Another day, another registry.
This article opens the door on issues I’ve never even considered, but much of the story has a decidedly familiar ring to it (Texas Tribune, 2/4/11). That ring sounds like this: a state registry that’s easy to get onto, almost impossible to get off of and that seriously compromises your rights often completely unbeknownst to you.
I’ve written before about California and New York’s DV registries that can include names of folks who are entirely innocent of wrongdoing, but who find it difficult (New York) or impossible (California) to get their names off the registry. In the meantime they run substantial legal and social risks because their names are listed.
This registry is slightly different, and yet so much the same.
The article tells the story of a man it calls James to protect his and his son’s identities. James is a thoroughly responsible, well-employed man, who, when he reached his 40s without being married or having a family, decided to adopt a child.
He went through the process with Lutheran Social Services and was eventually paired with a 12-year-old boy who had spent a couple of years in foster care. Soon enough, the adoption was completed and James became the boy’s father. That was three years ago and the lad, now 15, seems to be doing well.
Now 15, the boy is an affable teenager who has achieved academically, adores karate and art and has won awards at school for his progress. The father and son are active at church and in the Boy Scouts. They take trips to the Grand Canyon and to anime conventions.
So successful has their father-son relationship turned out to be that James started thinking about adopting another child. He again contacted Lutheran Social Services and learned a surprising thing – he would never be allowed to adopt another child.
Why? Not because he’s a bad parent, but because the State of Texas deems his son to be a bad boy. From the time he was 10, the boy’s name has been on a state sex-offender registry. No one told the boy about this and no one told James, but his name is on the registry anyway and that means that James can’t adopt another child. The State of Texas considers his son a sex offender and therefore a danger to other children.
The boy’s background before he met James is horrific. When he was younger, he was in the custody of his mother and stepfather who were drug addicts. They repeatedly abused him sexually and left him alone in seedy motel rooms for extended periods of time. Eventually, they simply disappeared and are assumed to be homeless.
That got him into the custody of his natural father, but the boy began acting out sexually, mimicking his own abuse. At age ten, he allegedly fondled his father’s four-year-old son and a female cousin. The incidents were investigated and authorities said they had found “reason to believe” that the boy had committed the abuse.
But there was no clear finding that he had done so and therefore no opportunity for him, with the help of a court-appointed attorney, to defend himself. The “reason to believe” finding was placed on his record and his name was placed on the central registry, all unknown to him.
When his father discovered that the boy had fondled the other children (assuming that he had), he beat him up and so the child was placed in foster care and the father’s rights terminated.
That’s how he came to be adopted by James. And it’s why James, an undeniably fine father, cannot give another needy child a home – he adopted an abused child who, as so many do, acted out his own abuse with other children.
Diligent, caring father that he is, James has done everything he can to address his son’s childhood abuse to make sure he himself doesn’t abuse children when he becomes an adult. And by all accounts, that process is going well.
The boy has gone through extensive counseling, his father said — intensive sex therapy while in foster care, followed by emotional and academic counseling since he was adopted.
And, as shown before, he seems to be a well-adjusted teenager. But his father can’t adopt another child and the boy faces a multitude of restrictions possibly for the rest of his life.
[T]he boy said he won”t ever get to have a brother. He will not be eligible to adopt or foster his own children some day. And he”s effectively prohibited from ever working with children.
And it’s only by the accident of his father attempting to adopt another child that either of them even knows about his listing on the state’s registry. Otherwise he’d have grown up and perhaps pursued a teaching career or one in nursing only to be told that he couldn’t enter those professions because once an abused child acted out.
Now, unlike in California, he can contest his listing on the registry, but it’ll take two years for him to get a hearing. By then he’ll be 17 and who knows what he’ll have to prove, seven years after the fact, to get his name deleted?
What does seem apparent though, is that, whatever happened when he was 10, his subsequent behavior doesn’t seem to matter to state officials or caseworkers. To them, once a sex offender, always a sex offender. Unlike every other criminal except murderers, he’ll never get a chance to say “I’ve paid my debt to society.” Unlike gang-bangers, armed robbers and rapists, he’ll go on paying, potentially forever.
He’ll go on paying for something he supposedly did when he was 10 years old.