Love & Lashings: Part 2: On child abuse and “child-collectors”

After my first post in this blog about 13-year old Ethiopian adoptee Hana Grace-Rose Williams, found dead in her backyard of her Sedro-Woolley home in May this year, K & I have been reading up on related issues. Part 1 of this post covered harsh “training” methods advocated by some.  In this post I’m covering some instances of child abuse, and the notion of “child-collectors”.

 We found a surprising number of cases of adoptee child abuse in the news. Here’s a small sample of these cases:

1. Summarizing and quoting from: On Feb 5, 2010, 7 year-old Lydia (adoptee from Liberia) was whipped with a quarter-inch plastic tubing, and beaten dozens of times by her adoptive father Kevin Schatz while her adoptive mother Elizabeth held her down. All apparently because Lydia mispronounced a word. Lydia suffered massive tissue damage, and died the next day in hospital. Her sister, 11-year-old Zariah, was also hospitalized with serious injuries, but survived. The family homeschooled their six biological children and three adopted children. This case went to trial, and “Kevin Schatz was found guilty of second degree murder and torture and will serve at least 22 years of imprisonment from two life sentences. Elizabeth Schatz was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and infliction of unlawful corporal punishment and will serve at least 13 years of imprisonment.”

 2. Just a few days ago, we heard about the verdict in the case of Jessica Beagley, an Alaskan mother of a Russian 7-year-old adopted boy, who in Oct. 2010 forced him “to ingest hot sauce and take a cold shower as punishment for allegedly lying about various transgressions at school.” All this allegedly so she could get on the “Dr. Phil” show on TV. According to the MSNBC report, the Beagleys, who have four biological children, adopted twin Russian boys in 2008. The mother was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse.

A Wall Street Journal article on this has this mind-boggling quote: ‘In an interview yesterday with the Law Blog, Beagley’s lawyer William Ingaldson said his client did not deserve to be punished. She used the disciplinary method in the legitimate hopes that it would teach her son a lesson, because other, lesser punishments had not been effective, he explained. “If she deserves to be punished then the vast majority of parents deserve equal punishment,” he said.’ Burn a child’s mouth and throat with hot sauce to teach a lesson? And this mother does not deserve punishment?

3. Finally, take the case of Judith Leekin, and a recent report in the New York Times: “Judith Leekin, who was charged by Florida prosecutors yesterday [Aug 1st] with abusing 11 children she had adopted from New York City, has been described by the authorities as a devious swindler adept at gaming the child welfare bureaucracy. … Ms Leekin was charged … in Florida with 10 felonies: four counts of aggravated child abuse and other crimes, including witness tampering and possession of a false driver’s license.”

A related Times topic page dryly states: ‘Judith Leekin adopted 11 children in New York City under four different names, and moved with them a decade ago to Florida. There, she is accused of abusing them — charges she is fighting — but she pleaded guilty in May 2008 in New York to a fraudulent adoption scheme that netted her $1.68 million in government subsidies, money that prosecutors say she used to support a lavish lifestyle. Prosecutors said the children, who were mentally or physically disabled when adopted and are now mostly young adults, were not adequately fed, were kept restrained with plastic ties, were victims of physical violence and were kept away from school. Ms. Leekin has admitted deceiving child welfare officials but has denied abusing or neglecting the children. … The oldest known victim, who was 5 when he was placed with Ms. Leekin, was a “sweet autistic young man” who spent a lifetime being hit on the head with an iron, regularly beaten for any transgression and tied up at night like a prisoner. A girl, who was about 7 when she was placed with Ms. Leekin, was profoundly retarded and autistic, and remains unable to describe what happened to her… Yet another child, also profoundly retarded and autistic, was placed with Ms. Leekin at age 5… his trauma is evident: He is missing teeth, and he is now blind. “His siblings remember a time when he could see,” the lawyers wrote, “but explain that he was allowed to stare at the sun through a magnifying glass until he lost his vision.”’

I have to stop here. It is not hard to find more such stories of horrible abuse and unfathomable behavior.

Why? What can be done about this?

Parenting is not easy, but most parents raise their children right. And some adoptive children come with emotional/medical issues that are not easy to deal with, but that’s not an excuse to abuse them.

Why do people abuse their children in the name of parenting? Do some people adopt children only for the money? Is this child abuse driven by mis-guided notions of bringing up children, notions derived from or abetted by texts written by “experts”?

A REFORM blog post talks about parents with several biological children, who for various reasons adopt more children. Some of them, based on their behavior, are termed “child collectors”, where a child collector is characterized as someone who (e.g.):

·        Adopts several unrelated children at the same time or within a short period of time.
·        Focuses on adding to the family above stabilizing and effectively rearing the current children in the family…
·        Has no significant source of income other than state subsidies or SSI and uses collecting children as a means of income….
·        Has a number of adoptees in the household that exceeds the capacity of the parents to individually attend to [their needs]…
·        Has a martyr/savior complex. … the adoptive parent feels that they can handle any number of children with any amount of issues because they are “saving” the children. The idea of “saving” is put ahead of the actual responsibility to the child.
·        Uses his or her faith to justify any or all choices about the number of children in the home. Fellow worshipers may often offer support without understanding what is really going on in the home.

This post also mentions other risk factors, including home-schooling, which (could) keep the prying and concerned eyes of school officials and child protective services away from any problems in the home, living in a rural or isolated area (making oversight difficult), and frequent moves (to avoid investigations etc.). 

 Some of the parents in the news cases listed above seem to fit the definition of child-collectors. I may not understand all the issues involved in adoption and child abuse, but some things stand out.

As a society, we should be protecting children — biological or adopted — from any such abuse. Our social net systems are under a severe budget crunch. Even so, our adoption agencies and CPS should be extra vigilant about these “child-collector” parents, who may have noble intentions but neither the finances nor the moral compass to properly bring up children, without resorting to abuse. Potential (adoptive) parents need to be realistic about their capacity and resources (both financial and emotion) to parent. Perhaps we should also have a limit on the number of children adopted by a single family.

The public will have to educate themselves on the need to clamp down on bad parenting methods, and to ensure that good alternatives are implemented. In addition, we should be cognizant of our responsibilities — as a parent, neighbor, or a friend — to protect the children around us, to ask questions when anything bad or suspicious is seen. We need to put the welfare of children above protecting relatives, friends or a church or temple.

For quick reference: the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-4ACHILD. The Washington State number to report child abuse is 1-866-ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276).

We need some help also for parents under stress, help that may avert the kinds of tragedies we’ve seen on this page. Finally,  I see a lot of references to people who adopt because they want to help children. To people who have the best of intents, but perhaps not the time or the patience to bring up children, I’d say, please go volunteer somewhere (e.g. a school) where you can get contact with children, under supervision, and where you can give your best, without going beyond your limits.

If Lydia’s and Hana’s and other children’s deaths and injuries lead to improvement in the lives of  other children, there will be some small consolation there.

P.S. A ray of hope? K and I bumped into some members of the Lake Washington chapter of “Bikers Against Child Abuse” last weekend. More about this organization in the next post.


About Chandra

Interested in people, language, ideas, technology and their interactions.
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