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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Systematic Maltreatment of Adopted Children: A Federal Case At Last

Many posts on this blog—as well as plenty of other sources--- have described how some adoptive parents in the United States use planful and systematic maltreatment of children in the mistaken belief that painful experiences will teach children to “behave” and to love their caregivers.

The maltreatment in question goes far beyond spanking and may cause real injury or even death. For example, some parents withhold food and drink or severely limit the amount and type of food and liquid available to the child. The same parents may under some circumstances force the child to drink large amounts of fluid or to eat food laced painfully with red pepper or hot sauce. Children may be confined to cages and have their access to toilet facilities limited. Exposure to excessive cold or heat and to hard and tedious manual work may be part of the treatment.  In some cases, beating or whipping are also practiced. This range of “parenting” methods would be judged to be torture if used in adult prisons. The parents, however, appear to be convinced that  these techniques are suitable methods of child guidance and discipline and indeed are necessary to shape acceptable behavior in adopted children from risky backgrounds.

When children are not badly hurt by these forms of maltreatment, it is likely that no one outside the family circle knows what is happening--  especially if children are homeschooled so the surrounding community does not see or hear them. When serious injuries or deaths occur, it becomes much less possible to conceal systematic maltreatment, and parents who have participated in maltreatment have in a number of cases been arrested, charged, tried, and imprisoned. In all cases known to me before now, the cases have been brought in state courts in response to the breaking of state child abuse laws. Frequently, neighbors, relatives, clergy, and social workers or therapists have testified on behalf of the adoptive parents. Over the last 15 years, there have been a number of cases in which a “RAD defense” was mounted, as defense attorneys claimed that the parents’ responsibility should be mitigated because of the challenging mental illness of the children. Without wishing to cast aspersions on state courts, I think it is reasonable to suggest that the local nature of these trials, and the level of misinformation about childhood mental illness, made it possible for public opinion to play a role in reducing the sentences of parents who had done serious harm to adopted children.

As of this last week, a case of systematic maltreatment of adopted children has resulted in the indictment in Federal court of Carolyn and John Jackson, a couple presently living in Mount Holly, NJ. The indictment (www.justice.gov/usao/nj/files/pdffiles/2013/Jackson,%20Carolyn%20and%20John%20Indictment.pdf) charges the Jacksons with one count of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, 13 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and three counts of assault. The U.S attorney, Paul Fishman, described the Jacksons’ treatment of the children as “unimaginable cruelty”, but regrettably it is all too easy to imagine for those of us who have been attentive to these issues and have seen the same methods used over and over again. The Jacksons employed all the usual ones, withholding food, water, and medical care, forcing red pepper and hot sauce ingestion, and using forced salt ingestion to increase the effect of withholding water. In addition, at least one child was beaten to the point of broken bones. In addition, as has occurred in other cases, the Jacksons’ biological children were maltreated as a result of their parents’ demand that they participate in tormenting the adopted siblings by preventing them from drinking. The children did not attend school, needless to say.

Why Federal court for the Jacksons, when ordinarily child abuse charges are the business of state courts? As it happens, John Jackson was a major in the U.S. Army, and at the time of the maltreatment of the children the family lived at the Picatinny Arsenal Installation in Morris County, NJ. Their actions were thus on Federal property and subject to Federal law. This fact provided the one desirable circumstance in this tragic situation. It is much to be hoped that a trial in Federal court, with all its related resources, will lay bare the realities of systematic maltreatment of adopted children by misguided adults.

It is, of course, probably too much to hope for, that those who advised the parents will also be pointed out to the public. But it is possible that any collusion of adoption caseworkers and the Jacksons (if any occurred) will be revealed. The Jacksons originally fostered the children and later adopted them, presumably giving caseworkers opportunities to understand their belief system before recommending adoption; approval of the adoptions suggests that caseworkers either failed to understand the Jacksons’ beliefs and methods--  or, alternatively, agreed with them. It would be a great mistake to assume that the Jacksons’ system was disapproved by all, as can be seen in the support given them over the last two years by some contributors at www.facebook.com/pages/Support-for-the-Major-John-Carolyn-Jackson-Family-of-New-Jersey/183604398328648.


  1. An adoptive mom in the neighborhood (who also happens to be an "attachment therapist,"), who lives within steps of our condo community's shared playground, will not give Little Dude a drink of water if, when he's playing with her son, asks for one, because, she told me, all food and water should come from the parents after a new placement of a child "with attachment issues." And, ideally, should be accompanied by cuddling. "Food tastes better with eye contact," you know.

    Oy vey!

    Thank goodness, there's a more sensible parent just next door, who only requires the word "please" to fulfill such a request.

    Interestingly, Little Dude has no attachment "issues" or disorder, or anything approaching that. He's in foster care, after living the first 6 years of his life with his mom, who, though deeply flawed as a parent in some ways, loves him to bits. As does his father, grandmother, grandfather, sister, brother, cousins, aunties, uncles, etc.

    Sigh ...

    1. Oh boy oh boy. There is no end to it, is there?

      I'd love to know about this woman's attachment therapy practice. Is she a licensee? Does she work with an organization?

  2. She works for a local agency, and I believe she is a LCSW.

    (There is, indeed, no end of it. We need a new, big idea in adoption, preferably one with some foundation in reality.)

    1. Great-- so not only is she an example of ignorance and unquestioning adherence to the party line, but she's also in a position to pass on her beliefs to others.

      I'm afraid the new big idea is going to be trauma, with everything attributed to trauma just the way it's been attributed to attachment.