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Intrafamily Adoption: Not Always Best for Everyone

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Very often, when a parent learns that his or her daughter or son is unexpectedly expecting, their first impulse is to offer to adopt the child themselves and raise the grandbaby as a son or daughter.

Historically, this hasn't been uncommon. Commonly, it doesn't always work very well.

The problem, essentially, is that it confuses family roles. If your mother is really your grandmother and your sister is really your mother, then how does it impact your ability to define who you really are? It only gets more difficult when family members can't keep the boundaries of these mixed relationships straight, and even worse when everyone attempts to lie to the adoptee, in a misguided effort to keep secret who's who in reality.

It didn't work out well for Elmer McCurdy, whose life reportedly unraveled after he learned the truth.

It certainly ended in tragedy in California, where a pregnant teen was killed by her aunt for refusing to let her adopt her baby.

It seemed to have contributed to the psychological demise of a man known as Ted Bundy, who grew up thinking his grandparents were his parents (indeed, some question whether Ted's grandfather was also, in fact, his father.)

Here's an even stranger twist, that illustrates how complicated family relationships can become when lies are told, even with the best of intentions: Loretta Young & the Adoption That Wasn't.

This is NOT to suggest that interfamily placements are always unhealthy... but those who undertake such arrangements should do so with an abundance of preparation that includes family counseling to ensure that boundaries are understood, roles are defined and the child's need to know his/her own truth is always to be respected by all.

There is an interesting misconception that seems to suggest that although pressuring a mother to place a child for adoption outside the family is wrong, for a family member to pressure a mother to give her baby to someone in the family is perfectly all right (even attorneys make this mistake, apparently.) However, plenty of custody disputes (and some of the ugliest ones!) involve family members fighting over their children/grandchildren, so if anyone reading this is contemplating the legal adoption of a child within the family, please be absolutely sure to hire separate attorneys to individually represent both the birthparents and those who hope to be adopting.

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I know how this can be too. My sister was 17 when she got pregnant with my nephew so the only option that my parents and her felt they had at the time was to raise him. My sister was his mother but she had to work to provide for diapers, formula, etc.. and finish high school so my Mom basically raised my nephew as her own. There was always problems when my sister tried to discipline him because my Mom felt like he was her child. Once she was old enough, my sister moved out on her own but my Mom really felt like Brandon should stay with her and I believe my sister felt the same way. Once she was much older and got married Brandon, my nephew, tried to live with her and her new husband. That didn't work because much like a divorced couple the child often plays one parent off of another so he ended up going back to live with my parents. There is still alot of confusion to this day and Brandon, who is now 24, has been the one who has suffered the most. It's a mess even though I believe that all that were involved were trying to keep his best interests at heart. My Mom said that if 'open adoption' was known back then they might would have gone that route. It does cause a lot of confusion when your Mom is really your grandmother and your sister is really your mother. :blink:


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  • 4 weeks later...

Here's a horrible report out of Canada, about a babydaddy who was so opposed to his mother's plan to adopt his infant daughter that he murdered her in the home: Baby Loses Birthgrandmother At the Hands of Her Own Dad

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  • 2 weeks later...

Out of Louisiana comes this very strange case, just reversed by higher courts on appeal, that illustrates perfectly how confused and confusing interfamily placements can become, nine years later: read it here or follow this helpful summary:

1) Jason & Lucille hook up; an unexpected pregnancy results.

2) Tyler is born in May of 2000.

3) Eleven months later, in April of 2001, Lucille agrees to let Jason's mom, Judith, take the baby, although she claims she never realized she was signing over parental rights (just temporary custody.)

4) Judith adopts Tyler but then leaves him with the birthparents for 6 months and moves out of state in September 2002.

5) Judith moves back to LA in February 2003, sharing a duplex with Jason & Lucille, and takes Tyler back.

6) Nine months later, in September 2005, Lucille & Jason break up & he moves in with a new woman.

7) In 4/06, Lucille & Jason file for custody of their biological son; in 7/06, the State takes the child temporarily.

8) In 11/06, Lucille evicts Judith from the duplex.

9) In 2006/2007, the district courts gave joint custody to Lucille, Jason and Judith.

10) In 2009, the appeals court finds the district courts ruled in error and remands the 2006 ruling, making Tyler's only legal parent Judith again.

If we find all this confusing, how must it appear from young Tyler's perspective?! :o

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Sadly, I don't think this is extremely unusual. The one piece of this story that makes it unusual is that legal papers were signed. I've seen this kind of story play out a number of times with childhood friends, my BIL's nephew, and cousins of ours. It's just not cool how much havoc the kids are put through.

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Here's an interesting legal dispute out of Mississippi, in which the Illinois Central Railroad filed suit to intervene in the adoption of three grandchildren by their grandpa, who was retired from the railroad: If You Were The Judge, How Would You Rule?

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  • 8 months later...

There's a sad story out of my home state, Iowa, this week: Relatives Who Murdered Their Adopted Child Under Arrest.

Little Collin and his brother were adopted by their aunt and uncle, after their biological mother was sent to prison on drug charges. That "safety plan," however, turned out to have tragic ramifications, as Collin was allegedly drowned in the bathtub of his adoptive parents' home. Both the adults who adopted him have been charged; his adoptive mom with first degree murder, and his adoptive dad with child endangerment.

It seems, however, that other relatives had raised concerns with state child protection officials before Collin's unfortunate death: Grandmother of Murdered Child Says She Reported Her Own Son & Daughter Prior to Tragedy. Collin's brother and the couple's other three children are now all in state foster care.

Collin's birthmother was permitted a furlough to be able to attend her son's funeral, although she remained shackled and under prison guard throughout the memorial service and burial.

Rest in peace, little fellow... you're safe, now. :(

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That is terrible. :(

All children should have the right to take for granted that their parents are acting in their best interest. I can't imagine the terror that these little ones feel when they can't trust the adults in their lives.

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  • 4 months later...

Ouch! This could happen in any family, of course, but what a shame that children who have already been so victimized would have their tragedy (original newstory here) compounded by the actions of the relatives who adopted them:

Relatives Who Adopted Orphaned Kids Charged With Stealing Fortune (Text appears below in case the link goes bad.)

Adoptive parents accused of stealing inheritance

Prosecutors say couple took $1.4 million from orphaned children

Saturday, October 23, 2010

By Jim McKinnon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The adoptive parents of two children who became orphans when their parents died in a murder-suicide in 2003 have been charged with stealing from the children's trust fund to support a lavish lifestyle.

"It's really sad," said District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., referring to how the adopted children of Daniel and Merily Pompa, Dylan and Olivia, have been victimized.

It began in 2003 in Florida, where their biological father, Leslie Young, killed his wife, Lisa, and then himself.

The couple's children were orphaned, but their parents had been successful in various businesses. From it, the children were to inherit more than $1.4 million in insurance benefits and trusts set up by courts in Florida.

Custody of the children was awarded to the Pompas, who relocated the family to Cranberry, along with their own two children. Merily Pompa is a relative of the late Lisa Young.

The couple now live in a spacious house in Ligonier with their biological children, Mr. Zappala said.

The criminal charges were filed in Allegheny County because the Pompas took money from accounts held in Pittsburgh banks.

Daniel and Merily Pompa are charged with criminal conspiracy, a felony because of the huge amount of money, four counts each of theft by failure to make proper distribution of funds and misappropriation of entrusted funds.

They are free on their own recognizance, pending a preliminary hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Municipal Court.

According to a 95-page criminal complaint and affidavit filed Friday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, the Pompas already have spent the orphans' money "for their own benefit," Mr. Zappala said.

Untouched were trusts for Dylan's and Olivia's education.

The district attorney alleges the Pompas used the money to pay their own expenses as well as the children's, when, especially after the adoption, it was the duty of the Pompas to support the children.

Since the investigation began about six months ago with a tip from an informant close to the family, district attorney investigators and federal agents have found $88,790 remaining of the original $1.4 million. They also recovered $248,853 stored in investment accounts started by Daniel and Merily Pompa with funds they siphoned from the trusts.

"We were concerned about the [Young] children," Mr. Zappala said at a news conference Friday. Common Pleas Judge Lawrence J. O'Toole in Orphans Court has placed Dylan and Olivia in temporary court-appointed custody.

About $200,000 of the allegedly misappropriated money cannot be recovered, because the statute of limitations to file criminal charges has expired on the corresponding dates of some of the counts against the Pompas.

The informant came forward months ago after being disturbed by a discussion with the Pompas who were considering bankruptcy to avoid having to repay any money they might be ordered to repay if convicted, Mr. Zappala said.

The criminal complaint prohibits any attempt to hide behind a bankruptcy filing, Mr. Zappala said.

At least one of the Pompas, if convicted, could face jail time. Mr. Zappala said his office might not pursue jailing both, because their biological children are not yet grown.

"Their lifestyle could not be supported by their [claims of an income]," Mr. Zappala said.

Daniel Pompa worked as a chiropractor. Though his wife listed various business ventures as being potentially lucrative, none showed any profit or investors, Mr. Zappala said.

Over the past seven years, the complaint says, the Pompas took a minimum of $15,000 a month from the adopted children's trusts.

At one point, after the investigation began, the suspects began repaying $3,000 a month toward restitution. But, said Mr. Zappala, investigators had not determined whether these funds were taken from Dylan's and Olivia's $3,000-a-month Social Security benefit.

The items the Pompas are accused of buying with trust fund money include the house in Cranberry, which is for sale at an inflated price, and their new home in Ligonier.

The suspects spent $458,172 to renovate a condominium at Seven Springs. The amount includes $102,165 the couple requested and received when they closed on the property. Mr. Zappala said his detectives are working to determine if the closing fee is a kickback.

The allegations also say the couple:

• Paid $529 for a brass monkey toilet paper holder.

• Spent $15,675 on one home theater system, and more than $7,000 on a second one.

• Paid $3,231 for products from Carl W. Herman Furs.

• Used trust fund money for $26,025 in payments to Mercedes Benz Financial.

• Contributed $1,000 in 2006 to the Santorum Victory Committee.

The complaint shows the Pompas regularly attended Northway Christian Community, donating in excess of $110,000.

One Pompa bank account twice was negative -- on Oct. 1, 2007, by $58.76 and Dec. 3, 2007, by $99.41. At least three overdraft fees of $30 each are part of the spending as well, the complaint says.

In the complaint, the couple told investigators, "We eat all organic," and they shopped at Whole Foods and the East End Co-op.

Prosecutors have not sought to seize the Pompas' homes because they owe more than the properties are worth, Mr. Zappala said.

Jim McKinnon: jmckinnon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1939. Staff writer Kathleen McCaffrey contributed to this article.

First published on October 23, 2010 at 12:00 am

See also: Chiropracter and wife who adopted accused of spending $1.5m of orphans' money.

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  • 2 years later...

An interesting perspective on intrafamily adoption, by someone whose family has been deeply affected by this process:


Abrazo recently interviewed a job applicant who announced in the course of the interview that she "has adoption in the family."

She proceeded to tell us that her nineteen-year-old brother was adopted as an infant but "doesn't know yet" despite the fact that the other family members do know and are keeping it a secret from him "until he's old enough to understand."

We did our best to educate her about the importance of openness and the rights of adoptees to know the truth of their origins.

(Suffice to say we won't be hiring her-- and her family won't be breaking the news to her brother anytime soon, unfortunately.)

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