I find it rather interesting that when adult adoptees express and share thoughts on our younger counterparts being abused or killed while in the care of their adoptive parents, we are so often informed “well, that kind of stuff happens in biological families too.”
Do people actually think we don’t know this?
This week, the Associated Press covered a horrific story out of Maryland. An adoptive father, Brian O’Callaghan, has been accused of killing his three-year-old adopted son. The young boy had barely been in the United States for five months, having been adopted from Korea by O’Callaghan and his wife in October 2013.
Many of us in the adult adoptee community were deeply saddened to hear about this case. And I have absolutely no doubt that anyone reading about this case, adopted or not, would feel the same. For some adult adoptees, however, instances of abuse or death involving our younger adopted counterparts hit very close to our hearts—in a way that we feel necessitates a deeper discussion on the role that current adoption practices might play in such cases.
Adoptive families are different from biological families. There are aspects of an adoptee’s experience that simply do not exist within the construct of a child being raised by his or her biological family. Like all adoptees, the young boy in this case had already experienced the loss of his natural parents and family. As an international transracial adoptee, he then left his country of origin with people who were unfamiliar to him and moved to a new country where an unfamiliar language was spoken and he was given a new first name. This was how the boy’s experience with O’Callaghan and his wife began. For this adoptee to wind up dead five months later involves unique, adoption-related “stuff” that doesn’t happen in biological families.
According to the police report*, O’Callaghan indicated that a bond had not formed between the young boy and him. O’Callaghan’s wife had returned to work and he was using Family Medical Leave to care for the young boy at home, during which time the boy sustained fatal injuries. Doctors conducted tests and concluded that the injuries were consistent with acute head trauma and O’Callaghan could not provide an explanation as to what would have caused such serious distress to his adopted son.
The fact that the young boy was adopted brings up a myriad of considerations that would not arise in a murder case involving a child being raised by his or her biological parents. Adoption, for example, is often specifically touted by adoption agencies and society as providing a child with a “better life” than that child would have had with his or her biological family. Additionally, the industry encourages adoptive parents to think of themselves as “saving” an orphaned child. The adoption industry also claims that its extensive home study processes ensure that adoptees are being placed into safe and secure environments. Clearly, these processes are far from reliable.
According to the Washington Post, the O’Callaghan’s adoption was managed by Catholic Charities. For those of us in the adult adoptee community, this begs the question of whether the agency offered adequate pre- and post-adoption support. If O’Callaghan didn’t feel bonded to his adopted son after five months, what resources were available to him through Catholic Charities? Clearly, the extensive home study process didn’t produce anything indicating that the young boy would be in a dangerous home. But was any follow up completed by the agency during the first five months?
This young boy was not provided with that “better life” through adoption. He lost his life to adoption. He most likely had parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Korea who might never know of his death while continuing to think that he is safe and secure in the United States. He had already experienced much trauma and loss prior to arriving in the United States barely five months ago. And clearly, the adoptive parents were not adequately prepared for what this might do to a child and how to manage it. This speaks to failures in the adoption industry and in a society that responds to adult adoptees pointing out such inadequacies by saying “well, this kind of stuff happens in biological families too.” Red Herring: Something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand.
*Source: Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK): www.adoptionjustice.com