I have seen in it all over Facebook, and I have verified it from Korea, that a family court justice on Friday, March 14th (Korea Time Zone), has issued a decree to Eastern that adopting families with court date appointments falling on certain days are required to take a “Full Battery Psychological Tests”. Only Eastern has heard from the court, but I suspect that SWS and Holt will hear of the same decree. There was no explanation as to why Eastern received the order from the court first while the other two didn’t.
It is not known whether the decision was made by the Family Court as a whole or if it was just a decision by a particular judge independent of other judges who is requiring this. The deadline for getting the results in, interpreted, translated, and delivered to the judge is March 28, and the tests must be done by facilities run by federal, state, or county level.
This comes after the tragic death of Hyunsu O’Callahan. His adoptive father, Brian O’Callahan is officially charged with first degree murder. This incident has caused a significant uproar in Korea with current screening methods used to screen out potentially dangerous adoptive parents in order to protect children being adopted overseas. However, this form of psychological exam is not required for parents adopting domestically in Korea.
There are several challenges in adhering to the required tests, and here are some of them.
1. Lack of definition on what is meant by the “Full Battery Psychological Tests”
It appears that the justice’s mandate was not very carefully thought out before he/she issued it. In fact, the justice in question did not clarify by what is really meant by the term “full battery psychological tests”. Some phone calls were made to county and other private clinics, and not one place had the proper definition of what is meant by the term "full battery". They all wanted to know what tests need to be included in the full battery.
I didn’t know what was meant by the term “Full Battery Psychological Tests”. So I searched the internet and found some descriptions as follows. The websites had no consistent answers, but they included the mix of the following tests:
a. A clinical interview and other history-gathering.
b. Some measure of mental status [e.g., Mini-Mental Status Exam, IQ test]
c. Achievement test (Woodcock Johnson)
d. A cognitive test of ability (e.g., the WAIS-III) or achievement (e.g., the Woodcock-Johnson).
e. Projective Personality tests (i.e., Rorschach, CAT/TAT, HTP, MMPI-2).
f. Specific brief screens [e.g., Beck Depression Inventory-2, a traumatic events scale, a malingering screen, etc.
g. Self-report Questionnaires (for parent, school, and the child)
Depending on the purpose of the test battery (a fancy term for a series of tests), various psychological tests may be used. Some of the most common include the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2 is the modern version); the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT); Rorschach inkblots; intelligence tests; or more--there are hundreds. Tests may even include measurement of bodily responses or brain activity.
2. Inability to get appointments in time
Some families in the US got notified of test requirements and they frantically called many places to set up appointments to do the full battery psychological tests. One mother told me she spent the entire day calling many places, even some out of state, and she was informed that the next available appointment was in two months. She is one of the families where the test results must be translated and submitted to the court by March 28th. Imagine the frustration and anxiety that she must have endured. The request by the court justice is nothing short of being insane.
3. The requirement to test only at federal, state, or county level facilities
A mother tried to get an appointment with the LA County clinic, but was told that she wouldn’t qualify because the county cannot accept the test appointment unless there is a medical need that necessitates it. This is one of the obvious reasons why the justice in question did not think through well on this matter. I recommend that this justice widen the field to include private examiners as well, and allow this test should be administered by state licensed psychologists like the home studies are administered by state licensed social workers.
4. High costs of full battery tests
One mother told me that when she called many places today, the cost of examination ranged anywhere from $700 to $4,000 per person. It will take sever hours to several days to test, then another 2-6 weeks for the evaluation and report of these tests.
5. The Full Battery Psychological Test won’t prevent another Hyunsu-like tragedy.
Brian O’Callahan was employed by the NSA. Just to qualify for a position in the NSA, his capacity meant that one has to have top secret clearance, and this requires the most stringent background investigations anywhere. It requires interviews after interviews, physical and psychological evaluations, polygraph interviews, drug tests, visiting the neighborhoods where he lived for the last 18 years to interview the credibility of his past history, and more psychological interviews and evaluations, and on and on it goes for months. But despite all the investigations and tests, Mr. O’Callahan was found without any risk to be employed by the NSA. Even the NSA could not determine his character flaws and the adoption agencies or whoever could do no better. This is the reason why it leads me to conclude that Hyunsu’s tragedy was an exceptional case, and that one bad adoptive parent’s behavior does not represent the behaviors of thousands and thousands of good adoptive parents.
6. Filicide rate for non-adoptive families is ten times higher than adoptive families
It is believed that in the history of intercountry adoption, there have been 13 Korean adoptees that have been murdered at the hands of their adoptive parents in the US. Over 165,000 children have been placed overseas in the span of 60 years. Of which over 111,000 children have been placed into the US. Therefore the filicide rate for the families that have adopted Korean children is 0.008%.
However, according to the study conducted by the Brown University, there are approximately 3,000 children die annually in the US at the hands of their biological parents (http://www.sciencedaily.com/
releases/2014/02/140225122423. htm). With approximately 4 million children being born each year for 60 years, and assuming annual filicide numbering around 3,000, the filicide rate for non-adoptive children is 0.075%. This shows that the filicide rate of non-adoptive families is ten times higher than the rate suffered by the Korean adoptees in the US.
The rate for the Korean adoptee filicide rate being much lower is probably due in part to the current system employed by the agencies in being able to assess, to the best of their ability, competent and stable parents, and without their efforts in this area, more children may have been hurt. This statistic alone is a testament to the current system, while not perfect, is much safer for adoptees than the children living with biological parents.
No amount of explanation can satisfy Hyunsu’s death. But adoption cannot be blamed as there are many adoptees whose adoption experiences have turned out positively. I was moved by one adult adoptee who eloquently stated, “If Hyunsu’s adoption is a reason to close the intercountry adoption program, then my adoption story should be a reason enough to continue.”
The adoption process has a long history of improvements and changes, but it is not a perfect process and as it can verify good parents ready for adoption, and it cannot uncover every bad parent. So while the adoption process is not perfect, improvements must be constantly made, especially through the lessons learned through this recent tragedy.
However, the recent mandate by the justice requiring a full battery of psychological test is an overkill, and this will only cause an extended delay for children who are already waiting at the expense of trying to glean out an additional 0.008% of bad parents. Even the most stringent process will not glean out bad parents like Brian O’Callahan. The NSA could not. It can never be perfect, and it will not guarantee a successful outcome, even in the future. This overkill will only hurt the children’s rights to be in their homes as they have already been waiting too long.