Should Adoptive Families Be Subject to More Scrutiny After Adopting?

This is one of those posts that has been sitting around in draft form. The original article is from 2011. However, there have been more incidents in the news recently, so I thought it might be time to finish this post already.

Recently, there has been media coverage of adopted children who were killed by their adoptive parents. The case with which I am most familiar is that of Hana (Alemu) Williams and her brother Imanuel. Hana’s adoptive parents were convicted of killing her and of abusing Imanuel. There has also been media coverage of adoptive parents who are “re-homing” their children, sometimes years after they have been adopted. In light of these, and other, somewhat older incidents, the question has been asked: Should adoptive families be subject to more scrutiny after adoption?

What is the purpose of the scrutiny? I am all for more post-placement services for adoptive families. Especially when you’ve done independent adoptions (like we did), adoptive parents don’t have a lot of organized sources for help. My support consists almost entirely of people who live on the Internet. I’ve had bad experiences with Pact, which is the closest adoption group, as far as I know, and even that is 60 or more miles away. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I can’t even find an adoption support group that is more local than that. There are people who live in smaller states, in rural areas, or in large homogenous suburbs who can’t find any post-placement support either. If you’ve adopted a special needs child – and most children adopted from foster care or from institutions internationally are special needs – you need support after the adoption.

So, if the purpose of the scrutiny is to help adoptive families cope with stress, then, yes, I suppose there should be more scrutiny post adoption.

However, I propose that we’re not asking the right question. Instead of asking “Should adoptive families be subject to more scrutiny after adoption?” I think we should be asking, “Should adoptive families be subject to more scrutiny and be required to complete more training before adoption?”

After an adoption is finalized, the family is treated like a family that was created through biology – the state leaves them alone unless someone reports them to social services. Generally speaking, I believe this is the right way to do things. If the state isn’t going to be interfering in families formed through biology, then they shouldn’t interfere with families formed by adoption. (However, I tend to feel that the state should be interfering more often with families formed by biology, so, here’s a place where personal opinion and reality diverge.)

Instead, I believe that the state (in cases of foster adoption) or private agencies (in the case of international and private adoption), should be more thorough in their pre-adoption assessments, aka the home study.

Home studies are relatively thorough in some areas, but are way too easy to “cheat” on. For example, even if a home study agency makes their clients sign a pledge stating that they will not use corporal punishment, the adoptive parents know that once the adoption is finalized, they can do whatever they please (just as biological parents would). So, they may sign the pledge to pass the home study. If corporal punishment is the issue – and it has been in many of the cases I’ve mentioned – then, instead of a meaningless pledge or asking a couple of questions, you need to ask more in-depth questions about discipline. You need to train people regarding appropriate discipline styles. Even some required reading would be a good start.

While we’re on the subject of training, foster parents must attend something like 20 hours of classes. Parents who adopt internationally have requirements that may differ according to the country from which they are adopting. They  need more training! They need to know what people are learning in the foster care classes, about abuse, neglect, and trauma. They need to know more about the effects of institutionalization.

Once the kids are home, post-placement absolutely needs to be more thorough. Some countries require post-placement reports every so often, but it seems that much of the time, these reports aren’t completed. I know for our post-placement, our social worker came, drank a glass of water, asked to see Cassie’s last pediatrician’s report, chatted with us for a bit about this and that, and left. Our garage could have been filled with children in cages and he never would have known. (It’s not. It’s full of empty boxes, comic books, an old dresser, assorted outdoor toys, and tools.) It seems that once the children are placed, the social workers feel that their jobs are done. But the social workers are not done. I would actually require, or at least strongly recommend, further training in any issues that the adoptive parents are encountering or may encounter. Maybe they didn’t take the class in attachment that their agency offered, thinking it would be easy, but after placement, when it hasn’t been easy, they should take the damn class! Someone needs to be there to ensure that the family’s needs are being met, but especially that the child’s needs are being met. Often, that means these new parents need support, guidance, or a kick in the butt.

So, should adoptive parents be subject to more scrutiny post-adoption? I think adoptive parents need more support post-placement, and may even need to be required to attend more training post-placement. However, it would be far more useful to educate prospective adoptive parents more in the first place, to ensure that they understand the needs of children who are adopted, especially those who have been adopted from foster care or internationally. The home study process also needs to be refined in some cases, so social workers really get a feeling for what the family intends to do post-placement, as well as what the family can and can’t handle.

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