Today is the Blog Blitz for Evelyn and Stephanie Bennett (see previous blog). After reading the background of the case, and listening to yesterday’s radio broadcast, troubling questions on all sides remain and are too complicated to comment on without more information and clarification. Adoption law can be very complex. What is legal is not always ethical. What is ethical is not always legal. What is right gets lost in the shuffle. Family dynamics are even more tangled.
That said, since the story broke at the end of 2006 that “Baby Evelyn” had been spirited away to the ethically impaired A Child’s Waiting adoption mill, I’ve been very concerned about Stephanie Bennett. Since the Bennetts live in my hometown, Canton, Ohio, I’ve taken a personal interest in the case, though I never got around to writing about it. Certainly mistakes were made all around, and as the facts of the case emerge, these mistakes loom large in ways I never expected. Nonetheless, nobody deserves to lose their child or grandchild over those mistakes. Horrible things have been done to Stephanie Bennett and her family in the name of adoption. These wrongs need exposed and righted. Evelyn needs to come home.
When I read that A Child’s Waiting worked this slight-of-hand trick, I knew it was trouble. ACW is one of those adoption agencies that meet with eye-rolls amongst Ohio adoption reformers. I first heard about ACW in 2004 when the agency offered up a pregnant teen and her as-yet born child to the notorious 20/20 Barbara Walters, Be My Baby lottery. To refresh your memory, a teenage girl “in trouble” was followed around by 20/20 cameras while she decided which of 3 pap (prospectives adoptive parents) contestants…I mean couples… she’d choose to give her kid to at the end of the show.
Now, a lot of media adoption stunts don’t bother me. Although others cringe, I love adoption reunion shows. I see nothing wrong with the latest liberal bete noir The Robinsons. Remember Who’s Your Daddy? (Bastardette 7/25/02–scroll down) which all of AdoptionLand turned purple over except Bastard Nation, Ron Morgan, and Lorraine Dusky? Be My Baby, though, was quite another story. In a rare moment of “agreement” Bastard Nation, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and the National Council for Adoption condemned the show. BN christened it Bowling for Babies. EBD called it “tainted by faulty stereotypes and problematic practices.” NCFA compared it to The Bachelorette. Private and public Internet adoption boards and forums, and the ABC discussion board lit up. The press smelled red meat. Pre-broadcast publicity was so bad that ABC is suspected of re-editing the show (and certainly the promo) to tone it down. How dare we not get a kick from bread and circus baybee auction? ACW’s involvement in the show, of course, was not about drumming up business. No…“It is a thoughtful report on the process of open adoption that we think will be of interest to the American people,” ACW told Fox News. It was “educational.” Just like this is “educational” too, I bet!
Later I learned more about ACW. The agency was (surprise!) not a benevolent non-profit but a for-profit limited liability corporation with a bad rep. It had been involved in several questionable adoption cases including some documented by Dan and Elizabeth Case in their own personal and painful adoption horror story, Beware of BBAS!: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (see the Hyer and Ponish stories). ACW conducted the Gerald and Bonnie Hyer home study for the adoption of their daughter Kelsey from Russia. Gerald was later convicted of felonious assault and child abuse for severing Kelsey’s spine and paralyzing her for life; Bonnie, for evidence tampering and permitting child abuse. In 2001, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, ACW was involved in the placement of a child in the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle, convicted in 2006 of child abuse for caging at least 8 of their 11 special needs adopted children in their basement. “We had no reason to believe they [the Gravelles] would do anything inappropriate,” said Crissy Kolarik from ACW. “I have nothing negative to say about the family” Allegedly, the state has investigated additional complaints about the agency, but I don’t have those complaints and can’t verify. Relevant to the Bennetts, though, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, in an investigation dated December 27, 2006, determined that ACW was out of compliance in Evelyn’s placement. I have a copy of that document. Corrections by the agency are pending.
THE DONE DEAL
100 years ago the “cadet” played an important role in prostitution. He recruited naive women, often without family or social support and unfamiliar with urban life, into the business, through promises of respectable work or even marriage. ACW lists a similar job on its roster: child recruiter. Unhappily, no job description is posted. The term, however, conjures up visions of trench-coated, slouch-hatted adoption agents trolling high schools, universities, malls, shelters, and Starbucks ferreting out young pregnant women, socially isolated, maybe poor, and uninformed about ethical pregnancy plans or just plain confused or scared for their future. The myth of benevolent win-win adoption runs deep. Figures of trust—school counselors, clergy, for example– often just as naive about the lifelong implications of uninformed adoption– seem all too happy to collude with Ms. Whiplash when she approaches them to sell her wares.
This is the wolf nest into which Stephanie Bennett was led on September 8, 2006 by her GlenOak High School guidance counselor Thomas Saltsman. Neither Saltsman nor GlenOak High School is talking. Stephanie says that when she went to him to discuss a class change, the discussion turned to 5-month old Evelyn, who her parents were caring for while she was at school. She says, though I’m unclear if she told this to Saltsman that day, that the baby’s father had made a series of threats against Stephanie and her family warning her to “get rid of the baby” and she was afraid. Saltsman, according to her account, simply reached into a drawer pulled out an ACW brochure, and the deed was in motion. The next day the ACW agent appeared at the school and with allegedly no counseling, no independent legal advice, and no family discussion, Stephanie signed preliminary surrender papers. Saltsman witnessed her signature. Stephanie says now that she felt trapped, and didn’t know that she could have refused to complete the process. Four days later, Stephanie, upon the advice of ACW, she says, ran away from home with Evelyn in the middle of the night to complete the adoption “plan” and turn Evelyn over to ACW. Stephanie was 17 and a minor under Ohio law. Her parents, Judy and Ranza Bennett, knowing none of the back story, called the police when she went missing. Stephanie’s picture appeared on the Ohio Attorney General’s missing children page. If ACW did indeed encourage her to run away, it could in my opinion, be charged with interference of custody. And hopefully, more.
Schools are not supposed to tear families apart. Why was adoption surrender, especially of a much-loved 5-month old baby living with her mother and in extended family care, considered a normal day’s work?
I must sound like an old nanny goat, but what in the world was Saltsman thinking? I cannot imagine my own guidance counselor, the onerous Helen Gatchell at Lincoln High School, taking a task of such importance upon herself. She told girls that they shouldn’t continue Spanish, or reprimanded them for their slutty tight skirts, or helped them choose a career or college path– but “arranging” a fast track surrender and adoption without counseling or legal advice? She probably would have stuck thumb tacks in her eyes rather than commit such a stupid, unethical act.
Stephanie is certainly allowed to make her own informed decision regarding the adoption of Evelyn. She should be allowed to do that. But how legal or ethical or educated is a decision of such magnitude when those who hold the information for right decision-making purposefully withhold that information?
We expect bad behavior from A Child’s Waiting. Saltsman is another story. He is a public employee. His job is to facilitate reasoned discussion, ethical treatment of students and their families, and principled decision making–not to break up families. That he didn’t even pretend to encourage much less require genuine family communication and counseling, real family preservation and adoption counseling, and legitimate legal assistance boggles the mind. Maybe it was late in the afternoon and he and Ms. Whiplash wanted to hit John’s Bar.
I have looked at ethical standards for school counselors. They are general and up to interpretation. Saltsman may hover in a gray area and I wouldn’t be surprised if a compliant Plain Township Board of Education covers his ass, since they’re trying to get a levy passed next month. The Canton Repository, for unknown reasons, has not covered the Bennett case. As the levy approaches, how happy would Plain Township parents and grandparents be to know that their money was going towards stealing babies and students away in the middle of the night and breaking up families?
In October 2006, Stephanie’s parents were granted temporary custody of Evelyn, but the order was overturned. Stephanie has a new lawyer and has filed to revoke her surrender. She will have to prove mistake, fraud, duress, undue influence, pre-journalization, or misrepresentation. From the looks of it, she may be able to do some of that. No hearing date is set.
THE RIGHT THING
Adoption is supposed to be for children who need families. Evelyn has one waiting for her At home.
I have no doubt that Evelyn’s paps love her and hope to finalize her adoption. ACW’s has reportedly told them hold tight.
I have never understood why anyone would hold tight to a child that is not theirs when that child, absent abuse or neglect, is dearly loved and wanted by her or his natural family and belongs with them. As an adoptee, and as a human being, I would not have the nerve— nor the bad morals—to keep that child away from its natural family. Evelyn was thrown into the adoption mill due to the negligence and greed of others and out of fear. She and her family should not be separated and eternally punished for that. Doing the right thing will painful. Evelyn’s paps should listen to their hearts, not an adoption agency with bad mojo who only wants their money. They should send her home.
Ohio is fast becoming the new Florida. The new New Jersey. Its foster care and adoption programs are in disarray. A week seldom passes without some new tale of incompetence, malfeasance, or even death. Russian adoptees Liam Thompson (Columbus) and Maria Bennett (Lancaster—no relation to Stephanie) were murdered by their adoptive parents; Kelsey Hyer (Akron) was paralyzed for life by her adoptive parents. Michael and Sharon Gravelle (Huron County) were convicted of child abuse for keeping most of their 11 special needs adopted children in cages and physically abusing them. In August 2006, Liz and Michael Carroll (Cincinnati) were charged with murder after they bound their developmentally disabled 3-year old foster child, Marcus Feisel, in a blanket with strapping tape and left him in a closet for 3 days when they went out of town. They found him dead when they returned; removed the body to rural Brown county, and incinerated it. They were sentenced to life and 16 years- life respectively for murder.
Ohio needs to clean up its private and public child welfare system. It needs to investigate every county children services and every private adoption agency starting with A Child’s Waiting.
She needs to come home. Now!
You have said a very obvious thing which almost everyone connected with adoption has found inconvenient enough to “forget:”
Adoption is supposed to be for children who need families. It isn’t about the infertile. It isn’t about the money agencies and lawyers make. It isn’t about how “terrible” it would be to grow up poor instead of well-off. It’s about the true best interests of the child, or should be. Thank you for that and for publicizing this case.
It’s all about The Love of Green, Marley
Very well said.
Brilliant, Marley, and thank you. I am forwarding this to the attorney. You have included a lot of the prequel to this that I knew about but had not tied in.
Ah, so this agency is the one that handed over a two year old boy (who had just been conveniently dropped of by his mother) to one of the “loseing” couples on that Barbara Walters nightmare. Of course, these people had no idea that they were about to be given a toddler.
Not surprised that they were involved in this shady deal.
This is the best, most thorough take I’ve read on this — thank you thank you for typing it out!!
Brilliantly put, as always, Marley!
Your posts are always so well written.
Have you ever adopted a child ? Suppose you had, would you return that child after nearly 1 month, just like that: Here is your child, please take him back, don’t worry about all the time we have lost and all the love we have had…
Have you ever adopted a child ? Suppose you had, would you return that child after nearly 1 month, just like that: Here is your child, please take him back, don’t worry about all the time we have lost and all the love we have had…
Have you ever lost your child ib a manner like Stephanie?
Well, don’t worry about the 30 years of carnage this will cause in Stephanie’s life ( and the lives of those who love her.)
mom2one, I have adopted a child, I’ve actually adopted two. I agree the pain would be awful, probably much like having a child die. However, Evelyn has no adoptive parents. The adoption has not been finalized. I realize this is sematics, because I am sure they loved that baby on sight, as did Stephanie and her parents. They had more than a month invested in that baby.
I agree that it would be very painful to return her after a month, however we expect people to ignore their own pain for the good of the child all the time- we call them birth/first parents. It seems that this couple should have been willing to make the same sacrifice that they thought Stephanie should the minute they heard this adoption was in question. It’s called dowing the right thing.
OK, Marley and All, that second Mom2One is not the Mom2One who writes the blog Just Enjoy Him — just so you know. It’s someone writing under the name that I use online which is really crappy of them.
I’m Mom2One/Judy, Mom to Nate, plus a bunch of other descriptors and I would never come to a blog and post a comment like that. Just so you know.
First of all, this is a wonderful blog, and I look forward to reading all of your archives. I’m in Massachusetts and – not to derail the conversation – but when those “baby safe haven” ads came on here I went and read the statute because the commercials were the most fucked up things I’d ever seen. I think safe haven laws are deeply unethical, and nowhere in the ad do the singing teens explain that dropping off your kid is legally identical to abandonment and you can never change your mind. Ok! That said – I’m wondering where you got this from:
“Stephanie says now that she felt trapped, and didn’t know that she could have refused to complete the process. Four days later, Stephanie, upon the advice of ACW, she says, ran away from home with Evelyn in the middle of the night to complete the adoption “plan” and turn Evelyn over to ACW.”
I’m fascinated by this whole case but hours of googling have yielded not much more than the two akron articles, the origins press release, and the echo chamber of all of the bloggers rehashing the two sources (both of which are nearly entirely sourced purely to Judy Bennett) … Anyhow, if you could point me to any other accounts of what *stephanie*, the child’s *mother* – did and didn’t do and when… I’d really appreciate it.
again, thanks so much for your website,
I have also adopted a child and I made damn sure that it was a child that truly needed a home. The fact that these PAP were put in a situation of falling in love with a child only to find out that the child did not need a home is an issue they should bring up by suing that hideous adoption agency. It is certainly a tragic event for them. But, if they fight this out for years it will be even more devastating when they lose her. But then it will be devastating for that innocent child. They know now that this baby has a family who loves her, a family who can take care of her. They should seek advice from someone other that the agency lawyers. WHo know what line of crap they are feeding those people, “Oh, Stephanie really does want you to raise her baby, it’s just the pressure from her abusive parents that’s making her say that. You keep fighting to keep that baby safe.” I can only imagine. There must be some special kind of hell for people who make their living through a business like A Child’s Waiting.
I think it would be very, very hard to give up a much-wanted child that you wanted to adopt after having her for a month. However, I think it would be INFINITELY harder to give her up after having her for, say, two years. ALL of the high-profile adoption fiasco/disruption cases – you know, the Baby Richard cases, with the children torn away screaming from the parents who have raised them “practically since birth” – have a story like the Evelyn Bennett story at their heart. Inevitably, what you find is that the would-be adoptive parents were told they had to give back the child before the adoption was complete and/or following an adoption in which major requirements were not followed (such as notifying the bio-father)…and they didn’t. Generally they talk with lawyers not versed in family law who tell them to hold on – eventually the courts will give up! Their unwillingness to suffer pain after having a child for a matter of weeks ends up creating a truly awful situation that, IMHO, causes more pain for everyone involved.
If I had to guess, I would hypothesize that the adoption agency is telling the would-be adoptive parents that Stephanie doesn’t REALLY want Evelyn back – her evil cackling fundie parents are forcing her, blahblahstupidityblah. Or something along those cringeworthy lines. And the would-be adoptive parents are clinging to the idea that they are the responsible parties in the situation, and they’re capable of giving the baby the “best” life, and that’s what courts support, isn’t it? Isn’t it? They are not, not, NOT allowing themselves to think about how they would feel if, at some point in the future if their adoption was finalized and they were allowed to raise Evelyn, they would feel if someone encouraged a 17-year-old Evelyn to run away, for ANY reason. Not at all. Which is too bad, for everyone involved.
Let’s hope this ends soon and the Bennetts – Evelyn included – can get on with their lives as a family.
Please tell me that link is a joke? Surely that sort of “Baby E-Bay” is not allowed?? Whilst I don’t think what little adoption occurs in Australia is completely problem free, this sort of baby advertising would never be accepted.
“They are not, not, NOT allowing themselves to think about how they would feel if, at some point in the future if their adoption was finalized and they were allowed to raise Evelyn, they would feel if someone encouraged a 17-year-old Evelyn to run away, for ANY reason. “
IF they keep Evelyn, she will run away when she is 17 and figures out what happened. Sooner or later the chickens come home to roost.
“There must be some special kind of hell for people who make their living through a business like A Child’s Waiting”
I am convinced that this is true. If you insist on creating hell on earth for other people, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in hell. Those chickens again.
“The fact that these PAP were put in a situation of falling in love with a child only to find out that the child did not need a home is an issue they should bring up by suing that hideous adoption agency.”
That ain’t love, it’s entitlement.
Definitely agree they should sue ACW.
A suggestion… I really wish the slavery ad had not been associated. It could be read as exploitative unless African-American issues are also raised in the analysis.
Otherwise this is really great coverage, and thank you for pointing out the Gravelle connection. The agency needs to be shut down.
“They are not, not, NOT allowing themselves to think about how they would feel if, at some point in the future if their adoption was finalized and they were allowed to raise Evelyn, they would feel if someone encouraged a 17-year-old Evelyn to run away, for ANY reason.”
Oy. Obviously, there’s an extra “they would feel if” in the above sentence. Apologies.
“IF they keep Evelyn, she will run away when she is 17 and figures out what happened. Sooner or later the chickens come home to roost.”
You’d think, but…I still remember a case I read about several years ago, in which a divorced father kidnapped his daughters away from their mother, who had custody, and took them away to…Massachusetts? Anyway, he took ’em away from mom, mom had no idea where they were, this continued for something like 20 years, I BELIEVE he told the girls that their mother didn’t want them or wasn’t fit. Anyway, eventually this was all found out when they were grown…and they wanted nothing to do with the mother and defended the dad. Now, perhaps that’s changed in the interim…but people are funny creatures. If this “adoption” is allowed to stand, it’s very possible that one day, when she’s old enough, Evelyn will realize what happened and reunite with the Bennetts, but it’s also possible that she’ll cling to her adoptive parents who raised her. (Please note that this depressing scenario is another argument for getting Evelyn back to Stephanie, gloomy as it may sound…)
“That ain’t love, it’s entitlement.
Definitely agree they should sue ACW.”
Geez, Louise, APs and PAPs! Does anybody here defend themselves or are you all doomed to kissing ass?
Sadly, we’ve been clocking ACW since we became aware of them through our own horrid agency, Building Blocks.
Nothing surprises me anymore about Marando & Kolarick. Absolutely nothing.
I would expect, though you can be sure all would deny it, that Mr. Saltsman receives cash kickbacks for every child referred to the agency.
Thank you so much for writing this article. Children Services does the very same thing only they KIDNAP children from innocent families DAILY, make up false charges and adopt them out for HUGE BONUSES paid for from OUR tax money. Look up Title IV of the social security act.
My two grandchildren were stolen by this agency. My son thought he saved them by giving them to a “friend” for a short period of time until he could get done dealing with children service’s bogus crap. All he ended up doing was take them from the lion’s den to the lion’s mouth. The woman he thought was a “friend” is nothing but evil. The law doesn’t care about the welfare of a child. The law doesn’t care about a fit Father’s Constitutional Rights.
We live in the Canton area. Our story is on my blog. http://jessecole.blogspot.com/
Keep up the good work of exposing the atrocities of this society.
I am glad you like my photograph of a Nanny Goat. As this image is copyrighted, it would have been appropriate to ask permission, or at the very least give credit.
The photograph is copyright Katie Clapham, Elemental images Photography.
See this and other images at
While I grant that your post is important, respecting artists is also important.
As an adoptive mother, I am truly sorry you have bitterness over your adoption. I am also truly sorry that you impugn the motivations of all who open their hearts, minds and families to adoptions. It is not always a bed of roses for the adoptive family, either.
But that is life. I can guarantee this, though: if the consensus of posters on this blog actually is to support adoption “for children who need families,” quite the opposite is being accomplished here.
I can’t imagine any parents thinking about adoption coming away from your blog, and others like it, with any conclusion other than “Wow, I’d sure like to help, but do so many adoptees really feel that adoption was so horrible, crushing, damaging and hellish that its negative impact definitely, vehemently, unforgiveably outweighed the alternative?”
If I’d thought that — if I’d seen these bitter blogs talking about how horrible it is to be adopted — I sure never would have taken the risk of adopting and pouring myself into raising my two sons.
I think I would have said, “if adoptees really think adoption stinks, I have to respect that and not do this terrible (in their perception) thing to these kids.”