Is The Adoption System Partly To Blame For Devonte Hart’s Death?

Back in the ’80s, there were two television shows featuring black children adopted by well-off white families. They were two of the most popular sitcoms of all-time; Diff’rent Strokes and Webster.  

My childish daydreams would take me to where they were, away from the economically depressed ghetto that I called home.  In a way, the crippling programming led me to surmise that my salvation from a life of poverty lay in the hands of white folks. Of course, I’ve outgrown that childish, colonized mindset.  

With the tragic death of young Devonte Hart and his siblings at the hands of adopted white parents, I can’t help but recall those times. Times of Arnold Drummond, Webster Papadopoulos and trying to get my afro to fluff out like Willis’. I recall those times because I’m relieved that my mother was able to make it through on her own. 

Some may recall young Devonte as the young man who, eyes full of tears, reached out to embrace a police officer adorned in riot gear at a Black Lives Matter rally. 

Boy In Viral Protest Hug Photo Missing After Family Car Plunges Off Cliff

Devonte Hart is said to be missing along with his two sisters. His parents and three other siblings died from the crash.

There was much speculation as to his mental state at the time, but I initially believed it was a heartfelt overture to a system that seemed at best indifferent to that overture. 

Even after it was revealed that his adopted mother was white, I defended the tears of a child that couldn’t surmise why a nation appeared to hate him.  

Perhaps his spirit was torn in half in realizing that his black skin is akin to criminality, but he was reportedly facing torture and abuse in his home. 

In 2010, Hart’s biological aunt attempted to adopt the children but was turned down by the Texas appeals court because she violated an order barring their biological mother from seeing them, court records state. 

The unnamed biological mother was deemed unfit by the Department of Family and Protective Services in 2006 and the children lived with their paternal aunt for five months before being moved to foster care. Though the aunt only broke one rule, it was a big one. Additionally, the state’s adoption attorney says the aunt had ample time to re-petition the court.

Sierra, Devonte, and Jeremiah were adopted by Sarah and Jennifer Hart in 2009. A fourth child was not adopted. 

On March 26, the two women were found dead with three of their adopted children. The whereabouts of the remains of Devonte, Hannah and Sierra are unknown but authorities believe they are dead.

Police believe Jennifer Hart intentionally drove the car off a cliff days after a visit to the home by a child protective services officer. The couple reportedly faced abuse accusations in all three states in which they lived following the adoptions. 

One claim of abuse came just four months after the court turned down the adopted children’s paternal aunt as she petitioned to adopt them.  

“You have people here, loved ones, to take them in,” Priscilla Celestine told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Thursday. “Instead you take them away.” 

Their birth mother had been dealing with an addiction to crack cocaine and had other children removed by the state prior to losing Devonte and his siblings. 

The aunt and children lived in Houston at the time. The opinion said her brother, Clarence, is listed in court documents as the biological father of Jeremiah and Sierra. The fourth child, Dontay Davis, was not adopted by the Harts. 

According to the court of appeals opinion, a Harris County District Court judge ordered the parental rights of the biological parents of Devonte, Jeremiah, Sierra and a fourth child terminated in August 2006. The children lived with Celestine while the order was pending. 

The caseworker testified during a district court hearing that she had previously told Celestine that the mother couldn’t have contact with the kids, the opinion said. Celestine testified that she wasn’t home when the caseworker visited and it was her daughter who let the mother in to see the kids.  

Celestine had stable employment in Houston, no previous criminal history, raised an older daughter and had taken steps to accommodate the kids, such as moving to a larger home to care for the children, Jones said.  

“They have an aunt who I truly believe in my soul and in my heart would have made a difference in those children’s lives,” said Jones, who has been an attorney for 21 years. 

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