'We had to get her out of our home' After only nine months, parents gave up on troubled 7-year-old girl they adopted

August 22, 1993|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

ROSEVILLE, Calif. -- The musical chattering of his wife and three children drifts into the living room, but, at the moment, Martin Jackson doesn't seem soothed. His face is furrowed in concentration. He knows that a dear price was paid for those sounds of contentment.

A Baltimore-born engineer, Mr. Jackson has spent the afternoon talking about his absent fourth child, a 7-year-old daughter. To protect the happiness of his other children, he says, he chose to stop being her father.

"We had to get her out of our home," he says.

Nine months after adopting the girl, the Jacksons gave up on her, adding one more abandonment to a childhood already full of them. The Jacksons say they realize that their decision may fill others with revulsion.

But they insist that they are not to blame -- that they did what any parents would do to alleviate the suffering of their biological children -- a 10-year-old girl and two boys, ages 9 and 7.

"Are we all going to drown?" Mr. Jackson's wife, Theresa, 38, asks as she takes a chair opposite her husband.

Their 7-year-old daughter, who is not being named to protect her privacy, is back in foster care. In June, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Edward A. DeWaters rejected the Jacksons' attempt to annul the adoption. The Jacksons remain legally and financially responsible for the child. They say, however, that she will never again be part of their family.

Whether she will ever be part of any family is uncertain. What is certain is that a tragedy has befallen the child. She believed she was in a permanent home, part of a permanent family. Now she is an orphan again.

The blame, the Jacksons insist, lies with the Baltimore County Department of Social Services. The department was so eager to find the child a home, the Jacksons say, that it withheld crucial information about the girl that would have dissuaded them from adopting her.

But Judge DeWaters ruled that the Jacksons' complaint was groundless. His decision, and court papers, suggest that the Jacksons knew, or should have known, everything they needed to know before adopting the child.

Those in adoption services say the Jackson case illustrates the most telling point about adoptions in the 1990s. Children who are adopted often have lives that have included abandonment, foster homes, neglect and perhaps sexual or physical abuse. Adoptive parents must be ready to deal with the consequences.

"[These] are children who for one reason or another became disconnected from their natural parents," said Kay Donley Zeigler, a consultant in the adoption of "special needs" children. "Sooner or later, there are going to be consequences in that child's life as a result of that disconnection."

Those consequences clearly were more than the Jacksons bargained for. They agreed to talk about their experience during a six-hour interview this month in their Spanish-style home in a suburb of Sacramento, Calif.

Seeking a little sister

In 1989, when they were living in the Lochearn area of Baltimore County, the Jacksons decided they wanted a fourth child. They cited two reasons.

Mr. Jackson, 44, a graduate of the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and the University of Maryland, had himself been adopted by a stepfather, with whom he had a close relationship. He viewed adoption as a way of returning a favor.

But there was a stronger motivation. "My older daughter was looking for a sister," said Mr. Jackson. Because Mrs. Jackson's pregnancies had been difficult, they decided that the only way to expand the family was through adoption.

In 1990, they approached the county Department of Social Services about adopting a girl between the ages of 1 and 3. The Jacksons said they made it clear that they did not want a troublesome child who would take time from their biological children.

County social services officials refused to talk directly about the case to protect the confidentiality of the child. They agreed to speak only generally about adoption procedures.

The Jacksons said they quickly learned that most adoptions through public agencies involved "special needs children."

"Special needs" refers to a variety of characteristics that make children difficult to place. Generally, children are considered to have a special need if they are older than 6, physically or mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed, part of a sibling group or a member of a minority race. The Jacksons and the child they adopted are black.

Not surprisingly, more than half of the children adopted in this country through public agencies are special needs children. In urban areas, the percentage is higher. Last year, for example, 24 of 28 children placed in adoption by Baltimore County were in the special needs category, said Joan Cooper, who oversees adoption services in the county.

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