Va. Parents Trying to Unadopt Troubled Boy

Helen Briggs is trying to dissolve her adoption of a troubled boy whose history she says the state failed to disclose.
Helen Briggs is trying to dissolve her adoption of a troubled boy whose history she says the state failed to disclose. "You don't want to throw somebody away. But sometimes you have to," she said. (By Dayna Smith -- The Washington Post)
By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 9, 2006

A talkative 9-year-old boy came to Helen Briggs on Valentine's Day 2000. She was a foster mother with years of tough love and scores of troubled kids behind her. But she grew to love this boy. Within the year, she'd talked her husband into adopting him.

Now, six years later, Briggs and her husband, James, a maintenance worker for the city of Alexandria, are taking the highly unusual step of trying to unadopt him.

In 2003, when the boy was 12, he sexually molested a 6-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl still in diapers. She said it was only then, as she waited outside the courtroom for his sexual battery hearing and caseworkers handed her his psychological profile, that she found out just how damaged the boy had been when he came into her life.

The Washington Post generally does not name the subjects of juvenile court cases.

Briggs said she did not know he had lived in five foster homes since he was 16 months old. Nor that his alcohol- and drug-addicted biological parents had physically abused him, injuring his brain stem and impairing his ability to gauge the passage of time.

He'd been hospitalized seven times in psychiatric institutions and diagnosed as possibly psychotically bipolar. He'd thrown knives, kicked in walls, pulled out all his hair and threatened to kill himself. He'd heard voices telling him to do bad things. His confidential case file shows he most likely was sexually abused.

"I did not know any of that," Briggs said, though Virginia policy states that caseworkers should provide "full, factual information" about a child to adoptive parents. "They just told me he was hyperactive."

She said the state's failure to fully disclose the boy's background is tantamount to fraud.

State child welfare officials could not comment on the case because of confidentiality restrictions. But some caseworkers do not believe Briggs, records show. They think she wants to get out of paying child support.

Still, a Fairfax County court has granted Briggs's petition to relinquish custody. The boy, who has lived in institutions since his conviction, is now officially back in foster care. He asked to be put on suicide watch, records show, when the judge's decision came down.

Briggs hired an attorney to terminate her parental rights. But in Virginia, a child older than 14 must give consent. The boy, now nearing 16, wants Briggs to be his mother forever, according to the voluminous confidential case file and e-mail and phone records Briggs subpoenaed for her lawsuit and provided to The Post.

Briggs sought to file a "wrongful adoption" lawsuit. But under Virginia law, she needed to file within two years of discovering the boy's history. Instead, she wavered.

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