For Tucsonans who read a shocking Reuters investigation on adopted kids published this week, two big questions leap to mind:
Are Nicole and Calvin Eason still in town? Do they have any children with them?
The Easons are the central example of the five-part series on a disturbing practice called “re-homing,” in which adoptive parents who are having trouble handling an adopted child pass on custody of the child through informal, Internet-based networking. The Easons lived in Tucson for the last couple of years, it seems. For years before that, they eagerly took in at least six children adopted initially by other people, the Reuters investigation shows.
Two of those children accused Nicole Eason of having them sleep in their bed, where Nicole lay naked. The couple denied that accusation. Nicole Eason’s biological children had been taken away previously by child protective services in Massachusetts and South Carolina.
The fourth part of the series, published Tuesday, leaves off with reporter Megan Twohey confronting the Easons at the Fairfield Inn near the intersection of Interstate 10 and East Irvington Road, where they were staying in late August. When Twohey asked if they would be taking in more kids, Nicole Eason responded, “Yes, I have kids in my room.”
Twohey told me Tuesday that she saw the children through the hotel-room door.
It’s been only a couple of weeks since then, but it may be hard to find the Easons now. They’ve moved from state to state for years and lived in a few different places in Tucson. I asked the Arizona Department of Economic Security about the situation, but they did not get back to me before press time Tuesday.
Tuesday morning, I checked out their last Tucson home, a mobile home on West 44th Street, and was surprised to find it’s across the rocky lane from the home of a woman I know from a previous story, Jeri Taylor.
“Those horrible neighbors moved out,” Taylor told me. “They had those kids living in dog (poop).”
What kids? Taylor described to me a revolving door of children and dogs going through the mobile home. Two young Native American children were there frequently, as well as a young woman with her own baby. Then there were the two pit bulls that arrived and made their own babies, puppies that were left behind when the Easons were evicted in August.
The couple did their personal travel in taxis from Freedom Cab, a company at least one of them worked for, Taylor said. Nobody at Freedom Cab would return my calls Tuesday.
What the Reuters series — also featured on NBC and its “Today” show this week — uncovered is an online network of people who facilitate or engage in passing unwanted adopted children from one family to another.
In 2006, Nicole Eason was living with another man in Illinois when they took a 10-year-old child off the hands of the original adoptive parent, a woman from Wisconsin. Later, the man, Randy Winslow, was convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography. He’s serving a 20-year sentence.
In 2008, another Wisconsin couple posted in an online forum that they needed to find a new home for the 16-year-old Liberian girl they had adopted. Writing online under the name “Momma Bear,” Nicole Eason arranged to take the girl off their hands, the story says. The Wisconsin couple drove six hours south to Illinois and handed the girl over to the Easons in one meeting. All they did was sign a notarized document saying the Easons now had custody.
What they did is not legal, but it is a violation of an interstate adoption compact with no teeth.
“I’ve never heard of anyone being prosecuted for violating that,” Tucson adoption attorney Scott Myers said Tuesday.
Myers said it does happen that people adopt, then find they can’t handle the child. For those situations, the most important step is to seek services, he said.
“Sometimes the parents will try to get Child Protective Services involved,” he said. “Parents can file a private dependency action asking that the state take custody of the child.”
Donald Cofsky, president of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, put out a statement Tuesday saying that most foreign adoptions work, and in cases when they don’t work, “disruptions” of the adoption turn out well in most cases.
“Most often the connection between a family in crisis with another family who has the ability to provide the child with the support, love and affection the child requires results in a positive outcome, provided that all of the proper procedures have taken place,” Cofsky wrote.
Proper procedures are, of course, the catch.
Those procedures would include a background check on the new parents and an inspection of the home and family by a social worker that results in their certification.
If the initial adoptive parents had followed proper procedures, the Easons never would have been given custody of those six children we know of or the two who were inside the hotel-room door.
Where they are now, and in what conditions they’re living, who knows?