A YouTuber with hundreds of thousands of followers who has shared her family’s experience of adopting a toddler from China announced on Tuesday that she and her husband had permanently placed their child with another family after unspecified behavioral issues.
The announcement has caused a firestorm on social media and within the creator and influencer communities. Many are questioning the ethics of the YouTuber, Myka Stauffer, after she spent years sharing intimate details of her son Huxley’s life on a monetized channel. Even before her family adopted Huxley in 2017, Myka had made his story a key theme on her channel, which has exploded in popularity and landed her several high-profile sponsorships. She has also positioned herself as an advocate for international adoption in several national news outlets. These facts, coupled with a long-simmering debate about the rights of children on social media, has led to an outcry against the couple and their decision to publicize and monetize their lives.
The couple's attorneys, Thomas Taneff and Taylor Sayers, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that Huxley had not been placed in the foster system, but rather they had decided to "hand-select a family who is equipped to handle Huxley’s needs."
"We are privy to this case and given the facts at hand, we feel this was the best decision for Huxley," the attorneys said in their statement. "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."
Myka and her husband, James, who live in Ohio, have been sharing their life on YouTube since 2014. Myka’s channel has 717,000 subscribers, and the family’s channel, The Stauffer Life, has 332,000. When the couple started vlogging they had one daughter together, and Myka had a daughter from a previous relationship. They have since had two sons together, whose pregnancy and births they also shared on their channel.
In July 2016, the couple posted a video titled “BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!! || BABY #4.” In the video, they announced that they were aiming to adopt a little boy from China. They added they were even considering adopting another child, from “Uganda or Ethiopia,” once this adoption went through.
Myka produced 27 videos about their “adoption journey,” including a 13-part series of “adoption updates.” In the series, Myka answered questions about the process of adopting from China and the emotions she felt.
In some videos, Myka plugged a fundraiser she had organized for Huxley’s unspecified needs. She said every person who donated $5 would unlock a different piece of a 1,000-piece puzzle, which would, at the end, be a photo of Huxley that she would reveal to the world. She also said she would write the names of all donors in his baby book.
In a sponsored video from 2017, Myka said she was using her proceeds from YouTube ads towards her adoption, writing in the caption that the sponsorship “profits are going towards bringing our SON home from China!”
In an article she wrote for Parade, Myka said the Stauffers were told by the agency Huxley had a “brain tumor” and “brain damage.” She wrote that at first the couple weren’t open to a special needs adoption.
“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.”
In October 2017, Myka posted a compilation video titled “Huxley's EMOTIONAL Adoption VIDEO!! GOTCHA DAY China Adoption” that she dedicated to “all of the orphans around the world.”
It featured videos of Huxley from before his adoption, as well as a video of the family traveling to China and meeting him for the first time. Huxley was 2 and a half years old at the time.
The video was a huge hit for Myka’s channel and has been viewed more than 5.5 million times.
After Huxley came home, the next video Myka posted was titled “My CHINA ADOPTION Experience: The Truth,” in which she described her emotions the day of the adoption. She continued updating her followers in videos like“Huxley's 10 Month China Adoption Update! International Adoption Update!”
Myka’s profile began to rise in the parenting blogger community over the next few years. Her YouTube subscribers doubled from October 2017 to October 2018, according to Social Blade, and she now has more than 160,000 followers on Instagram. Some of her Huxley update videos, like “5 Things I Didn't EXPECT About Our China ADOPTION! International ADOPTION,” were sponsored by companies like Dreft. (It’s unclear when she first started to monetize her account and who her sponsors were.) She partnered with brands like Glossier, Good American, Fabletics, and Ibotta. The birth of her fifth child was even featured in People.
Myka also began to write articles about her experience adopting a child with special needs for parenting blogs and magazines. In the piece for Parade, Myka wrote that when Huxley came home, they realized his special needs file was “inaccurate.” In actuality, she wrote, Huxley was diagnosed with “having a stroke in utero, has level 3 autism, and sensory processing disorder.”
“He is a great kid and his condition doesn’t involve that much overall care—all you need is a big heart and practice patience everyday. It’s a different kind of patience,” she wrote.
In another interview with Moms.com, Myka spoke about the challenges of her adoption but insisted it had all been worth it in the end.
In September 2019, Myka posted her final update on Huxley’s progress: “Emotional China Adoption Update Two Years Home,” where she announced that since Huxley’s autism diagnosis, he had been in ABA (applied behavior analysis) therapy.
“He is doing so well and I am so excited to see the huge steps forward he makes in his third year after being adopted from China,” she said. Huxley continued to appear in photos on Instagram and in YouTube videos in late 2019 and into 2020.
But in the late winter and early spring, followers began to notice Huxley had stopped appearing in videos. One of Myka’s last posts featuring Huxley, on Feb. 16, discussed the difficulties of dealing with his special needs.
“We have hard days, lots of them. I wish autism and adoption trauma had a manual to direct you through it all,” she wrote.
On Mother’s Day, she wrote it was the “hardest” holiday she’d ever had. Soon, followers began to wonder what was going on, asking Myka for updates on Huxley and his whereabouts.
Some people even started Instagram accounts, like “Justice for Huxley,” and “MykaStaufferFan,” to pressure Myka to answer their questions. The woman from New York who runs the @MykaStaufferFan account told BuzzFeed News she had been following the family for years when she noticed Huxley’s absence. She said when she asked Myka on Instagram, she “blocked me immediately.”
“I knew if I was going to try to find out what happened to him, I’d need more support to spread the word and get justice for Huxley,” she said. Her account, where she posted photos and videos of Huxley calling for the Stauffers to address his whereabouts, soon amassed over 600 followers.
Then, on Tuesday night, the Stauffers posted a video called “an update on our family.” They had removed Huxley from their home and placed him with another family, they said. The couple said the decision was made for Huxley’s emotional well-being.
James said Huxley had several special needs that they weren’t aware of until he came home to the US. They had placed him in “intense” therapy over the past year, he said, and consulted experts.
“After multiple assessments, after multiple evaluations, numerous medical professionals have felt that he needed a different fit in his medical needs, he needed more,” Myka said.
The couple said they had stayed silent until now to give Huxley privacy and for legal reasons and that they wouldn’t elaborate. Myka added that “99% of the struggles” were never shared with their YouTube channel for the same reason. In a comment on the video, Myka said “multiple scary things happened inside the home towards our other children.”
“We saw that in family time with other people, he constantly choose [sic] them and signed and showed tons of emotion to show us and let us know he wanted this,” she said.
Myka said Huxley has now been placed with “the perfect match” family. They said the Stauffers love Huxley and always will.
“He is thriving, he is very happy, he is doing really well, and his new mommy has medical professional training and it is a very good fit,” she said.
In the statement, the couple's attorneys said they have advised their clients to not make any further statements.
"They were forced to make a difficult decision, but it is in fact, the right and loving thing to do for this child," the statement said.
Myka and James didn’t share the video on Instagram, but James posted a video on Myka’s Instagram story telling followers to check out the YouTube video. The video was flooded with supportive comments.
“My heartfelt sympathies go out to you and your family,” wrote one person. “Sometimes even when you do everything right, it can still go wrong. Maybe this was your purpose - to help Huxley on his journey and enable him to be where he needs to be. God bless.”
“As a child who was adopted I completely honor your decision and the very difficult acceptance that you were not his forever home. You will always be in his heart and you gave him a great life for the time he was with you,” wrote another.
However, many people were uncomfortable with the situation, especially since Huxley had been such a big part of the family’s monetized channel.
“My heart aches for poor Huxley,” wrote one person on Twitter. “They dragged this poor little boy all the way from China, making him start all over again, then giving up on him.” The person added that Myka had gained followers and got sponsorships from the story.
“Imagine adopting a special needs child from China, naming him Huxley (a crime in itself), exploiting him for sponsorship money and monetized videos, and then ‘rehoming’ him when things got to hard. LIKE HE IS A PET AND NOT AN ACTUAL HUMAN CHILD,” wrote another.
One person even started a change.org petition demanding that YouTube remove the monetized videos featuring Huxley.
“These people need to stop exploiting and profiting off of Huxley immediately!” they wrote. “The internet has your back Huxley. We hope you're happy and thriving wherever you are.”
The former fan behind the @MykaStaufferFan account said all she wants is for Huxley to be happy and healthy. She thinks the Stauffers should delete any videos featuring Huxley that have been monetized.
“I think it would be best for her to step away from YouTube for the time being to reflect on the consequences of her actions and the hurt she has caused the adoption community and parents of special needs children,” she said.
The former fan added she also had concerns about kids on YouTube in general.
“I feel uneasy about children being on YouTube since there’s always the possibility of exploitation whether or not it’s intentional, and you never know who’s watching on the other side of the screen,” she said. “It’s unfair to them because they can’t consent to their personal lives being shown to the world.”