An Ohio couple committed a crime when they recently gave child welfare officials a 9-year-old boy they raised from infancy, according to a prosecutor, after they said he was displaying aggressive behavior and threatened the family with a knife.
Forty-nine-year-old Cleveland Cox and 52-year-old Lisa Cox pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a Butler County court to charges of nonsupport of dependents.
The Cox's and their attorney, Anthony Vannoy, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. The court set the trial for Feb. 10.
Adolfo Olivas, an attorney appointed by the court to protect the boy's interests, has said the emotionally hurt and confused child is now receiving help that the parents should have gotten for him.
People within the adoption community say they worry about emotional trauma to the child. They say giving up a child after so much time is rare and undermines the stability and commitment that adopted children need.
Christopher Hehn, of Greenwood, Ind., knows the importance of commitment after being shuffled from foster home to foster home before a social worker adopted him at age 12.
"When the going got tough, it was out the door for me," Hehn said. "But when I was adopted, my mother said it was forever, no matter what. She stuck it out, and I was finally able to trust again."
Sixto Cancel, a 21-year Virginia Commonwealth University junior in Richmond, Va., also stressed the importance of stability for adopted children.
Cancel said he experienced abuse and never found a good fit, moving from a troubled adoptive home to foster care homes.
As an adoptee, "you need reassurance that you are not alone," said Cancel, who also is an advocate for adopted and fostered children.
Greg and Robin Smith, of New Richmond, about 17 miles southeast of Cincinnati, became adoptive parents in a ceremony last week, adopting four siblings — ages 5 to 12 — who they cared for as foster children for more than three years.
Robin Smith acknowledged some anger and other issues among the children, stemming from their experiences before coming to the Smiths.
"But you just can't give up on children, not matter how hard the situation is," she said.
Two biological brothers adopted this month by the Rev. Edward Byers and wife Darnette, of Cincinnati, say they know the 9-year-old must feel depressed and lonely.
"I know what it's like to move from house to house," said the youngest brother, 14-year-old Tyshawn. "But I would tell him to stay in there and not give up."
Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser has said there are legal consequences to what he called "reckless" abandonment.
National adoption advocates say failed adoptions or dissolutions are rare in cases where the child has been raised from infancy. They said such discord seems to occur more often with youths adopted at an older age.
But Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the Washington-based Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, said that while there seems to be less trauma in children placed with adoptive parents as infants, emotional and behavioral issues can surface long after adoption.
Strottman said she was concerned about the wellbeing of the Ohio child, but she also worried that the threat of criminal prosecution could discourage adoptive parents from seeking help.
"I'm hoping that ultimately there was a good cause for this prosecution," she said. "What everyone wants is a child protection system that first and always stays focused on the needs of the child."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.