Another adoption tragedy taints Tennessee
This was supposed to be Kairissa XingJing Mark's forever home.
On March 29, the 4-year-old's new family brought her home from China to a big brick house in a cozy Mt. Juliet subdivision that is the picture of the American Dream. There was a big fenced-in yard for her to play in and pretty pink curtains in the upstairs bedroom window. In the window next to the door, someone had taped a child's coloring of a religious scene, the Good Shepherd guarding his flock.
But three months after her adoption, Kairissa is dead, her adoptive family is shattered and the international adoption community is reeling from the news of yet another horror story out of Tennessee.
Kairissa's mother, Dr. Deborah Wen Yee Mark, a pediatrician, stands accused of beating her to death. Last week, a Wilson County grand jury indicted Mark on one count of first-degree murder and eight counts of child abuse. It also indicted her husband, Steven Joshua Mark, a stay-at-home dad, on multiple counts of aggravated child abuse, child abuse, failure to protect and of being an accessory after the fact.
The couple's 8-year-old biological daughter is in foster care. Police say she told them she witnessed some of the attacks on her little sister.
Court date set
The Marks will be arraigned Friday and they intend to plead not guilty, said their attorney, Jack Lowery Jr. Kairissa died at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital on July 2, one day after police were summoned to the family home by a report of a child in distress. Lowery said the fact the case is already heading to court shows signs of a "rush to judgment."
The fact that a pediatrician, someone who devoted her entire career to protecting other people's children, is accused of killing one of her own adds to the horror of this case. Those who know the Marks best aren't talking - their neighbors, their congregation at the Donelson Fellowship Free Will Baptist Church, where they worshipped, her colleagues at Centennial Pediatrics in Lebanon.
"She's a lady who, in the past several days, I have received numerous calls in support of, telling me what wonderful care she took of (her patients') children," Lowery said. "This is just a quality family. They attended church here. They were very involved. They have suffered. Their lives have absolutely been turned upside down."
The Marks, he said, spent a number of years attempting to adopt from China. It's a process that has become increasingly difficult over the years, as more and more countries have tightened their restrictions on international adoptions to the United States.
Russian case was shock
In April, news broke that an adoptive mother from Tennessee had put her 6-year-old son on a plane back to Russia, with a note saying she no longer wanted him. The incident sparked an international uproar and threats of a moratorium on further adoptions from Russia.
"We do expect changes to happen," said Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption, who has been in contact with the Chinese government about the case. Overall, rates of abuse of adopted children tend to be lower than among biological children, he said, but "every tragedy is one too many."
China probably would hold off on any policy changes until there is a conviction, but Johnson said there is already talk of requiring additional follow-up visits after an adoption. Right now, China's minimum requirements are home visits at the six-month and one-year mark after an adoption.
"It's so unfortunate. Our hearts just break," Johnson said. "We see the motivation and desire of most families who just want to bring a child out of an institution and give them a home, have someone to call them Mom and Dad. ... And then to see something like this happen."
China cracks down
ocal adoption agencies also are bracing for a possible backlash.
China has already cracked down on U.S. adoptions in recent years - it now bans adoptions by single women, anyone who has ever taken medication for depression and anyone with a body mass index of 40 or higher.
International adoptions have nosedived from a peak of 22,739 children brought into the United States in 2005 to fewer than 13,000 in 2009. The average wait to adopt a child from China ranges from more than four years, for parents who want to adopt a perfectly healthy child, to an average of nine months to two years for those willing to adopt a "waiting child" - one with a diagnosed health problem.
Prospective families undergo rigorous scrutiny, including background checks, home visits and interviews with friends and family members. The Marks worked with an as yet unidentified Nashville adoption agency, but most agencies in the area follow the same basic precautions.
Bethany Christian Services, a national adoption agency with an office in Nashville, declined to say whether it was the agency that helped the Mark family adopt Kairissa. But Tammy Bass, director of Middle Tennessee Bethany, noted that any couple looking to adopt overseas would have to run through the same rigorous background check - starting with local criminal history checks and running all the way up to a screening by the Department of Homeland Security, not to mention financial history checks and visits from social workers.
Bethany checks in with its new families two weeks after an adoption and again at the six-month and one-year marks, she said. Social workers check to make sure the children are bonding with their new families and look for signs of attachment disorders or other problems.
Adoption "can be a shock to your system," she said, explaining the reasons for the home visits. "We stress the importance of staying connected with the family, not just the two-week visit but beyond."
The local Bethany office has placed 25 children with new families so far this year, Bass said.