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YouTube 'influencers' face backlash after giving up custody of adopted son

For years, the family has shared glowing posts, some monetized, about their experience with adoption and their son's special needs.
/ Source: TODAY

Parenting YouTuber Myka Stauffer is facing backlash after she and her husband, James Stauffer, gave up custody of their adopted 4-year-old son with special needs so he could be adopted by another family.

Many people on social media are decrying the family's decision, communicated in an emotional YouTube video, noting that they had "monetized" their son by selling advertising on content about him.

Who is Myka Stauffer?

Stauffer has a parenting and lifestyle YouTube channel with more than 700,000 subscribers. The family also has a family channel, The Stauffer Life, with more than 300,000 followers. The couple are parents to four other children: Kova, Jaka, Radley and Onyx, who was born in 2019.

Starting in 2016, the pair began to share their adoption journey on social media.

The couple posted a video titled “BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!! || BABY #4," announcing they were aiming to adopt a little boy from abroad. Since then, Myka produced 27 videos about their “adoption journey” with the boy they named Huxley, sharing everything from fundraising to grappling with the ever-changing rules surrounding international adoption to learning about their potential child's special needs.

In an article for Parade in September 2019, Myka advocated for adopting children internationally, also explaining that at first the couple weren’t open to adopting a child with special needs. “But as we let the idea soak in, God softened our hearts,” she wrote. “Before we knew it, we were open to almost every special needs in the book.”

She wrote they were told by the adoptive agency Huxley had a brain tumor and “brain damage," but upon his arrival in the United States, she said they learned Huxley had suffered a stroke in utero, had autism and a sensory processing disorder.

Regardless, Myka wrote about the advantages of international adoption, labeling it a "beautiful and special process" that she "will always cherish." Adding, "Is there hardships and hiccups that you may not have faced being in the U.S.? Totally. However, you’re giving that child a future that would have never been possible."

Over the years, the Stauffers updated their followers on their experience adopting a child with special needs from China, sometimes on posts that featured advertising. The video “5 Things I Didn't EXPECT About Our China ADOPTION! International ADOPTION,” was sponsored by Dreft, the baby laundry detergent.

Other videos on their channel have been sponsored by brands such as Good American, Fabletics and Ibotta.

Not all videos about Huxley were monetized, but many of the videos about adoption are some of the most watched on the channel, raising her profile and clout online. In the last two years, the video with the most views, 5.5 million, was "Huxley's EMOTIONAL Adoption VIDEO!! GOTCHA DAY China Adoption."

What happened to Huxley?

Those who follow the Stauffers online began to notice earlier this year that 4-year-old Huxley was missing from photos and other posts on the family's social media and YouTube channel.

On Tuesday, the Stauffers posted a YouTube video explaining what happened to Huxley.

"Once Huxley came home, there was a lot more special needs that we weren't aware of, and that we were not told," James said in the video, titled "an update to our family."

"For us, it's been really hard hearing from the medical professionals, a lot of their feedback, and things that have been upsetting," he continued. "We've never wanted to be in this position. And we've been trying to get his needs met and help him out as much as possible... We truly love him."

"There's not an ounce of our body that doesn't love Huxley with all of our being," Myka added. "There wasn't a minute that I didn't try our hardest and I think what Jim is trying to say is that after multiple assessments, after multiple evaluations, numerous medical professionals have felt that he needed a different fit and that (with) his medical needs, he needed more."

"Do I feel like a failure as a mom? Like, 500%," Myka said, adding that Huxley was living with a "new mommy" in a "forever home."

"The last couple months have been like the hardest thing I could have ever imagined to going to choosing to do ... after pouring our guts and our heart into this little boy," she said. "He is thriving, he is happy, he is doing really well, and his new mommy has medical professional training, and it is a very good fit."

Myka also noted in the video that she "didn't have to say anything" on the topic, but wanted to provide an update to her followers.

Family's decision sparks storm of backlash

Adoption "disruption," as it's known in the adoption world, is not unheard of. A 2010 study by the University of Minnesota and Hennepin County, Minn., found that 6-11% of all adoptions are disrupted before they are finalized. Disruptions after an adoption is finalized are more rare, ranging from 1 percent to 7 percent, according to the study.

Many commenters on the Stauffers' video, which has more than 600,00 views at the publication of this article, were supportive.

"I had to take a step back after watching this, and remind myself not to judge," one person wrote. "Because at the end of the day, I’ve never been in your shoes, or in your family, and just watching this video you can literally FEEL your pain. So I can’t imagine how difficult this has been for you, and I wish you guys love and support during this time. Thanks for sharing with us."

Many others criticized the parents' decision to find a new home for their 4-year-old.

"What kind of person adopts a toddler into a family with other kids for YEARS, uses his likeness & story for profit and then quietly gets rid of him like a puppy because his special needs are 'too hard'??" wrote Chondra Echert Sanchez on Twitter.

Sophie Ross, a writer and editor who has followed Huxley's story and has been in contact with people who know his situation, said that the little boy is in a safe place.

"I just got confirmation that Huxley’s in a GREAT foster home," she wrote on Twitter.

She later added, "So apparently this foster family *is* in the process of officially adopting him, which is amazing news. It sounds like Huxley found a safe and loving permanent home and won’t be bouncing around or displaced again after this."

A statement from the attorneys that represent the Stauffer family said the decision was in Huxley's best interest.

"We are privy to this case and given the facts at hand, we feel this was the best decision for Huxley. In coming to know our clients we know they are a loving family and are very caring parents that would do anything for their children. Since his adoption, they consulted with multiple professionals in the healthcare and educational arenas in order to provide Huxley with the best possible treatment and care. Over time, the team of medical professionals advised our clients it might be best for Huxley to be placed with another family. This is devastating news for any parent. Our clients came to the difficult determination to follow the advice of the medical professionals. To be clear this did NOT include any considerations for placement in the foster system, but rather to hand-select a family who is equipped to handle Huxley’s needs," the statement said. "They were forced to make a difficult decision, but it is in fact, the right and loving thing to do for this child. We have advised our clients not to say anything further at this time, but it is likely they will share more when the time is appropriate for them and all involved. We should be clear that Huxley is a 4-year-old child whose privacy should be fully respected. We know our clients would ask for your prayers and support and to respect their privacy with what has been the most difficult decision of their lives."

More than 10,000 people (as of publication of this article) have signed a petition demanding that the Stauffers remove all monetized content featuring Huxley from YouTube.

TODAY has reached out to representatives for the family. This article will be updated with any new developments.