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Infant Abandonment  (Safe Haven) vs. Teen Abandonment (Mental Health)

By Toni Hoy

How does abandoning an infant differ from abandoning a teenager? Neither parent is capable of managing the child’s care. Emotionally painful as it is, the infant’s mother desires relinquishment of her child, while the teen’s parents are forced into relinquishment due to lack of access to mental health care. The infant’s mother does not desire continued contact, while the teen’s parents fight to hold onto whatever relationship child protective services and the judicial system will allow them to have.  The teen’s parents desire the same rights offered to parents of physically sick children.  They want access to intensive and residential mental health services along with adequate sources of funding. Yet, as a society, we will embrace infant child abandonment as a noble deed, while the parents of a teen forced into abandonment are admonished.

Is there something legally objectionable about wanting to get your child treatment, and still keep custody? No and yes. No, if you have the $150,000 annual-never-ending supply of funds for residential care for the treatment.  Yes, if you are a middle class or lower citizen with a mortgage payment and a family to feed. The family in the latter example has a child who falls into a black hole with zero resources for his treatment. What laws address parents who are not indigent, but still can’t manage a medical need?  There are now laws in every state, which address safe infant abandonment. In most states, no laws exist at all, which address teen abandonment through no fault of the parents.

Two adoptive families’ stories have hit the news within the last year. Melissa and Tony Wescott are considering dissolving their adoption to avoid facing felony charges. Torry Ann Hansen may face criminal charges for sending her violent adoptive son back to Russia on a plane. The nation was as outraged at both these stories as they were with the Nebraska Safe Haven debacle.

The Wescott’s, from Oklahoma, are currently in the psychiatric revolving door (see Part III). Their son is cycling in and out of the hospital.  They may be forced into doing a psychiatric “lockout” leaving him at the hospital to keep themselves and their neighbors safe from harm. They will not only be charged with neglect, they could also face felony charges.  What a horrible thing to do to parents who did nothing  more than love a child. The only other option they have is to exhaust their life savings and legally dissolve the adoption. I have spoken to Melissa Wescott several times. They do not wish to do a psychiatric lockout. They do not wish to disrupt their adoption. They do not wish to dissolve the adoption. Nor do they want to exchange jail time for mental health care.

If you read the Good Morning America blog after the Wescott’s appeared on the show, you will note that 1 out of 8 responses said that the state of Oklahoma had some responsibility to help the Wescott’s, since their son had serious emotional issues before he was adopted.

Torry Ann Hansen acted long before the Wescott’s. She knew within months she was in over her head. She felt the Russians lied to her about her son’s emotional condition. Perhaps, she should have sought psychiatric and therapeutic care for him. Perhaps she should have escorted him back. Nonetheless, had he stayed here, the state of Tennessee would not have provided her with intensive and residential mental health services. His adoption would have been disrupted later rather than sooner.

The blogs were not nearly as kind to her as they were to the Wescott’s. Even adoptive parents criticized her. Those who supported her decision, were few and far between.

The question is not, “Is it okay to abandon a child?” The question is, “Why can’t adoptive parents have intensive mental health care and adoption preservation?”  Why must they choose one or the other? Why can’t we just call a spade a spade?  It is medical dependency. Does this give the government the right to strip parents of custody rights?

Until we change the laws in every state to abolish custody relinquishment for mental health care, it does give the government the ability to do just that.  How did we ever get to a place where this thought process was acceptable?

(c)2010 By Toni Hoy


Thanks you for voicing so clearly what is in the hearts of so many adoptive parents in this same position across the United States.  These parents are not guilty of abandonment, rather they have been abandoned by State Mental Health Care which has forced them into a gut wrenching decision!            Deborah

Read more from this series by freelance writer Toni Hoy at: www.ScopeandCircumstance.wordpress.com