Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Family Court Justice Orders Full Battery Psychological Tests

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 ( 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.


  1. I want to make clear to your readers that the adoptive parents I know are NOT opposed to taking the psyche evals. They understand the reaction following the tragic murder of Hyeonsu and feel it is a very reasonable request. What has been frustrating is the timeframe in which they sre being asked to get this done. To surprise these families with such an extensive and expensive (about $3000 per couple) requirement after they've been assigned court dates is a bit insane. One family I know is already IN Korea and are now expected to scramble and find a bilingual psychologist who is willing to do these tests with a quick turnaround. I spoke to a mental health professional who told me a full psyche eval is very time consuming and expensive. He said it typically takes WEEKS just to interpret the results let alone additional time to get the report translated. In other words, the timeline the government has given is impossible to meet. Most families who have been asked to do this have court dates in the next 2 weeks. There is literally no way they can meet the deadline but they are all trying their hardest. These parents love their children so much.

    1. Thanks for the great comments. I think the test requirement is really an overkill, but if they want it regardless, and If the timing issue can be better worked out that would be helpful rather than causing knee jerk reaction to all those who are already in the late part of the process.

  2. Am I understanding that the psychological has not been made mandatory by all the judges, just by a few of the judges? So, do we anticipate that this will be a mandatory requirement?

    1. In the end it was found that all four judges have discussed it and agreed. So it will be a requirement. But there will be some changes as far as the number of different tests required and you can get it from private doctors and not bound by county or state or federal facilities. The judges are still new at this and they have not yet, I repeat they have not yet made a firm decision on what tests will be required, but something will be required, and we will know soon.

  3. Hi,
    We are a French family waiting for our little boy. We were matched 18 June 2012 when he was 7 months old. We received the EP 9 Dec 2013 and now we are waiting for the court audience in may?June?later? (We do not know when our dossier was transmitted to court or if it is!)
    Today, we have just received from our adoption association in France the new required ‘full battery psy tests’ (which take lot of time to get the results.)
    In the text: The Court has requested all the adoptive parents to submit the 5 different psychological assessments which are Bender Gestalt Test, House-Tree-Person Test, Rorschach Test, Sentence Completion Test, and Minnesota Multiphasic Inventory-2 done by any psychiatrists or psychologists.

    These 5 tests are required for the family with audience from May and after.
    For the earlier audience, in April, it seems that they required showing only one test: MMPI-2 or at least coming with a schedule to pass it right after the audience at court. So far, it seems any licensed psy can do these tests. I am checking out that information.
    So, your information corroborates ours here in France.
    We are now looking for a shrink able to do that for us in France. At least, if we fall totally desperate by this time, he may be useful for us to consult as well.
    Thank You Steve for updating your blog with so really useful news.

    1. Philippe, That's fairly accurate comments. I hear five or six tests, but it can also change, and I won't be surprised on what they decide. But follow what your agency tells you. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi,
    we 'll be in Séoul 14th of april and we have the audiance 22th. We mut have one of fifth test when we 'll be in Séoul (MMPI-2). But it seem very complicated. the deadlines are so long and even if we have the result of this test, I think it will not traduct in English. What can we do???!!!
    In Ftance the association try to find a solution and we too but.....
    Only 3 weeks to do this!
    I 'll give more informations as soon as I can

    1. Congratulations, Sophie for going to Korea. Please work with your agency on the question you have. I think you are only required MMPI becuase your court appointment falls before May. Also you can now get it done from a private doctor as well. You need to have the results translated to Korean, not English. Best wishes.

    2. Hi Sophie. we are a Family from Denmark and we also have audiance the 22th and we will also be in Seoul the 14th. Are you planning to stay in Seoul and wait after the audiance?

    3. Hi,
      We 'll go back in France the 23th April after the audiance. In fact, we can't see our son after this audiance ( holt say that to the association in France) and the process during 6 or 9 weeks, so we can't stop to work during this time. We prefer to go in Séoul a second time and have more time with our son.
      where you will stay during the journey? We'll be in the guest house in holt.
      Have you the famous test MMPI? We have this test today and after we must translate in English. it's lot of stress for all these new documents because we leave France soon (the 13th april).

  5. Hi

    We are from Sweden and have a court date April 4. Unfortunately we got the message all 5 was needed from SWS. Really hope you are right about April exception or we will have to postpone the whole thing. Any info much appreciated!

    1. Hi Mister.

      Thank you for your info. We are with SWS and we were wondering what your timeline has been like, when you were matched, when your EP was submitted and how Long it took to be approved.

      Thank You

    2. Hej. Detta med testerna och den senaste informationen i ärendet diskuteras för fullt nu i Sydkoreagruppen på FB. Ni är hjärtligt välkomna till gruppen som blivande koreaföräldrar. Går det att kontakta er via bloggen?

    3. Thank you very much, I would love to know how to join the FB group to discuss this. If you could let me know how that would be great thank you. Also, thank goodness for google translate ;)

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  7. I have just found your blog and haven't heard anything about the psychological testing. Perhaps, because we haven't had EP approval yet? We have had our EP submitted almost 90 days ago. Has anyone heard anything about EPs? We were hoping to be submitted to the court system soon.

  8. Steeve, some updates from France about the psy tests:
    Our agency is proposing to the judges an adaptation of the requested 5 tests because it does not exit as it is requested by the judges here in France. we are now waiting for a confirmation by the korean judges that these 'french version' of the psy tests are suitable to them.
    We did not hear about deadline of 28 March to provide these tests as you mentioned above. is it for family with court date?
    I write on the blog soon when news available.

    PS: We are suggested to not stay in Korea (no possibility to meet our child) after the court audience and to come back to take him when the final decision is done.

    1. Yes. March 28th is for the families that had the April court dates. However, the court knows how challenging this is, so they are willing to let the families show up in court without the tests (those who just could not take it in time), and they will have to submit the test results after they return to the home country.

  9. Yes Carrie us too.... We were in the dec 30 EP submission group with no word whatsoever and I am getting very worried. Steve any news on when the Ministy plans to approve some.??? Three months is way too long and putting alot of stress on us families.

  10. Steve,
    From our agency, I have just known that Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway and France will provide a joint communication to the Korean judges (through HOLT I supposed).
    I don't know yet the content of this communication but I guess it is to prove to them that the selection of adoptive parents is long, performant, complete and strongly regulated in the countries involved in ICA with Korea.

    PS: after Sophie, we should be the next family from France to come to Korea.