'Real Life Orphan' Natalia Barnett Appears On 'Dr. Phil' And Denies Claims Made By Former Foster Parents That She's A Con Artist

Photo: Tippecanoe County Jail
Who Are Michael And Kristine Barnett? Parents Accused Of Abandoning Adopted Underage Daughter After Changing Her Age From 8 To 22

For many of us, becoming a parent is one of the most rewarding things we can do with our lives. Yes, it’s tough, but at the end of the day, nurturing a child and watching them grow is quite a unique and emotional experience. 

But one case has been making people shake their heads in disbelief. Who are Michael and Kristine Barnett?

In 2012, the family made headlines after their son, Jacob, was revealed to be a math prodigy. The family said he had excelled at college math and science courses since he was eight. Then 13, he was a college sophomore taking math and physics classes, doing scientific research, and tutoring college students. But his story was even more fascinating because he was diagnosed with autism.

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Kristine Barnett, Jacob's mom, is also an author and released a book in 2013 called The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism. And in 2010, the couple adopted a young girl from the Ukraine via an adoption program, named Natalia, according to court documents.

She was eight years old at the time and lived with the Barnett family for about two years. In 2012, the Barnetts changed her age to 22 years old, even though she was actually 11!

Because of her form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal, the couple believed they could pass her off as an adult. Legal documents also claim Kristine told her adopted daughter to tell people she “looks young” if ever questioned about her age. According to the affidavit, “Michael Barnett admitted Kristine Barnett told Natalia to tell others Natalia looked young but was actually 22.” 

The Barnetts were charged in September with child neglect after allegedly abandoning Natalia in an apartment all alone in 2013 while they moved to Canada.

In 2014, Natalia told police she “had not seen the Barnetts since they moved to Canada.” Says the affidavit, “She was left alone in the apartment in Lafayette while the rest of the Barnett family moved to Canada.”

On September 5, the Barnetts admitted to changing Natalia’s age, told authorities they rented out an apartment for her, but didn’t provide any financial support other than rent. She was enrolled in a free tuition high school for adults, but left the county in 2016.

Kristine spoke about about the charges, revealing in a September 15 Facebook post that the allegations against her and Michael are false.

Photo: Facebook

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On September 12, she gave an interview with WISH-TV, claiming that Natalia had been diagnosed as a sociopath and psychopath, and that when she and Michael adopted her, she was actually an adult and not a child. The Barnetts, who filed for divorced in 2014, both claim the adoption was a “scam.”

As the story goes, the Barnetts adopted Natalia Grace from Florida in May 2010 and were told she was six years old. Less than a year later, things started to not add up. Kristine said the first time she gave Natalia a bath, she was shocked to see the girl had full pubic hair. A few weeks later, she noticed the girl had her period.

Then, Natalia began to display agressive behavior. She drew pictures of her killing her family. She put bleach and Windex in Kristine's coffee. What she asked her what she was doing, Natalia replied, "I am trying to poison you."

Natalia also allegedly smeared blood on the house mirrors, attacked babies, and made death threats. She claimed she was hearing voices. One day, during a 2012 birthday outing, she tried to drag her Kristine on an electric fence. She was placed long-term at a state-run psychiatric unit and allegedly confessed to being 18 years old. 

The Barnetts set her up in an apartment of her own and fled the country. On a visit, Kristine stopped in to check on Natalia. She found a little girl's pink dress. She believed Natalia was posing as an orphan for another unsuspecting family.

Now, new details are coming out about the Barnetts and the "little girl" they adopted. Because while Natalia Barnett's whereabouts were unknown, she's now speaking out to defend herself.

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On November 7, Natalia appeared on Dr. Phil on an episode called "Ukrainian Orphan: Child or Adult Psychopath" to tell her side of the story. She denied being a con artist and said she is 16.

Dr. Phil also appeared on Good Morning America to defend his guest, saying, "I certainly don't think this individual is 30 years old. So I think the court has done a real miscarriage of justice here in re-aging her the way they have. I don't think there's really medical support for that."

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He also touched on the fact that Natalia may not even know how old she is exactly. "When you're a child, particularly coming from a group home in a foreign country... they didn't celebrate every one of her birthdays. I don't think she knows how old she is," he added.

Dr. Phil condemned the Barnetts for "abandoning" their daughter, saying, "When you adopt a child, that child is yours. Just the same as if you birthed that child at the hospital. I didn't know that you could quit when you had children. Just drop them off somewhere."

As for whether or not he believes her, it appears Dr. Phil is on his guest's side: "I did find her convincing. And she also had a pretty well-practiced story about how those stories came out, so I do think she's thought about this a lot. But she's very articulate, she's very expressive."

Natalia is now living with new foster parents, Antwon and Cynthia Mans. The Mans took her in after a neighbor alerted them that Natalia was living alone in an apartment, living off microwavable food and eating from a gas station. According to the Mans family, Natalia hasn't shown signs of troubling behavior.

Dr. Phil sat down with all three, where Natalia revealed she's officially been diagnosed with diastrophic dysplasia, and also has scoliosis. Natalia says her birth date is September 4, 2003, making her 16 years old.

Though she was initially happy with the Barnetts, telling Dr. Phil, “I thought I had found the right family for me,” soon after, Kristine started questioning her age. The teenager denies the claims made by the Barnetts — that she menstruated, tried to poison the family, hid knives, and was diagnosed as a "sociopath."

Meanwhile, the Barnetts continued to deny claims that Natalia was a child. In an interview with DailyMail TV back in September, the family claimed they were victims of fraud.

Michael Barnett also appeared on Dr. Oz alongside his attorney to defend himself and clear his name.

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who focuses on writing trending news and entertainment pieces. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.