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It's Time for Full Disclosure in Adoption

Back when I was adopted, in 1968, psychiatrists generally believed that children were a blank slate and that a loving family could overcome any problems that might arise. That’s how they justified concealing the biological family’s medical history. In my case, for instance, the agency neglected to tell my parents that I had an identical twin sister and that our birth mother suffered from schizophrenia. But that’s another story.

Times have changed and experts now realize that genetics play a role in shaping children — as do the first crucial months of life. It is in the best interest of potential adoptive families to know the full back story before they commit to adopting a child.

Following a glut of lawsuits in the 1980s and 90s against adoption agencies over failure to disclose a child’s circumstances,  many states enacted disclosure laws. Similar requirements were ratified in the Hague Convention, which requires agencies to disclose “reasonably available” records.

But that didn’t help Chip and Julie Harshaw of Virginia Beach, who adopted their son Roman from Russia in 2004 only to discover he had severe emotional  problems. He threatened their 5-year-old biological daughter with a knife and tried to hold her underwater.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the Harshaws are suing the agency, Bethany Christian Services, seeking compensation for Roman’s care. Roman, who was diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, brain damage and neuropsychiatric problems, is now at an  institution, but they hope to eventually bring him home.

Although the Harshaws say that they wouldn’t have adopted the boy if they had known how severely disabled he was, they are now committed to raising him (unlike the Tennessee woman who recently sent her adoptive son back to Russia).

After Roman’s problems were diagnosed, the agency offered to end the adoption, but the Harshaws refused. “He’s not a dog; you don’t take him to a pound,” Ms. Harshaw said.

When will adoption agencies realize that it’s in the best interest of the prospective parents and the child to disclose as much information as possible? The goal in adoption shouldn’t just be finding families for children who need them, but rather finding the best suited families to care for each specific child’s needs.

What do you think?

Photo: Sparklers Projects Russian Children Resources

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