When numbers don't apply

When perusing the internet for information about the incidence of abuse in adoptive families it's impossible not to come across the scribblings of the apologists:

Charles Tannock: As for the cases in which Romanian orphans have been abused by adoptive parents, Tannock underlines that there is no evidence that abuses are more frequent in domestic or international adoption cases than they are in their natural biological families.

Adam Pertman: The fact is that the vast majority of the 22,000-plus annual international adoptions by Americans - including 5,865 from Russia last year - are highly successful, and the resulting families are as fulfilled as those formed in any other way. You might not know it, though, from reading the newspaper or watching television.

Adam Pertman: "Far more children die of abuse and neglect in biological families than in adoptive families,"

Thomas Atwood: These incidents are extremely rare indeed. One is too many. It should never happen. That's absolutely true. But 12, as you cited, is the highest estimate I've heard, and that's out of 43,000 children in 14 years. So if you compare that to the rate of children harmed by Russian parents in the general population or the kind of harm that children can suffer while in those Russian orphanages, that rate is probably less than those other rates.

We could of course do the obligatory rant about Thomas Atwoods use of the word estimate, while there are twelve real coffins testifying the real death of twelve Russian adoptees. We could rant about Adam Pertman´s assumption that families where children don´t die are highly successful, but we choose not to.

These three men of course have their own agenda to look after, more so than the interest of the children involved, so we can't take their words as unbiased, but  they do reach the mainstream media. To the general audience they are experts, not just promo boys of the adoption industry.

Apart from choice of words, the promo boys all beat the same drum. The cases are exceptions; abuse rates in adoptive families are lower than in biological families, so the incidents that reach the news can be swept under the carpet as tragic rarities.

While indeed some studies have shown abuse rates in adoptive families to be lower than in biological families, it completely misses the point, Adoptive families are qualitatively different from biological families, so using the mathematics of abuse rates is like adding apples and oranges; only leading to a potpourri of strange fruit.

Though the intent of the promo boys is of course different, we can still appeal to their proclamation of  adoption as in the child's best interest. As such adoptive families should be safe, something we cannot demand of biological families. Adoptive families are a construct of society, because as a community we have decided that some children are better off growing up in other families than they were born in to. As such we can set standards for adoptive families we cannot set for biological families and rightfully so. If an adoptive family were just as bad as a biological family, why have out-placement at all?

Next to that, adoptive families are often qualitatively different from biological families in their make-up. Among the abusive adoptive families we have looked into, there is a large segment of families that have numerous special needs children. Something that doesn't have its equivalent in biological families. Among the abusive adoptive "families" are single men, who by nature cannot have children of their own. Among the abusive adoptive families are those that receive large sums of money to look after children, something biological families don't get.

So instead of getting defensive and pointing at the numbers, like the promo boys do, we need to look at abuse cases qualitatively. What patterns can we distinguish? And once we have established there are certain patterns of abuse, what measures can be taken to prevent abuse from happening? Certainly improvements can be made. For starters home studies could be used as a selection tool instead of being a formality that is only used as a cash cow. It's telling Ron Federici made the following remark:

I've never known a family to fail a home study. I have a family that was charged with multiple counts of child abuse [after the adoption]. They were major alcoholics before. The home study didn't find it.

We could also forbid home schooling of adoptees, since an overwhelming number of children abused or killed in adoptive families never saw the inside of a school and in fact were hardly seen by anyone outside of their adoptive families.

When looking at the details of the cases we could uncover that certain single men have very specific demands when adopting children. Some want blue eyed blond girls between the age of five and seven, while others demand brown haired prepubescent boys. That should ring alarm bells with the social workers when looking at the applications.

We can either do the ugly job of looking into the details of all cases and learn from them, or we can choose the dismissive road of the promo boys. We opt for the first approach and hope there are those in the child placement system who will agree with us. Maybe we am overly optimistic, maybe we are dreamers, but we believe it should possible to make child placement safer than it is. Closing ones eyes for the ugly reality is certainly not helpful in that.


home study

i'd really like to see the criteria for passing these home studies. 
are they the same as for foster parents?

you're never going to be able to outlaw home schooling.
you might be able to legislate that path comes attached with regular home visits, in addition to the standard tests the children must pass.
funding, funding, funding.

i think adoptions should be taxed, proportional to income, so it pays for more rigorous pre-screening and regular on-going check-ups.  it could be a self-funding system.  Nobody should be getting paid except people putting real hours into safeguarding the children.

banning home schooling and a much more attainable goal

I know the home schooling movement has almost as big a lobby as the adoption industry and is hard to fight. Especially abusive religious zealots are very vocal in defending their right to indoctrinate home school their children. On the up-side, like child placement, education is mainly based on state laws, so if we could find a single state that would indorse the ban on home schooling in case of child placement that could be a huge win.

One thing that would be attainable though is passing legislation that requires home study agencies/independent licensed social workers to report the pass/fail results of home studies. Those agencies that report a 100% pass ratio are definitely not doing their proper job and could be placed under further scrutiny.

one out of five disrupt

Apart from the killings, many adoptions to the US are disrupted. Estimates are as many as one out of five. Those children end up in the American foster scheme, are re-adopted privately or end up in private run homes. That makes it rather cynical that the reason for adoption was 'not having a family' and growing up in care.


disruption and dissolution figures

from: childwelfare.gov

The term disruption is used to describe an adoption process that ends after the child is placed in an adoptive home and before the adoption is legally finalized, resulting in the child's return to (or entry into) foster care or placement with new adoptive parents.

The term dissolution is used to describe an adoption that ends after it is legally finalized, resulting in the child's return to (or entry into) foster care or placement with new adoptive parents.


Individual studies of different populations throughout the United States are consistent in reporting disruption rates that range from about 10 to 25 percent—depending on the population studied, the duration of the study, and geographic or other factors (Goerge, Howard, Yu, & Radomsky, 1997; Festinger, 2002; Festinger, in press). A few examples are listed below:

  • Festinger (in press) summarizes more than 25 reports on disruption rates and notes that the rates reported since the mid-1980s, despite some variations, do not differ substantially. Excluding studies that singled out small groups of older children, disruption rates have mostly varied from about 9 to 15 percent. Among older children, the reported rate has reached roughly 25 percent.
  • Barth, Gibbs, and Siebenaler (2001) reported in a literature review that studies show that between 10 and 16 percent of adoptions of children over age 3 disrupt; no comparable figures are available for children under age 3.
  • Goerge et al. (1997) conducted a longitudinal study of disruption and dissolution in thousands of public agency adoptions in Illinois from 1976 through 1994 and found that slightly over 12 percent disrupted.
  • Barth and Berry (1988) reported a disruption and dissolution rate of 10 percent for children older than 3 years in a group of more than 1,000 children adopted from the child welfare system in California. Berry and Barth (1990) found a disruption and dissolution rate of 24 percent for children ages 12 to 17 for a sample of 99 adolescents.
  • The U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) surveyed public child welfare agencies and reported that about 5 percent of planned adoptions from foster care disrupted in 1999 and 2000 (U.S. GAO, 2003). Researchers have questioned the validity of this finding because a minority of States responded, and States had differing capacities to respond as well as potentially differing interpretations of the requested information.


Accurate data on dissolutions are more difficult to obtain, because at the time of legal adoption, a child's records may be closed, first and last names and social security number may be changed, and other identifying information may be modified. The Federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) includes two data elements to show previous adoption for a child in foster care—whether the child was ever previously adopted and, if so, age at adoption—but those data are reported only for children in public foster care and do not capture adoption dissolution if the children do not come to the attention of the public child welfare system. Also, some researchers have observed that these data are inconsistently reported by the States. Studies consistently report that only a small percentage of completed adoptions dissolve—probably between 1 and 10 percent.

  • Festinger (2002) found that 4 years after adoption, about 3.3 percent of children adopted from public and voluntary agencies in New York City in 1996 were or had been in foster care since adoption. In most of these situations the adoptive parent reported an expectation that the child would return to their home again.
  • A study of children adopted in Kansas City showed that 3 percent of adopted children were not living with their adoptive parents 18 to 24 months after adoption (McDonald, Propp, & Murphy, 2001).
  • In a longitudinal study of families in Iowa who were receiving adoption subsidies, Groze (1996) found that 8 percent of the children were placed out of the home after 4 years. However, in all cases the families did not dissolve the adoption and were considered to be connected to and invested in the adopted child.
  • A study of public agency adoptions in Illinois reported that adoptions dissolved at a rate of 6.6 percent between 1976 and 1987 (Goerge et al., 1997).
  • The GAO reported that about 1 percent of the public agency adoptions finalized in fiscal years 1999 and 2000 later were legally dissolved. The report cautioned that the 1 percent figure represents only adoptions that failed relatively soon after being finalized, so the number of dissolutions could have increased with time (U.S. GAO, 2003).

Kerry and Niels, you stated: "...there

Kerry and Niels, you stated:
"...there is a large segment of families that have numerous special needs children."  in your study of abused
adopted children.  I TOTALLY agree with you.
The Special Needs Child is the first child placed, over a "normal health baby."  Always with a subsidy to help
offset the money required to adopt that child.  The list of prospective parents for a SNC  is separate from the
list of young childless couples wanting a "normal healthy baby."
There are NO specifics (Holt) in getting on the SNC list to adopt.  Almost all on this list are much older, with good
jobs or retirement with GREAT medical insurance.  NOT much thought is given as to how many children are already
in the home or how many other SNC are already there.  A LOT of the paperwork for the SNC is written by loving
foster parents from another country/culture who just want these children to go to America to have the medical
help they need.
Do these loving people lie?  Yes, but not maliciously.  Take the adoption of  AABB at almost 4 years old.  He was
diagnosed with Russel Silver Syndrome, a little precocious, and having been from the biological mother and 13
year old son/brother, to the biological father's home where he already had a wife and children, and then to an older
foster home who were told to make him adoptable.  Do you see the red flags?
AABB came to America a highly sexualized little boy with the habit of smelling everyone and masturbating.  15 days
later the ap received a telegraph from the country stating that the foster mom just now came forward, telling the
Holt agency that the boy had behaved very sexualized in her home but she didn't tell because she felt he would not
get a home......
This child went to older ap with good insurance and a good job, in America.  There was a little girl in that home
that was a SNC, one year younger.  They were best friends until puberty hit and the abuse of her started.  He had
groomed her since she was two.
The ap had finally been sent a message from the Korea/Holt worker:  "watch him around the girl."  And now, as that adoptive
parent, I know exactly what was meant.  It was meant for "down-the-road."   Did Holt in anyway prepare the adoptive
family for what-could-be?  Did the adoptive family see anything but the cutest little boy who needed to be loved?
TELL ME!  At what point could this all have been avoided?  The Home Study.....  No one thought it through about
the woman who needed children to love and to love her, and the man whose mother gave him and his brother
away at age 8& 10, to sit by at the grandparents to watch her raise another family; this man who at one time
weighed 528 pounds, lived like a hermit with his dog, lost 300 pounds on Weight Watchers and married the woman
he had only known for 3 weeks.   Anyone see the red flags?  All this was told to the Holt worker, but not put together
as a wrong place to put SNC, or any children. 
And now, after watching my marriage and family DESTROYED by the man who had secretly been living a double
life, addicted to masturbation and fantasies, I can come here and cry for all the other babies who were thrown
into such a family as mine turned out to be. 
My two oldest, straight A students and heading for college here in town, plus my two youngest
who are strong survivors, so far, are holding on to the bond that was supposed to be.  WE are the few that it
can be said that adoption worked, so far....  But, knowing first hand what adoption entails, I'm ever watchful for
the signs of more destruction.
Who more is to blame?  PLEASE, someone tell me, so I'll know who to hate besides myself?


responsibility and accountability

I don't believe in blame and see hatred to usually do only more harm, though when things really go terribly bad it is really hard to avoid it. I do believe in responsibility and accountability though and I know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That said, who is responsible for the final outcome when children are taken from one place to the other? In the case of the boy you adopted, you are responsiblle for part of it and so is your former husband, Holt employees are responsible for part of it and so are the foster families of the child and the natural parents have their share too. In all that tangled mess I see you taking accountibilty, which I truely admire. Unfortunately agencies are usually taking a very defensive stance when it comes to accountability and because of confidentiality laws they often have the means to cover up their acts.

In your story I see viscious elements, the boy must have been sexually abused at a young age, otherwise he would not have been so overly sexualized; the Holt agency as an organization strives to make an income out of international adoption, if only to pay for the staff they have, by shipping as many children as possible adopted to the US. I also see well intended wrong-doing: the foster mother who kept crucial information till it was too late and probably some of the people working for Holt, hoping once the boy was placed, everything would turn out well.

Unlike the promotion the industry keeps delivering, adoption is no fairy tale and we all know that (now). For everyone involved it is vital all information is made available and decisions are being made based on careful thought and consideration. One needs to look as much at the ugly truths as one has to listen to a heart full of love. Still much in child placement is completely sugar coated and people are left completely ignorant. Just today I posted this article, which tells a gruesome story of a couple who adopted three boys with the best of intentions, but where the placement agency had kept so much from the adopters it eventually resulted in pain, loss and misery for everyone involved.

Pound Pup Legacy