May 18th, 2007
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Categories: Issues/debate


So I’m reading the sad tale of Viktor Matthey, a little boy from Russia who was dealt two entirely lousy sets of parents, both birth and adoptive. His original parents were neglectful alcoholics, and his adoptive parents abused and murdered him.

Everybody failed him.

It’s already a horrible story on its own, but it was made worse when I came to this passage about the adoptive family’s home study. The Mattheys were people of modest means—that is, until they decided to adopt:

The Mattheys’ financial picture had apparently improved. They had reported Bob’s salary as $32,960 on their 1996 income tax return, $28,592 on their 1997 return, and $25,175 on their tax return for 1998, the year they began considering adoption. By September 1999, the Mattheys stated on their home study that Bob’s salary was $75,000 a year, according to a letter from his employer. The couple also declared Bob made $12,000 annually from snow plowing and auto repair, and that they owned investments worth $40,000.

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The home study concluded the Mattheys were “loving, caring people,” and Bethany Christian signed off on them to adopt two males up to age 5.

Did their income really leap by such an enormous amount, or was somebody lying in order to get a child? (I suppose it’s also possible they underreported on their taxes, but given what I’ve read about their world, I tend to think their income really was more in the 20K range. And for seven kids, this figure would not stretch far.)

But that’s a quibble compared to this: despite many inquiries about abuse in the Matthey home, a social worker’s followup report on the children’s progress indicated that all was smooth in the adoption.

“The children have benefited greatly from all the care and love given to them. This is evidenced by their socialization and affection toward each other. The children are very much loved and cared for.”

Yet the three adopted and four bio kids all complained of beatings, starvation, imprisonment, etc. Did the social worker ask them?

And then there’s this nugget, also from the home study:

The Mattheys “believe in the New Jersey State law concerning the use of passive means of discipline.”

(meaning no spanking or physical punishment.) Excuse me – how do we get from nonviolence to a cat-o’-nine-tails? Isn’t it possible to check a little harder?

Typically, reams of paperwork must be filled out in order to adopt a child, and many agencies do a good job of verifying and authenticating the facts that potential adoptive parents provide. But this agency did not—and then they compounded the error by doing shoddy followup work.

You may be wondering, why is Heather even talking about this? What does an international adoption gone wrong have to do with me, a pregnant women considering adoption in the United States? My point is this: When you are entrusting your baby to others, unfortunately you cannot trust everything the “professionals” tell you. The people in charge sometimes screw up, whether it’s human error or a more sinister motive of ensuring results for clients.

This is by no means the first time I have heard of a home study containing false or misleading information. Apparently, certain agencies are more concerned about fulfilling the expectations of paying clients than making sure the intended home is good enough for the child.

As expectant parents considering adoption, we make our choices about who to entrust with our children based in part on this kind of information. We trust that they’ve checked. Adoptive parents often complain about how onerous it is to fill out such paperwork, but think about it from our point of view—would you trust YOUR child to a lifetime with strangers without requiring some pretty substantive background checks?

When home studies fail, as they sometimes do, it is heartbreaking for those who place their children based on faulty information. But it is most tragic for the children that are sent into homes that in no way resemble what was described on paper.

As a pregnant woman considering adoption, this is one more reason to avoid closed adoption and to get to know the adopting parents yourself. Throughout the process, trust your own instincts, not those of paid middlemen. They can and do mess up.

4 Responses to “Poorly-completed home studies”

  1. John says:

    My oldest adopted son was placed at birth with his first adoptive family, who had a glowing home study. In reality mom was an unmedicated bipolar and dad was an alcholoic. Mom saw him as the source of all her problems, he was abused. At 8 and one half, they adopted two more kids and at 9 and one half, after finalization of the new kids, my son was dumped in foster care, never to return. Thank goodness.

    The problem with the birth parent mentality that no home study could ever be too onerous, is that there is a limit. Go too far and clearly into ‘we are going to mess with you because we can’ and you drive away good families. Balance is important, the objective is too discover the appropriatness of that home, not to see if you can be excessive and unreasonable, as a substitue for being able to figure out if this home ok. John

  2. Jan Baker says:

    John, the scrutiny of adoptive parents is to help provide a child with the best possible family. If a thorough home study scares off some potential adoptive parents,then maybe they should not adopt. Being an adoptive parent cannot be an easy job and it takes strong people to parent well.

    Birth parent mentality and adoptive parent mentality should mesh when finding the best possible family for a child. Placing a child for adoption can be onerous as well; a safe haven would be easier, but I think a loving parent would go through anything for the sake of their child.

    I would rather err in too much scrutiny for the sake of a child than too little. Our children deserve the best possible chance.

  3. Heather Lowe says:

    “no home study could ever be too onerous”

    Didn’t say that. Did say that obvious, glaring untruths ought to be able to be caught. I believe that they usually are. It is incompetence when they are not.

  4. John says:

    Thanks for the response Heather. Yes, glaring untruths should be caught. Yes, birth mothers and children should be able to rely on the home study to be reasonabley correct. Lots of additional hoops to jump through is never a substitute for workers that are competent to detect a family that should not adopt. My son is one of those who paid the price for a really bad homestudy. John

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