The dark side of child placement, case by case

When we first started Pound Pup Legacy, in November 2006,  one of our main objectives was to raise public awareness to the problems adoptees face, in particular, abuse within the adoptive home and family. At first, we could not find much formal documentation addressing "abuse after adoption".  According to those who study adoption issues, it's known that abuse in adoptive homes does take place, but very few studies have been dedicated to the subject. Those studies that do pay some attention to abuse post placement contradict one another, or rather, focus on re-abuse of children adopted from the foster care system.

Ironically the movement to protect children from abuse was ignited by the case of Mary Ellen Wilson in 1874. Mary Ellen was an 8-year-old girl from New York City who was severely maltreated by her adoptive parents. Her discovery was much publicized at the time and eventually led to the establishment of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

135 years later, child protectors and baby savers seem to have forgotten about the little girl whose story inspired the American child protective movement.  Rather than admit flaws in adoptive services exist, many prefer to admit the adopted child who is found severly abused or dead is an "isolated incident" and as grave as the matter is, the public is reminded about the wonders of adoption and how well-off adopted children usually are.

Every abused adopted child is, of course, bad promotion for child placement agencies. The very premise of adoption is that an abused and neglected, "orphaned" child is better off with the adoptive family than with its biological family. Why else consider adoption?  So when the opposite ends up to be true, when a child was not abused prior to adoption, but was abused in the adoptive family, that whole premise of "saving a child from trauma and hardship" is being negated.

Abuse in adoptive families is therefore not only a phenomenon that has received little attention, but it is a phenomenon many (working in the placement industry) don't want to see studied, don't want to see explored, and don't want to be be uncovered.

Against that back ground we started paying attention to abuse in adoptive families on this website. With little to go by, our first posts on the subject were only exploratory. Some people came forward to talk about their personal experiences and gradually the idea formed to systematically collect all evidence we could find about the existence of abuse in adoptive families.

The abuse cases section

As a result our abuse cases section was created, which archives all cases we can find, backed-up by news paper article, court documents etc.  After only a few weeks we were able to dig up a hundred cases. Cases of Russian children being killed by their adoptive parents had already been documented in the Daily Bastardette, several attachment therapy related cases could be found on Advocated for Children in Therapy, while other cases, because they were so gruesome, were easily found by a simple Google search.

While adding more and more cases we realized abuse in foster care and abuse in residential care should be covered as well. We still have a huge backlog of abuse in foster care cases. Dufferin VOCA has a long list of children that died while being placed out, many of which we have covered, many of which we still have to add. Given enough time, we will certainly add all cases on that list that apply to our archives, but it's an immense job, one that requires a lot of our time.

Abuse in residential care is quite a complicated topic. Over the years several abuse cases have emerged related to old-school children's homes and while most people would agree the circumstances many children lived under were horrible, it's often hard to prove actual abuse took place. We have added some of the well known cases, but there still is a lot of work to be done to reach a level of completeness.

In the mean time new RTC programs have been launched to replace old-school children's homes. From sparse documentation it becomes evident children are not particularly safe in those institution, yet it's not easy to find specific cases. RTC's are a pretty closed environment, so the chances someone will report abuse to child protective services are small.

Altogether we have been able to find out about 371 cases of children abused in child placement, by now. Some of these cases are very well documented, with sometimes over one hundred articles and documents. In other cases we could find very little information, having to rely on only one  or two news paper article.

Other archives

Inspired by the work on the abuse cases, we created several other sections that relate to other aspects of the dark side of child placement.

First we set up a section related to adoptee deportation. It was shocking to me to learn adoptees ran the risk of being deported to their country of origin if their adoptive parents had somehow failed to apply for their citizenship. Over time, we have been able to find fifteen such cases that made the news.  Time will tell how many more adoptees will be facing authorities at immigration.

Soon after we created the adoptee deportion section, we set up another archive for the documentation of cases of child trafficking for the purpose of inter-country adoption. This is a topic we have paid much attention to from the time we started this website. As with abuse in adoptive families, child trafficking is often brushed aside as incidental, and adoption advocates typically offer glorified claims that inter-country adoption is the only way and means poor orphan children can be saved from destitute, poverty, child-labor and abuse. 

Unfortunately, child trafficking is not incidental, but systemic. Every sending country we have looked at knows or has known a history of child trafficking. By now we have been able to find 109 separate cases. Some of these cases relate to a particular trafficked child, while others deal with a specific orphanage and sometimes a case relates to a country as a whole.

After we had created the abuse in child placement, the adoptee deportation and the child trafficking sections, we realized we should address the dark side of child placement in an even more systematic manner, focusing entirely on the safety and well being of children.

When looking at the child placement system and the safety and well being of children, it easily boils down to three basic questions:

  • are children safe from unnecessary entrance into the child placement system?
  • is the safety and well being of a child served when staying within the child placement system?
  • is the safety and well being of a child served when leaving the child placement system?

Entrance into the child placement system

Many of the problems we see in the child placement system are related to unnecessary entrance of children into the system. There is a demand for children, especially infants, from those that want to adopt, and this creates a climate in which children are being preyed upon by workers in the child placement system. We already addressed child trafficking in the context of inter-country adoption as an example of how children can end up being coerced or kidnapped then sold through an orphange and adoption agency, regardless of that child's best interest and well-being.

Children are not only prey in far away countries. Domestic adoption follows the same rules of supply and demand. That's why we created two more sections: coerced adoption and father's rights violations, both addressing specific ways in which children are being drawn into the child placement system in unlawful ways. These two sections are still relatively new, so we have only been able to find some of the cases. There must be many more out there that we have not found yet or were unable to uncover.

Adoption from foster care doesn't follow the typical rules of supply and demand found in inter-country and domestic adoption, yet it must be said children are not safe from predation either. Because of adoption incentives, adoption quotas and subsidy payments, poor and uninformed families run the risk of losing their children, because for some parties in the child placement system, it is more lucrative to remove them and place them for adoption . Again the younger, the more attractive, and the easier it is to place in an adopting home.

To pay attention to child predation by Child Protective Services, Children's Aid Society, Social Services, or any other name governmental organizations responsible for the protection of children go by, we created the wrongful removal section.

While the phenomenon is widely known, it's hard to find concrete evidence that proves this is an ongoing problem in America. Mainstream media in the USA have not paid much, if any, attention to this topic, and the sealing of family court proceedings is not helpful either. In the United Kingdom, where the same problem exists, mainstream media have picked up on the issue and written extensively about it. Hopefully we can encourage American media to follow suit.

Stay within the child placement system

Our abuse cases section already demonstrated children are not necessarily safe when being within the child placement system. In many cases children are even demonstrably less safe than in their own family. Yet abuse is not the only threat to the safety of children in the child placement system.

While being promoted as permanent, a significant number of adoptions end in disruption or dissolution, despite the moniker "forever family". It doesn't need much emphasis that this is certainly not contributing to the safety and well being of children. First of all the safety and well being of a child in a family that decides on disruption or dissolution is in question. On top of that being placed in yet another family or in some cases institution will certainly be detrimental to the stability of that child.

The situation in foster care is even worse. Many children, especially older ones, face several consecutive placements. Up to ten different placements is not unheard of, creating drifters out of children that needed more stability to begin with.

Documenting cases of disruption or dissolution is not an easy task. There is plenty statistical information, but very little factual information about individual cases. Still we decided to create the disrupted placements section. Unlike abuse in child placement and child trafficking, disruption is much less disputed. No one in the child placement system can deny or down play the disruption figures, so this section is much less to demonstrate the extent of the problem as well as to show some of the circumstances surrounding disruption and dissolution.

Another issue related to the safety and well being of children in the placement system is overmedication in foster care. Far too often children receive more psychotropic or other drugs than they actually need or should. Sometimes they are used as guinea pigs, sometimes they are numbed down to make them easier to handle, sometimes doctors have lucrative contracts with the pharmaceutical industry, making extra money at the expense of the child's health and tax payers money.

Leaving the child placement system

As much as children need safety within the placement system, they also need to safely leave the system when aging out. This is more a systemic problem that doesn't easily lend itself to a case by case approach. Some states have addressed the issue by raising the age of leaving the system from 18 to 21, but it is not just a question of age, it is much more a question of preparation. Many children in foster care have not finished high school and only a small percentage makes it to college. On top of that most children in foster care have no real family connection. They lost the one they had with their biological family and later on go through so many subsequent placements, they never developed a bond with any of their foster families either. As a result people come from foster care are overrepresented among the homeless and in the prison system.


By creating these different sections dedicated to specific issues, we hope to shed some light on the many dark sides of the child placement system. We aim to cover all those side as completely as possible, knowing we can probably only scratch the surface or at best show the tip of the iceberg.

Last week we added the 500th case to our website, a milestone that doesn't call for celebration, given the enormity each of these cases means to some child's life. It does call for contemplation though. If we, with the help of a few volunteers, are able to uncover so many wrongdoings, so much corruption, so much avoidable suffering, how deep does the problem really go?

There are many many abused adoptees and abused foster children that never reported their abuse. There are many many children trafficked that we may never know a name of. There are many many women coerced to give their children up for adoption and  father's whose rights have been violated, that never made the news. Every day children are being removed from their families on flimsy allegations to end up in foster care where they run the risk of being abused, receiving unnecessary medication or being moved from one home to another. 

We hope by showing all these different cases we can somehow raise awareness about all the dark sides of the child placement. Each individual case is testimony to the fact that the child placement system is not working in the best interest of children. Each individual case is testimony to the fact that the child placement system is mainly self serving. Each individual case is testimony to the fact that the child placement system can be lax, corrupt or down right criminal.

Children deserve better, the world deserves better.


Little Mary Ellen

I often wonder why, when so many articles mention the story of Mary Ellen Wilson, they quote Watson's informative article. Perhaps because it summarizes the story well, and provides a quick learn. And while Mary Ellen was not rescued by the ASPCA under the premise that she was a little animal, it was the work done by Bergh and Gerry -- very well known in New York -- that drew Wheeler to him as a last resort. If you want to read a dramatic historical ficion book on the case, pick up Dr. Lazoritz' and my book, "Out of the Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson." If you'd like to dig deeper and actually read the previously unreleased court transcripts of Connolly's trial, then pick up "The Mary Ellen Wilson Child Abuse Case and the Beginning of Child Protection in 19th Century America." They're both interesting, and when you're done, you will feel as though you lived through it. And the best part is Mary Ellen providing us with a long, long happy ending at 92 years of age. And both of her daughters lived to be 91 -- now THAT's longevity. ~ Thanks for reading! ... Eric A. Shelman

re: Little Mary Ellen

Thank you for poining out the books you have published about the case of Mary Ellen Wilson. I created two pages The Mary Ellen Wilson Child Abuse Case and the Beginning of Children's Rights in 19th Century America and Out Of The Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson showing the information Amazon has about these books.

When I posted the above blog entry I had only just found out about Mary Ellen Wilson and was especially struck by the irony that the child whose abuse started the child protective movement was an adoptee, while the child protection system nowadays doesn't want to know about abused adoptees, because it is damaging to the image of the industry.

Pound Pup Legacy