Adoption of troubled girl upheld Family's suit unsuccessful

June 16, 1993|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

Somewhere in California, a little girl abandoned seven years ago by a Baltimore drug addict has lost her "forever family."

The Lochearn couple who adopted her before moving west in 1991 went to court in an effort to have the adoption dissolved on the grounds that Baltimore social service workers misled them about her severe emotional problems.

Asked to play Solomon in reverse -- with neither the parents nor the city wanting the child -- Chief Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. of the Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday ruled the adoption valid.

All of which leaves the girl back in foster care, where she has spent most of her unhappy life, her future uncertain.

"I cannot foresee taking her back into our family," the mother said after the verdict. She testified that her own daughter and two sons had suffered, too, as she tried to cope with a child who lied, stole, screamed without stopping and demanded attention to the point where she put her hand over a stove burner.

The adoptive parents alleged fraud by the city and county social service departments, saying caseworkers withheld the severity of their supposedly "quiet and shy" daughter's emotional problems.

And her problems were considerable, as three days of testimony by adoptive parents, social workers and psychologists showed.

Born in February 1986 to a mother addicted to heroin and cocaine, the baby was left with friends who finally dumped her at a community center when her mother didn't return. The child became a ward of the city in June 1986, and was placed in foster care.

When she was about 2, she was returned to the care of her mother -- and was subsequently raped and sodomized by an unknown male. Her mother abandoned her again -- this time in a department store, and she was returned to the foster home. A stay with her alleged biological father lasted just days.

Impermanent solution

Although she was happy with her foster mother and sisters, there was an allegation of physical abuse -- later determined to be unfounded -- and the girl was moved to yet another home, where her new foster mother told caseworkers she was "bad" and needed to be beaten.

Her psychologist and caseworker were eager to get her out of that home and into a permanent family. They thought they'd found one -- a solid, middle class couple with children -- and an adoptive father who had been adopted himself. But social services workers testified that they weren't so anxious to place the child that they would hide her history or the problems that could result from it.

While the girl showed no ill health effects from her mother's addictions, they said, she was fearful of abandonment, distrustful of adults, and deeply unhappy. Reaction to the sex

ual abuse had quieted, but could arise again with a new father or when she reached puberty.

The girl had been with her adoptive family almost six months when, the parents testified, they were rushed into the decision to finalize the adoption because they were moving to California, where the husband had found a new job.

They said the caseworkers frightened them with talk of working with interstate adoption laws and said they might have to leave her behind. The adoption was finalized in October 1991.

The mother testified that it became impossible to deal with the child once they had moved to California, but she did not seek therapy because her caseworker in Baltimore kept reassuring her that the behavior was to be expected.

Having a good heart isn't enough, said the mother's attorney, Cassandra R. Beverly, a former social worker herself. "You have to have a therapist -- and a lawyer -- standing by, too."

A psychologist called as an expert witness for the parents, Dr. Janice Stevenson of Columbia, said the girl's rapid-fire series of traumas had left her "like a punching bag that they kept knocking her down and knocking her down and knocking her down and knocking her down, and each time she recovered -- but each time it was a little slower."

"This would be a little girl who when stressed would be very difficult to handle," Dr. Stevenson said. "I would . . . make sure the commitment to the child is complete and solid, because when the rules change at all, that's what knocks her down."

The adoptive parents put the girl in foster care in California last July, and she is undergoing therapy.

Blinking back tears

Testifying against the parents' attempt to dissolve the adoption, the girl's former therapist, Dr. Nancy Colletta of the University of Maryland Center for Infant Study, said, "I think it would be very difficult for [her] to ever trust anybody again. She was abandoned by her own mother twice, lost two foster mothers, and now the family that was her 'forever family,' that was going to take care of her forever."

Blinking back tears, the psychologist said, "You end up being emotional about children."

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