Book to be released August 1!

Book to be released August 1!
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An Important Statement on Adoption, by Adoptees

At http://www.thelostdaughters.com/2014/05/adoptee-reactions-to-reactive.html?m=1, Karen Pickell has posted a powerful rejoinder to the recent Huffington Post claims about adoptees and Reactive Attachment Disorder. In addition, this post includes an essay by Matthew Salesses in which he rewrites part of Tina Traster’s book, from the point of view of her lonely and puzzled adopted child. Both these statements point to the failure of adoption education to provide real insight into the nature of the adoptive process to all adoption candidates.

Adoption education, as required by the Hague Convention, has a lot to do. There are legal and financial issues to be considered, as well as general advice about childrearing that may be needed by adoptive parents who have no other children. All these things have to be covered in a small number of hours, and they have to be taught to people who are excited and emotional and just want to get the lessons over so they can get their children. It’s a bit like having a lecture about estate planning a few hours before your wedding.

Adoption education, if done well, can cover many points that adoptive parents will eventually need to know. If they don’t learn every bit of the legal and financial information, at least they can take home the fact that this information exists, and some idea about how to find it when they want it.

However, it’s a lot harder to teach the realities of emotional connection with a frightened young stranger. It’s especially hard because many adoptive parents—like other members of the public—believe they already know all about early emotional life. As the Zero to Three Benchmark Study some years ago showed, many adults know a good deal about young children’s motor and cognitive development, but most, including parents, know very little about social and emotional development. What’s more, much of what they “know” is wrong, which makes it especially difficult to correct their thinking. When you add to these misunderstandings  the fact that a “faux theory” of attachment is being provided by individuals like Nancy Thomas and Tina Traster, so that people come to adoption education committed to bizarre beliefs, it is not surprising that adoption education does not do the job we want it to do.

Here are some points that I would like to add to what Karen Pickell and Matthew Salesses had to say:

  1. When you adopt a child, you are not “bringing your son or daughter home”.  Only in a legal fiction or in evangelical religious belief is that child at that point your son or daughter. He or she may become your son or daughter, and you may become the child’s mother or father, but this will take time and effort. You will have to get to know each other, and that work will be mostly your responsibility--  just as getting to know a child you have just given birth to is your adult responsibility. Your home is not the child’s home until it has been made so by good experiences, which you must try to provide (and by the way, this does not mean going to Disney World).
  2. Children don’t “love” their parents as their parents love them. (Even adult children don’t love their elderly parents in the same way the parents care for them!) Even under the best circumstances, with unbroken relationships and constant kindness, infants, children, and adolescents are not capable of adult love. How much less should we expect  adopted children, with their experiences of disruption and anxiety and possibly far worse things, to love in the adult sense? Adult love surely means understanding of and consideration of the needs of the loved person, even putting those needs ahead of our own at times. This kind of love is what children need from adults, but cannot give to adults. To be able to love in an adult way means to be able to recognize needs that are different from our own and to be able to delay our own gratification when a loved one’s needs are more serious than ours.
Expressing love symbolically, by gazing into someone’s eyes, snuggling up to them, or saying “I love you” is not real love, and is not of much use unless two people share a symbol system. Being asked to do these things may be very uncomfortable if they are unfamiliar, as they will be to most adopted children. Demanding that a child make “eye contact” with you as an expression of love is putting your own needs first, not the child’s.

When reading about the concerns of adoptive parents whose children do not “show affection on the parent’s terms”, I’m often reminded of a case of a mother who was very angry with her child who accidentally scratched her face with his fingernails. She said, “he does it on purpose. He knows it hurts,’cause I said ‘ow’.”  This child was two weeks old. It’s obvious that this mother was expecting far more than her baby could give her--  but isn’t it also obvious that adoptive parents who expect instant love, displayed as specific behaviors, are also expecting far more than the children could give, even if they had been together since birth?

Tina Traster, in her New York Times blog, recently told how her adopted daughter said “you’re not my real mother” and Traster replied, “Oh yeah, then who is?” The daughter cried and complained that this was “so mean”, and indeed it was. Traster apparently does not know that even the most “attached” child says things like this, including “you’re not the boss of me”. Rather than accepting this as typical of a developmental stage, and perhaps suggesting a different way for the girl to state what she was feeling, Traster responded with the most devastating possible comeback: You don’t have a mother. If I abandon you, there is no one to care for you. Having had her needs quite predictably ignored, Traster got out the heavy artillery—because she thinks a child can love her as she wants to be loved.
  1. Hating your child is part of parental love. There, I’ve said what most experienced parents know, but some adoptive parents don’t seem to understand. The intensity of parental love derives in part from its profound ambivalence. Naturally, we feel angry at people who seem to demand our constant attention and delays of our own gratification, and who only rarely give us the smile or other response that rewards us and keeps us marching on. But we are also fascinated by them, engrossed in them, and adore them. No wonder we can’t stop thinking and talking about them, but also, no wonder we have moments when we feel like attacking them. (Most of the time, we don’t attack, because we realize that the consequences of doing so are far worse than whatever is annoying us now, and actually we don’t want to hurt them.)  
It’s extremely hard to explain this fact of parenting life to people who have not had children, so it’s not surprising that adoption education doesn’t succeed in getting it across. But to understand this reality might help adoptive parents feel relatively comfortable with their own complex emotions, and save them from having to blame the “problem” on something wrong with the adopted child.

These comments are obviously only a bare beginning of what we ought to be telling adoptive parents when we attempt to educate them, and of course what we can possibly tell them is severely limited by time constraints. But if we were to focus on information of this kind, and perhaps limit the legal information to handouts, we might have a chance at fighting the harm done by people like Traster and Thomas.

     


45 comments:

  1. The bigger problem remains of course discussing all of this as if adoption always was concerned with family creation. By positing adoption solely within a framework of family creation, we continue to propagate the Big Lie that forms our current understanding of the industry.

    It is disconcerting and depressing to see adoptees likewise advocating from within the parameters that are set for them by the dominant discourse on the topic. Until such a time that we are willing to consider the abolition of adoption, then we are simply "making life better for the slaves on the plantation".

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    1. Presumably most adoptions historically were carried out for financial and similar purposes, for example, to provide an heir to an estate or to provide farm labor. Those adoptions were parallel to other accepted ways of possessing human beings, whether children, women, or people of other races (cf. "The Mayor of Casterbridge", where a wife is sold at a fair where laborers are hired.) Some adoptions were out of sympathy for children who were not receiving adequate care, and some to satisfy the wishes of adults to become parents.

      These motives were not exactly the same as the family creation stressed by some today, who apparently believe that a certain family structure is essential to life success. But surely it's all right for adoptees to take this culturally-sanctioned viewpoint, if that works for them? You can hardly expect them not to be members of their own familiar culture.

      By the way, aren't you the person who said I was "an adoption criminal" a few years ago?

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    2. I have to ask: if you abolish adoption what do you do with children whose parents can't take care of them?

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    3. Are you asking me or Daniel? It wasn't my idea.

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    4. Dedicated lurker,
      I can't answer for Daniel, but there are MANY other possible focuses on child protection besides adoption. Legal guardianship for one, foster care, and most importantly, FAMILY PRESERVATION, family strengthening, community building led by community leaders. And even within adoption, kinship adoption is far preferable to stranger adoption.

      But a more important question is why are so many parents deemed "unable" to care for their children? Why is the most drastic measure (adoption) the one everyone focuses on and touts? Why are so many "errors", illegalities, and crimes "unfortunately" overlooked and dismissed when adoption is mentioned? "It's unfortunate, but our hands are tied", they say. "There's nothing we can do anymore, except hope for the best".

      Similar to adoption, slavery was a socially-accepted and legal business model, protected by the government. Slavery transferred human beings from one group to another, as commodities for exploitation. Personal histories and identities were disregarded, erased and recreated by system-wide policies. In the census, for provisional reasons, slaves were counted as 3/5 of a human being. Slaves couldn't vote on the policies that affected their livelihoods. If slaves spoke out or "misbehaved" according to master's/"society" standards, slave would face punishment.

      In adoption, policies legalize the erasure and recreation of identities and histories; the transfer of people from one group to another without their consent; involves money and advertising of the transferee. Adoptees' personal stories and histories are exploited by others for publicity ratings, entertainment, self-aggrandizement. Adoptees are excluded from policy discussions (voting) that affect people like them (look at CHIFF). Adoptees who speak or "misbehave" are punished, scapegoated, blacklisted. There has been much resistance/backlash against systematically correcting these systematic injustices against children and their families.

      "Family creation" (and other marketing ploys like "child welfare") is a business model smokescreen for "abrupt, permanent, legal, identity reassignment, family separation, and re-acculturation".

      Poverty, social inequalities, perceptions of cultural superiority, political maneuvering and vulnerability, economic sanctions for revenge or intimidation play a big role. If parents or nations dare resist having their children taken, they get hit with lawsuits/war/sanctions. This further weakens their vulnerabilities, and exposes them to more "child-catchers". And this business model continues.

      So, dedicated lurker, there isn't much honest or honorable about adoption practices under these systematic oppressions that permanently remove children from their origins, families, and roots.

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  2. Somebody also needs to stop well-intentioned but utterly in-over-their-heads APs like Cindy Bodie from adopting 39 (!!) kids as a single mom:

    thebodiebunch.blogspot.com/2014/05/ugliness-due-to-jealousy.html

    Some commenter pointed out that perhaps if she'd adopted fewer kids -- so each kid could get individual attention -- perhaps her kids would have fared better, i.e. not ended up in jail, on probation, in psychiatric hospitals.

    It's possible the kids she adopted (high needs, special needs sibling groups) were so very damaged that their life outcomes were inevitable... but, well, there just aren't enough hours in the day to properly care for 39 kids. Heck or the 15 she's got at home right now.

    She insists her energy level is soooooo high that what she's done isn't stupid, selfish or flat-out irresponsible, that nobody except her was willing to "save" so many Hispanic sibling groups... barf.

    Savior complex. Big time savior complex. Somebody oughtta pass laws prohibiting mega-families like Cindy Bodie's. Legislation is requird to save folks like her from themselves!

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    1. Oh my yes, that one! But I doubt that legislation is possible, or that if passed it could be funded for enforcement. In my opinion, the direction to go would be toward more appropriate education of adoption social
      workers, with the goal of assuring quality placements, not rewards for quantity.

      Why not just go with orphanages if we're going to let people do giant families? !I don't see the slightest difference in terms of fostering good development.

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    2. 39 kids?? That's scary even if they aren't all living at home. And of course with adoption you can have larger groups of the same age.

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    3. That's especially relevant (the ages) if there are a lot adopted as babies and not getting the attention needed for good early development.

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    4. The Bodie kids would have received more individual attention in a bad orphanage -- where caregiver-to-child ratios are usually 1:14 or 1:28 -- or even in an American group home (1:6 or 1:8).

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  3. Yet another totally delusional amommy – who fails to see that if your kid threatens suicide, runs away, trashes the house, refuses to go to school, stays up all night watching TV, maybe the kid needs help. That maybe it would be a good idea to get a psychiatrist for the girl she adopted out of a psych hospital 4+ years ago. That maybe letting your 13 yo drop out of middle school (it’s not “homeschooling” if the kid does no schoolwork) is a bad idea; or refusing to make the kid clean up the giant mess she made dumping food all over the house so as not to “shame” her is a bad idea, or maybe having the girl answer her therapist’s questions (instead of answering them FOR her) is a reasonable request!!

    lastmom.com/scolded-doctor-zombie

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    1. I'm afraid that many of the mistaken assumptions you mention here come not from the adoptive parent's own thinking, but from very persuasive advertising about alternative treatments, done on the Internet and supported by churches and school systems.

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  4. A good blog on this topic: http://www.laura-dennis.com/reactive-attachment-disorder-maternal-narcissism-2/

    A very large chasm between an adopted person's experience/perception and a-mother's experience/perception - hmmmm.

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    1. Like a number of recent statements from various countries including Russia, Laura Dennis's blog appropriately objects to Tina Traster's public revelations of matters that invaded her adopted daughter's privacy.

      I'm far from approving of either the tone or the accuracy of Traster's remarks, but there are a couple of comments I'd like to make to soften the tone of the criticism and perhaps make discussion more rational.

      The first is that I think most parents have to learn how to manage revelations about their children; what is all right to say when they are toddlers will no longer be all right at some time during childhood, but it can be a surprise when that time comes. Traster has made a dramatic mistake in publishing some of her material, but her thoughts about this were probably no different or any more self-centered than the thoughts of someone who tells a friend or a grandparent a story without realizing that the child is too old for this to be okay. And of course, when something is in print it does not go away, but the writer may not really be thinking of this while trying to put words together.

      A second point is that I would avoid using diagnostic terms like "narcissistic" about adoptive parents, no matter how inappropriately they may have behaved. People can be selfish, thoughtless, and lacking in empathy without reaching the "narcissistic" level. What's more, if we attribute parental bad behavior to narcissism, we assume that the parent cannot decide to change, and we imply that we think adoption agencies should screen for hard-to-diagnose mental problems before approving candidates-- I would hate to see this kind of power in the hands of adoption caseworkers!

      Finally, using terms like "narcissistic" avoids what may be the most important issue here: that a certain amount of the trouble in Traster's case has arisen because she was wrongly instructed about the nature of emotional development, about attachment, and above all about Reactive Attachment Disorder. These are preventable problems, if the public and professional organizations can manifest the political will to reject the spread of incorrect information and to encourage the availability of correct information. I am hoping to involve CDC in the latter, but I know this will be an uphill struggle because APA, NASW, etc. have already let so many years go by without paying attention to the spread of "faux psychology".

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    2. I very much agree that much of the trouble with this case is the result of wrong instruction, although of course that doesn't let Trasker off the hook for her egregious "over-sharing", especially in such a permanent way - and I don't think you're doing so.

      I have just read her blog and it's peculiarly disturbing to me that she bought into the belief that parenting children who don't 'bond' "requires counterintuitive parenting instincts."
      "Counterintuitive instincts" makes no sense. It's gobbledygook. The Taskers were sold a bill of goods with that one.
      Being open to new ideas is one thing, but to forego skepticism to such a degree seems to me to be strange and beyond the desperation of a parent who is at a loss to know how to care for their child..

      As for laughing at a child's "tantrums", that's just plain cruel, "counterintuitive" or not. I can see why it might be important not to over-react (i.e. parent goes into melt-down mode too), but even if the child was doing it to get attention, a tantrum is still evidence of distress and deserves some sort of reassurance. Not mockery..

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    3. There are so many things to query on her blog, it's hard to know where to begin, isn't it? I have no idea what she means by "bond", as technically this is a term describing a parent's "falling in love" with a child, not the other way around. As for using the term "instinct", "counterintuitive" or otherwise-- this is a habit best left to zoologists and others who can do the hard work of defining what they mean.

      I think laughing at tantrums is based on the "faux attachment theory" belief that whatever a child does, from tantrums to vomiting to wetting the bed, is intentional and manipulative, and therefore the child must be shown that he or she did not "win". Certainly some older children who have been rewarded for tantrums may develop a tendency to tantrum as a way to achieve goals, but I think it's pretty easy to look at the history and the circumstances and identify when this is occurring. Most tantrums, as you say, are expressions of unbearable distress that needs comforting. (Curiously, adults who lash out at children feel that their actions are unintentional and outside their control, but they don't think children's actions are similar--)

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    4. "I think laughing at tantrums is based on the "faux attachment theory" belief that whatever a child does, from tantrums to vomiting to wetting the bed, is intentional and manipulative,"
      As if the child's behavior stems from a "will to dominate" and these adults been divinely appointed to weed it out.
      http://nogreaterjoy.org/articles/the-will-to-dominate/

      "(Curiously, adults who lash out at children feel that their actions are unintentional and outside their control, but they don't think children's actions are similar--)"
      Good point. Of course, these adults have no such "will to dominate". Their motives are pure.

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    5. Yes, we haven't come far from the evangelicals of colonial times who locked toddlers in the closet overnight because they didn't say "thank you", thus demonstrating their danger of damnation and the parents' duty to root out their resistance and replace it with a contrite heart..

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    6. Jean,
      I agree with you wholeheartedly about Tina's megaphonic usage of Julia's personal and private story before Julia has even had time to understand and tell her own story. Actually, to me, it seems controlling and narcissistic.

      However, I assert that we, as a society, and any "professionals" working with children, families pay more attention to the voices of adult adoptees (and less to the "rational-seeming" explanations of adoptive parents and those who rely on AP filtering). Paternal narcissism IS a problem, and perhaps more so amongst AP's who feel overwhelmed, insecure, and beaten up by infertility and their own self-worth, and thus are MORE motivated to redeem their self-worth. Nonetheless, their pain (and cleverness) isn't a good reason to give them free authority over someone powerless and defenseless to make them feel powerful, wonderful, and exceptional. Over-diagnosing, mis-diagnosing RAD or over-medicating children who are reacting NORMALLY given the sudden circumstances thrown on them is damaging and dangerous for children. Likewise, ignoring narcissistic characteristics of adoptive parents (or anyone) is dangerous and damaging to children (or victims of narcissistic people). Professionals should also pay attention to the ubiquitous prevalence of cognitive dissonance in adoptive parents and the field of adoption. NYT and many other professionals really do a disservice to children and human protections by ignoring the expertise and experience of adults adoptees and having blind faith in narcissistic adoptive parents, the same ones who created the laws that permanently sealed OBC's of adopted adults and won't unseal them.

      Speaking of which, Jean, what is your position on unrestricted, systematic access for adult adoptees to have their OBC's and birth records, no different from every other US-born adult?

      Another interesting read: http://www.laura-dennis.com/adoptionland-carnival-next-stop/

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    7. Hi Kym-- I think you and I have exactly the same concerns about parent behavior and over-diagnosis here-- I'm just uneasy about using a diagnostic sort of word like narcissism about the parents, because I don't really know how many are technically narcissistic, or what other problems make them so controlling.

      As for access to records, not only do I think adult adoptees should have it, I also think that adopted children's names should not be changed (either the given name or the family name). I understand that in Britain the given names are not permitted to be changed.

      I don't know what would be the right thing to do about names of children who were actually abandoned without anyone knowing their names, but I think there are few of those, compared to the ones with known names, and some appropriate compromise could be made.

      And while we're changing old ways of doing things, what if we don't use the same word to describe bringing a child into your family and acquiring a pet animal? It really burns me up to hear people say they "adopted" a dog. Is this supposed to mean they could have given birth to one?

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    8. Another piece about Traster: http://redthreadbroken.wordpress.com/2014/05/31/tina-traster-a-k-a-tina-travesty/

      Interesting comments, esp. by mothervoltaire.

      And glad you agree on access to records. And adopting/re-homing, both terms for animal/children transfers. Ugh.

      And this is my theory on why some people are obsessed with child obedience - some people are used to being/feeling entitled, getting whatever they want, buying whatever they need. Except they can't control infertility with money, manipulation. They're upset, hurt, but they don't know how to grieve with grace. Agencies offer to "help" them feel better, but aren't interested in helping them grieve - they want revenue. They advertise their "products" and want desperate people to buy into the image of their product. Some infertile people feel desperate and will do anything to get this special product, to make their dream come true. Now that they have this special product, agencies and AP's have invested interest in ensuring their dream DOES come true - both have their image and reputation on the line and their image replaces their original dream of being loved/loving. Some AP's and agencies will only correct their behavior if misbehaving become public and their image is at risk. I can imagine it has similarities to factors in domestic violence - the perpetrator is most controlling/ dangerous when they feel threatened, when they sense victim will leave and their ego will get hurt. They may want love, but don't know how to, and no one dares tell them that they need to fix themselves or that something's wrong.

      What do you think?

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    9. I think it's a complicated situation involving all the factors you mention. One is the investment of agencies in the outcomes they want, and the distorted parent "education" that they give-- perhaps plus the fact that the education is presented at a time when the APs are very excited and not really sure what's happening. In addition, I think the last part of your remarks is especially important-- that panicky parents cannot make rational decisions, and they mat be frightened that the child will go or be taken away (revealing the adults as failures), or that the child is a serial-killer-in-the-making as they may have been told and they can never relax. In situations like those, most of us have difficulty thinking through what we are doing, and refraining from repeating unsuccessful acts over and over.

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    10. Yes, I agree.
      I'm not sure what the best solution is though - 1) pandering to them to try to calm them down (like what we do with armed hostage situations), 2) being silent, thereby allowing other voiceless children to be spirited away, still voiceless, or 3) telling them firmly about their wrongdoings hoping to wake them up and correct themselves, or 4) it depends on the individual case?

      Ether way, it really would be better to prevent insecure, frantic people from embarking on these lifelong, delicate (and voluntary) "journeys" BEFORE they have traumatized, displaced, amputated children under their "care".

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    11. Prevention is always the way to go, if we can figure out how to do it.

      What I'd like to do is to add a unit about adoption to high school "family ed" courses. I know this indicates a naive belief in the value of education-- but it might help to get some of these issues out in the open. Question is, could it possibly out-argue some of the present powers in the area, like Focus on the Family?

      As for solutions, I fear that it always has to be "depends on the case", which opens up infinite possibilities for misjudgments by people who intend to help.

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    12. Curses, my reply disappeared, or maybe it's somewhere farther down the page--

      unfortunately I think solutions always depend on the individual case, which opens up many opportunities for poor judgment.

      As for prevention, what about adding a sensible unit on adoption to high school "family ed" clsses?

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  5. Julie Martindale is a self-proclaimed "trauma mama", with 11 kids, all but 1 or 2 adopted with special needs.

    She's kicked two of her ADOPTED SN kids out of hte house (Jordan to residential treatment at 15, he's now 17) and Hope to Americorps (at 16, without so much as a high school diploma).

    Her equally troublesome BIOLOGICAL kid, McKenna (aged 19 or 20) gets to live at home in a specially-built granny flat style apartment within the home.

    Julie claims that she is not giving preferential treatment to the biokid and that banishign ONLY adopted kids is probably very, very scary for the rest of the adopted kids.

    Her other adopted kids? Are fully aware that they too will be kicked out if they misbehave!

    How is that unconditional love? It's cruel!

    http://blessedby10.blogspot.com/2014/05/his-soft-place-to-land.html

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    1. Sounds as though she might have been "blessed" by the kids-- the kids by her,perhaps not so much--

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    2. Sounds as though she might have been "blessed" by the kids-- the kids by her,perhaps not so much--

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    3. I looked at the page with her kids, and none of the ones with "FASD" have the facial features of the disorder. They don't look at all dysmorphic. Is that another diagnosis the ATP crowd uses indiscriminately?

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    4. I do think they use FASD indiscriminately, and I think it has two advantages for them. One is that they can then expect that no matter how hard they "work", the child will never improve, and the problem is in the child, not in the methods they use. The other is that this diagnosis makes it possible to blame everything on the bio mother, who must have been bad, hated the child, etc. etc. if she was drinking while pregnant. Any attachment the child feels to the bio mother can then be attacked by this proof of her unworthiness.

      In a recent situation, a child was diagnosed with FASD (this was later withdrawn) when an agency wished to terminate the parental rights of the mother, who they claimed had been abusive. She denied this and pointed to medical and school records as evidence that there had been no abuse. The agency then said that because the child had FASD, the mother must have abused him while drinking during pregnancy, and therefore should have her rights terminated and the child be made available for adoption. A second examination showed no evidence of FASD.

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  6. I have found one agency based in Denver – one that claims to be the "world's largest China-only" adoption agency – inserting Attachment Therapy resources and fringe beliefs into their Hague-approved education on attachment. When I approached the agency about this, they were only concerned that I had been able to access the education online.

    This agency (Chinese Children Adoption International) still includes in its Hague education the "attachment cycle," the notion that attachment begins at birth, recommendations for forced age regression, and the infamous bogus "RAD" diagnosis.

    The Hague guidelines are no guarantee that adoptive parents will get reliable information.

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    1. No, unfortunately the Hague agreement did not concern itself with the content of the educational efforts, and I'm sure the discussants had no idea about the bizarre misinformation that circulates..

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  7. More scary, scary adoptive parents who are truly misguided on whether their adopted kids have RAD:


    Diana Estulin subscribes to teh Nancy Thomas/Bryan Post definition of RAD, as opposed to the DSMV definition:

    http://www.fromsurvivaltoserenity.com/2014/06/helping-families-with-tough-kids.html

    And "Amy" and her troubled son "Landon"... oh my gosh, Amy needs to be arrested for child neglect. Her kid had early-onset of a severe mental illness and as opposed to getting him TREATMENT in a HOSPITAL with DOCTORS because he is clearly VERY SICK, she sent him off to "respite" and to a "home for trouble boys" for months and months:

    http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2014/05/30/on-parenting-teens-that-struggle

    How is shipping a sick (severely mentally ill) kid to respite run by church volunteers not neglect? No wonder Landon loathes his parents???

    My kid sister was diagnosed with severe mental illness in grade school. My parents got her help, she spent an awful lot of time in-patient at a fabulous local pediatric teaching hospital (probably 7-8 month-long stays by the time she graduated high school) and to this day takes medication and sees a psychiatrist regularly... and is a college educated, gainfully employed and happily married almost 30 year old!

    Do you want to know what happened when my sister was hospitalized? One parent often spent the night int he hospital with her, her friends and I visited her after school and on weekends and family/my parents friends brought our family casseroles, chauffered me to swim practice (before I got my license) and, in general, behaved exactly as they would have had my sister had cancer and been in the hospital for a month-long course of chemo.

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    1. There seems to be a complete inability among that parent group to regard a mental illness as an actual illness, parallel in its life-wrecking capacities to cancer (as you say). Somehow they continue to believe that although adults can make mistakes or involuntarily do bad things, children and adolescents intend everything they do, and must learn not to do bad things by dint of experiencing "consequences" (i.e. punishment), even if there behavior is related to a severe mental disorder.

      I'v often fretted that NAMI makes such a big deal of mental illness being "brain disease" (which I think is a bit deceptive), but I can see that they might need to take that position in order to get away from the "teach-them-not-to-do-that" mentality.

      Honestly, I don't know where this problem comes from. An overriding concern with child obedience as an indication of proper development? A belief system shared with some social groups? A cultural position requiring punishment to be meted out, whether it changes behavior or not? A problem with the parents' "theory of mind"? Even narcissism, as another commenter has suggested?

      It's wonderful that your family did all the right things with your sister-- and very good luck that they were near an excellent hospital.

      ( I think we need to remember that there are not that many such places, and people who live in the hinterlands may have no such opportunities-- so maybe that's another factor in their search for punishments that will make the children shape up.)

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    2. I get why a parent would initially *try* to impose consequences on what appears to be a misbehaving (but actually mentally ill) child -- it's the sensible first thing to try. The onset of a mental illness can initially *looks* like bad behavior.
      The part I don’t get is why any parent would *continue* to try to consequence, say, a six year old girl with what eventually turns out to be depressive psychosis… because it doesn’t work. And a parent either clues into it fast, or there’s an excellent chance their little girl will not make it to her seventh birthday.

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    3. When people are frantic, they often do repeat an action that hasn't been successful-- like messing up locking your car door when you see someone scary approaching. But it's so common for parents to continue or even escalate ineffective punishments-- sometimes to the point of abuse-- that I think there has to be another factor involved here. One thing might be the belief that good parents do punish, and that it's the parents who don't punish enough who produce children who cause trouble. If you think that, then punishing is valuable in itself, whether or not it has the behavioral outcome you were looking for. For a second factor, it may be that some adults have a sense of the need for some kind of rough "justice" and balance in the universe-- someone does a bad thing, then a bad thing happens to them, ergo, if a bad thing happens to someone, they must have done something bad. This Calvinistic view is reflected in the pathetic search for a reason (why me? what did I do wrong?) following some catastrophe that harmed people who did not cause it. (How about those evangelical claims that 9/11 was God's punishment for homosexuality?)

      But your first point is well taken, that really disturbed behavior may appear at first to be naughtiness, and it's not unreasonable to respond to it in that way. However, we need to give parents enough social support so they can relax enough to think through the problem rather than perseverating, and we also need to make good services available to them.

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    4. I think better support services for expectant mothers, vulnerable families to be able to keep their families intact is needed. Many vulnerable families WANT to keep their children, but the lack of support combined with life's obstacles (and shaming by society) makes keeping their children overwhelming. And too often, they are offered support conditional on not keeping their child.

      Another example is the deportation machine that's been going on and growing under the Obama Administration/ICE/Janet Napolitano + Homeland Security. Two million people deported in 5.5 yrs (400,000 families separated). That's not supporting vulnerable families, that's terrorizing families and CREATING vulnerability in communities, support systems, and breadwinners for families. About 1000 people are deported daily, some of them are international adult adoptees whose "responsible new parents/country" never naturalized them and won't listen to them to either naturalize them or let them stay here.

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    5. As I understand it,the primary reason for placing children in foster care in my state is the parents' inability to find adequate housing. QED.

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    6. Kym - Somebody also needs to figure out how to pass a law that BANS fundraising for adoptions.

      There are PAPs that want to adopt a healthy newborn but cannot afford to do so -- so they set up a blog to beg for $35k from internet strangers in order to acquire that baby.

      I'd hazard a guess that providing some short-term support to a struggling pregnant woman who truly WANTS to keep and raise her beloved child would cost way less than $35k. Heck, even if it did cost $35k... well, the money would be better spent keeping that little family together than allowing some other person to take that baby!

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    7. Susan, absolutely!
      Support/fund family preservation (not separation)!

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  8. I have always known I was adopted because of the plaque that hung in my room when I was a child. It reads: "Dear God, I am adopted. Does this make me almost as good as being a real child?" Someone had then inscribed my name at the bottom as if I had written it. I looked at that every day, unable to truly comprehend what exactly it meant until much later when the full impact hit me like a delayed depth charge in my very core. I still feel the shock waves to this day though I have learned how to handle it.
    By an accident, when I was older, I found my birth mother who had become pregnant with me at an early age, was forced into a home for other girls in similar circumstances. When her due date came, she was taken to the hospital, put in a "twilight sleep" to awaken later to find herself no longer pregnant. She demanded to see me under threat of not signing the documents necessary. She told me that she was able to spend s few desperate minutes with me until they took me. She was scared to death, too young to face these kind of decisions or fully understand their impact. No one had even educated her previously on the possibility of becoming pregnant as any of this kind of sexual education was, to say the least, "frowned upon" in those times. No surprise she wound up pregnant so young. She had nowhere to go and no support. I was placed in s foster home for a short while until my adoptive home was ready, plaque hanging in my new room and all.
    I have at least two birth certificates, my adopted name and my "crib name' which was assigned to me in an attempt to keep things anonymous. It is a short name followed by a series of numbers unique to me, other male children had the same name but a different number sequence.
    My birth mother's family paid a ridiculous amount of money to the adoption home to take care of this little issue. They then had to leave their hometown in shame.
    My adoptive parents also had to pay a ridiculous amount of money.
    All of this money went to an adoption agency run by Catholic Charities.
    A few years later abortion was legalized in the United States making it very difficult to find a healthy baby in this country. Other countries, other agencies were more than ready and willing to make a fortune off of desperate people in desperate situations,
    I still have my plaque somewhere, buried in a box.
    I came across your blog while doing research. I can honestly say that it is truly frightening to read some of your posts. You are exactly the type of person who created/allowed/thrived on this horribly flawed system.
    "Hating your child is part of parental love. " What?!?!? I think you should take your degree and throw it in the trash or better yet. use it for toilet paper.
    The road to hell is paved with good intentions Jean Mercer.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Your story is an appalling one and I can only express deepest sympathy for everyone involved.

      As to my statement about hate as part of parental love, I hope you will re-read this in its context. I stand by it as a correct view of all intense personal relationships, and I am far from the first person to point this out-- the novelist Angela Thirkell spoke of "our adorable, hateful offspring", for instance.

      My reason for mentioning this fact of life was related to concerns about adoption. Unfortunately, adoptive parents sometimes do not recognize that their intermittent anger and hatred toward their adopted children, and the children's intermittent hostility toward the parents, are not indications of "attachment disorders" or similar problems. They are simply part of family life and apply to parents and children as well as they do to husbands and wives. (Have you ever heard someone say "I've never though of divorcing my husband, but I often consider murdering him"?) Confusion about these matters can lead to the choice of "therapies" that further damage all participants.

      I agree that the system is horribly flawed. But, given that it exists and that change is slow, it's best for adoptive parents to have a real understanding of the nature of parent-child life, rather than being frightened and feeling desperate when natural events contradict their expectations.

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  9. Strange. can not distinguish black from white. Attachments therapists talk a lot about love, but systematically tortured children. People are not surprised by this contradiction. But if the doctor says that periodic conflicts in the family is normal and we must learn to overcome the differences between children and parents ...... people perceive it as an insult. Is it more important than action words? Why do not people see violence if the violence is covered with beautiful words? People have forgotten how to think?

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