upper waypoint


Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Our adoption system has succeeded tremendously in placing millions of orphaned children into healthy homes. But the system has fallen short in post-placement care.

Adoptive parents often ignore the fact that their beautiful baby may have suffered emotional trauma from separation from her birth mother. This sense of loss and emotional void can manifest in mysterious ways -- tantrums and rages well past what is age appropriate, endless power struggles, imperviousness to discipline and terrible self-esteem. Experts say that the sooner the child is adopted the better. But whether the adoption occurred in the delivery room or an orphanage, the biological residue from this traumatic separation can linger.

My wife and I adopted our daughter, Casey, from a Polish orphanage. She was the center of our lives -- beautiful, smart, popular -- but she also suffered violent mood swings and was difficult to control. Then, just months shy of her 18th birthday and high school graduation, she leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge and vanished.

Left behind in the wreckage of what was once our family, we began to piece together the fragments of Casey's life. My research led me to a diagnosis called attachment disorder, a mood and behavioral affliction resulting from failed attachments to primary caregivers. It explained everything.

Further research revealed an adoption system that fails these children -- orphanage staffers trained to be emotionally distant, adoption agencies that may downplay the risks, therapists untrained in adoption and attachment and desperate parents who avoid speaking up for fear of blowing the deal. The tragic irony is that everyone wants what's best for the child.


Fortunately, I'm encouraged by what I've learned from attachment experts. They recognize the need to train parents on child rearing before the trip to the delivery room or a foreign orphanage. They can prepare adoptive parents to recognize and cope with their child's behavior. They understand that therapy may be a lifelong process.

It's too late for us, but not for the families of the other 1.5 million adopted children here.  They can be helped.

With a Perspective, I'm John Brooks.

lower waypoint
next waypoint