A couple in Canada were stunned to discover their adopted daughters have fetal alcohol syndrome, despite being under the impression that all medical information was disclosed when they adopted the girls.
Susan and Bill Smith said they took in the the two girls as foster children when they were ages 10 and 11. Susan, an Alberta resident, said she and her husband noticed strange behavior from the girls almost immediately, but they were assured that they would improve once they were in a permanent home.
“We didn't feel that we had a ton of choice other than to go forward and hope that finalizing an adoption would give them the peace of mind that they would settle in,” Susan said. The behavior didn’t improve, and the Smiths began to question whether or not they received all the medical information they needed from the agency before going through with the adoption process.
A year after beginning the fostering process, the Smiths adopted the two young girls. Problems quickly worsened, with the girls acting out and exhibiting strong symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. FASD causes a number of mental health issues, including low IQ, poor social skills, memory problems and violent behavior.
“We've had a number of attacks on us, but a good portion of them were one child to the other, and it was always the same child to the other,” Susan said of her daughters’ behavior. “There were many times when blood was drawn because she was so angry.”
“There was one day when I was fortunately close enough to catch the back of the coat of the one who was being thrown head first down the stairs,” she added.
At one point during the fostering stage, Smith became so overwhelmed that she attempted to return the girls to social services.
“At one point, I said, 'You have to take at least one of them out of the house,' and the worker said, 'Well I'm not coming to get them.' I said, 'That's OK, I'm willing to drop them off. Where do I take them?’” Smith said. “We were not adoptive parents yet, we were still fostering to adopt."
Alberta Human Services caseworker Dale Chudyk said he is confident that his organization was fully open about the girls’ medical histories.
“We're completely transparent so anything the department knows goes in the file and is given to the adoptive parents,” he said, adding that he’s only seen “one or two” cases of parents trying to return a child.
The youngest Smith daughter, 15-year-old Stephanie, said she feels parents who drink while pregnant should be criminally punished.
“They should be put in jail for 18 years and, like, (obey) strict, strict rules,” she said. “It's, like, you're staying in here — no drugs, no alcohol, no nothing. Just necessities. That's it."
While the process has been difficult for Susan and Bill, they maintain that they still love their daughters and just want the best for them.
“To go through the process that we did again, not a chance, because there isn't any end to the ugly, not for the family and not for the children. They need professional help 24 hours a day,” Susan said.
“Well, we still love them, and we want the best for them, but the one — she can't get the best here. We're not capable of giving her what she needs,” Bill added.
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