Jonathan and Alison Schumm Abuse Case Raises Questions
Alison and Jonathan Schumm.
Given my interest in homeschool reform, I am familiar with many if not most of the entries at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s Homeschooling’s Invisible Children database. This database was started by homeschool alumni concerned about the role homeschooling can play in intensifying and hiding abuse by allowing abusive parents to isolate their children. (I suppose this is where I add the caveat that I am not anti-homeschooling, just pro-accountability.)
Anyway, I found the most recent entry interesting for several reasons. Let’s take a look:
Five children between the ages of 5 and 16 were physically abused by Jonathan Robert Schumm and Allison Nicole Schumm. Jonathan Schumm was a Topeka Councilman, Allison Schumm blogged extensively about their lives, and the Schumms had received an Angels in Adoption award in 2013. They had 4 biological children and 10 adopted children (two sibling groups of 5, adopted in 2008 and 2013), and were fostering 2 additional children when they were arrested. The Schumms’ biological children were homeschooled, and the adopted children were removed from public schools to be homeschooled as soon as their adoptions were finalized.
According to court documents, a 12-year-old child was tortured or beaten by the Schumms, and 4 others were also physically abused, in October 2015. The family had been previously investigated by child protective services in 2013 during their second adoption proceedings after a child’s foster family reported bruising on him and abuse of the other children. In her blog, Allison Schumm describes placing her other children with a relative during the CPS investigation so that they could not be questioned. The reports were ruled unfounded. Schumm also describes forcing some of the adopted children (younger than 10 years) to carry heavy burdens across the yard as punishment.
Jonathan Schumm was charged with one count of aggravated battery or child abuse for the 12-year-old and four counts of child endangerment for the other children. Allison Schumm was charged with the same crimes, though as an accomplice. The children were removed from their home by child protective services.
I was surprised that the family received an Angels in Adoption award with (apparently) so little vetting. I read through the linked posts in which Allison tells her family’s adoption story (part 1, part 2, and part 3) and found additional details. It seems the Angels in Adoption award was not the only one the family received. Shortly before adopting the second sibling group of five, the Schumms received the “Project Belong 2013 Adoptive Family of the year” award. I also learned that the Schumms were initially told they would not be permitted to adopt this second sibling group, because they already had eight children (three biological and five adopted).
A few short days later we were told that because of our family size and the needs of the children we would not be able to adopt them. Our whole family spent the day we found out terribly depressed, but God used worship music to encourage us. We sat in the van with 5 empty seats waiting to eat lunch at the park with the Hoffman’s and God used these words to remind us that he was in control of everything. “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind, the God of angel armies is always by my side.” God knew this would happen and it was well within His hands, we just needed to trust and obey. The very next song we hear the chorus “Don’t give up, help is surely on its way, don’t give up, the dark is breaking in today, just keep on moving through these storms and soon enough you’ll find the door, just don’t give up, oh, and don’t give up” We later found out that before we even knew we were turned down God’s hand was moving. Many people had already been working behind the scenes to get DCF to change their mind about the adoption. Our friends and family wrote countless letters explaining our hearts and support system. Those who didn’t write lifted us up in prayer.
Ultimately, in the face of this support for the Schumms, DCF changed their mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-adoption. I have, however, read more than a few stories where couples have adopted oversized families, sometimes over concerns from DCF or other agencies, and have later been found guilty of abuse or neglect. I’ve also read more than a few stories where these oversized families are praised by politicians or given awards, and then turn out to be abusive. We’ve seen this before here on the blog, such as when I wrote my 2013 post, HSLDA: Man Who Kept Children in Cages a “Hero”.
In that post, I wrote about Michael and Sharon Gravelle, who adopted eleven special needs children and were found to be keeping those children in cages, beating them, and holding their heads under water in the toilet. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, as quoted in my post:
Scott Somerville, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association in Virginia, said he talked with Michael Gravelle before the story broke in the media, and he believes this is a family trying to help special children.
When a social worker visited the house last week, there was no resistance to an inspection, said Somerville, whose organization represents home-schooling families on legal matters.
“They had nothing to hide,” Somerville said. “He told me why they adopted these children and told me the problems they were trying to solve.
“I think he is a hero.”
There seems to be an automatic assumption that any family that would adopt ten or eleven children—and especially special needs children—must by definition be worthy of praise and honor. Here’s another example from Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, this one from 2005:
Wilson and Brenda Sullivan’s 17 year old mentally handicapped adopted son was found caged in a crib by investigators responding to an anonymous tip. He was severely malnourished and weighed only 49 pounds, less than what he weighed when the couple had adopted him at age 7 ten years prior. Two other adopted children, aged 10, were kept in similar cages. The family homeschooled. The couple had been praised for their willingness to adopt special needs children by the governor himself in 1995. Wilson died before the trial was completed, and Brenda was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
There is a serious problem with the assumption that everyone who adopts does so with good intentions and aware of their limitations—it’s simply not true. Another website database, Pound Pup Legacy, tracks cases of abuse among adopted children in an effort to call for reform of the adoption process. A quick perusal of their website should disabuse any reader of the idea that adoptive parents are always motivated by altruism.
Regular readers of my blog are familiar with the concept of childbearing as a form of child collecting. Within the quiverfull movement, large families are praised and the more children a woman bears the more highly the family is regarded. I grew up in a family influenced by this movement and I well remember the feelings of superiority that came along with being part of an oversized family. But children are a lot of work, and every additional child divides the amount of time a parent can spend on any individual child. There’s a reason the youngest Duggar children would run to their older sisters, and not their mother, if they were hurt or upset.
In some cases, adoption can function similarly, providing couples with a means to expanding their families far beyond what most people would feel capable of handling. Jonathan and Allison Schumm adopted five children and had three of their own and another on the way. With eight children and one on the way, most parents would focus their energy on the children they had, but the Schumms felt compelled to adopt more children. And given the awards they were receiving, I think it’s safe to say that their oversized family brought them attention and praise, and some degree of status within the adoptive community. And Allison herself wrote that she was not “done.”
It’s perhaps worth noting that the Allison used quiverfull language on her blog. Some segments of the quiverfull movement deify adoption and praise it as yet one more way to expand one’s family. I grew up reading Above Rubies magazine, with its stories of adoption and family expansion. It was only years later that I learned that many of these adoptions failed, given that they were initiated for the wrong reasons and carried out by parents with extremely concerning approaches to parenting and childrearing. You can read more in Kathryn Joyce’s seminal article, Orphan Fever.
In the end, I am left wondering about the process for receiving an Angels in Adoption award. It turns out that the Schumms are not the first family to receive this award and later be found to be abusive. According to Pound Pup Legacy:
Jerry Sandusky received an award out of the hands of Rick Santorum, a decision that needed to be reverted back in 2011, when it became clear Sandusky had molested several boys, including his own adopted son.
Senator Chuck Grassley, awarded Damien and Allonna Stovall with an Angel in Adoption, in 2012. Six months later, the couple was charged with beating their adopted children with belts and wooden spoons, although those charges were later dropped.
In 2005, convicted criminal, Representative William Jefferson, nominated one of his cronies Renee Gill Pratt, and a year later, Senator Johnny Isakson awarded Faith Allen, the former “savior” of Masha Allen, who abandoned her adopted daughter in Washington DC, the day after the Angel in Adoption gala.
Does the process involve speaking with the adopted children? All I could find on the Angels in Adoption website was that you can nominate a family for the award. I was unable to learn anything further about the process, and that leaves me with questions. Is this award about the children, or about the parents? How about adoption? Is it about the children, or about the parents?
Those two entities—and their interests—are not identical.