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In March, 2011, standing alone in a Galveston court room, a young father received his punishment for performing a sexual act on his 3 month old son before crushing his crying infant's skull. Travis Mullis, 24 year old adult abused adoptee, was ordered to death.
At the time of court ruling, his still-living "forever" adoptive mom was living in sunny warm Florida. She wanted nothing to do with him and the case.
Travis was described as an unfeeling monster. District Attorney Donna Cameron told the jury, "There is no medication, there is no treatment for the evil that he is."
As I read articles about this case, and Travis Mullis, himself, and his own adoption-story, I thought about what this woman was telling herself and her jury. "There is no medication; there is no treatment for the evil that he is".
That evil she is referring to is not a person or a characteristic trait; that evil is the by product of a care-system so bad, so fraught with self-interest, corruption, oversight and negligence, its problems and unresolved issues have been linked to similar problems found in the US prison system.
As most parents (and educators) already know, a child does as he or she sees; this mimicking is part of the learning process. Since studies show children that grow up around domestic violence repeat the behavior, it's my strong belief that an adoptive parent's style of teaching, disciplining, and relating to others, (especially during times of stress), is the most critical teaching example adopted children will learn in a new adoption agency assigned family/home environment. In fact, some might argue infant abuse is linked to early experience, not genetics, making adoptive parenting the most specialized type of parenting there is.
Here's some bad news for every adoption agency out there collecting application fees from PAPs: not every applicant eager to adopt is capable of being a specialized child educator, mentor, teacher, nurse, cook and all-round "parent" to an adoptable child. ALL adoptable children have "special needs". Some adopted children have more complex (medical/psychological) needs than others, but as a whole, if the child is adoptable, that child has already been traumatized. No child can be adopted without more trauma and stress; no child can be adopted and have no after-effects.
Throughout the trial of Travis, much attention and blame for his unlovable and unlikable behavior went to his biological mother. Before reporters skimmed the grim details that go with an unsafe, unhealthy grossly dysfunctional adoptive couple that may or may not have been "home-studied", pre-screened and given social-service approval, before details about life with a pedophile adoptive dad, (who, according to some reports, raped Travis from the time he as was three until he turned six), an image of the evil monster-making source of origin emerges: a birth mother with morbid obesity, diabetes and lung disease is the first mental picture readers get, when learning about Travis and all the tragic events that took place in his life.
Some of the descriptions of the birth-mother, who died 10 months after her son's birth, were quite brutal, showing just how biased people can be when describing the origins of an adopted child who became less than ideal.
In one news-article, reporters quoted his own defense attorney as saying:
His mother was obese, smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, drank numerous cups of coffee, and was smoking the day before Mullis was born, Bourque said. His mother's unhealthy habits contributed to Mullis' need to for an operation soon after birth, he said.
A physician testifying on behalf of Travis said:
His mother's obesity, lung disease, diabetes, four-pack-a-day cigarette habit and other health factors gave her such low blood oxygen levels that Mullis' developing brain and body were oxygen- starved before he was born,
According to his medical expertise, the low oxygen levels and diabetes "affected his brain and set him up for emotional problems". In addition, hospital records and medical testimony suggested during the recovery period following a much needed operation, soon after birth, Travis' mother refused to touch him.
Mullis' mother failed to provide the contact needed to form a bond between mother and child. Without that bond, children can't learn to form relationships or learn to love
A mental picture develops: even the defense-team of an abusive adoptee wants a jury of "peers" to see the accused abuser came from a love-less loser.
This is the image that newspaper reporters present, before disclosing the detail that Travis was adopted by a pedophile.
What was adopted life for Travis like? What parenting-styles did he observe and mimic? How was Travis taught to treat others, and what did he learn to do when he himself felt stressed or triggered?
Mathew Jonathan Mendel, a clinical psychologist who studied Travis before the trial, testified:
Mullis experienced three major traumas early in life, including five abandonments, early childhood surgeries and sexual abuse by his adoptive father, Gary Mullis, who was his only positive adult role model.
Imagine the luck: as an adopted child, the only positive adult role model chosen for you by an adoption service is a pedophile. For Travis, the only way to connect with another human is through sex.
Travis was not an evil monster; he was a victim of an adoption system that is not doing enough to protect the most vulnerable of all children... those children put in-care, already harmed by parental neglect or abandonment and very poor treatment.
In court, it was revealed that the maternal-side of the family was "rampant with pedophilia". At ten months of age, Travis had an opportunity to leave the dysfunctional family circle. Instead, the maternal grandmother was able to take Travis, as her own, and then give Travis to her own son, a pedophile- who happened to be married. Something went seriously wrong with Travis' adoption plan.
As far as I'm concerned, adoption services should be doing more to ensure the adopted child they are placing is going to be put in a suitable home; one that is safe and not dysfunctional. It seems to me, thanks to adoption quotas and the demand for a shortened adoption process, more agencies/services are placing children where it is easy, not necessarily best for what's in a specific child's best interest. More than "family", adoptable children need suitable parents. The more cases PPL presents, the more one can see: There are too many dysfunctional people being approved to parent children with complex special needs.
Travis, with his adoption story, and all the aftermath that goes with it, represents a tragic case of UNSAFE child-placement and poor adoption service.
Adoption services need to do more than place children in a "forever home". Adoption services need to focus more on the needs of children who have experienced trauma; they need to prepare - and monitor - each prospective adoptive parent, accordingly. Adoption services need to help educate adoptive parents so they do not repeat pathological parenting. Adoption services, in the end, need to help reduce and limit the harms and consequences that come from negligent and abusive parenting, not create new abuse statistics and deepen already complex adoption issues.
The adoption service provider behind Travis Mullin's adoption story failed not only Travis, but it failed and hurt the many people Travis harmed and abused, himself.
If Travis was unable to feel empathy, compassion, or remorse for any of his actions, it's because that's what Travis was taught, by example, which in his case, was chosen for him, on his behalf, through an adoption service. As a "special needs adoption", none of Travis' core needs were met.
While few may feel little more than outraged disgust for Travis, we should all feel sick that adoption stories, and outcomes, like his exist. These ghastly adoption stories can have some of the most horrific examples of child abuse, proving what can get passed-down from one generation, to the next, matters, whether each person from each generation is genetically connected, or not.
The US adoption system is flawed. The US adoption industry is not putting the needs of traumatized children, first. Too many child abusers are approved to adopt, and post-placement monitoring is not being done like it should be done, for the sake of the already traumatized child.
What other example is needed to make changes in the adoption process? When will adoption services be held to a higher standard? What else needs to be exposed before radical adoption reform can become a reality?