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Cover Story

No Good Choice Page 1

Why Rusty Speake gave up her adopted daughter.

By Carolyn Campbell
Posted // March 9,2011 -

Angel.jpgIn the dark of night, 5-year-old Emily [not her real name] tried to strangle her older brother with a karate belt. This disturbing incident was part of an accelerating spiral of violence against the girl’s two brothers. In 2010, six years after the first incident, Emily’s adoptive mother, Debora “Rusty” Speake, a hopeful, energetic woman with red hair the color of her nickname and traces of a Texas accent, sent Emily to stay with her grandmother in Houston for seven weeks.

“Literally two hours after she came home, Emily’s first big fight with her older brother broke out,” Speake recalls. “She went after him and was hitting him. She said, ‘If you tell Mom, I’ll kill you.’ ” From past episodes, Emily’s brother knew the violence would escalate if he fought back. Afterward, he let his mom know what happened. “It’s a real hard place for him to be,” says his mother.

Speake didn’t sleep for two nights. “[Emily’s] room is downstairs, and the boys are upstairs. I would lie in bed and worry that she would come up the stairs and hurt one of them,” says Speake.

Emily’s anger and aggression were constant, leading up to the day when she lifted her younger brother’s bike and threw it at him. The bike missed him but hit a neighbor child. Emily denied responsibility, saying, “I am the little girl. I can’t pick up a big bike.” At least six other people had seen Emily throw the bike.

Ever since Speake adopted Emily, she’s known that Emily’s aggression is fueled by assorted diagnoses stemming from being born to a heroin-addicted birth mother. “Her diagnoses are a mixed bag,” says Anna Williams, a child psychiatrist who conducted medication management for Emily. Speake’s been told Emily has everything from reactive detachment disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder to bipolar affective disorder. Emily was also diagnosed with depression, and her neurological conditions are further complicated by seizures.

Her daughter’s conditions required more treatment and therapy that she as a single mom had the means to provide. While the state provides foster parents with an array of medical services, adoptive parents have far less state-funded medical assistance. As Speake constantly worried about the safety of her sons, the mother couldn’t help but feel the family was reaching a breaking point.

After the bike incident, Speake drove Emily to the emergency room at Primary Children’s Medical Center. They arrived at 8 p.m. At 5 a.m. the next morning, a social worker let Speake know that Emily would be admitted to the University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI), a 90-bed psychiatric hospital providing mental-health and substance-abuse treatment. “They said the reason they could admit Emily to UNI was that she admitted to a social worker that she hits and kicks her brothers and hurts them and can’t help herself,” Speake said. While devastated, Speake initially felt relief about the UNI placement. She thought that a solution might be in sight at a time when she felt Emily was not getting better, and probably was getting worse. “I can’t tell you how many times I have cried over it,” she says.

Dr. Williams is one of several mental-health professionals who concurs that Emily needs extensive residential therapy, an option that neither Speake’s medical insurance from her work as a respiratory therapist nor Medicaid will provide. “The therapy she needs costs $11,000 a month. What parent can afford that?” Speake asks. Although Medicaid would have paid for residential treatment at the time Speake first adopted Emily, the program stopped paying for residential treatment in July 2010.

Speake’s hopes were dashed when, at her first meeting with a UNI therapist, she heard the words: “We plan to discharge her.” Speake instantly found herself between a rock and a hard place.

“Rusty had a decision to make,” says adoption attorney Dean Ellis, who represents Speake. “If she brought Emily home without the problems being solved, she would still act out in violent ways. If she refused to bring her home, the state would get involved. She made that choice, knowing that it might look bad for her, but the state has resources that aren’t available to her.”

Speake felt she faced possible criminal charges with either taking Emily home or returning her to state custody. Knowing that the two boys show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of Emily’s attacks, she said, “I can’t take her back home. Every time she comes back home, she puts the boys in danger.”

The UNI therapist responded that if Speake didn’t take Emily home, UNI would call Child Protective Services, and she would be charged with abandonment. On the other hand, Speake knew that if she didn’t protect the boys, she could be charged with failure to protect. “If one sibling injures or kills another, parents can be held liable,” she explains.

Speake felt she had no choice but to return Emily to state custody, a desperate choice that felt like the devastating opposite of her hopes and dreams. “This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” she says. “ I feel I have failed one child but also realize I have to protect the other two,” she says.”

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Posted // March 22,2011 at 03:51

Hmmmm, so because you could not handle the choice you made, which was to adopt these kids, you blame the state for not providing help to you? Either im mistakened or your crying over the choice you made. Why adopt these kids if your going to point fingers at other people for the outcome of your choice?


Posted // March 22,2011 at 03:39

No good choice? Publishing this article was one BAD choice. Looks like this article caused more bad for the child. That's just sad.


Posted // March 21,2011 at 19:00

Not alot of people can understand your situation Rusty, But there are those few that do. I truly think that unless you have lived it you truly wont understand it. Its people like that speak out about situations like this that make a difference for others.


Posted // March 17,2011 at 20:08

When i read this article i could not believe a so called mother would allow for this article to be published. I have no clue what this "mother" was thinking! A mother is suppose to protect their child, how is this article protecting her at all? My kids go to the same school as this little girl on the pictures, today my kids told me that she cried in the bathroom at school today because the kids keep teasing her. I hope city weekly and this mother hold responsiblility for that. Protecting this child? Exactly how did you do that! Getting help for this child? This article did nothing but make matters worse for this child! It amazes me how far city weekly went for a story that brought this little girl down today. For her "mother",I am ashamed of you. What were you thinking! I am a mother of a problemed child and never would I give up my child at the moment my child needed me the most, and then to publish it to the public? I would be ashamed to call myself a mother if i were you! I hope mothers, REAL mothers reading this realize their role as a mother, and what not to do! RIDICULOUS I SAY!


Posted // March 21,2011 at 23:36 - I think, yes stand up for yourself, but do it another way without hurting your child. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of mothers who feel a child is too much, but not every kid is the easiest to deal with. Why would you blame the state for how your child is? They are not the parent, you are. Be a parent and find a way, don't just post an article on how things are not working. I'm pretty sure if every parent did that, the newspaper would turn into a 100 paged novel. There were other ways to go about this. You have got to look for them, other than just writing about it. Come on now.


Posted // March 20,2011 at 19:56 - All I'm saying is that this article put a sad effect on her daughter. Yes be mad at the state for whatever reasons you have, but to bring your daughter down as well is uncalled for. Her daughter was teased at school because of this article! The bottom line is this article was published with pictures and videos, which hurt this poor little girl. You keep talking of how this mother did so much for this little girl, but your missing the part of what this little girl is going through because of this article. You keep saying she's trying to love and help her child, exactly what was the outcome of this article for her daughter? Her daughter was called a murderer and lost friends due to the change of schools. She's still in foster care and all this article did was make her life harder than it already is. I thought the mother would publish this article to HELP her daughter, this article only brought her into tears. The outcome could have been prevented if the mother saw every angle this article would be taken for. The first angle being her daughter and the daughter's surroundings. Which should be every mother's intuition don't you think? Yes the mother has been through a lot, I'm sure almost every mom has. But a little girl at her age should not have gone through what she did, and it only happened because of her mother's decision to publish this. The only one who did the crying out loud, was her daughter from this article. Yes mother's sacrifice a lot for their kids, but what mother sacrifices her daughter's life that she was living at the moment, for her own personal need of a story? That is the other side you did not see nicole, was the effect it had on her daughter. Which should have been the only point that mattered from this article. Yours truly, MEL :)


Posted // March 20,2011 at 17:36 - Okay I don't know how many times I have pointed out that yes it was a mistake to put her picture on here. But I am not going to exchange nasty words with you anymore. If you would like to come to my house and talk about this in person and explain both sides of view, I would be glad to. You can then meet my 16 year old foster daughter (which I work for the same agency that this child is in as well) and my 8 year old daughter! I have not "come on here posting" things that are not true. Everything I have said is the truth (well maybe except the part about you sending the article to school with your child). To end this ... you keep talking about me understanding both sides of the story ... well I have them. It is sad all the way around that this child fell through the cracks of our "great" system. One last question, if this same thing was happening to a child with cancer or some other disease, and the state was not willing to help, would you be saying what a horrible mother she is, or would you be saying, "that poor lady, look what she is having to deal with for having the heart to adopt 3 special needs children and now no one will help with the situation?" But because it is a mental illness, people look down at her for not being able to provide the absolute best for her. I mean for crying out loud, she moved states just to get her the best neurological care she could get ... and that is not total commitment and love to you? Yours truly, Idiot, stupid, shallow Nicole :)


Posted // March 20,2011 at 16:54 - The pictures are included in the article, therefore makes the WHOLE ARTICLE WRONG! Whether it be a little or big part of the article it is wrong.It made her daughter cry and that's that! A mother should not do that whether trying to prove her point or not, try it another way without hurting your children! But she obviously didn't think it clearly which makes this all just sad. They called a little girl at school a murderer, does that really not set off any flags to you? Really Nicole? My kids play willh this little girl and she is a sweet little girl. I know all the children that my kids play with, and I am aware that she is foster care. But if you were really a foster mom you would know there more possibilities than just being her teacher or a therapist of talking with her. You obviously haven't spoken with this little girl lately. Yes I know she changed schools, doesn't mean my kids didn't see her crying at school.Now you are really the "sketchy" one here, saying you are things you really are not. Get the story from BOTH sides nicole, instead of just agreeing with the little knowledge that you have. Don't come on here and post when you really don't know what your talking about.


Posted // March 20,2011 at 08:50 - This mother did not GIVE up her child. She did not say, "Oh today I don't want her anymore so I think I will drop her off at the state." No, since she started school she had been trying to get help, and the state WOULD NOT help her because she had legally adopted her and the services she needed were NOT under the post adoption services. She had no other choice but to protect the other two children in the house. She also did not just turn her over and say, "Hey today I am going to have an article written about our story ... she STILL was fighting for her daughter, trying to get her help, also paying child support to the state, AND seeing her daughter as much as possible. She in no way gave up on her. Maybe she did make a mistake by letting them put the pictures on here, but YES that was the only thing wrong with the article. If not for the pictures, they did not use her real name, so it would have never been brought back to her. Since this story, other families have come forward with similar issues and also some advocating agencies for children. So this article DID HELP! It is upsetting that the girl was upset, but I want to know how you personally met with this girl, because right as this happened she was taken away from the classes and had to be picked up. So unless you are a teacher or therapist at the school, you would have not had contact with her??? Maybe the school should be asked why they were letting unknown "parents" talk with her without the guardians permission! (Which I personally don't think happened) Sketchy!!!


Posted // March 20,2011 at 02:43 - Heard they called this little girl a " murderer" at her school. I would be upset at my mother if this happened to me, I see that. Should have thought this out clearly before publishing this.


Posted // March 20,2011 at 02:37 - I think the mother did a good job on attacking the state and foster agency. But also hurt her daughter, wrong of her to put her daughter down like that. That's just sad. Should have done that a different way than this.


Posted // March 20,2011 at 02:19 - Excuse me nicole the idiot! You know this family personally, and you think it was right to publish this? THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT HER DAUGHTER AND IT DID NOTHING FOR HER, BUT HURT HER MORE! Her mother put her in foster care, and tells everyone on the city weekly ( a free public newspaper) that her daughter tried to kill her brothers, What mother does that! Obviously one like you, who wasn't thinking of her daughter's life that she was having at the moment and the affect on her from it! No only idiot mothers like you! Yes taking care of a problem child can be hard at times, but you don't BLAST their business all over a public newspaper, and all for to what? Stand up against the state? You would do that to your child? Really? And you called me shallow? IDIOT YOU ARE INDEED! No nicole, I did not give my children the city weekly and I never will. But I'm pretty sure that the kids from the school saw their classmate on THE FRONT PAGE and asked why? That's what most likely happened OBVIOUSLY! Are you really that stupid nicole? I think so. This could have been prevented from the beginning, by not publishing this in the first place! You say the only thing wrong with this article was posting the picture? Are serious? IT MADE A LITTLE GIRL CRY! So unless you do that on a daily basis, it is wrong! No mother should cause that for a daughter especially if the mother gave her up to the state! She doesn't even live with her anymore, and caused her daughter pain! I went to tell this little girl that she is still welcomed from my family and you know what she tells me? That her "mom is stupid and knows what really happened with her brothers is NOT TRUE!" She tells me that her mother told her "the lady who wrote the article will post whatever she needs to sell the story." But you wouldn't know that right? Cause your just a family friend that only hears one side of the story! Now that is shallow nicole! Shallow like the idiot you are.


Posted // March 18,2011 at 15:39 - Wow Mel! Sounds to me like you are the ridiculous one. I know this family personally too, and I feel the mother had no other choice. She could not get any help from anyone, and I am sure it is happening with many other families as well. She wanted to shed light on the situation so that it doesn't happen to others. I praise her for having the balls to stand up to the state and the foster care agency when they "encouraged" her not to come forward with the story. Now she is getting blame??? Wow you are really shallow. I have a mentally disabled daughter in my home as well, and some times I have wondered if I could keep her here as I worry for the safety of others. BUT, I have the help from the state in these situations as I am a foster parent. Yes, I understand it wasn't the best interest to publish her picture, but that was the ONLY misstep in this article. The best part of your response was when you said, "I am ashamed of you ... What were you thinking?" SHE WAS THINKING OF THE SAFETY OF HER TWO OTHER BOYS! Yes the daughter was crying as kids were teasing her about her picture being on the "front page" of a magazine that their parents read, but they DID NOT know why she was on there or even what it was about. I am also ashamed of the "parent" that LET their child bring "City Weekly" to school to tease this child about it. Oh my bad, it was probably you! To end it, I am ashamed of you as a mother to not understand the difficulty that this woman was faced with and the compassion to understand how turned around their lives have been since last year.


Posted // March 11,2011 at 15:51

I'm not sure I understand why the City Weekly is protecting "Emily's" name, but showing her face. How is that protecting her? Why even bother changing her name?


Posted // March 15,2011 at 11:35 - Has the birth mother ever been charged with anything regarding child endangerment? she was obviously actively using whilst pregnant three different times. if she is so inclined to shoot up, why not shoot up some depo-provera along with her drugs. she should do some serious time for having children be born with such awful circumstances that could easily be prevented.


Posted // March 11,2011 at 20:52 - If Ms. Speake has abandoned Emily to the custody of the state, how can she give permission for anything involving this child?


Posted // March 11,2011 at 19:22 - Emily's mother gave us permission to publish the girl's name, photo and video image. We chose not to publish her given name. At some point, we may consider removing the photos/videos from our online archives. But for now, the images of Emily and Rusty are compelling and help readers grasp this family's unique challenges.