A short while ago there was a discussion on an international adoption list-serve I that I have been ruminating about ever since. The discussion began with these two horrific news stories of abuse committed by adoptive parents. An adoptive parent spoke up about the first case, in which the adoptive parent attempted to kill her two adopted Chinese daughters and then herself after what appears to be a long spiral into mental illness. I am especially sensitive to this story since I used to live quite near this family.
The adoptive parent on the list-serve in particular was disturbed that these two cases were posted in succession on the list-serve, as the adoptive parent believed that in the first case it was clear that the parent had been struggling with mental health issues, had reached out for support and never received the help she needed. In this parent's view, it was wrong to compare the first parent to the adoptive couple who sexually abused their adopted Chinese daughter. There was language about compassion for those who struggle with mental health problems. This led to a lengthy discussion about adoptive parents and mental health issues; the difficulties of a mental health system in this country that is inefficient and insufficient. The challenges of single parenthood. The difficulties of adopting an older child (one of the children had been an older child adoption). All of which I agree with.
Many adoptive parents described mental illnesses in great detail. What struck me was that there was so much compassion for this struggling, single mother who, it is clear, was mentally ill and committed an act of abuse so horrific and terrible that I can't even fathom the trauma she imposed on her children. The discussion led to the difficulties adoptive parents have when they find themselves overwhelmed and without resources. What happens to an adoptive mother when she loses her job, finds herself financially devastated, begins to abuse alcohol, and spirals into the depths of mental illness?
Well, clearly, she deserves more compassion than birth parents who find themselves in the SAME situations yet do NOT attempt to kill their children.
At least, that was what I saw coming out of this discussion.
When I worked at the County, every single one of the youth on my caseload had a mother (most of them were single mothers) who battled substance abuse and the majority of them also had some mental illness. Yet, the majority of them did not abuse – sexually or physically – their children. The children came into the system because of neglect due to these substance abuse and mental health problems, but only two of the children on my caseloads initially came into the system because of sexual or physical abuse. In fact, of the children and youth, the ones who were sexually or physically abused were all abused AFTER they had been removed form their birth parents (and in fact, one sibling group came back into the system after it was found they were physically abused by their ADOPTIVE parent).
Lack of employment, the loss of a job, the stresses that go along with financial insecurity would naturally causes a lot of stress on a single parent. As would the struggle with mental illness. Using alcohol or other chemicals to cope is not uncommon. And yet, I just have to ask – if this woman had been Black, and had her children been her Black birth children, would they have been removed long before the mother decided to kill them and herself? Would child protection have stepped in when the mother was hospitalized for her mental health problems? Would the children have been returned to her so quickly after the hospitalization?
Not a single person on the list-serve mentioned the same or similar stressors that led to birth parents losing parental rights.
If this parent had been a single, Black, unemployed, mentally ill addict, would adoptive parents be rushing to ask for compassion?