How can we prevent the next 500 abuse cases?

Today we added the 500th case to our abuse case archive. This dubious honor goes to a case of sexual abuse of a ten-year-old girl adopted by Jon Paul Reid. Among the 500 cases we have archived over the past three years, this case, unfortunately, doesn't stand out as particularly exceptional. There have been many children like the Reid girl before, and since little is done to prevent these situations, we will likely have to document several similar cases in the future.

When we started collecting cases of abuse in child placement, we weren't certain about the extent of the problem. In fact the initiative for this archive was partially inspired by the desire to find out the extent of the problem.

Of course the collection of individual cases as presented in news paper articles, and sometimes court documents, will never be able to give an answer to the question how likely it is a child will be abused in an adoptive/foster family. There simply are too many cases that never make the news, and too many cases that simply are never reported as taking place in an adoptive/foster family.

Our most recent case is actually a good example how the adoptive status of children is easily overlooked. When the case first broke, it was reported as first-degree statutory sodomy, first-degree statutory rape, endangering a child and incest. Even when authorities in Arkansas pressed additional charges, the case was still not reported as involving an adopted child. Only when news reports emerged about the actual court case, the victim was identified as the adopted daughter.

Similarly, there are many cases that reach the court, but are never covered in the news. Only accidentally will we come across court documents when the media has neglected to report about the case.

Finally, there are many cases of abuse that go unnoticed. Over the years we have received many personal stories of people claiming abuse in their adoptive/foster family. We haven't added any of those cases to our archive, because we don't possess formal proof substantiating the allegations, but those stories are indicative that the problem is much more widespread than our numbers reflect.

When we set up our archive of abuse cases, we intended to collect cases taking place in adoptive families, foster families and in institutional settings. We had to abandon our original plan, focusing on adoptive families only, after we found out how overwhelming the number of abuse cases in foster families was. We simply weren't able to maintain all newly emerging cases, let alone add the huge amount of historical cases.

In the end our abuse case archive mainly deals with abuse in adoptive families and hardly a week goes by that we don't add at least one new emerging case.

Despite the overwhelming evidence about abuse taking place in adoptive families, so-called adoption experts, like Adam Pertman of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and Tom DiFilipo of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, when asked to comment on a newly emerging case, tend to downplay the phenomenon as isolated incidents that rarely take place.

A close look at the 500 cases we have collected over the years, shows that abuse in adoptive families is neither rare, nor are the cases isolated incidents. There simply are too many similarities between the various cases to dismiss those clear patterns as isolated incidents.

The attitude of adoption advocates to dismiss the seriousness of the situation is most regrettable, because many abuse cases could have been prevented.

George Santayana famously said: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This wisdom applies in general, and is especially true in the field of adoption.

Despite ongoing abuse of adopted children by families overwhelmed with the issues they are facing, adoption agencies still send children to unprepared adopters.

Despite ongoing abuse of adopted children by families who starve, encage and torture children on biblical grounds, social workers still approve such families for adoption in their home study reports.

Despite ongoing rape and molestation of adopted children, screeners still don't assess each applicant as a possible predator.

Reaching a milestone of 500 documented cases of abuse, we hope our work will be appreciated by the professional adoption community.

We can't undo what has happened in the past, we are not seeking sensationalism in the present, but we do present these cases, so professionals working in the field of adoption can learn how to prevent abuse in the future.

We don't present our cases to bash the professionals in the field of adoption, we may do that when not being listened to, but our real goal is to help screeners and placement agencies prevent situations where a child is put in danger because a wrong placement decision was made.

There is much to learn from each individual case. There are also commonalities between various different cases that can teach valuable lessons. Dismissing those lessons to protect the "name of adoption" is a short-sided knee-jerk response that puts children in unneeded danger.

The 500 cases we have archived over the last couple of years, prove one thing: Screening of adoptive parents is poorly done and needs to be improved. We don't have all the answers, but our work contains valuable lessons that can be learned from.

Hopefully screeners will start taking those lessons seriously and apply that knowledge in their day-to-day work, so that we don't have to add another 500 cases in the next few years.

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