The boy’s court-appointed attorney, Adolf Olivas, tells the Associated Press that the boy remains hurt and confused. “If your 9-year-old needs help, you get him help,” he says. “It is not a question of a 9-year-old wanting it or not.”

Earlier this year, a Tennessee woman was ordered to pay child support after sending her adopted 7-year-old back to Russia alone on an airplane. Other recent reports have looked into the underground practice of “rehoming,” in which foreign adoptees, no longer wanted by their new families and often abused by them, are passed on via online forums to others who are willing to raise them.

“The common denominator is people who were struggling and who took drastic action,” notes Adam Pertman, author of “Adoption Nation” and president of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. “I’m not defending them in the least, but trying to give some insight. For all we know these are lousy parents who don’t know what they’re doing. There’s no way to know.” Fortunately, he tells Yahoo Shine, “we do not hear about these stories often — that’s why they’re stories. But it doesn’t mean we should just dismiss them as an aberration and that we can’t learn something from them.”

The most important lesson, Pertman explains, involves a shifting of perspective from within the adoption community and placing increased focus on postadoption support services. “We have to do a better job of providing the education and training to allow a family to thrive,” he says. “When we see something like this, I wonder whether this family had the training, the support system and the services it needed to stay intact.”

He adds, “Bottom line, we have to rethink whether our mission is just to form families or if it’s to help them succeed. We need to move past the time when we thought of adoption just as child placement. It may begin there. But it doesn’t end with it.”

That becomes glaringly obvious in cases like that of the Coxes, considering the effect that the abandonment is likely to have on the boy. “Adoption is certainly about gain, but it’s also about loss, at its core,” says Jeanne Howard, policy and research director at the Donaldson Institute and director of the Center for Adoption Studies at the Illinois State University School of Social Work. “So for this child to then have a second loss is the potential for him to have a pretty profound wound.”

Pertman advises that any parents, adoptive or not, get help if they find themselves at the end of their rope. “It sounds so trite, but very often parents don’t go for help,” he says. “Sometimes the services are not there, and sometimes they don’t know where to turn. But a lot of parents feel that seeking help is an admission of defeat, like, I can’t raise my own kids. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

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