Children's minister condemns Telegraph adoption campaign

By Camilla Pemberton

February 3, 2011 / communitycare.co.uk

Children's minister Tim Loughton has condemned a national newspaper columnist's campaign against "forced adoptions", branding it "damaging" and "demoralising".

In an exclusive interview with Community Care, Loughton said a series of articles by Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph misrepresented the adoption system by highlighting only the "small number of cases which had gone horribly wrong".

The articles - which have attracted the attention of users on Community Care's forum CareSpace - chronicle cases of so-called "forced adoption", where social services appear to have placed children for adoption against the wishes of loving, capable parents.

In one, Booker wrote: "Our social workers normally hit the headlines when some Baby P-type horror story comes to light, showing how they failed to intervene when a child was so maltreated by its parents that it died.

"What don't usually make the news, however, are the hundreds of cases when the social workers' failure is the very opposite: where, aided by police and courts, they seem determined to remove children from responsible parents, to consign them to an often miserable life with foster carers or to adoption."

Loughton told Community Care the campaign was "really unhelpful". "It is doing a lot of damage to the perception of adoption and threatens to undermine the confidence and morale of people working within the system," he said.In one, Booker wrote: "Our social workers normally hit the headlines when some Baby P-type horror story comes to light, showing how they failed to intervene when a child was so maltreated by its parents that it died.

Loughton added that he was "very concerned" about any adoption cases that had gone "horribly wrong" and said he had met with the president of the family division at the High Court to address this. "I specifically discussed a number of cases with Sir Nicholas Wall last week and I am looking at ways as to how there can be further checks and balances on certain cases which are highly contentious."

But he said these represented a "small number out of the 3,200 adoptions that happened last year and should not be seen as typical".

"In the meantime it would be nice to have a more balanced picture of where adoption has made the difference between a child succeeding or a child being neglected and languishing in an inappropriate care setting," he said.

Loughton revealed he had written to the Sunday Telegraph's letters page, following a private meeting with Booker, but said his letter had never been printed.

The Sunday Telegraph and Booker have so far failed to reply to requests from Community Care to comment.

Here Tim Loughton shares his letter with Community Care:

Sir

I was surprised to read about my private meeting with Christopher Booker in his column last week (28 Nov). I requested the meeting because I was keen to find out more about the cases he has raised where there are clear concerns over the legitimacy of the way certain adoptions have taken place. For these it is certainly not a case of 'the system is working fine' and I have a responsibility as children's minister to make sure we do better for the families involved.

If the system were 'working fine' I would not have set up the review by Professor Eileen Munro to look at the whole issue of child protection and how social workers go about their job, or indeed strengthened the review into the workings of the family courts which is also doing some important work for us.

But I also have a responsibility as children's minister to make sure we do a lot better for the thousands of children who end up in the care system through no fault of their own, either to pave a safe way back to live with their own family or prepare for the longer term with alternative parental responsibility if that is not possible. Last year 3,200 children were adopted. Many came from deeply traumatic backgrounds; many were given up for adoption uncontested.

Yet despite a sharp increase in children in care post-Baby Peter, adoption figures show a worrying decline of 4% and the downward trend continues despite Mr Booker's alarmist comments about wide scale 'snatching'. His views are based on a few dozen high profile, though worrying, cases. Trying to tarnish the whole adoption system in this country undermines the work of professionals we rely on to keep vulnerable children safe, but worst of all risks damaging the chances of many thousands of children who would greatly benefit from a second chance of a stable family upbringing. I will certainly not be complacent about the scale of the problem; Mr Booker should not be so irresponsible about the solutions.

Tim Loughton

Children's minister

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Selling-points, from the voice of reason

Not too long ago, I was re-reading a statement issued by Adam Pertman, lead spokes-person for the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.  The subject-matter had to do with maltreatment and abuse in the adoptive home, and what the number of documented/reported cases (where an adoptee was abused and killed by an adoptive parent) really means or suggests.  In terms of numbers/statistics, and whether a troubling adoption-issue ought to become a heavily media-covered concern or not, Pertman did some study, and provided the following information:

More than 250,000 boys and girls have been adopted from other countries by American parents since 1989 (Immigrant Visas Issued, 2006). Most of these children have experienced prenatal risk factors (low birth weight, prematurity, lack of medical care and/or exposure to drugs, alcohol, tobacco), as well as risk factors associated with institutional care (growth and developmental delays, medical problems and/or lack of individualized attention) (Gunnar, Bruce, & Grotevant, 2000; Jenista, 2000; Johnson, 2002; Miller, 2005a). As a consequence, internationally adopted children frequently experience a complex array of developmental, medical, and behavioral issues (Hjern, Lindblad, & Vinnerljung, 2002; Miller, 2005b; Rutter et al., 1999; Tizard, Cooperman, Joseph, & Tizard, 1972; Tizard & Hodges, 1978; Tizard & Joseph, 1970; Verhulst, Althaus, & Versluis-den Bieman, 1990a, 1990b, 1992; Verhulst, Versluis-den Bieman, van der Ende, Berden, & Sanders-Woudstra, 1990; Versluis-den Bieman & Verhulst, 1995). Nevertheless, most of them exhibit remarkable catch-up growth and development within months after arriving home.

[From:  Child Maltreatment, Child Abuse Fatalities Among Internationally Adopted Children ]

A few paragraphs later, Pertman continued with:

 The vast majority of internationally adopted children thrive in their loving, supportive families. Their lives are immeasurably enriched by the opportunities provided by their families, far beyond what would have been possible if they had remained consigned to institutional care in their birth countries. These 18 cases of abuse and neglect are consequences of extreme circumstances and do not reflect the norm among families of internationally adopted children.

However, if one backs-up a few lines in that maltreatment in the adoptive home report (lines that can easily get missed....), a few itty bitty micro-meeny details reveal how much study goes into an issue that features only 18 'shocking and horrific' cases of child abuse in the adopter's home.

  1. According to Pertman, the 'normal' time-frame an adoptee is likely(?) to be neglected or abused, is within the first year after final-placement.  "Nearly one third of these children died within 6 months of their adoptive placements, and more than one half of these deaths occurred within the 1st year after adoption."  If we reviewed the 400+ abused adoptee cases featured in the PPL pages, how many of those adopted children were tortured/abused/neglected well after the not-mandatory monitored period, which is typically one year post adoption placement, (otherwise known as The Honeymoon Phase)?  Keep in mind, even when an adoption agency does provide post-monitoring services, the trained social worker paid to assess the living conditions and the new parent-child relationship may not even do this 'study' in-person.
  2. Study seems to indicate, (or at least suggest), there is a strong-connection between the number of adopted children in a home, and the chance an adopted child will be abused.  "At least five families had simultaneously adopted another child, and in five other families, there was at least one other adopted child already living in the home."  A confusing assessment... I'm not sure if Pertman suggests it's the adopted child's fault another adopted child is neglected or abused, or if he concludes adoptive parents have no real sense what they are getting into when an adoption agency flippantly approves yet another adoption-placement. In either case, some blame for child abuse is placed on the adopted child, whether the adopted child shows behavior problems, or not.
  3. Based on certain data, an adopted child's fate has much to do with the condition of the child, and birth-origin.  "In at least one case, the defense provided by the adoptive parent was that the child’s injuries were self-inflicted, due to severe behavioral disturbances such as reactive attachment disorder. In other cases, defendants claimed that the children had violent outbursts. In addition to these 18 children, at least two other internationally adopted children (residing in Sweden and Northern Ireland) allegedly have been killed by their parents; these children were adopted from the Czech Republic and Romania, respectively (Lazarova, 2006; Lewis, Cole, & Williamson, 2003)."  No mention is given to the mental-health history of adopters who abuse their adopted children.  After all, they all meet strict standards for approval, as noted in a social worker's report.
  4. In terms of adoption-study, and the problems people touched by adoption must face, Pertman admits, (in a very small way), a major critical piece of information is missing.  "The number of internationally adopted children who have been seriously injured by their adoptive parents is unknown."   Pertman offers no opinion or suggestion how that small unknown variable can be 'fixed', corrected, or studied, properly.

Readers of his report are left with the simple belief that the vast majority of adoption-stories are good.  And while the number of victims (living or dead) is unknown, Pertman insists a severe and shocking problem - abuse in an adoptive home - is, statistically speaking, not a significant problem.

In other words, while more numbers are needed for proper study, (and a key factor or two is missing), isn't it nice to know adoption agencies -- with trained professional social workers -- can prove their investigations and methods used to weed-out dangerous home-environments, (and keep an area's most vulnerable children safe), really works really well for oh-so-many thousands of adoptable children?

Adoption advocates really do amuse me.  They do NOT like those who criticize social services, or dare to share a disturbing adoption story or two... the sort of story that ought to encourage others to question and think: "How many more cases are like this?".  Adoption advocates are quick to prove the 'other opinion' is wrong, and they will do this by providing their own statistical findings... numbers that come from reports provided by various adoption agencies who hire social workers repulsed by welfare parents and their kids... and of course, the government's welfare system.  Above all, adoption advocates love to admonish the person who has the stomach to investigate and study grim child placement/adoption-facts even further, suggesting that person is wrong, inaccurate, and your basic anti-adoption cynic,"Trying to tarnish the whole adoption system in this country...".

Meanwhile, a private adoption agency can publish a report that addresses key questions and issues raised by adoptive parents, and in theory, this report is supposed to prove just how child/familyservice-minded that agency is.  In addition, that report can be added to a gathered collection and then all the presented facts can be studied by people like Pertman.  Then, people like Pertman can use that gathered collected information... those numbers... and create his own official press-release that will state something real helpful and reassuring like,  "The vast majority of internationally adopted children thrive in their loving, supportive families. Their lives are immeasurably enriched by the opportunities provided by their families, far beyond what would have been possible if they had remained consigned to institutional care in their birth countries."

THIS is the sentiment that sells -- the vast majority of children put-in care and chosen by those willing to pay adoption-service-fees are the children who will receive loving, nurturing Forever Families.... made possible by dedicated workers, assisting the large growing family of adoption service providers.  The vast majority... the vast majority... the vast majority wins.

Sounds and reads like the perfect solution to the horrific oversight and negligence seen in a majority of state/private social services, where the vast majority of children put in-care are neglected, abused and not seen by the social worker(s) assigned and paid to follow and investigate that child's case.

Instead, adoption advocates insist their studies and findings are correct, and the vast majority of children ARE (and will be) given loving adoptive homes and awesome Forever Families... which is why the vast majority of adoption stories must feature the happy and the positive, not the concerning and the grim.

This is where a Child Advocates comes-in.  The Child Advocate, (who may be seen as an anti-adoption-critic), understands the vast majority of care-service providers will do little to improve a less-than-adequate living environment or a grossly insufficient staff or irresponsible adult supervision given to children put in-care.  Such corrections cost money.  In addition, the Child Advocate understands, the vast majority of the social services that can also provide adoptive parents for a growing in-care pool, work to meet a quota.  Those who meet or exceed their must-have adoption quotas WILL receive some sort of financial perk or benefit.... either by simple salary, or end-of-fiscal-year bonus.  [Remember, non-profits can't have money left-overs that may be seen as company profit.]

Child advocates who do their homework also understand the vast majority of adoption-stories are not deeply studied, because too much digging might reveal facts that go against social/charity service claims.  [Perfect example:  how did the members of the Catholic Church hierarchy respond to child abuse claims made against priests?  People protecting their bread and butter don't want stories that will put the free or easy meal-ticket to an abrupt end.]

Child advocates also know if too much troubling and concerning information gets exposed, certain threats (or promises) may be made to ensure a level of quiet compliance.

I loved Loghton's response to claims made by a reporter who wants others to see what some social workers will do to put healthy desirables (healthy white babies, under the age of three) in the adoption-pool, across the pond:

Loughton added that he was "very concerned" about any adoption cases that had gone "horribly wrong" and said he had met with the president of the family division at the High Court to address this. "I specifically discussed a number of cases with Sir Nicholas Wall last week and I am looking at ways as to how there can be further checks and balances on certain cases which are highly contentious."

But he said these represented a "small number out of the 3,200 adoptions that happened last year and should not be seen as typical".

"In the meantime it would be nice to have a more balanced picture of where adoption has made the difference between a child succeeding or a child being neglected and languishing in an inappropriate care setting," he said.

It would also be nice if these spokesmen would stop shoving the happy adoption story in the face of those wanting to learn a little more about the less-than-ethical side of social workers paid to keep the adoption industry big, alive, and busy.  (Even a young child knows, creating a pleasant distraction is not going to make unpleasant problems disappear or go away.)

It would also be nice if these spokesmen would agree with a very simple fact adoption critics want other to know:  Corrupt  people work in family social services and charities.  In some cases, the adoption-option motivates profit-minded people to provide minimal care and meager provisions.  Profit-minded people also know working with a budget means in some cases, maintaining inhumane living conditions for 'the poor' will help create a desired effect.  It will either encourage more donations or provide more volunteers, willing to do the work for little to no pay.

Ironically, before the adoption industry got big and busy with international child-trade... and all the pay-for services that go with it... back in the UK, this method [keep it horrible] was used in workhouses.  Horrible living conditions in these workhouses would discourage the poor seeking charity from being lazy.  Charity workers were instructed to provide enough to sustain life, but not enough comfort to provide a sense of family or home.  Nowadays, the inhumane conditions seen in and reported about foster-care and foreign children's homes/orphanages create the Humanitarian Effect, complete with must-pay growing fees for special services.  It's brilliant, really.  Show the images of crowded rooms, and poorly fed and barely educated children, shove an illicit drug-use/prostitution statistic, and local rate of poverty, show how grim life on-the-streets in that region can be, and remind those with a beating bleeding heart, the poor abandoned orphaned child can do so much better, if only the child in-care had better, wealthier, more respectable parents... parents that are carefully screened and vetted by trained social workers who know what works best for society.

Here's the not-so-amusing part about adoption advocates -- when head-honchos try to minimize serious problems uncovered and published by those not working for those profiting in the adoption industry, they are proving over and over again there is reason to fear the lack of transparency in Adoptionland. 

If long-term post-adoption reporting is not mandated or required by state authorities, if concerned individuals who dare to investigate a few disturbing tips are shamed and told they are doing a dis-service, and if adoption advocates try to discredit those who see serious flaws in 'legal' adoption-practice,  how will others know more about the many ills plaguing those who have been harmed by very common 'adoption services'?  How can social services, and care given to children, get better if real serious concerning adoption issues are not featured and addressed?

Pushing the positive-spin on adoption services is NOT going to help children put in-crapcare... because in order for adoption to be a success, children in-care must endure the worst of all living conditions, making them vulnerable to sexual abuse, neglect, physical torture, and unnecessary prescription medication (to help correct unwanted behavior problems).  Pushing the positive adoption spin is not going to help the parents forced to lose their children, because certain people in key-positions want to see an increase in annual adoption numbers.  [Don't forget to read the latest about America's biggest adoption agency, Bethany]  Pushing the happy-ending adoption story will only mislead more people into the adoption myth that each and every adoption-plan is in a child's best interest, and each adopted child is in good hands, as per social worker's written report.  Pushing the positive adoption story will only ensure  the poor and disadvantaged will NOT receive better care and improved family services, because when push comes to shove, too many couples/individuals are willing to show over and over again just how much money will be paid and spent initially, so a child can be brought 'home'.

Personally, I'd much rather see more social workers report on the problems that result when a parent is forced into an adoption-plan, and I'd like to learn what can be done so a care-system can 'work fine' for those removed from family, and given a second-chance at life.  I don't see why the only hope a child in-care can have is if someone creates an adoption-plan for said unfortunate child.

Blaming the victim

You make lots of interesting point. I'd like to highlight two:

A confusing assessment... I'm not sure if Pertman suggests it's the adopted child's fault another adopted child is neglected or abused, or if he concludes adoptive parents have no real sense what they are getting into when an adoption agency flippantly approves yet another adoption-placement. In either case, some blame for child abuse is placed on the adopted child, whether the adopted child shows behavior problems, or not.

And:

No mention is given to the mental-health history of adopters who abuse their adopted children. After all, they all meet strict standards for approval, as noted in a social worker's report.

It is indeed striking how the cause of abuse is sought with the victim, not the perpetrator. In a way there is a parallel with rape cases where sometimes a similar reversal of blaming the victim is made. Instead of asking what is wrong with rapists, the victim is sometimes questioned as if (s)he somehow asked for it.

When news papers report about a case of abuse in adoptive families, it's fairly common to makes statements about the psychological problems children from orphanages are purported to have. Yet the only demonstrable fact is that the adoptive parent in such a case was abusive, so if someone's mental health should be questioned, it is the perpetrator, not the victim.

In their presentation of an abuse case, media heavily rely on adoption advocates such as Adam Pertman (Evan B. Donalson Adoption Institute), Tom DiFilipo (Joint Council on International Children's Services) and Chuck Johnson (National Council for Adoption). This adoption triumvirate can hardly be described as independent experts. Pertman, a former journalist, heads an adoption think tank sponsored by adoption agencies, while both DiFilipo and Johnson are representatives of trade associations of adoption service providers. Their contributions to the public discourse about abuse in adoptive families is mainly damage control.

These professional adoption advocates are masters at blaming the victim. In their version of reality, abuse in adoptive families can't be the fault of adoptive parents;  they are the paying customers of the adoption industry. It can certainly not to be blamed on workers in the adoption industry; they are the ones paying the advocates salaries. Since there is no one left to blame but the adoptee, the victim of the abuse somehow has to be responsible.

It is not without reason these adoption advocates focus heavily on the Russian cases. Adoptions from Russia mostly relate to children having been institutionalized, so these children can easily be considered damaged goods. Rarely do adoption advocates weigh in on cases from Guatemala or South Korea where the institutionalization argument cannot be made. Furthermore, the connotation of Russia, as the former "Evil Empire", is likely to still play a part in people's perception of the children coming from that country, making adoptees from Russia even more foreign than they already are.

Juxtaposing "loving American families" with "foreign damaged goods", adoption advocates help create the image that puts the blame of the abuse on the adoptees, as if they somehow created a situation where the "loving adopters" were forced to become abusive.

Apart from being cruel, the institutionalization argument made by adoption advocates doesn't stand up to scrutiny either. The overwhelming majority of abuse cases of foreign adoptees takes place in the United States, while there are just as many inter-country adoptions to other countries in this world. If there were a specific problem with children from orphanages, there would be plenty abuse cases in Europe, Canada and Australia too. Since this is not the case, the finger should not be pointed at adoptees, but at the American adoption system. Adoptee abuse is not an institutionalization problem, it is not a Russian problem either, it is an American problem, caused by an unregulated adoption industry that pursues religious motivation and/or profit/income over the well-being of children.

Let's call a spade a spade. The American adoption system has little to do with the best interest of children, but is all about providing children to adoptive families for religious and/or financial purposes. Somehow trying to blame abuse in adoptive families on children is both cruel and factually untrue.

Pound Pup Legacy