exposing the dark side of adoption
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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.

by Kerry and Niels on Saturday, 28 June 2008