CINCINNATI (AP) — An Ohio prosecutor said Friday he will pursue abandonment charges in cases similar to his latest in which authorities say a couple gave their 9-year-old adopted son to child welfare officials after raising him from infancy.
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Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said similar cases have been handled in the past within the children services agencies and domestic courts. And while that’s appropriate, he said, criminal charges should also be considered.
“There has never been a focus on the criminality of merely abandoning a child,” he said in an interview. “That stops immediately. There is a legal consequence.”
The suburban Cincinnati couple indicted this week on charges of nonsupport of dependents turned themselves in Friday night, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said. Cleveland Cox, 49, and wife Lisa, 52, were released on $10,000 bond each and were due in court Nov. 27. The Coxes didn’t return telephone calls to their home.
Butler County authorities say the parents left the boy with the children services agency Oct. 24, after saying he was displaying aggressive behavior. A sheriff’s report in August said the adoptive mother said the boy had threatened the rest of the household with a knife. The couple has two other children.
Attorney Adolfo Olivas, appointed by the court to protect the child’s interests, has said that the boy is hurt and confused and that he is now receiving help that the parents should have gotten for him.
A national adoption advocacy leader said adoptive parents not only have strong parental rights, they have binding legal obligations.
“I think that’s something the great majority of adoptive parents recognize,” said Chuck Johnson, an adoptive father and president of the National Council for Adoption. “That’s what we want.”
Comprehensive national statistics aren’t available on failed adoptions, or dissolutions, but Johnson said they are “extremely rare” in cases in which the child has been raised from infancy. While still rare, they are more likely to occur in cases in which older children have been adopted, he said.
He said the majority of an estimated 400,000-plus children in foster care across the United States had biological parents unwilling or unable to care for them and “occasionally, that happens with adoptive parents, too.”
Some adoption advocates are concerned that the prospects of criminal charges and negative publicity could hurt efforts to find good parents for children in need.
“Everybody tries, but sometimes it doesn’t work out,” said lawyer Susan Garner Eisenman of Columbus, who focuses on adoption and child welfare issues. “(Prosecutions) could have a chilling impact on adoption. And that’s the concern.”
There is a growing push among advocates for more post-adoptive services and support, especially for parents willing to take on special needs children.
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services spokesman Benjamin Johnson said that of some 12,000 Ohio foster children, nearly 400 are in county care or custody after having been adopted. But many reasons other than abandonment can explain why a child is no longer with an adoptive family, he said. Those include sexual assault or the parents’ deaths.
Johnson said that since the department isn’t a law enforcement agency, it would be inappropriate to comment on prosecuting adoptive parents for abandonment.
He said all parents, adoptive or biological, should try to get help with child-raising problems.
“We urge any parent struggling to raise children to seek public or private assistance or counseling as appropriate,” he said.