Until this week, Myka Stauffer was a mid-level YouTube and Instagram influencer, a mom of five whose parenting vlogs and Instagram posts boasted a loyal following and several high-profile sponsors. But the influencer and her husband James rocketed into the mainstream Thursday when an in-depth BuzzFeed News piece by Stephanie McNeal revealed that the Stauffers, who had painstakingly documented their 2017 adoption of son Huxley from China, had "rehomed" Huxley, who has autism and other developmental issues. (The Stauffers have four other children, none of whom are adopted.)
Update, 6/15: In an Instagram post, Myka Stauffer, the face of the family's brand, posted a lengthy apology.
Stauffer has also removed all content on her social channels that features Huxley, presumably in response to both the backlash and a Change.org petition entitled: "Remove Myka Stauffer’s MONETIZED YouTube videos exploiting a special needs child" that was signed by more than 150,000 people. The petition was closed, with the person who started it writing: "Myka has removed all pictures of Huxley and set all videos of his adoption on her YouTube channel to private and will no longer generate revenue. She has lost several sponsorships as well. Investigations are officially underway with local authorities to ensure Huxley was placed somewhere safely."
Stauffer said in her post that she and her family were "not under any type of investigation."
In the emotional video, Myka and James explain to the camera that they had placed Huxley in another home with his "forever family." Said Myka: "There’s not an ounce of our body that doesn’t love Huxley with all of our being. There wasn’t a minute that we didn’t try our hardest...After multiple evaluations, numerous medical professionals have felt that he needed a different fit and that [with] his medical needs, he needed more."
James added: "We 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.” Both Myka and James noted that Huxley had expressed a desire to be placed with another family, and was thriving with his new adopted mother, who had medical training. Their video, now deleted, has had more than one million views.
Huxley, the parents insisted, was better off with a family more able to handle his needs. But the announcement, and the subsequent BuzzFeed article, ignited a storm of controversy for the parents—particularly Myka, the face of the family and the person who creates and stars in most of the family's videos.
Myka and James' announcement raises complex issues about adoption.
Up to five percent of adoptions in the U.S. are ultimately dissolved, meaning the child is un-adopted, per The Atlantic. Often, this happens when a family finds itself unable to handle the unexpected challenges the adopted child presents, the Atlantic feature explains. This, according to the Stauffers, is what happened in their case. "With international adoptions, sometimes there’s unknowns and things that are not transparent on files," James said in the video.
Myka wrote in a 2019 Parade piece that Huxley "ended up having a stroke in utero, has level 3 autism, and sensory processing disorder." She continued: "It took a lot of time to process and to readjust to his new diagnosis...It was a curve ball." In their video this week, however, the Stauffers did not go into detail about either Huxley's diagnoses or the incidents that had led to their choosing to remove him from the home, citing concern for Huxley's privacy.
Myka did write in a comment on YouTube that "multiple scary things happened inside the home towards our other children," and hinted that Huxley had reactive attachment disorder, a known condition for children who grow up in orphanages or other institutions that can't fulfill their attachment needs.
Huxley's rehoming has also led to complex problems about the Stauffers' monetized content.
Complicating the issue even further, the Stauffers had positioned Huxley as a prominent part of their story as parenting influencers. According to BuzzFeed, Myka promised in one sponsored video published in 2017 that the money earned from Youtube ads would be put towards Huxley's adoption. Huxley also starred in sponsored posts:
It may not have been the Stauffers' intention, but the addition of Huxley and the narrative of their emotional adoption story helped bring the family tens of thousands of new followers; more followers mean that influencers like the Stauffers are able to charge more money for sponsored content. Now that Huxley is no longer a part of their family, but the Stauffers have financially benefited from the content that places him front and center, some viewers are calling for Stauffers to donate or give back the money from content that involved Huxley.
Others are going further. One petition on Change.org asks for Myka's YouTube channel to be shut down entirely. "Her family used that child’s story for likes/views/subscriptions. They do not deserve to keep making money from their YouTube channel when it grew to the size it is now because of HIM," writes the petitioner.
People are outraged at both Myka and James for giving Huxley to another home.
Myka, as the face of the channel, has faced the brunt of criticism—almost every post on her Instagram account is filled with angry comments—and the Stauffers are being held up as a an example of white Americans taking advantage of disabled people of color.
While the Stauffers no doubt didn't intend to adopt Huxley and then pass him on to another family once he had appeared in two years' worth of content, it's an ugly look, especially given the numerous posts from Myka over the years—which are still live—that claim Huxley was a blessing to her family ("Now that I know how incredible my life is with you in it, I couldn’t imagine a day without you").
Myka and James said in the video that they do not plan to respond to any comments about their decision, and they have not gotten back to any of the outlets asking for their take on the backlash.