Friday, March 21, 2014

More on adoptions gone wrong...

I noticed this morning that my blog has been getting a lot of hits on a post I wrote in January 2013 about adoptions gone wrong.  Interesting that this would come up today because I just started reading a book about adoptions, specifically those done by religious people as a means of bringing more children into a belief system.  It's often evangelical Christian and Mormon couples that adopt kids to "bring them to the gospel" and it seems to be trendy to adopt these kids from foreign countries.

Interestingly enough, today I read an article about a young woman from Haiti who was adopted in 2009 at age 13.  Nita Dittenber's adoptive parents, Tony and Michelle Dittenber of Nampa, Idaho, had four biological kids and took in five more adopted ones from Haiti.  Among the five Haitian adoptees was Nita's biological sister,   Evidently, Nita was having problems in the Dittenber home and by the time she was 14, Michelle Dittenber had taken to the Internet to offer her to another family.  She went to two other families, both of whom sent her back.

Then, when she was 15, Nita was sent to Marysville, Ohio to live with Emily and Jean Paul Kruse and their nine kids.  The Kruses are evidently Christians.  I read an article about them that was run as a PR piece by the Ohio National Guard, which is where Jean Paul Kruse worked.  Jean Paul has a son from a previous relationship.  Emily has three kids from another relationship.  They had one child together.  Then they adopted four kids from Vietnam and Liberia.  Nita lived with the family for 17 months.  While she was there, the girls told her that Jean Paul Kruse was sexually abusing them.  Though he apparently never touched Nita, she was terrified.  She told Emily Kruse, who accused her of lying and threatened to send her back to Idaho.

One day, Nita went to visit other Kruse relatives with some of the other children.  One of the Kruses asked Nita why she was so downhearted.  Nita told the person about the abuse and then the younger girls shared their stories.  Fortunately, the relative took action, but when Emily Kruse found out that Nita had talked, she sent her back to Idaho… supposedly so she wouldn't be questioned by local authorities.  The Dittenbers were on vacation.  Nita arrived in Boise with nothing but the clothes on her back and was temporarily taken by her adoptive aunt and uncle, Tammy and Michael Dittenber.  When Michelle Dittenber came back from her trip, she immediately offered Nita up on the Internet again for yet another re-homing.

As I read this story, I got the sense that the Dittenbers are probably LDS.  I did some searching and found evidence that at the very least, extended family is Mormon.  They live in Idaho, which is very Mormon.  They've adopted a bunch of kids from Haiti, which is a very Mormon thing to do.  Tony Dittenber works for a "food warehouse", which may be a euphemism for one run by the LDS church for families in need.  Michelle works at home booking flights for an airline… probably JetBlue, which is known for employing stay at home moms and was co-founded by David Neeleman, a Mormon Brazilian-American businessman.

ETA:  Minutes after this post went live, I was contacted by Tammy Dittenber, who was mentioned in my blog post and in the story about Nita Dittenber.  She writes that she and her husband are LDS converts of 13 years, while Michelle and Tony Dittenber are Pentecostal.  Tammy Dittenber writes that she and her husband are the only members of the LDS church in the family.  As one can imagine, what happened with Nita has been devastating to the entire family.  I imagine the Reuters article, since it went live, has caused quite the firestorm for the Dittenbers.  I want to thank Tammy Dittenber for correcting me as well as being very nice about it.  I am very sorry for what that family is dealing with, even as I am also very sorry for Nita's troubles.                  

An article linked to the one about Nita Dittenber relates the sad story of Inga Whatcott, who was adopted from Russia.  A year after bringing 12 year old Inga home, Neal and Priscilla Whatcott gave up trying to raise her.  They claimed that she had problems too severe to handle.  She struggled to read and write, smoked cigarettes, was depressed, and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.  Over six months, the Whatcotts sent Inga to three different families, none of which worked out.  In one family, she had sex with a sibling who then urinated on her.  In another, she claims she was molested by the father.  She finally ended up at a Michigan psychiatric facility, where she claims she had sex with her therapist, who said he "never crossed the line physically" with Inga.  Indeed, he reports that she was very troubled.

Another article by Reuters highlights the shady non-legalized adoptions that go on too often when adoptive parents realize they can't handle a child they've taken in from another country.  Sometimes adopted children end up in the care of very scary people who are never vetted by social workers or law enforcement.  Sometimes the end results of these "non-legal adoptions" turn out to be tragic.    

Just yesterday, I read another article about Stacey Connor, a woman who, along with her husband, Matt, adopted two children from Haiti.  The older child, a five year old boy, turned out to have severe problems that threatened the younger child, a baby girl, and the woman's biological child.  She ended up deciding to re-home the boy.  In that case, it sounded like Connor did what she could to find an appropriate home for the boy, rather than just sending him away to anyone willing to take him.  Still, it's very disturbing that these kinds of situations occur, that parents bring home kids from other cultures and then can't keep them.

The book I'm reading is called The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption and it's all about how adoption has become a big business, especially in religious circles.  Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the famous couple with nineteen kids and a reality show, have said they are considering adopting more kids for their gigantic brood.  I feel pretty certain that any child adopted by them will be adopted so they can be "brought to the Lord" and perhaps keep their reality show going.

I don't necessarily think that it's wrong or bad for religious people to adopt children, as long as they are adopting because they truly want to be parents.  Many times, these international adoptions work out fine and the kids end up much better off than they would have had they not been adopted.  Other times, the adoptions turn out to be disastrous for any number of reasons.  Sometimes kids that come from other countries have severe mental and physical health problems that prove to be impossible for well-meaning adoptive parents to handle.  Sometimes there is simply no bond.  When the well-meaning parents give these kids up to strangers, the kids can end up getting hurt or killed.

Unfortunately, I believe that a lot of families who are religious take in children for the wrong reasons.  They do it so they'll look good in church circles or to bring souls to Christ, rather than fulfilling a desire to be parents.  A few years ago, I read an incredible book by Julia Scheeres called Jesus Land: A Memoir.  Scheeres has an adopted brother named David, who is black.  Her very religious and violent parents adopted David and another black boy named Jerome.  If you ever needed to read a story about how people can adopt for the wrong reasons, Jesus Land is that story.  I reviewed it, of course…

What would Jesus do in Jesus Land?

 Oct 27, 2005 (Updated Jul 18, 2009)
Review by    is a Top Reviewer on Epinions in Books
Rated a Very Helpful Review

    Pros:Well-written account of a very unusual upbringing.

    Cons:Seems like two books within one. Foul language and graphic descriptions may offend some.

    The Bottom Line:Jesus Land offers a not so heavenly glance at life among the "righteous".

    For the first part of this week, I accompanied my husband, Bill, on one of his many TDY trips. For those of you who have no military or civil service background, TDY stands for Temporary Duty Yonder; it basically means that Bill had to go to a conference out of town. We went to Hampton, Virginia, which is my birthplace. Because I went on this trip with Bill, I got to stay in a lovely, brand new Embassy Suites Hotel and I was left with a great deal of time on my hands. Luckily, I'm an avid reader and there was a Barnes & Noble located just down the street. I ended up buying four books and Julia Scheeres' 2005 memoir Jesus Land was among my purchases.

    I have a professional background in social work and public health and a special interest in so-called "teen help" programs, especially those that are affiliated with churches. I also love to read biographies, and it was in this section of Barnes & Noble where I found Jesus Land. I was drawn by the title, especially given the fact that Jesus Land was in the biography section. I was also drawn to the picture on the book jacket, which showed two cute little kids, a little blonde, white girl and a a little black boy, standing by a trailer. Then I read the book jacket, which explains Jesus Land's premise. Back in the early 1980s, Julia Scheeres, who is white, and her adopted brother David, who is black, were sent to Escuela Caribe, a brutal Christian boot camp for teens in the Dominican Republic. I had never heard of Escuela Caribe or its parent program, New Horizons Youth Ministries, despite the fact that I've done a lot of research regarding so-called "reform schools". I'm also a sucker for books about dysfunctional families and believe me, Scheeres' family really fits the bill in that regard!

    Jesus Land is divided into two parts. Throughout the first half of Jesus Land, Scheeres describes the sights and smells of life in the rural Midwest, including the ubiquitous homemade signs written in less than perfect English reminding travelers that they needed to get right with God before Judgment Day. Jesus Land gets its title from one of those homemade signs. In the second half of Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres writes about the harrowing experiences she and her brother, David, had at Escuela Caribe.

    In the first half of Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres gives readers the backstory of how she and her brother, David, wound up at Escuela Caribe and more importantly, how she and David came to be brother and sister. Julia Scheeres is the youngest biological daughter of very strict, fundamentalist Christian parents. Her father, who drove a Ferrari, worked as a surgeon in Lafayette, Indiana. Her mother was a nurse, although I didn't get the feeling that she practiced her profession when Julia and her siblings were growing up. Scheeres' mother is depicted as quite idiosyncratic, forcing her family to be extremely frugal even though her husband made a very comfortable living. For example, Julia Scheeres' mother made a concoction that she called "Garbage Soup", which basically consisted of all of the old leftover food in the house thrown into a pot and simmered into a soup. Scheeres describes this brew in a very unappetizing way and she makes it clear that the family could certainly afford better. Julia Scheeres and her siblings were also forced to wear clothes from K-mart, which set them up for ridicule from their peers. However, even if Julia Scheeres and her siblings had been allowed to wear the very best clothes, they still would have been set apart from their peers because two of the six siblings in the Scheeres family were black.

    Julia Scheeres' older sister, Laura, was born with spina bifida and had spent a lot of time in the hospital having and recuperating from corrective surgeries. While she was in the hospital, she befriended an orphan child who was white. The Scheeres decided that adopting Laura's orphan friend would be a very Christian thing for them to do, so they put in an application. However, Laura's friend ended up being adopted by another family. The adoption agency had plenty of other children who needed homes... black children. They pressured the Scheeres into adopting a black child even though they really would have preferred a child who was white. Ultimately, the Scheeres decided that God was testing them by presenting them with a black child and if they adopted three year old David, they would be proving to the world that they were not racists. They would look like the perfect Christians they strived to be. It was a nice idea for them, except for the fact that Scheeres' parents clearly did not love David as they should have. Nevertheless, they felt David should have a sibling who was "like him", so they also adopted seven year old Jerome, whom Julia Scheeres depicts as a "bad seed". She also explains that David and Jerome didn't even act like brothers until they were older and David began to understand the racial divide that separated him from the rest of his family. Scheeres makes it clear that she and David were close from the very beginning, even though Julia often caught a lot of hell from her peers for having two black brothers.

    Scheeres describes what daily life was like for her and David. She was clearly given preferential treatment by their parents and she speculates why she was treated differently. For one thing, she was their biological child. For another thing, she was white. Scheeres describes in heartbreaking detail how David and Jerome were mistreated at the hands of their adoptive parents as well as their peers. Through it all, David remained good-hearted, while Jerome slipped further and further into the dark side. She also writes in an almost detached way about some of her own painful experiences growing up as their sister. The first half of Jesus Land could really be its own book. As jam packed with Scheeres' painful stories as the first half of Jesus Land is, I got the feeling that there was more she could have added. She doesn't tell readers much about her older siblings; they get just a passing mention or two. Instead, she focuses on her relationship with David and to a lesser extent, Jerome. I felt really sorry for all of the Scheeres children as I read about how they were treated by their parents. I didn't get the feeling that Scheeres had any affection for her mother and father, whom she depicts as very weird people.

    In the second half of the book, Scheeres describes how she and David ended up being shipped off to reform school in the Dominican Republic. Again, this part of the book really could have stood on its own, had Scheeres added more substance to it. I really felt like it was another story, even though it was very helpful to know what had transpired in David's and Julia's lives to lead them to such a place. They had gone from backwoods Indiana to an island in the Caribbean; suddenly there was a new cast of characters and a new setting with only passing references to the original setting and cast.

    Despite her ordeal, Scheeres manages to keep the story from dipping into self-pity, although I did get the feeling that she felt somewhat sorry for David, much less so for Jerome, who was very abusive to Scheeres. Again, Scheeres writes Jesus Land with surprising detachment, even though she graphically relates several instances in which she was abused at the hands of other people. Her tone gets a bit more personal when she writes about David. Scheeres shares that when she and David were younger, the family had taken vacations to Florida. Their memories of those Florida vacations were among their best. Consequently, Julia and her brother dreamed of turning eighteen and one day moving to Florida together, where they could do whatever they wanted to do. When things got rough, one of them would say "Remember Florida" in order to get the other to focus on the idea that things would get better.

    Jesus Land is written in the historical present tense, which gives this book a "real time" feel, even though the events occurred in the 1980s. Scheeres makes many references to popular music in the 1980s, a forbidden pleasure, since Scheeres' mother apparently tried to shield her children from "worldly influences" by constantly playing "Rejoice Radio" over their home's intercom system, using the intercom system to listen to their conversations, and forbidding them from watching anything but family oriented or religious television shows. It's often been my experience that children who are raised in very restrictive homes often end up rebelling or prematurely having the experiences from which their parents most want to shield them. Scheeres is no exception to this rule. She writes of abusing alcohol as a teenager, losing her virginity to rape, using enough vulgar language to make a sailor blush, and witnessing as her brother, Jerome, threw an illegal party while Dr. and Mrs. Scheeres were on a trip.

    Jesus Land was a fast read for me. I finished it in a matter of hours, but that was partly because I was killing time, waiting for my husband to get out of a marathon meeting. I enjoyed reading Jesus Land and thought it was well-written. I'm a bit torn, however, on how I feel about how this book was presented because it does seem like two books to me. It's not until the end of the book that Scheeres really explains why she wrote Jesus Land and where she really got her basis for the book. It's true that Jesus Land is based on her own experiences, but it was also very much based on her brother, David's, experiences. It wasn't until I read her explanation that I finally had some grasp of why she adopts a more sensitive, sympathetic tone toward her brother's experiences than she does for her own-- and ultimately it's that revelation that makes the phrase "Remember Florida" very poignant. I think that had Scheeres not explained herself, I would have given Jesus Land four stars. Scheeres' epilogue and the explanation that she includes within has prompted me to award Jesus Land five stars. Jesus Land is a worthwhile read, especially for those who are interested in books about family dynamics, racial issues, fundamentalist Christianity, or "teen help" facilities. Moreover, Julia Scheeres has had experiences of which the average reader will never have a first hand understanding, and she offers valuable insight for those of us who can't relate personally to her situation. I think she's done the public a great service by putting her story in print for the world to see.

    Julia Scheeres' website: http://www.juliascheeres.com




    13 comments:

    1. I plan to read both The Child Catchers and Jesus Land before i leave in the fall.

      Discussions of this nature always make me think of the lovely Jessica Beagley of Anchorage, Alaska. I wonder what's up with her family and poor little Kristoff.

      Adoptions in general, and especially foreign adoptions involving children past the infant stage are to me very scary. I'm glad someone does it, because in many instances the children leave very tough situations to end up in loving homes. We know, however, that it doesn't work out that way for every adopted child.

      I don't think (though I wouldn't say for sure at this point) I would adopt unless it was an infant or the child of someone close to me who died. I say this because I don't take a lot of chances. i would never even send a pet back to the SPCA. I would be afraid in most situations to adopt because I would see it as a "forever no matter" what sort of thing. I couldn't deal with the idea that a child I adopted was a danger to a child I already had. It's just a chance i would be unwilling to take. I'm glad that other people are less cowardly than I am.

      I think you're totally on the mark that a great first step is adopting for the right reason. I think a person also has to be prepared for the adopted child to come with major baggage and with very serious problems. Whatever happened to cause the child to be without parents would likely be the sort of thing that would create major psycho-social/emotional issues for a child. A prospective adoptive parent would be foolish to assume that the child's gratitude for being rescued would cause him or her to be the perfect child in his or her new surroundings. go only knows what the poor child has been through and how it may have scarred him or her.

      Parents who go into such adoptions with open eyes and with the right motivation are the world's heroes. Anyone who adopts for religious reasons, excepting, perhaps, the desire to share the pure love of God or Jesus, is probably starting out on the wrong foot.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Alexis, after I wrote this, I read the horrible series on Reuters on these kids that get adopted from overseas, don't work out, and end up being "adopted" non-legally. It totally turned my stomach.

        Obviously, the laws governing what happens to these kids after they are adopted are too lax. Read about Nicole Eason if you want to know what I'm writing about. It's just sickening.

        Delete
    2. There aren't too many right reasons to adopt especially given many adopted children were never orphans. If we are looking at the best interest of the child, the right thing to do is to support them staying with their biological family members. Here is an organization that works to do that http://unitingforchildren.org/ There are very few few such organization and very little willingness for us do-gooders to see that is not about gratifying our need for a pretty child in our home as testament to our goodness but rather the need of the child to remain in the intact family.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Interesting you should post that today. I'm reading a book about international adoptions and just finished a chapter about kids' parents in countries like Ethiopia being duped into letting their kids be adopted.

        Delete
      2. Abide Family Center is another such organization - this one in Uganda. (http://www.abidefamilycenter.org/)

        Delete
    3. Here's a story from Ireland of an adoption gone wrong
      http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/mothers-babies/the-curious-case-of-tristan-dowse-26512267.html

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Hi Enie. I remember you posted about that the last time I blogged about this. Crazy story!

        Delete
      2. I had a feeling I posted about this before! Sorry!

        The story really sticks with me.

        Delete
      3. No problem. Other people haven't seen the link to that story and will appreciate the link too!

        Delete
    4. Please contact me at 240-355-8436 or email martynl.gibson@gmail.com. 2 of the children, (Faith and Isiah) adopted by Jean Paul and Emily Kruse of Marysville OH where Nita Dittenber also was re-homed are my biological siblings on my fathers side. I am from Liberia West Africa and currently reside in the USA and would like to make contact with my siblings and if possible reunite with them. I just found out about this case last night after reading the Reuters post on Nita. I do want to speak with NIta Dittenber to find out if my sister Faith was one of the girls affected in this ordeal. So if Tammy DIttenber, or hr inlaws Tony and Michelle Dittenber can contact me with infomration on how to reach Nita, I will really appreciate it. Thanks for your help.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Hi Martyn,

        I recommend you try to catch them on Facebook. That's how Tammy Dittenber contacted me-- through my Overeducated Housewife Facebook page.

        Delete
    5. I feel bad for all Mormons, that you generalized these people, with very misguided actions, as belonging to their religion without even checking. (as if it matters) The warehouse the dad works at that you claim is owned by Mormons is WINCO, an employee owned warehouse. Nothing to do with the LDS church.
      You have a lot of readers and should be more careful about dissing and generalizing on ANY religion.
      This is about misguided PEOPLE not religion. There are bad apples in every church..

      ReplyDelete
    6. Hey You Who, I can see you're from Boise and probably have firsthand knowledge about this case. Perhaps you should write about it on your own blog instead of telling me what to write on mine.

      I am entitled to express myself any way I see fit. This is a personal blog, not a newspaper. If you don't like what I write on my blog, you're invited to go somewhere else and read something more to your liking.

      ReplyDelete

    Comments on older posts will be moderated until further notice.