Abuse revelations prompt woman to try to 'unadopt' boy

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The Independent US

When Helen Briggs was first introduced to the lively little boy she was due to take home and foster she was captivated by his happy, smiling manner. She was so struck that, within 12 months, she had persuaded her husband to agree to formally adopt the child and make him a permanent member of their family.

But now, six years later, things are very different. Mrs Briggs is in the unhappy situation of trying to "unadopt" the boy after learning of his dark and troubled past when he molested two younger children. The situation is not made any easier by the fact that the boy, now 15, wants Mrs Briggs to remain his mother.

"You don't want to throw somebody away," said Mrs Briggs, who has been a foster parent for many years. "But sometimes you have to." Mrs Briggs, 57, from Lorton, Virginia, says that when she adopted the boy she did not know that he had lived in five foster homes since he was 16 months old and that he had been physically abused by his parents, who were addicted to drink and drugs. She said it was possible that he suffered from bipolar disorder. She says she had been informed of none of that and was merely told that the boy was "hyperactive".

But in 2003, the young boy molested a six-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl and, after an assessment, psychologists judged that he was a "sexual predator". Such an decision meant that if he were to remain in Mrs Briggs' home she would no longer be able to act as a foster parent to other children and that her three grandchildren would also be unable to visit. She decided to dissolve the adoption.

A judge first granted Mrs Briggs' request to relinquish custody of the child and, for the past three years, the boy has been living with other foster parents. But according to Virginia state law a child over the age of 14 must give their consent for an adoption to be dissolved and the teenager has requested that Mrs Briggs remain his mother. She is also still required to pay $427 (£230) a month in child support.

In addition to the legal battle, Mrs Briggs, who is a stalwart member of her local Pentecostal church, is struggling to deal with the emotional wrench her decision has caused. In an interview with The Washington Post, she said: "The system needs to be revised. That's why I'm doing this. I should have known about the child. Because people get hurt."

Some local politicians have come to Mrs Briggs' support. State Delegate David Albo said: "At first blush, you think, 'What, you're trying to give up your kid? You're a jerk'. Then you find this lady has received awards for all the foster work she's done. And that she never would have adopted the boy and put other children in danger if she had had the information that was withheld from her."

Mrs Briggs has seen her adopted son four times since he left her home. Three of those occasions were brief visits to the place where he is now being cared for and the fourth was during a court appearance this summer. Documents from his case file show that he becomes angry and despondent when he sees her. "He feels unloved - that he doesn't belong in the world," wrote one counsellor.

Yet despite the turmoil - for both the child and herself - Mrs Briggs remains adamant about her position: "I can't take him back."