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Statistics of abuse in adoptive families


Since we started archiving cases of abuse in adoptive families, we have been able to find information about

such cases.

In this article, we'd like to explore the meaning of this number and what it says about the the adoption system in place.

There are no official statistical sources about abuse in adoptive families. In fact, there are in general very few reliable statistics in the field of adoption.

This is why we have to rely on an archive of abuse cases, mostly based on news paper articles, and in some cases court documents.

A lack of source information makes it difficult to make reliable statements about the prevalence of abuse in adoptive families for several reasons:
  • Abuse may not be reported at all. Many cases of abuse (whether in adoptive or in non-adoptive families) are never reported to authorities. As a result the number of abuse cases we can report is always much lower than the actual number of abuse cases.
  • The status of adoptee may not be mentioned in the reporting about abuse cases.
  • News papers are not a consistent source of information about investigated abuse cases. While several investigated abuse cases are reported by news papers, many others are not. Reporting is based on the "news-worthiness" of the case, making it likely that many investigated cases never made the news.
This article provides some break downs of number of abuse cases by location, with the provision that the figures listed in this post are far from reliable, and in general much lower than the actual numbers.

The vast majority of cases of abuse in adoptive families take place in the United States, as can be seen in the following table. Table 1

The disproportionately high ranking of the US may not necessarily relate to a higher rate of abuse in adoptive families than in other countries, though it is likely to be a contributing factor.

Most countries listed in table 1 will likely have much higher abuse rates than listed. There are various reasons for that:
  • Lower number of news outlets available over the internet. Many American news papers have internet editions, this is not always the case in other countries.
  • For the US, several cases older cases (the oldest going back to 1956) are listed. For other countries we have not been able to access news archives, so the US is certainly overrepresented with older cases. Although the number of cases before 1990 is less than 25. Of course there is no reason to expect abuse in adoptive families had a lower prevalence in earlier times, there simply is less information available/accessible about older cases. This is especially true since larger news papers are archived better than small local news papers, while they are less likely to contain information about specific abuse cases.
  • Language barrier. It is possible for us to screen news on the internet in the English language, and to a lesser extent languages like: French, Spanish, German and Dutch, but none of our members is fluent in many of the other languages. As a result news outlets in the English language will disproportionately provide us information about abuse cases.
  • Privacy issues. Many American news papers provide private information about abuse cases. Some go as far as providing the address information of the family the abuse took place in. The status of the victim as adoptee may easily be provided more in American news outlets. In other countries such information may be suppressed by the press out of privacy concerns.
  • Higher overall adoption rate. Most Anglo-saxon countries know a form of adoption from foster care, which in the US comprises approximately half of the total number of adoptions. Most European countries have no adoption from foster care, and some have hardly any domestic infant adoption either. Of course higher adoption rates will likely contribute to higher rates of abuse in adoptive families too.
  • Higher absolute number of adoptions. The US has a much larger population than any other country in the Western World. So even when adoption rates are equal, the total number of adoptions will still be much larger in the US than in other countries, giving a higher likelihood of higher numbers of abuse in adoptive families.
Despite these provisions, there is reason to believe that the abuse rate in adoptive families in the US is actually higher than in other countries.
  • The number of abuse cases in our archive from the US is so much larger than that of any other English speaking country, it is unlikely this can be contributed to higher adoption figures and issues of news paper reporting only.
  • The US has an adoption system that is far less regulated than that of nearly any other country in the world. Regulation of industries is in general lower in the US than in many other countries, and this especially applies to adoption. There is federal oversight over inter-country adoption on paper, but in practice this has been outsourced to the Council on Accreditation, which doesn't have the capacity to properly monitor inter-country adoption. The federal government does not regulate domestic adoption at all, despite its inter-state character. All state governments regulate their adoption agencies to a degree, though there is a vast difference between states. Inter-state adoptions make it sometimes impossible for state authorities to properly regulate or monitor the activities of adoption agencies.
  • The US has an adoption system that is far more commercial in nature than that of nearly any other country. Unlike most other countries, the US does not prohibit for-profit adoption agencies, while several not-for-profit adoption agencies operate with for-profit motivations. The latter group of agencies pays their executive directors highly fluctuating compensations, which can in principle be equated to profit.
  • The US has an adoption system that is far more competitive than that of nearly any other country. The US has far more adoption agencies per capita than any other country in the world. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has approximately as many adoption agencies as all the countries in Europe combined.
  • Attitudes towards corporal punishment differ strongly from those in most other Western countries, making the prevalence of physical abuse more likely.
Abuse in adoptive families does not only differ per country, it also differs within countries. The following map shows all known cases of abuse in adoptive families and pin points their location.

The map is overwhelming due to the large number of cases we have been able to collect. When we break down the figures by state we get the following table.
  1. Cases of abuse in adopted families according to Pound Pup Legacy database. States with less than 5 cases were omitted.
  2. Population size as of 2005
  3. Number of abuse cases per 100,000 state inhabitants
Table 2

All of the provisions we mentioned before, apply to table 2 as well. The ranking of this table is determined by relating the number of abuse cases to the population size. As a result states with a higher adoption rate will likely rank higher than those states with a low adoption rate. This may very well explain the leading position of Minnesota, which is known to be a state with more than average numbers of adoption. Unfortunately there are no reliable adoption statistics at the state level, so we can't relate the number of abuse cases to the number of adoptions.

Reporting about abuse cases may also differ significantly from state to state. Some states are more metropolitan than others, making the reporting of abuse cases less likely; the news being drowned out by other newsworthy events. Some states have more local news papers than others, or have more local news papers with internet presence than others.

Despite these provisions, the high ranking of certain states will likely relate to relatively high levels of abuse in adoptive families. The differences between the five highest ranking states and the bottom five ranking states is large. This difference is unlikely related to reporting issues and adoption rate alone.

The break down of adoption statistics by location is a tricky issue, with many caveats, but given the sometimes overwhelming differences between locations, there are indications that adoption practices in the US in particular and in certain states within the US, are contributing to higher levels of abuse in adoptive families.

Unfortunately there are no reliable adoption statistics, and abuse statistics are not coded for adoption either, so reliable statements about abuse in adopted families by location can not be made. We hope nevertheless that the break down we have given is somewhat indicative of the locations that perform exceptionally poor. Until child welfare authorities take up a serious interest in this issue, we will remain having more questions than answers.
by Kerry and Niels on Saturday, 25 September 2010