- In late May the internet blew up when social media influencer Myka Stauffer announced she had “rehomed” her 5-year-old, Chinese-born, adopted son, Huxley, after adopting him three years ago.
- Stauffer and her husband James said the family was unaware of the depths of Huxley’s behaviour problems and developmental disabilities when they first adopted him, and had rehomed him with another family.
- Many fans lashed out at the Stauffers and accused them of adopting Huxley only to grow their YouTube brand and make money.
- But rehoming happens more often then you’d think. Author Erika Celeste shares her experience of going through the complicated process of rehoming a child.
Earlier this year, the internet exploded when social media influencer Myka Stauffer announced she had “rehomed” her 5-year-old, Chinese-born, adopted son, Huxley.
Stauffer and her husband James documented the 2017 adoption of Huxley on their family’s website and YouTube channel, The Stauffer Life, and on another channel titled Myka Stauffer. Over the years, their YouTube presence grew along with their family – the Stauffers had four biological children in addition to their adopted son. Over the years, Myka and James extensively vlogged the trials of caring for Huxley, a child who they say was “profoundly developmentally delayed. Myka Stauffer, in videos, and in articles like the one she wrote for The Bump in 2017, said the experience made her realise “Huxley wasn’t the one who needed to change – it was me.”
Documenting that change and her challenges with Huxley and the family’s “adoption journey” garnered them press, sponsorship deals, and followers – more than 700,000 of them.
Then on Mother’s Day of this year, the Stauffers posted a tearful YouTube video they have since removed titled “Where is Huxley,” addressing followers’ concerns that the 5-year-old hadn’t been seen in their videos in a while. Tearfully, Myka Stauffer admitted that the family had chosen to “rehome” Huxley in order to provide him with better care catered to his special needs.
“Once Huxley got home, there were a lot more special needs we weren’t aware of,” James Stauffer said in the video. Myka then assured viewers that the adoption agency they worked with was able to place him with a family that was “literally the perfect match.”
While some fans were sympathetic following the announcement, others were outraged. The family’s social media comments were aflame. “She needs to be in jail for fraud, scam artist, abuse, neglect, abandonment,” wrote one angry follower, while another encouraged others to stop giving the Stauffers views. “This family is disgusting. Anyone who is still subbed to these monsters needs to take a real good look at themselves!”
Giving up a child is one of the most painful, gut-wrenching decisions a parent ever has to make. It’s not made quickly or lightly. It’s a haunting, agonizing experience: weighing options, scrutinizing every angle, second-guessing, while being judged by family, friends, and strangers who have no idea what’s really happening.
I know, because my family has been through it.
Some international adoption agencies are accused of keeping children’s physical and psychological problems hidden from potential adoptees
In 2015 my husband and I lost a foster child we’d raised for 22 months, whom we believed we’d be able to adopt. But in the eleventh hour, he was reunited with his mother. It’s nearly impossible to raise a baby, teach him to walk, talk, and feed himself without falling in love.
Losing him was like a death.
We vowed never to take foster placements again, only pre-adoptive children. Most states have a special program that allows foster parents to be paired only with children who are already free for adoption.
Shiann came to live with us that fall as our first pre-adoptive placement. The 8-year-old was small for her age with big brown eyes, a button nose, and a smile that lit up the room. Not only was she cute, but she had a very sweet personality. I really wanted her to be my forever girl.
Changing a child’s name is something children’s services forbids until a child is legally adopted, but Shiann, now 12, told us she’d been called Lexi by one family and Annie by another.
“I thought by allowing them to change my first name, that meant they wanted to keep and adopt me,” Shiann said.
Not knowing a child’s birth name is a huge deal, but in the grand scheme of adoption, it’s just the tip of the information iceberg.
In the Stauffer’s case, there were likely international obstacles that could have contributed to their lack of information about Huxley’s condition.
“With international adoptions, what we sometimes find is many countries don’t require in-depth research or background checks. So families who adopt may not know the issues of abuse or substance abuse in utero, or multiple movements among orphanages,” Rita Soronen, President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, told Insider.
A culture of revolving social workers, lost documentation, and missing or deceased biological parents are just a few of the many complicated reasons there may be gaps in children’s social and medical history.
In some cases, there are allegations that the lack of information from foreign adoption organisations is a calculated strategy to relieve agencies of wards with complicated physical or mental health issues from complicated care procedures and financial responsibilities.
There have been dozens of lawsuits about these misrepresentations. In 2016, for instance, Robert and Amy Meeker filed a lawsuit against an adoption agency that they claimed grossly misrepresented the health problems of a Chinese infant they adopted. The child suffered from a host of health problems including epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and scoliosis that would significantly shorten her life, and the Meekers argued that she should have been placed with an “end of life family who was ready, willing and capable of providing end of life care and burying a child.” And in 2019, an Indiana family sued a Chinese adoption agency, claiming they lied about their adopted child’s age and withheld his history of sexual abuse.
The US does a better job of record-keeping and information sharing, but experts say there can still be problems.
“Unfortunately, there are also state and federal laws that prohibit some of the information that would be helpful in understanding a child’s background,” Sharon Pierce, President, and CEO of The Villages, the largest non-profit family services agency in Indiana, told Insider.
These issues can be compounded when families are trying to adopt older children.
“It’s not just that children suffer abuse, that’s horrendous enough,” Soronen said. “But the trauma lasts a lifetime and often has a physiological impact on the brain of that child, that can manifest in difficult behaviours.”
Some of those behaviours include PTSD, diagnosed in foster and pre-adoptive kids at twice the rate of US war veterans, and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a spectrum of issues in which children have poor social boundaries. In some cases, they may hug indiscriminately or sit on strangers’ laps, which is mistaken for cute or charming by the unknowing public. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, they can be disruptive, disobedient, and defiant.
Because pre-adoptive kids have had to fend for themselves, and are after all just kids who often don’t know how to adequately express themselves, some may lie, steal, fight, break things, or start fires as coping mechanisms.
“People need support and wisdom and counseling, and extra help to remediate those difficult behaviours,” Adam Pertman, president and CEO of the National Centre for Adoption and Permanency (NCAP), told Insider. “Without that help, parents and caseworkers get stressed out and take the quickest road out of the situation.”
“Unfortunately, that sometimes means social workers look at the short-term goal, instead of the big picture and find the quick home for now instead of the best home forever,” Pierce said.
The Stauffers said they knew Huxley had developmental issues, but say they only learned of his autism diagnosis and the severity of his developmental delays once back in the states.
On February 16, in one of her last Instagram posts about Huxley, Myka Stauffer expressed her frustration. “We have had a lot of meltdowns, and a lot of behaviours have had us on our knees begging God for guidance. On social media and YouTube, we rarely show the behaviours or the hard stuff, because we try our best to respect our son’s privacy and dignity. We have hard days, lots of them. I wish autism and adoption trauma had a manual to direct you through it all.”
The majority of people who terminate adoptions aren’t evil – it’s much more complicated than that
Foster and adoptive father Tim Mullins has seen it many times.
“In adoption interviews, often certain traumas or behaviours are described in a way that is not always honest,” Mullens said. “Then, as they always do, behaviours begin to manifest themselves, and the adoptive family is clueless as to why the child is behaving that way.”
Typically pre-adoptive kids “honeymoon” for a few weeks or even months in a new home before unleashing their emotions with a myriad of behaviours, say adoption experts. They will be on their best behaviour before they begin testing the limits of their new adoptive parents, sceptical that their new family bond will be permanent.
Behavioural problems are cited as the top reason placements are disrupted, according to the Centre for Advanced Studies of Child Welfare. But the centre says children might also be placed in multiple homes because they aren’t getting along with other children in the home; the child has become a danger to themselves or others; or if their mental or physical health needs are beyond the adoptive parent’s abilities. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of chemistry.
“Behaviours” aren’t quick temper tantrums or writing on the walls with permanent marker. They’re much more all-consuming. Behaviours some adoptive parents describe include never sleeping for more than two or three hours so that parents never get a full night’s rest; having things stolen or broken; or managing an older child with a toddler’s mentality, but larger body that can open and get into things a toddler can’t.
“The majority of people who terminate adoptions aren’t evil beings mad at their kids because they didn’t do their homework. The problem is parents don’t have services or support and they feel desperate,” Pertman said.
No one keeps records on how often adoptive parents terminate their parental rights. However, state child welfare agencies are required to keep data on American pre-adoptive children (legally eligible for adoption) who’ve been placed in multiple homes.
Pertman said rehoming children because of behavioural problems isn’t a frequent problem, but is a small and consistent one.
Approximately 125,000 children who are eligible for adoption have been paired with new homes not once or twice, but three or more times, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. And that number only reflects children in the foster system, not those who are adopted internationally, or privately. Programs like Second Chance Adoption, an initiative borne out of the Wasatch International Adoption program, have sprung up to specifically facilitate the safe and legal readoption of children.
For many of those children, no matter how sound the program, the emotional scars of being adopted out multiple times can be catastrophic.
“Children are expected to leave behind everything they know,” Pierce said. “We can all relate in a small way to that experience of loss with Covid-19 and the stay at home order when we couldn’t live our lives the way we always had.”
Each new placement for a foster child makes their chances for adoption go down
Maybe it was too soon for Shiann to come into our lives. A part of me felt like I was betraying the child we’d lost. Another part was afraid to be hurt again like I’d been with the baby. Yes, we had the promise that she would be ours, but I’d heard that promise before only to have my heart ripped out.
At the same time, foster mother, Heather Vance, whom I’d met through an online foster and adoption support group, figured out I had Shiann. Heather knew Shiann from church with her previous placement and had even watched her for a short time. We began instant messaging.
“I know I shouldn’t, but I have to ask, how’s Shiann doing? Are you adopting her? I love that little girl so much and am devastated at what happened. Just want to make sure she is happy,” Heather wrote.
I questioned what was wrong with me. How could Heather instantly bond with Shiann and I not feel the same connection? How did she know after a short time that she loved her when I didn’t know what I felt? Why did it seem like everyone in my support groups were having such wonderful experiences and happy lives when I was so scared, frustrated, and inadequate?
“Rarely do people post their daily struggles on their social media accounts, partially because we are driven by society to showcase the best parts of our lives and not our struggles,”Dr. Kristen Fuller explained in a December 2017 Psychology Today article.
“I think that’s true, not just of adoptive families, but all families,” Pierce said. “We want to show the world our best face on social media. It takes strength to ask for help and we all need to encourage our foster and adoptive families to ask for it.”
Because foster and adoptive parents want so badly to prove themselves worthy, in my experience, they go overboard showing off the wonderful things and hiding the not-so-great parts of life. In reality, we need to see the other side too so that we can learn from each other and how to make it through.
I did a lot of second-guessing. Shiann was supposed to be my forever girl. How could I walk away? I just couldn’t do that to her.
Children placed in multiple homes face a more significant number of social, emotional, and academic issues, as well as suffer from low self-esteem, grief, depression, and anger. Not to mention, the Casey Foundation reported, with each new placement, the chances of adoption go down.
How could I tell Shiann we weren’t her forever home or face her case manager who’d put her trust in us? What would our friends and family think or say? I was drowning and there were no good answers.
I hoped things would get better with time, so I procrastinated.
But things didn’t change.
Finally, I came to a conclusion I wish more parents would come to: Being a good parent means doing what’s best for your child, even if it isn’t easy or what’s best for you. Love is giving what’s needed. In my case, it meant not being Shiann’s mum.
Luckily, I knew exactly who should be her mum: Heather.
Before calling the case manager, I contacted Heather, and we mounted a joint effort to make sure Shiann ended up where she belonged.
“I was upfront with Shiann when she came back,” Heather said. “I remember telling her that I wasn’t sure if I was her forever-mummy, but let’s just get to know one another.”
Heather, too, had also recently suffered a loss. The twins she’d fostered for over a year had recently been returned to their father. As a single woman, she wasn’t sure if Shiann would be better in a two-parent household, but none of that mattered to Shiann.
“I knew she was perfect for me,” Shiann told me recently.”I was sad when I didn’t get to stay with her the first time. But when I came back, I knew she was going to be my mummy.”
On November 22, 2016, Shiann Emma Vance became Heather’s legal daughter.
“God had a plan and we were meant to find each other,” Heather said. “She is the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m thankful to be her mum.”
There needs to be more oversight in the rehoming process
“Most of the rehoming that makes the news is people who do it themselves,” said NCAP’s Pertman. “Maybe the rehomed family is a good one, but that might just be an untrained family’s judgment. There needs to be structure and counseling so that the transfer works legally, ethically, and morally in the best interest of the kids.”
Even with private adoptions of older children like Huxley, the new parents need to have a home study and background checks to make sure they are a safe and good fit. Part of the controversy surrounding Huxley’s readoption is because it’s unclear whether his parents followed legal protocol. Citing the desire to protect Huxley’s privacy, the Stauffers have not gone into detail about where the 5-year-old is now living.
Since Heather adopted her, I’ve watched Shiann grow from afar into a beautiful young lady.
There have been times when I see a post of Heather and Shiann mugging for mother-daughter selfies and I feel a little twinge of regret for what might have been. But mostly I’m very happy they found each other.
Besides, if Shiann had stayed with me, there’s a good chance my husband and I wouldn’t have adopted 5-year-old Christopher. He’d been in ten foster homes in just two years, including some pre-adoptive homes.
Life hasn’t been perfect. Christopher does have some behavioural issues, but something about him just clicked for us.
‘Do I feel like a failure as a mum? Like, 500%’
“After multiple assessments, after multiple evaluations, numerous medical professionals have felt that he needed a different fit for his medical needs, he needed more,” Myka said in her video disclosing Huxley’s rehoming.
The video has since been removed from Stauffer’s YouTube page, but the family’s story is still unfolding. Some fans have rallied to the family’s defence, applauding them for making such a painful decision public. A small industry of armchair experts has sprung up to diagnose the Stauffers as narcissists and opportunists. Still, others say that Huxley was exploited by the Stauffers in order to gain followers and lucrative partnerships with brands like Fabletics and Glossier. In late May, a Change.org petition began circulating, demanding that YouTube remove any monetized videos featuring Huxley. “We request that her videos featuring Huxley and/or any content concerning Huxley be immediately demonetised and removed from the platform,” the petition read. “This boy has suffered enough; it should not be public and should not supplement her income any longer.” More than 150,000 people signed, and by early June, the Stauffers had set all Huxley-related content to private, effectively demonetising it.
That didn’t stop the Stauffers from losing fans and brand deals. Several big sponsors have dropped their partnerships with her. And while videos and images of Huxley have been stripped from Stauffer’s social media accounts, his photo remains on The Stauffer Life website under their section on “The Team.”
“The last couple months have been the hardest thing I could have ever imagined choosing to do,” Myka Stauffer said. “Do I feel like a failure as a mum? Like, 500%.”
YouTube is, of course, rife with happy adoption stories – videos documenting a happy family expanding their brood. But few families have exposed the more difficult part of their journeys. The Stauffer’s reminds us that YouTube typically only reveals the shiny, disinfected parts.
Choosing to adopt a child with special needs is a huge unknown. Most families who adopt have very big hearts. They have the best of intentions. They see little children in pain with significant needs and think, “we’re big enough and strong enough to do this.”
Unfortunately, sometimes the strength they must draw on is admitting that the adoption just won’t work.
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