Couple Abandons Adopted Son

This story right here just breaks my heart all to pieces: an Ohio couple who claims their 9-year-old adopted son threatened them with a knife, has been indicted on charges of abandonment after leaving their 9-year-old adopted son with child welfare officials.

A grand jury charged Cleveland and Lisa Cox, of Liberty Township, OH, with one count of nonsupport of dependents for “recklessly” abandoning their son in late October. The couple, who have cared for the child since he was three months old, faces up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine if found guilty on the first-degree misdemeanor. The Coxes, who have two other children (both siblings to the little boy they allegedly abandoned), were on the run for several days, but turned themselves in Friday night.

Prosecutor Mike Gmoser acknowledged that, in the past, similar cases have been handled within the children’s services agencies and domestic courts, but clearly the Cox couple’s actions made him feel some kind of way.

“My position is children in general, not speaking to this specific case, do not have a ‘return to sender’ label on their forehead,” Gmoser told the Journal-News. “They are their children for always and they have that duty to support and they cannot abandon without consequences.”

Lisa Cox told sheriffs in August that her son threatened the rest of the family with a knife. She and her husband also told child welfare officials that the child has aggressive behaviors and would not agree to get help—a claim the boy’s guardian ad litem labelled “nonsense.”

“A parent is a parent and a 9-year-old is a 9-year-old,” said Adolfo Olivas, the child’s guardian ad litem. “If your 9-year-old needs help, you get him help. If is not a question of a -year-old wanting it or not.” The “adorable” boy, Olivas added, is very “hurt and confused and traumatized,” and doesn’t understand what his parents have done. His siblings, Olivas added, are probably traumatized, too.

“What does this do to these other kids? You have these siblings and one goes away and doesn’t ever come back because of some behavior issues,” he said. “Anytime you separate siblings in the blink of an eye like that, it’s got to have some bad effect on them.”


But what would you do? Where would you go? Who would you turn to if your child came at you and your family with a deadly weapon? We hear about these cases enough times to know that they can end in headline-grabbing tragedy—with a parent or sibling seriously harmed, or parents, exhausted and at their wit’s end, beating and mentally or emotionally abusing their kids.

But as parents, we know, too, that the prosecutor is right: you can’t send a kid back because you’re tired or don’t want to be bothered anymore or can’t figure out how to get a handle of your kid. Humans—especially little ones—are far from perfect, and as parents, we sign up for the awesomely monumental task of caring for them and teaching them and guiding them and doing what’s right for them and disciplining them and loving them—no… matter… what. This does not change because your child is not blood of your blood or because your kid has behavioral issues.

So I ask again: what would you do?

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. My son was placed with me at a month old, but that doesn’t really matter. Biological or adoptive, even if my son threatened me with a weapon, walking away from him and saying you are not my son any more is not an option. I don’t know what I would do, I am assuming there are services, maybe even in patient institutional solutions if he is very violent, but ending our family, no, just NO.
    I don’t know what their family went through, there had to be more to it than that, and I don’t think they should do jail time, they didn’t leave him on a plane or give him to a family over the internet (a disturbing trend these days). They all need help, not jail.

  2. I am an adoptive parent, and while I sympathize with how exhausted and overwhelmed these parents likely felt, I too call b.s. on their claim that the child would not “agree” to get help. My kids don’t agree to do a lot of things, but as their parent I make sure that these things get done because they are in their best interests. Brandishing a weapon obviously means that this child is a danger to himself and others, and there are residential treatment centers available to keep him safe and get him the care he needs, including special facilities for children who were adopted. His parents need access to these resources for him, as well as therapeutic support for themselves, but it’s possible that the costs (even with insurance) might be prohibitive. It’s heartbreaking that these resources may or may not be available to this family just because they can’t afford it. But their “he wouldn’t agree to get help” excuse makes me wonder if they gave any serious consideration to what resources were available to them. In an ideal world, if they couldn’t afford treatment, they would have received state assistance and assistance from their family and friends, rallying in support of getting this child, this family, the help they need.

  3. I don’t see the problem here. If my biologic child pulled a knife on me I’d return them to the essence… why not in this situation?

    • 1) Tons of biological parents surrender their child when they are dangerous and the parents are at wits end. To be biased and treat them differently because they adopted the kid (for some fear of setting a precendent-using them as an example) is wrong and stupid. Allowing bio parents to surrender children didn’t start a rush on that. And obviously if they kept the other 2, they didn’t think it was a child loan program. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad parents. According to how much danger he/she posed with the other children, they might be absolutely good parents in protecting those kids.
      2) you can’t judge unless you’ve had that kid in that experience. I’ve read so many horror stories of psycho kids with attachment issues and how the parents can’t get any help and live every day in fear that the kid is going to kill the other children in the house, themselves or the parents.

      Help, not harm. Don’t prosecute these people and toss the other 2 kids back into the system. Help them, educated them, but help them. And nobody better judge them unless they’ve lived through it themselves, and even then, in those EXACT conditions. People are way too quick to judge. Thanks Dianne, for sharing your story, since you HAVE been there and know for a fact how difficult it is.

  4. Yes, I agree they ALL need help. I have an adopted daughter who is now 19. I can tell you from my own experience that I wanted to return her also. Oddly enough the first time I begged for this was at age 9. We had 2 biological children and adopted her when she was 18 months. A drug baby who had been in the foster care system. Oh my good ness were we naive. We even sat through the classes and thought that the parents on those panels didn’t know what they were talking about. All a child needs is love we thought.
    Severe attachment issues and some mental health issues showed us we were not educated to deal with what was going on. I started reading everything I could get my hands on…joined a support group…got her speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, family therapy, IEP contracts at school.
    After 3 hospitalizations, 3 residential settings, $15,000 in Educational Advocate fees we all made it. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.
    I so wish I could speak with these parents and give them support. A case like this breaks my heart too.

  5. I’ve got a 9 year old adopted son, too, and i’m wondering if this little boy needs a medical diagnosis. my son and I have gone around and around with behavior, school issues, running away, hitting me and being destructive, counseling, meds, etc. As it turns out, 99% of what worked were alternate parenting strategies. Year 8 (third grade) was especially hard but I’m happy to say that we are in a really good place right now. And I never ONCE thought of abandoning my baby.

    I wonder if this Ohio couple has any support from parents, church, friends or neighbors. To say it’s exhausting is an understatement. I completely feel for them. But abandonment is not the answer.

  6. I am an adoptive of two boys and I’m fostering a baby. I get that they may bee scared but they are the parents for better or worse. what have they done to help him? I know that in my state when you adopt from foster care there is a crisis team that can be called for situations like this. as a parent you can’t abandon your child.

  7. In my county where I adopted from it depended on your worker how much help was given. I called my assigned worker and got one answer and called on her day off and got the help we needed through another worker.
    I also would create a paper trail like this mother had. She called the Sheriifs and reported the incident in July that had happened. I had 3 large notebooks where I documented meds, emails, dr. Letters, etc. it took hours of research on my part to get what my daughter needed. Not every parent can do is exhausting. If a child is threatening family members an intervention of some sort is needed. A hospitalization , a different setting, etc. this child is not stable and until they are they should not be in the home.
    We locked up all our knives , etc. no locks on any of her doors, my daughter self harmed, ie bruising, cutting.
    The teen years bring a hormone change that can set off the worst scenarios in any child but in a child that is unstable it escalates even higher.
    There is also concern for your other children. When my son said he was afraid she would hurt him I had to look at the “whole family”
    Some children need a team of help. Not just 2 parents or one parent.
    This is a reality that many adoptive agencies offer no support for nor do they ever address this.

  8. It does break my heart to read this also but as a child psychiatrist this is a request that I hear of too often. I must also say that I’ve had similar requests from biological parents too. The couple should not have abandoned the child. However, we are only hearing a snapshot of the story. Would love to hear more. Has the child received mental health services before and what was the quality of those services? Did social services provide recommendations for resources for the family? Where do they live (specifically)? As this would dictate available resources. Unfortunately the mental health system is spread thin but in a case where a child is being threatening and unsafe, he should have been brought to the emergency room for evaluation. This would be a away for him to get plugged in with someone in the mental health system and get the ball rolling to address some of his short and long term needs. I have a good friend who has created a mental health network that is a great resource for anyone but is geared towards our community. Here’s the link:

  9. Leaving your kid at social services, even if he’s pulled a knife in you is flat out wrong. Period.

    If your kid is very sick and appropriate help doesn’t seem to exist (as often happens if your mentally ill kid desperately needs it), there’s a legal option: Surrender the kid to CPS and pay child support.

    Works for both bio and adopted kiddos.

  10. I’m not condoning these parents’ actions but I agree with Mrs. K. We don’t know the full story here. This looks like an act of desperation from desperate parents. The reality is that serious psychiatric disorders in children are difficult to diagnose and sometimes difficult to treat. Does the child suffer from reactive attachment disorder? bi-polar disorder? schizophrenia? We don’t know but I can tell you from personal experience and also being married to a psychologist that dealing with mental illness in your family will push anyone to the edge. Unless you’ve experienced that chaos, you have no idea. None.

    We don’t know how many people they reached out to get help and perhaps didn’t get the help and respite they needed. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and judge them. Again, I don’t think they did right thing but that family (including this child who clearly needs help) deserves our compassion. My husband and I just started the process of foster adoption. As we are educating our selves about parenting hurt children, this is the kind of situation that we are asking ourselves if we are ready for and I’m not sure we are. Yes, biological children can and do have issues but when you adopt a child who comes from a troubled environment (beginning in utero) you need to be ready for anything. These parents’ situation is one that I could see any adoptive family ending up in. There are many, many people like Dianne who commented above who have foster adopted children. I hope more will share their stories because I suspect that many parents can relate to this couple but chose a different path at great personal and emotional expense.

    • You have great insight Boss Mom. Do you have children in your home presently? I had two biological children before adopting. I thought parenting would be like it was with them . My daughter was diagnosed BPD, ADHD, mood disordered, etc. In the end I believe she had severe attachment issues and ADHD. She is 19 and not on any meds now. This could change in her early 20’s as birth mom is diagnosed bi polar.
      Would I do it again. No.
      Am I glad I hung in there to the extent I could. Yes.
      Our daughter has not lived with us since she was 15…shocking I know but necessary. Today she has battled her way through and is a charming, sweet , beautiful young woman.
      Feel free to contact me

      • Dianne, I would very much like to contact you. We have a four year old biological son and truthfully, the more about foster adoption I learn the less I am sure that we can afford to risk his happiness and stability. This situation is a one of my nightmare scenarios and I can only imagine how defeated these parents feel. They don’t need to be judged – not knowing what I’ve learned in just a few months about hurt children. What we’ve decided is to do go through the classes and the process and see how we feel. What worries me most is not what we know about the child but the unknown unknowns. I’m a regular visitor to Adoptive Family Circle foster parent forums. I posted about this topic and I can tell you that many parents shared similar stories to yours. It gives me pause. Anyway, please tell me how I can contact you. I’ve found that other adoptive parents have been the best source of education as we make this journey. God Bless.

  11. I’m an adoptive father. I can’t imagine what they must have gone through to reach the decision they did. But I’ll never forget the probate judge looking at me just before he hit the gavel on the bench and saying, “There is no take backs from this.” I nodded and the gavel landed. At that moment, the child I had been guardian over was now MINE. Blood or love, he was mine. I don’t know what I would do if my sweet boy turned violent. But I know I’d be there for him in whatever way I could.

  12. These parents felt their adopted son was a threat to the rest of the family. They sought help for him and didn’t get it. If they knew the boy was dangerous and he ended up killing one of his siblings, what would their punishment be? I am familiar with this story because I live in the area. In the few weeks before this happened there were two separate instances of children setting their homes on fire with their families inside. One even barricaded his parents bedroom door to insure they couldn’t escape. These people had been denied help also.

    • Molly….such a good point. Where I live a 14 year old hammered her mother to death and then went after the father. She showed no remorse and the neighbors said how shocked they were because she was such a nice girl. It is not unusual that an adoptive child takes their feelings out on the adoptive mother. Generally the person helping them the most. My daughter destroyed everything we ever gave her because she was sure she didn’t deserve it. Her room was full of holes in the wall she woud rage and self harm. Adoptive parents in these situations need to learn to play hardball with the system. We eventually learned how to get help. We learned to play the game required with the hospitals, the schools , the county, etc. Not fun.

  13. Dianne,
    How did you learn to play the game with hospitals, schools, etc? My son has been removed from every team situation, schools, etc., because he threatens to kill students, teammates. I am at my wits end as a single mom. It seems the ISD, therapists just want to discuss his issues but no genuine help is being offered. I’m to the point where I’m going to homeschool him to keep him away from other children so they can continue to feel safe but I’m certain that rage will eventually turn on to me since I’m the one keeping him home. He has made his world small by his actions. Everyone deserves to feel safe at school, during sports, etc. His rage will turn on me and that scares me. The doctors don’t want to medicate him as they state there is no medication for Aspergers/Autism Spectrum Disorder. He goes to Occupational Therapy and has been going to Mental Health therapy for a year. There is no change. I need help. I live in a rural community with no family near and no genuine support system. My heart is broken to see him ruining his own life and mine as well.

  14. Betsy,
    My heart breaks to read your post. It can be so isolating to have a child with these behaviors. I sought an educational consultant to help me with making the school accountable. My daughter was not getting the help she needed in our small town school. They kept saying they could provide what she needed but that was because they didn’t want to spend the money on the residential setting, specialized school she needed.
    How old is your son?

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