According to reporters Molly Born and Paula Reed Ward of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kristen and Douglas Barbour adopted two Ethiopian children in March. By October--five months later--the Barbours were in court, charged with "starving their six-year-old son and leaving him with lesions from being kept in urine-soaked clothing for long periods of time." As for the girl, the charge read, "The 18-month-old girl will likely be blinded in one eye and paralyzed after suffering head trauma."
The Barbours started the adoption process through Bethany Christian Services, at the same time they started their biological family. Their two biological children, ages 2 and 4, were unharmed.
REPORTS OF ABUSE OF FOREIGN ADOPTIONS
Media reports of abuse of foreign adopted children abound. On November 8, the Portland Oregonian reported on Nikolina Stoyanova, adopted from Bulgaria by Justin Smith and Janis Kuchler of Pendleton, Oregon through an adoption agency, All God's Children. Smith and Kuchler "abused her--eventually pleading guilty to to criminal sexual abuse." Stoyanova was sent to a state mental institution, Oregon State Hospital-Portland, where she choked to death due to the negligence of the staff.
A couple of our readers took me to task for noting that some international adoptees are abused, pointing out that abuse in not unique to adopted children. Reader Robin responded succinctly:
"Adopted children are PURPOSEFULLY placed into an adoptive family to get a BETTER life. There are supposed to be oversights, a thorough investigation of prospective adoptive parents, home visits, legal procedures, etc. No child who is INTENTIONALLY placed in an adoptive home should suffer abuse ever....
"I have heard this argument too many times that because there are kids who are abused by their bio-parents that this somehow rationalizes adoptee abuse."A reader pointed out that anecdotes about abuse cannot substitute for sound data. True, but to my knowledge no one collects data documenting all the cases of abuse of foreign adopted children and compares it to abuse of children adopted domestically, or children abused by natural parents. The Russian government did collect data showing that 17 children adopted from Russia were murdered by their adoptive parents and many others were abused. While hard data is lacking, I believe that families who adopt internationally fare less well than those who adopt children from foster care.
Of my friends and acquaintances who have adopted internationally, the overwhelming majority have had serious problems with their children. To my knowledge, none of these adoptive parents have abused their children, but all have resorted to sending their children sent away for treatment, putting therm on behavior-modifying drugs, or placing them in special education programs. As adults, some of these the children have committed crimes; others rely on their adoptive parents for support.
PREPARATION IS IMPERATIVE
Of course bad behavior on the part of the children does not justify abuse, but it does help explain it. It's logical that children adopted from foreign countries are more likely to misbehave than children adopted domestically. In addition to the trauma of losing their original parents, they also must deal with the sense of displacement due to losing everything that was familiar--even if what was familiar was pretty bad. Furthermore, these children may grieve for their first families, and unlike children adopted domestically, they know they are almost certainly unlikely to ever see their families again. And it's well documented that child welfare experts recognize the importance of the birth family to adopted children, particularly those adopted at a later age.
The Barbours, devout Christians, had an idealized vision of adoption. Douglas Barbour wrote on their blog, Our Adoption Journey: "Adoption by Christians brings children into the covenant community and thereby enables them to enjoy the blessings associated with that connection." Kristen Barbour wrote of the bond "already forming between her biological and adopted children" before the children had ever met. Things changed quickly. Kristen Barbour wrote about the children's first few days in the US: "'In the last week, we have cuddled up with a child and gotten puked on. Caught puke in our hands.... Sometimes when people think of adoption, they don't think about the nitty gritty, get down and dirty hard times. And we are in the depths.'"
Interviewed by the Post-Gazette, Adam Pertman, the Executive Director of the E. D. Donaldson Adoption Institute, did not comment on the case but stated, "The greatest predictor of success in adoption is appropriate parental expectations....You've got to prepare yourself for the kid you're going to get.'" Since Bethany Christian Services has refused to comment or even acknowledge that the Barbours were clients, we do not know what they told the Barbours about possible behavior issues. However, Bethany, like all adoption agencies, makes its money on parental expectations. It has little incentive to tell prospective adoptive parents anything which might cause them to back away from adopting. Conversely, parents who adopt from foster care are required by state law to take classes to prepare them for what may lie ahead, and how best to deal with it.
POST-ADOPTION COUNSELING IS ESSENTIAL
Pertman also stressed that follow-up education is "essential to having successful family integration." While adoption agencies may provide post-adoption counseling for adoptive parents--Bethany claims it it conducts post-placement visits in the first year and refers families who are struggling to additional services--agencies do not provide counseling, respite care, or other services provided by state child welfare agencies.
When state authorities place a child in an abusive home or fail to remove a child from one, there are consequences. The media is all over it. Workers are punished--some have been charged with crimes--administrators are booted, legislators hold hearings, laws are passed, budgets are adjusted.
Not so with private adoption agencies. All God's Children is still in business. In fact, it is receiving getting kudos because it, along with a couple who also adopted child from Bulgaria, have started fund-raising for a scholarship in Stoyanova's name at a local community college.
Another reader suggested the answer is "to have more realistic and stringent controls on who is fit to adopt." The Barbours were extensively screened by Bethany through "essay questions, hours of interviews, with their caseworker, child abuse clearances, medical testing and a home study." Douglas Barbour worked as a deputy attorney general for the state. Kristen Barbour was a college-educated stay-at-home mom "who blogged about cooking and craft projects and lavished words of love and praise on her family and God." They lived in a two-story home with a big backyard. In short, the perfect couple.
A SITUATION PRIMED FOR FAILURE
The only possible red flag was that the Barbours planned to start their biological family at the same time they began the adoption process. Bringing two strange children into the home while trying to meet the demands of young children would likely create a stressful situation. Bethany either didn't see the potential problems or chose to ignore them. Bethany, like other adoption agencies place children as well as screen prospective adoptive parents. This is a built-in conflict of interest. Although agencies charge for home studies, the real money comes from placing children with adoptive parents. Although states license adoption agencies, it's unlikely that states would require agenciesto have more stringent controls. Adoption agencies would raise the specter of worthy couples unable to adopt and children left in orphanages because of red tape. Even if states strengthened requirements, many would lack the funds to enforce the rules.
Another reader points out that her two adopted daughters would have ended up on the streets and likely faced a life of destitution and prostitution if she hadn't adopted them. These girls' good fortune was only the luck of the draw. Adopted into a different home, they could have ended up sexually abused like Stoyanova. Adoption is a lottery, as John Sayles forcibly depicts in his 2003 film, Casa de los Babys. And of course, saving two girls from prostitution did nothing for the many poor girls in the world who are forced into prostitution every day.--jane
Adoption saga ends with charges for Franklin Park couple
Scholarship fund created in memory of Nikolina Stoyanova, Oregon State Hosptial-Portland patient who died
Abuse case jeopardizes adoption agreement between Russia and US
Creating a Healthy Adoption with an Older Adopted Child
Casa de los babys
Half The Sky Movement
and a story from Nigeria: Nigerian's battle to keep her baby
Casa de los Babys
"...The story of six women who go to a Latin American country to adopt babies. As in other films by this master of cinema [John Sayles], it is not a simple story with a simple ending. Instead, it is a complex political and social tale that can be viewed on many levels."--Amazon reviewer.
As a first mother, I found the movie riveting and telling, as I seem to know way too many people who have adopted from Central and Latin America; I could not help relating to the poor women who were giving up their babies. Highly recommended. The link above will let you watch the film for $2.99 or you can buy it for $4.99. Someone gave me a disk and I am glad to have it on my shelf. --lorraine
Can International Adoption Be fixed? As Well as The Drug Trade
Joyce Maynard's adoption "disruption"
Returning a Child: It Happens More than You Think
Foreign Adoptions Aren't Plunging Fast Enough
Reproductive exploitation--one more way to abuse women
Foreign Adoptions Aren't Plunging Fast Enough
Reproductive exploitation--one more way to abuse women