Adoption Controversy: Bonnie and Shannon

Adoption Controversy: Bonnie and Shannon
It's an adoptive parent's worst nightmare — being forced to hand over a child raised since birth to the biological parents.

"I fell in love with Christian the first time I saw him," says Bonnie of the 21-month-old boy she agreed to adopt. Although Bonnie and her husband, Shannon, have children of their own, they wanted to parent this child too.
"That little boy needed a home," says her husband, Shannon. "Nobody wanted him."

"Christian's birth mother is Native American," explains Bonnie. "She liked our family because we were a Christian family and it was a stable home. She wanted the adoption completely closed. She didn't want contact with him. Christian was a very happy, loveable little boy when we got him. He loved to be hugged. When she signed the papers, we told our little boy, 'Mommy and Daddy will never leave you.'"
But then they learned the adoption was never finalized. "We discovered the birth mother's rights were not properly terminated," says Bonnie. "She filled out all the appropriate paperwork with her attorney, but it should've been done in front of a judge. Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, the birth mother can change her mind any time until the adoption is final. We had Christian with us for almost two years before the birth mother filed to regain custody. When Christian's birth mother called me and told me that she wanted him back, it was a complete shock. I told her she can't just have him back, that she promised us, she gave him to us. 'You can't just change your mind. This is a child. And I'm not going to give him back to you' and he was our son."

"To have closed it better we should've had a lawyer that was versed in the Indian adoption process," says Shannon, in hindsight.

"I believe that our attorney did not do his job," says Bonnie, adding that because of the expense of hiring lawyers, "All our money is gone."
Bonnie and Shannon were ordered by the court to start visitations with Juanita, the birth mother, and they say it wasn't long before they noticed changes in their son. "Christian started exhibiting behaviors," says Bonnie. "He started to wake up in the middle of the night screaming and wetting his bed. He started to chew his fingernails. He didn't understand what was going on."

Recently, the court issued an order for Christian to be returned to his birth mother in 45 days. "My husband and I haven't talked about if he goes back. You go there, you lose your hope," says Bonnie.

"There's a battle that needs to be fought, our children need to be protected," says Shannon.

"It's unfair to Christian," says Bonnie. "It's cruel to him, to pull him out of our family. Parents aren't libraries where they can check their children out whenever they want and expect them to be returned when they want. I want to finish this adoption. I want Juanita to give us her son as she promised."
"At this point, do you have questions about the fittedness of the mother?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Yes. We have had court-ordered visitations since November. We've had 15 of them scheduled, she's only made seven. Wouldn't she want to take every opportunity, make every effort to see your child?" says Bonnie.

"And he doesn't do well after those? You say he comes back and he's confused and upset," says Dr. Phil. "Again, in this situation, the father's parental rights have not been terminated, correct?"

"We're not really sure," says Bonnie. "He was deported when the birth mother was pregnant and I've been told since he's back in the U.S., but we haven't tried to find him."

Bonnie claims that the birth mother has a history of giving up children and then taking them back. Bonnie explains, "She has given all of her children up and then taken them back at some point, but we are the only ones she was willing to do an adoption with." Bonnie and Shannon only knew about one child that she'd given up and that's why they chose a closed adoption. "She gave Christian up to another family before us, we've since found out, for 10 months. And one day, knocked on her door and took him from that woman."
Dr. Phil turns to their attorney, Cindy Miller: "How's this likely to be looked at?"

"Well, the Indian Child Welfare Act is a federal act that was passed in 1978. And what it does is it protects the interest of Indian children and the security and stability of the tribe. So in this case, when the consent was not signed in front of a judge, that Act allows the mother to go back and revoke her consent, which the mother did. She did that this last summer and officially demanded the return of the child to her in August. And according to the law, that's what the court has to do," says Cindy.

"So are you saying they just have no standing here?" Dr. Phil asks.

"There's a couple of issues in the whole case that we're going to try to appeal and one of them is a constitutional issue, an argument that we're going to try to make," she says.
Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Frank Lawlis, the chairman of the advisory board for the Dr. Phil show. "You've worked extensively with the American Indian culture around the country. The tribal position on this is a very strong one, culturally, is that correct?"

"Yes. You have to understand that we're dealing with a long history in which some of the Native American kids have been adopted and the tribe senses that they've also taken away the culture of that particular Native American tribe," explains Dr. Lawlis. "So these parents are not only dealing with the mother, they are also dealing with the whole tribal force."

"The children that Juanita has taken back, are they living with her now?" Dr. Phil asks Bonnie.

Bonnie explains that out of four kids, she currently has two living with her.

"Do you have a strategy for preparing your son for this transfer, if it has to happen?"

"No, we haven't gone there," admits Bonnie.

"That is something you're going to have to think about," Dr. Phil tells them.