Fairview case draws scrutiny from Liberian ambassador

BY ANN KELLEY Published: April 18, 2010
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FAIRVIEW — The Liberian ambassador to the United States says he’s monitoring the controversial child welfare case involving four Fairview children adopted from his country. Ambassador Milton Nathaniel Barnes said the girls’ attorney, Melvin Johnson, of Atlanta brought the case to his attention last month.

"We are watching this case and others that involve Liberian children with great concern,” Barnes said. "In many cases these children are adopted by well-meaning people, but things somehow go terribly wrong.”

The four sisters, ages 5 to 16, were removed last week from their parents’ custody. Ardee Tyler, 51, and his wife, Penny Tyler, 45, of Fairview were convicted in February of abusing a fifth adopted daughter. The couple received 10-year suspended sentences.

Separate from the criminal case is a controversial child welfare case that has dragged on for two years. The case now includes state prosecutors, and a new judge is reviewing a previous judge’s decision to close the case and allow the four girls to remain with their adopted parents.

This is thought to be the first time in state history that judicial review is being used in a child welfare case, authorities said.

Fixing a problem
The Liberian government in September placed a one-year moratorium on international adoptions to allow officials there time to make changes to the adoption system, Barnes said.

He said his home country, having been damaged by civil war, was like any country coming out of a chaotic disaster. Government officials didn’t have the resources to monitor adoptions closely.

"We started to see problems,” Barnes said.

A Liberian national in Philadelphia was caught adopting children and moved them to the United States for sex trafficking, he said. More recent is a California case in which a Liberian-born child is alleged to have been beaten to death by her adopted parents, he said.

Even worse, many African parents putting their children in orphanages didn’t understand the Western concept of adoption. Many of them thought they would have contact with their children, as if they were sending them to a relative’s home to be cared for, Barnes said.

Attorney seeks investigation
Attorney Melvin Johnson said he wants the Tylers and the people who helped them adopt investigated for potential fraud.

The children were adopted by the West African Children Support Network. The U.S. State Department in January reported the adoption agency, founded by Liberian-born Maria Luyken of Eden Prairie, Minn., was ordered by the Liberian government to suspend operations pending an investigation into whether it was properly caring for children.

A 2005 home study that helped Ardee and Penny Tyler adopt the five African sisters painted a picture of a strong, stable family excited about having more children.

What it didn’t uncover were allegations that a son had been abused, rifts with family members over their children and a possible misrepresentation of their financial ability to support the girls.

The Oklahoman obtained a copy of the home study, which was completed by Oklahoma Home Study of Edmond before the Tylers adopted the girls in 2005.


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