Sadly, yet another adoption tragedy has made the news: the death of 3-year-old Max Allen Shatto. Officials in Russia have accused the boy's adoptive mother, Laura Shatto, of beating him to death; she claims that Max was outside playing when she found him unresponsive and called for help.
Journalist and frequent international adoption critic E. J. Graff has written a response to the Shatto tragedy for Slate, and while it raises some legitimate issues about the Russian adoption program and about the screening and preparation of adoptive parents, overall it advances the troubling stereotype of damaged adoptee. When the post first went up, the Slate homepage touted the story with some highly offensive linkbait, "The horror of adopting a foreign child who is very troubled and difficult," plus an incendiary stock photo of a screaming, blonde-haired "demon child" that has since been taken down (I really need to learn how to take a screenshot!)
And then, E. J. Graff writes:
Here’s what happens...Hopeful and slightly naïve people unknowingly adopt exceptionally traumatized children. We’re talking about children whose behavior would test even the most prepared and patient parents. And it pushes a few unprepared parents right over the edge.
That's right, folks. Those damaged kids push and push the grown ups until otherwise good and decent people just can't help but resort to violence.
I've written many times before about how the media's damaged adoptee narrative infuriates me. Having adopted older children, I understand how hard it is to help a frightened child integrate into a new family. I know what it's like to feel that a child is pushing my buttons, hard, until I'm about to snap. But it's not about me. It's about my child, and having empathy for whatever fear/heartache/medical issue may be driving the child's negative behavior. I agree with E.J. Graff that the officials in Russia and elsewhere who place children for adoption need to be forthcoming about whatever special physical and emotional needs the children might have. I also agree that adoptive parents need better preparation and access to ongoing support after adoption. However, when it comes to blaming children for their victimization at the hands of adults, I draw the line. We need to hold the adults accountable.