NORMAN — Half a world away from her birthplace in Ethiopia, teenager Hana Williams died on a rainy night in the backyard of what a prosecutor called a “house of horrors” — the rural home of her adoptive family in Washington state.
The official causes of her death, after being forced outside as punishment, were malnutrition and hypothermia. Authorities said Hana, during three years of adoption, had been beaten repeatedly with switches, starved and made to sleep in a locked closet.
The parents, Larry and Carri Williams, have been convicted of manslaughter and face sentencing Oct. 29.
Yet more than two years after Hana’s death in May 2011, few meaningful steps have been taken by state policymakers to reduce the chances of other adopted children suffering such abuse. A task force offered detailed recommendations, and one limited bill was introduced in Washington’s legislature but died in committee this year after raising some concerns that it might infringe on parental rights.
“We really are struggling to find something that will be both effective and constitutional,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, who plans to continue her efforts.
While most adoptions are successful, the Williams case is among several recent grim adoption developments around the U.S., prompting urgent calls for better safeguards and more post-adoption support. Yet many of those making the appeals admit to frustration, having sounded alarm bells before, and they hold out little hope for prompt, sweeping responses that would strengthen international and domestic adoptions nationwide.
A key reason is the nature of adoption in America — marked by inconsistent laws, incomplete data and the lack of any central authority. There are no authoritative statistics on the number of adoptions that fail, no reliable source of federal funding for post-adoption services. And there is a multitude of passionate organizations with often diverging views on how to maximize success stories and minimize tragedies.