By now I have read so much about the white lesbian mothers who murdered their six adopted black children, Cierra, Jeremiah, Abigail, Markis, Hannah, and Devonte Hart, that I did not think I would have anything to add. But I sat down to review the 2013 file released by Oregon CPS anyway.
The investigation in Oregon was triggered by two reports of child endangerment, one claiming the children were malnourished and the other reporting Jennifer's harsh punishment of the children. The file includes the information provided to Oregon CPS by Minnesota Child Welfare about incidents when the family lived in that state going back to 2010, including Sarah's domestic violence conviction in 2011 for her physical abuse of one child. (Before 2010 - in 2008 - Hannah, then 6, went to school with a large bruise and reported that her mother hit her, but the authorities believed the couple's explanation that Hannah fell down the stairs and nothing came of the allegation.) Most of the reports in Minnesota came from the children's teachers, and immediately after the report that triggered the criminal charges, Jennifer and Sarah removed the children from school and began to home school them.
Naturally, the Oregon investigator asked the couple about their involvement with Child Welfare in Minnesota. And that part of the report is where I found a detail that I think no one else has reported. "Ms. J. Hart and Ms. S. Hart," the report states, "believe they have been targeted due to being a vegetarian, lesbian couple who married and adopted high risk, abused children..." Yes, that's right. They played the lesbian card, attempting to deflect attention from how they actually treated their children by claiming to be victims of homophobia.
I'm not saying Oregon CPS was fooled by the couple's claim. An investigator spoke to each child alone, and none reported abuse or the withholding of food. (The report does note that "the children provided nearly identical answers to all questions asked."). Each child was evaluated by a doctor, who expressed no concerns even though five of the six children were so small they were not on the growth chart. The disposition of the Oregon CPS investigation was "unable to determine," meaning that "there are some indications of child abuse or neglect, but there is insufficient data to conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that child abuse or neglect occurred."
The couple subsequently moved to Washington, and of course we know that state's investigation was about to get underway, prompted by the children begging a neighbor for food and help, when Jennifer and Sarah headed south with the children, and Jennifer drove their SUV off a cliff and into the Pacific Ocean in California.
I consider it good news that coverage of this tragedy has not been accompanied by calls to ban gay and lesbian adoption. But the bad news is this: At least for the children born to Texas mom Sherry Davis (Devonte, Jeremiah, and Cierra), there was a kinship adoption proceeding that the Texas courts rejected. And that was its own, independent tragedy. Priscilla Celestine lost her bid to adopt the children because she allowed the children's mother, Sherry, to see them while she was at work. The social worker made an unannounced visit and took the children away instantly. There was no allegation that Sherry harmed or endangered the children during the visit, just that contact with Sherry was prohibited. Priscilla continued her efforts to regain custody of the children through the Texas courts, losing at each step.
Sherry Davis lost her parental rights because she was a cocaine addict. Now consider this: The state of Texas paid the Harts close to $2000 a month as an adoption subsidy, for a total of about $277,000 over most of a decade. Let's assume (and I don't know if this is true), that half of that was for Sherry Davis's biological children. Imagine if the state had made available to Sherry $1000 a month for drug addiction treatment and other assistance, every month for almost 10 years. Sherry did get clean, but not fast enough for the state of Texas. Or the federal government for that matter, which mandates pursuant to the Adoption and Safe Families Act that states move to terminate parental rights after 15 months, even though successful drug treatment often takes longer than that. Devonte, Jeremiah, and Cierra could have had an extended family and, ultimately, their mother also, if the state had permitted the children to remain with Priscilla.
At one time, Sarah and Jennifer Hart might have been the poster couple for same-sex marriage, a white lesbian couple who adopted two black sibling groups out of foster care. Judge Posner would have loved them, and I would have hated his reasons for doing so, as I wrote about here. LGBT advocacy groups would do well to remember that many of the children in foster care and available for adoption should not be there; that the state is too quick to remove children from economically disadvantaged mothers of color, some of them lesbian and bisexual mothers; and that the solution to the disproportionate number of black children in the foster care system is not more adoption by same-sex couples but more resources to the families those children come from, including safe and affordable housing, adequate drug treatment, and other components of a robust social and economic safety net. Since by now we know that LGBT individuals are disproportionately poor, incarcerated, homeless, and food insecure, such a safety net should be as important to the LGBT family agenda as stopping discrimination against same-sex couples who want to be foster and adoptive parents.