Helping? Or hindering? The Western World and International Adoption
February 4, 2010 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Does international adoption benefit adopted children? Serve to satisfy prospective parents? Is it a helpful situation for everyone involved? The current situation of ten American Baptists charged with child trafficking in Haiti is again opening up the conversation about the complexities, benefits and drawbacks of international adoptions arranged between Western and third-world countries.

David Smolin explains that: "Views of intercountry adoption vacillate between the positive, in which it is portrayed as a humanitarian act of goodwill benefiting both child and adoptive family, and the negative, in which it is portrayed either as child trafficking or as a neo-colonialist child grab."

Prior to the establishment of the Hague Treaty on Intercountry Adoption, few laws protected both prospective adoptees and prospective adoptive parents in the intercountry adoption process. The United States was one of the last Western countries to enact the guidelines required by the convention (signed in 1994 and put in force in 2008).

Those who view intercountry adoption as a "neo-colonialist child grab" view the application of more strict controls and guidelines as necessary to prevent child trafficking and protect children and families, though some would like to abolish transnational adoption altogether. Those who view intercountry adoption as a "humanitarian act of goodwill" are on a spectrum of viewpoints as well, seeing stricter controls as more complicated, and possibly lengthening the adoption timeline (potentially meaning more time spent in institutions for children).

Studies have been published showing that international adoption can be positive overall for most adoptees and their adoptive families. However, adult adoptees being asked for their opinion are adding caveats to that conclusion, specifically that good intentions and a willingness to parent a child are not enough. Some are returning to countries of origin to lobby for adoption reform. And there is still very little non-anecdotal information about the effects of transnational adoption on families of origin.

However, does the Hague Convention go far enough to protect children, adoptive parents, and families of origin from the darker side of illegal or unethical transcountry adoptions? Especially when desperate prospective parents and/or dishonest adoption agencies have worked so hard to meet their own child recruitment goals in the past? (Incidents between Chad/France, Ethiopia/U.S.)
posted by jeanmari (77 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Full disclosure...my husband and I have lifelong friends who are adult adoptees (from different countries), know transnational/transracial families created through international adoption, and are currently pursuing an international adoption, though we are trying to pick carefully through the accompanying minefield.
posted by jeanmari at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2010


I wonder how many of these kids are 'restavec'. Their parents sold them to another family to be slaves. They can't go back to their living parents since they'll just give them back to be enslaved. It's better that they be taken out of Haiti.
posted by CrazyJoel at 10:29 AM on February 4, 2010


I think this goes further than the adoption issue. There's also a certain question of Christian orphanages in general, I think, and what the motives are in the people who run some of them--and I'm saying this, mind, as a Christian.

I knew someone who went down to do mission work in Mexico. At an orphanage. And they came back and were talking about it and it became evident that, in fact, most of these children had parents. Living parents. Parents they still talked to. But those parents had been made to feel that they were not able to provide adequately for their children, so they'd given them over to this orphanage place, which kids from like elementary school to high school age.

Adoption was not on the table. I was shocked by it, and discovered a lot of people in my church at the time were *not*, because of the notion that rather than helping these parents care for their own children, it was better for them to be raised in this overtly Protestant orphanage. (Still always referred to as an orphanage, despite the evident lack of actual orphans.) Because otherwise they were going to grow up Catholic.

Given what we've heard from Pat Robertson and his ilk lately about Haiti, I'm left seriously wondering about whether the primary intent here was to create adoptable children... or just this misguided notion that it was better for these children to be raised in a good Protestant orphanage than it was to be raised by impoverished, Catholic, "voodoo-practicing" parents.
posted by larkspur at 10:31 AM on February 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


I think the question of international adoption is really closely linked to the history of Christian US adoption agencies. Some of the stories told in The Girls Who Went Away, for example, are eerily similar in theme if not in fact. Also with the long history of "culturalizing" Native American children by sending them to proper European-style schools and even adopting them out to proper European-style parents.
posted by muddgirl at 10:38 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think it needs to be made very clear that that church group caught trying to take children out of Haiti were flying completely under the radar and were circumventing all adoption mandates and law. They really should not been seen as representative of the international adoption business. That earthquake has been like someone open a floodgate and every baby-needing couple has come out of the woodwork, thinking that there are, literally, plane-loads of babies landing daily from Haiti, ready for adopting. It's insanity.

From what I've seen, the Hague Treaty has really put the breaks on a lot of country's adoption programs. A lot of these were countries where babies were almost being shoveled out the door in packs to eager Americans armed with baskets of cash. These countries have halted adoption while they work to implement Hague. In the long run, applying inter-country controls can only be a good thing, especially when contrasted to the state of things pre-Hague.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:43 AM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


we are trying to pick carefully through the accompanying minefield.

That is certainly what it is. But what is most striking is the attitude of the missionaries. They believe that they are absolutely right, that they are doing God´s will, and no discussion is required.

It is that attitude that is setting off the alarm bells.
posted by quarsan at 10:46 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is of interest to me, as I recently discovered that I am an international adoptee, of a sort. In researching this, I have discovered that I am apparently entitled to dual citizenship. If I am able to document my biological parentage to the standards required by my birth mother's country of citizenship (which, in essence, requires locating her birth certificate) I may qualify for a non-US passport.

As I have looked into this, however, it gets complicated and it is not at all clear that I will be able to assemble the documents required. Thanks, mid-century closed adoption practices!
posted by mwhybark at 11:04 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This American Life did a story (Act 2 of this episode) on an international adoption that didn't go as planned that touches on a lot of these issues.
posted by TedW at 11:09 AM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Given the international child slavery and child prostitution trade — for which the Dominican Republic is well known, by the way — it is good that these criminals got caught and are being dealt with appropriately.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:14 AM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


My girlfriend is one of the vast waves of Midwestern Korean adoptees. Before I talked with her about the accompanying issues, I had no idea how complex an adoptee’s feelings about the situation could be*

*mostly I think she resents not being able to eat Korean food every day
posted by Think_Long at 11:15 AM on February 4, 2010


This is an interesting issue, and as someone intimately involved with adoption, I'd like to comment on the ethics of international adoption.

First, the Baptists currently under arrest in Haiti are complete idiots, and I have no sympathy for them. Honestly, you can't just take children out of the country on your own. What were they thinking?

The original post also raised the issue of adoption as cultural imperialism or as a neo-colonialist child grab, versus a humanitarian act of charity. This is an interesting and complex question.

Does international adoption cause a loss of culture for the adopted children, a sense of alienation, a life far different from the one they were used to? Possibly. But here's the big point. Culture and language and a sense of identity and all those wonderful things don't put food into the stomachs of children. Guatemala, for example, which until recently was one of the main sources (along with China and Russia) for international children for US adopting families, has endemic child malnutrition, with about 50% of children being chronically malnourished, rising to 70% or more in rural/indigenous areas. This is not just children going to bed hungry; it is children slowly starving, with stunted growth and serious mental impairment and in some cases starving to death.

Now, if you're an orphan child, a true orphan, in rural Guatemala and abandoned by your mother or parents, what are the chances that you are going to have a happy and healthy life?

(And I should mention that many North American families are trying very hard to keep their children connected to their country of origin, with language classes, adoption camps, heritage trips, and so on. The many adoption forums are filled with parents trading tips on what's the best age for a child to visit China or where to meet up with other adopted children for playdates. It's far different from the Native American adoptions of 150 years ago, to take one dark example from our past.)

There have been abuses in adoption, but thankfully they are few and far between (and not just limited to the US, by the way... during Argentina's dirty war of the 70's, for example, the military dictatorship would take newborns from imprisoned leftist mothers and adopt them out to more right-wing families). Adoption today is far, far different from even ten years ago, and dozens of safeguards are in place to ensure that everything is above-board. Multiple interviews with the birth mother, multiple DNA tests to ensure the child in question really is who he/she's claimed to be, social worker visits, etc., practically guarantee that the adoption is legitimate. As for the family in the US or Europe that's trying to adopt, they have to submit to medical checks, financial reviews, criminal background checks, fingerprinting, reference and credit checks, psychological interviews, and so on. Many of these were already in place before the Hague Convention, and now they're being standardized state-to-state and country-to-country.

I firmly believe that adoption is a Good Thing. Sure, you should think carefully about the process and make sure everything is above-board and fair, but isn't that the same type of care you should take when deciding to have biological kids?
posted by math at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Given the international child slavery and child prostitution trade — for which the Dominican Republic is well known, by the way — it is good that these criminals got caught and are being dealt with appropriately.

Good in the sense that there are some forms of law to prevent this kind of thing. But do you really thing these people should be charged with the same crime? Dumb, naïve, idiotic and presumptuous yes, but they’re not sex-slave traders.
posted by Think_Long at 11:17 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


but they’re not sex-slave traders.

Probably not, but they understood that they were circumventing several national and international laws which are in place for very good reasons. It seems arguable that there were many ways these individuals could have helped in Haiti without breaking a number of laws.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:21 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now, if you're an orphan child, a true orphan, in rural Guatemala and abandoned by your mother or parents, what are the chances that you are going to have a happy and healthy life?

Interesting that you bring up the case of Guatemala. My thinking on this was very shaped by the E.J. Graff piece in Foreign Policy, called The Lie We Love. Some of the most heart-breaking anecdotes were about the abuses in the Guatemalan system, before American adoptions were temporarily suspended in 2008:
One such country has been Guatemala, which in 2006 and 2007 was the No. 2 exporter of children to the United States. Between 1997 and 2006, the number of Guatemalan children adopted by Americans more than quadrupled, to more than 4,500 annually. Incredibly, in 2006, American parents adopted one of every 110 Guatemalan children born. In 2007, nearly 9 out of 10 children adopted were less than a year old; almost half were younger than 6 months old. "Guatemala is a perfect case study of how international adoption has become a demand-driven business," says Kelley McCreery Bunkers, a former consultant with UNICEF Guatemala. The country’s adoption process was "an industry developed to meet the needs of adoptive families in developed countries, specifically the United States."

Because the vast majority of the country's institutionalized children are not healthy, adoptable babies, almost none has been adopted abroad. In the fall of 2007, a survey conducted by the Guatemalan government, UNICEF, and the international child welfare and adoption agency Holt International Children's Services found approximately 5,600 children and adolescents in Guatemalan institutions. More than 4,600 of these children were age 4 or older. Fewer than 400 were under a year old. And yet in 2006, more than 270 Guatemalan babies, all younger than 12 months, were being sent to the United States each month. These adopted children were simply not coming from the country's institutions. Last year, 98 percent of U.S. adoptions from Guatemala were "relinquishments": Babies who had never seen the inside of an institution were signed over directly to a private attorney who approved the international adoption -- for a very considerable fee -- without any review by a judge or social service agency.

So, where had some of these adopted babies come from? Consider the case of Ana Escobar, a young Guatemalan woman who in March 2007 reported to police that armed men had locked her in a closet in her family’s shoe store and stolen her infant. After a 14-month search, Escobar found her daughter in pre-adoption foster care, just weeks before the girl was to be adopted by a couple from Indiana. DNA testing showed the toddler to be Escobar's child. In a similar case from 2006, Raquel Par, another Guatemalan woman, reported being drugged while waiting for a bus in Guatemala City, waking to find her year-old baby missing. Three months later, Par learned her daughter had been adopted by an American couple.
When people raise objections to international adoption because of potential abuses, I think it's less often about the potential harm to the baby--after all, it's a complicated and perhaps unanswerable question as to whether a baby would be better off being raised in its country of origin or in a wealthier country elsewhere--but rather about the concrete harm to birth mothers who may have been coerced or forced to give their babies up.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:31 AM on February 4, 2010 [24 favorites]


My husband and I flew to the US a few years ago and for whatever reason ended up at JFK instead of Newark, our usual airport. We were in the immigration line with several different flights and fully one third of the people in the queue with us were white American couples holding female Chinese toddlers.

I know the question of China is particularly troublesome but this was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:50 AM on February 4, 2010


but rather about the concrete harm to birth mothers who may have been coerced or forced to give their babies up.

Yeah.

This situation strikes very close to home for me; I have a cousin, a distant cousin by blood but one whom I grew up very close to. He was one of the Vietnam War Babylift orphans. His (white) parents were in the country doing relief work, and when they flew back to the States, a group of nuns came on board and announced that they had 71 infants and toddlers who were being rescued from the country because their orphanage had been bombed out and they had nowhere to go. Would anyone, they asked, be willing to carry a child on their lap for the 14-hour flight back to LA? My relatives said yes, they received a 4-month-old Laotian child to hold, and by the time they touched down in LAX, they had fallen in love and began adoption proceedings immediately.

My cousin was raised without any connection to his Southeast Asian heritage. He regards his ethnicity as a physical quirk, like bright red hair or something. He is successful and happy. Now, his situation may have been helped along by the fact that his parents, in addition to their three biological children, had already adopted a black child domestically, so my cousin did not grow up the only person of color in his family. But still -- he's happily married, he has a great career as an executive chef, he's a well-adjusted, joyful man.

My cousin's parents, I must stress, are good people, wise and humanitarian. They did what they understood at the time to be best for their children. But I still wonder -- was the story they were told, about the orphanage, true? Or is there a woman in Laos in her fifties who still wonders what became of her son?
posted by KathrynT at 11:51 AM on February 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


But they done said they was Christian, they's doin' it for the Lord. Haiti is a nation of the Devil!

Hahaha! Stupid Christians! Stupid Southerners! LOL!


Seriously, dude?
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:53 AM on February 4, 2010


This just in: the 10 missionaries have been formally charged with child kidnapping and criminal association in a Haitian court.
posted by ericb at 11:53 AM on February 4, 2010


...the 10 missionaries have been formally charged with child kidnapping and criminal association in a Haitian court.

Y'know...It's probably never a good thing to have the words "in a Haitian court" in a sentence about you. Just sayin'.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:03 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The whole thing is just sad all around, for so many reasons. I'm sure the missionaries thought they were doing a moral good here, that they were helping children in unimaginably horrible situations. But they went about it in a dumb, dumb fashion, and it saddens me that they probably won't even recognize their own staggeringly dumb mistakes.

I would bet a trillion dollars that, months from now when they're finally home and back in their church the pastor will give them fifteen minutes to talk about the miracles they witnessed in Haiti. They'll show slides of the devastation on the big projector screen, and they'll show wide-eyed, filthy kids and side-step any indication of whether or not those kids are actual, non-parent-having orphans. There will be some heart-warming story about Jean-Michele and how he used to practice voodoo but they gave him a Bible and he gave his heart to Christ. They'll talk about ministering to each other, how imprisonment brought them closer to God. I fucking guarantee they'll name-drop Paul in all of it.

And whether they bring back one child or a hundred or none at all, it will all be framed as a glory to God, how faith will bring you through unjust persecution. And nothing, nothing, nothing at all in their approach to finding homes for kids in need will have changed.

And meanwhile the countless orphaned and abandoned children here in America spend one more night in the orphanage.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:07 PM on February 4, 2010 [19 favorites]


pardon my ignorance, but why are international adoptees sensitive about the matter?
posted by Neekee at 12:19 PM on February 4, 2010


I'm sure the missionaries thought they were doing a moral good here,

I'm not. Perhaps they told themselves they were. They kidnapped children and lied to the children's families. There's at least two of the ten commandments right there.

I'm sure they used their racist, colonialist assumptions about what was "best" for these kids (i.e., Haiti is a hellhole, no sane person would want to live there instead of the US!) to gloss over what they were actually doing, and also to help them not think about the emotions of parents who discovered that, weeks after a devastating earthquake they were lucky to survive, some white people claiming to want to help kidnapped their children and tried to adopt them to people in another country.

In this case, I will not assume incompetence when racist assholery is so evidently in play.
posted by emjaybee at 12:24 PM on February 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


Right, but 1) racist assholery doesn't preclude incompetence, and 2) racist assholes rarely, if ever, are cognizant of their own racist assholery.

Not that it excuses jack squat here, because it doesn't. It's just depressing because I can all but guarantee that those missionaries don't think they did a damned thing wrong.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:35 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought it was quite telling when I was listening to NPR yesterday and someone was talking about problematic international adoptions (in the context of the Haiti situation), and she said something to the effect of "well, and it's horrible when you learn that they aren't really orphans, because who wants to send those kids back to their real parents?"

That one statement seemed to sum up an awful lot of something for me, and it wasn't a flattering picture it painted.
posted by hippybear at 12:41 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Adding to the difficulties of the situation in Haiti, of course, is the fact that there was one person in Haiti whose job it was to oversee these adoptions -- and he died in the quake. So now, there's nobody looking out for the Haitian interest, and everything is in such shambles that there's no real way to appoint a replacement.

There seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, whether deliberate or accidental, on the part of these missionaries when they talk about "abandoned" children. Yes, the problem of restaveks is huge and heartbreaking, but the kids in "orphanages" are not restaveks. Some of them are true orphans, some of them are genuinely abandoned by parents who can no longer afford to feed them, but some -- maybe most -- are kids who are given over to the orphanage while the parents get their act together. A lot of families, seeing their homes in ruins after the quake and intact buildings where children could at least have a safe place to sleep at night, gladly leave their children in other people's care while they rebuild. Those kids aren't abandoned.

According to this link, the cost to adopt a child from Haiti is over $16,000. Given the state of poverty in the country, what would it do for any of these children given up by their parents, temporarily or permanently -- including the restaveks -- if that money was just given to their families? Annual per-capita income in Haiti is about $400, so this would be about forty years' wages.
posted by KathrynT at 12:46 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


the cost to adopt a child from Haiti is over $16,000. Given the state of poverty in the country, what would it do for any of these children given up by their parents, temporarily or permanently -- including the restaveks -- if that money was just given to their families?

I think this is true to some degree for kids in foster care in the U.S., as well. (Substitute in "adequate mental health and/or substance abuse treatment" where necessary.) But while I don't have a hard time believing that on an abstract level that taking the money that would be spent on an individual adoption and using to create the opportunity for a kid to stay with his/her family of origin (where the family of origin wants to keep the kid) is the "better" outcome, I don't think it's fair to put that burden solely on families that want to adopt. I mean, I certainly haven't liquidated my 401(k) to donate to poverty-stricken Haitian families that are having a hard time feeding their kids; do I really believe that families who are desperate for a child but unable to conceive have a higher duty to do so?

What it boils down to for me, I think, is that the rhetoric of "saving the kids" through adoption, whether domestic or international, is itself the problem. It's kind of weird, actually, how durable that idea has been, straight back to when we were removing Native American kids from their families a century ago. Maybe it's because we have this whole culture of motherhood that revolves around notions of sacrificing yourself totally for your children, and so it's somehow taboo to say that there are any self-serving motives in adopting. I'm not sure adopting is any more or less noble than choosing to bear children--in both cases it's a mixture of selfless (wanting to give a child your love) and selfish (wanting a child to love you back) motives.
posted by iminurmefi at 1:46 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's probably never a good thing to have the words "in a Haitian court" in a sentence about you.

Better that than "confined indefinitely in a Turkish prison" or "arrested in North Korea" but not as good as "received a soothing massage."
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:53 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


i just read the link about the missionaries being charged in Haiti posted upthread.

apparently the parents thought their children were being taken to be educated in the Dominican Republic? that's a lot different than adoption.

the story wasn't very clear on what actually happened, but it seems like the whole thing was very fishy. if they only reason the parents gave them up was because they thought it was like a boarding school thing... well, i'd like to know more about what happened.

it's a bad thing to just grab a random kid, but it's just as bad (if not a whole different kind of bad) if the missionaries were lying to the parents or to the representative they had talk to the parents.
posted by sio42 at 2:04 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I knew someone who went down to do mission work in Mexico. At an orphanage. And they came back and were talking about it and it became evident that, in fact, most of these children had parents. Living parents. Parents they still talked to. But those parents had been made to feel that they were not able to provide adequately for their children, so they'd given them over to this orphanage place, which kids from like elementary school to high school age.

That sounds depressingly similar to Canada's residential schools.
posted by ODiV at 2:13 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Racialicious has done several posts on international and transracial adoption. I've found them eye opening.

The dangerous desire to adopt haitian babies
On discussions of transracial adoption
posted by severiina at 2:14 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


BBC profiles the church group's New Life Children's Refuge (NLCR) which was incorporated in November 2009.
"The charity...is 'dedicated to rescuing, loving and caring for orphaned, abandoned and impoverished Haitian and Dominican children, demonstrating God's love and helping each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ'...But after the disaster, the mission's aim became to 'rescue Haitian orphans abandoned on the streets, makeshift hospitals or from collapsed orphanages in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, and bring them to New Life Children's Refuge in Cabarete, Dominican Republic", the charity stated in an online document.'"
posted by ericb at 2:25 PM on February 4, 2010


NLCR Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission document.
posted by ericb at 2:27 PM on February 4, 2010


From their mission document:
"Friday/Saturday,
Jan
22nd
:
NLCR
team
fly
to
the
DR

Sun
Jan
23rd:
Drive
bus
from
Santo
Domingo
into
Port
au
Prince,
Haiti
and
gather
100
orphans
from
the
streets
and
collapsed
orphanages,
then
return
to
the
DR...

Given
the
urgent
needs
from
this
earthquake,
God
has
laid
upon
our
hearts
the
need
to
go
now...

...NLCR
is
praying
and
seeking
people
who
have
a
heart
for
God
and
a
desire
to
share
God’s
love
with
these
precious
children,
helping
them
heal
and
find
new
life
in
Christ."
So, they thought they could sweep into Haiti, pick up kids and drive them to DR over a three-day period. Really?
posted by ericb at 2:30 PM on February 4, 2010


math: "Culture and language and a sense of identity and all those wonderful things don't put food into the stomachs of children. "

Money puts food into the stomachs of children. We are willing to relocate the children; we are not willing to relocate the money.
posted by kathrineg at 2:32 PM on February 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


http://dontadopthaiti.blogspot.com/

Check out this blog for some of what the adoption reform community is saying about Haiti.

Also a bit on the less than sterling character of Ms. Silsby, leader of the Baptist group that tried to take kids out of Haiti. Not your typical honest church lady!

http://www.idahostatesman.com/localnews/v-print/story/1067267.html

Hexatron's Wife
posted by hexatron at 2:34 PM on February 4, 2010


Also a bit on the less than sterling character of Ms. Silsby, leader of the Baptist group that tried to take kids out of Haiti. Not your typical honest church lady!
http://www.idahostatesman.com/localnews/v-print/story/1067267.html

Oh, my. What a questionable character she is.
posted by ericb at 2:38 PM on February 4, 2010


...but they’re not sex-slave traders.

Trafficking of children is not just confined to the sex trade. Forced labor, slavery, child soldiers, 'black market' for family adoptions, etc. also come into play.

Childtrafficking.com.
posted by ericb at 2:44 PM on February 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


but they’re not sex-slave traders.

When you take away kids who tell you that they have parents, fail to adequately dress or feed them, take them into another country known for trafficking...

Does it really matter -why- you're abducting children? If I ran down the street snatching kids up in a van to take to an uber awesome after school study program, do you think society should go, "Ah, that's ok?"

Besides, how can the kids learn to Honor Thy Mother & Father when asshole missionaries can't?
posted by yeloson at 2:46 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am very, very suspicious of international adoption from Latin America to the US. We bankrupt them, then take their children because they're bankrupt.

No, those who would adopt aren't personally responsible for sending thousands of dollars instead of adopting. But if they do choose to adopt, they should be very clear that they're not saving someone or doing something particularly noble, nor are they solely interested in the child's welfare.
posted by kathrineg at 2:49 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


You can't just go taking people's children away-- and orphanages should be rare and ideally, nonexistent. They certainly shouldn't ever have any babies in them.

For children under 5, institutional care frequently (about 1/3 of the time in children who spend early life there) causes measurable brain damage: IQ reductions, stunted growth, emotional problems, mental illness, sensory processing disorders, etc. due to the simple fact that human brain development requires the intensive, devoted attention of 1-2 primary caregivers.

We actually know this from a randomized trial now, which was conducted to prove to Romania that orphanages are bad for children (they wouldn't believe the experts, so the researchers used this horrible situation to at least get some data and now Romania is moving to foster care/immediate adoption for abandoned infants).

People working shifts with dozens of children-- no matter how well-intentioned they are-- simply cannot meet the emotional needs of babies and toddlers. They need parents. And parents are better for older kids too-- so they should be in foster care or adopted if at all possible.

The Haiti situation is heartbreaking-- but the best thing to do in terms of child development is to keep the kid with extended family if at all possible. Ripping them away from everything they know exacerbates the trauma.
posted by Maias at 2:56 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The missionaries fit the "Poor you...let me help you" vein of faith-based volunteers who believe that it is their right to help. Most have no idea how to help but believe that "God will provide". The naivety here is breathtaking.

During disaster recovery work that I did after Hurricane Katrina, I came to understand the mindset. Truck after truck filled with used clothing, jammed into 40 gallon trashbags, arrived while we were actually trying to facilitate disaster recovery. Those trucks were floor loaded (meaning: you could not use a forklift or pallet jack to unload them) and had to be emptied by hand. After trying to unload one truck, we decided to send them all away.

The mindset is the same: I am helping YOU. YOU will receive MY help. Therefore, my actions must be correct and just.

Sorry for the derail but these folks actions are so firmly couched in a mentality that has been dangerous for this country (US) that I get angry.
posted by zerobyproxy at 3:00 PM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Quoting iminurmefi, who was riffing off of a previous comment by KathrynT,

But while I don't have a hard time believing that on an abstract level that taking the money that would be spent on an individual adoption and using to create the opportunity for a kid to stay with his/her family of origin (where the family of origin wants to keep the kid) is the "better" outcome, I don't think it's fair to put that burden solely on families that want to adopt. I mean, I certainly haven't liquidated my 401(k) to donate to poverty-stricken Haitian families that are having a hard time feeding their kids; do I really believe that families who are desperate for a child but unable to conceive have a higher duty to do so?

This really resonates with me. I know many people who had $X dollars for adoption, and chose to use it for bringing a child over to the US to adopt, even though that amount of money could have been used to provide a lifetime annuity for the child (and family or foster family) in their country of origin. I have people in my own family who spent roughly the same amount $X on in vitro treatments to conceive their own child, even though that amount of money could have been used to provide a lifetime annuity for a developing world child. I also (to take this to an extreme) know lots of people who put $X in their 401K or hang on to both of their kidneys, even though that amount of money or that kidney could have been used to ...

That last sentence seems extreme, but there are (a very few) people who do donate one kidney or give away half of their money. More power to them, I say. But I am not that person, and I don't imagine many of you are either. It's good for me to think about this, less I get too full of myself or make the mistake of thinking that I'm a really, really good person with no room left for improvement.

I'm not even this extremely altruistic family, because I like where I live too much:

Kevin Salwen, a writer and entrepreneur in Atlanta, was driving his 14-year-old daughter, Hannah, back from a sleepover in 2006. While waiting at a traffic light, they saw a black Mercedes coupe on one side and a homeless man begging for food on the other.

“Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal,” Hannah protested. The light changed and they drove on, but Hannah was too young to be reasonable. She pestered her parents about inequity, insisting that she wanted to do something.

“What do you want to do?” her mom responded. “Sell our house?”

Warning! Never suggest a grand gesture to an idealistic teenager. Hannah seized upon the idea of selling the luxurious family home and donating half the proceeds to charity, while using the other half to buy a more modest replacement home.


The basic premise here is wrong. Taking away one man's car does not give another man food, for a host of reasons we don't need to get into. And preventing one US family from adopting internationally does not free up that money for the needs of a poor Haitian family. But I do wonder from time to time where we draw the line. I don't question the motives or the conscience of people who use their money for international adoption. But I do, sometimes, question the motive of my cousins who spent $30,000 on in vitro fertilizations. It worked, and their children are beautiful, and I love them, but ...

Ah, what a wonderful, terrifying world of greys we live in.
posted by math at 3:24 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Money puts food into the stomachs of children. We are willing to relocate the children; we are not willing to relocate the money.

One way that families I know who have adopted internationally try to address this is by rejecting the either/or: I know several families who remain very involved with the social service organizations they worked with during their adoptions, or with the orphanages or schools their kids were in. I don't know how typical that is. My friends tend to be socially aware, politically involved, the kinds of people who would be very aware of the complex issues involved, concerned about the possibility of wrong-doing, concerned for children who remain behind, and willing to put money and time into doing what they can.
posted by not that girl at 3:26 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know several families who remain very involved with the social service organizations they worked with during their adoptions, or with the orphanages or schools their kids were in. I don't know how typical that is.

I think that the best and most reputable adoption agencies will focus on providing services and support for "first families" (as they are sometimes called) and use adoption for kids that have no other options, many times "special needs" kids that extended family members are unwilling or unable to care for, or sibling groups that want to stay together. The agency we are using also provides improved access to education, medical care, and nutrition programs for families in the community, as well as provide opportunities for child sponsorship and community development initiatives so children can stay with extended family members who are willing to take them instead of being put up for adoption. My husband was sponsoring children in the country we are considering adopting from to enable them to stay with family members (mostly grandparents) for over ten years. The country-specific representatives from our agency just returned from a weeks-long trip in country where they were providing "adoption and ethics" training for members of the communities there.

Unfortunately, there is no "rating system" for the quality of adoption agencies nor are there universal standards that are followed globally to ensure that an agency is operating ethically and in the best interest of birth families. Which is the worst thing for ethical agencies and adoptive families because it means that the reputation of the entire process is tarnished for everyone.

The transracial issue is another matter entirely intertwined with all of this.
posted by jeanmari at 4:26 PM on February 4, 2010


Another blow against "good intentions" - They were telling the parents that they were taking the kids to a school in Dominican Republic.

So, it's not even just finding kids, it's lying to parents. "Whoops! We just thought we were doing good!"
posted by yeloson at 4:38 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does it really matter -why- you're abducting children? If I ran down the street snatching kids up in a van to take to an uber awesome after school study program, do you think society should go, "Ah, that's ok?"

In a way, I think intent does really matter when we're thinking about punishment. The mechanisms for protecting the children should be the same, well much better really, but yeah. I'm not saying let them off scott-free which, let's be honest, is essentially what's going to happen.
posted by Think_Long at 4:43 PM on February 4, 2010


In a way, I think intent does really matter when we're thinking about punishment.

But we don't know what they were going to do with the children. Sell them to pedophiles? Give them mansions and cookies? We don't know. Which is why you punish the crime of kidnapping instead of assuming that white christian americans have good motivations.
posted by kathrineg at 4:50 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


But we don't know what they were going to do with the children. Sell them to pedophiles? Give them mansions and cookies? We don't know. Which is why you punish the crime of kidnapping instead of assuming that white christian americans have good motivations.

Fair points, not the first time I'd be guilty of making assumptions
posted by Think_Long at 4:56 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the NYT's article to which yeloson links:
"The Americans said that the children had been orphaned in the earthquake, and that they had authorization from the Dominican government to bring the children into the country.

But it became clear on Tuesday that at least some of the children had not lost their parents in the earthquake.

And while the Americans said they did not intend to offer the children for adoption, the Web site for their orphanage makes clear that they intended to do so.

In addition to providing a swimming pool, soccer field and access to the beach for the children, the group, known as the New Life Children’s Refuge, said it also planned to 'provide opportunities for adoption,' and 'seaside villas for adopting parents to stay while fulfilling the requirement for 60-90 day visit.'

An empty house in an unfinished subdivision in Meridian, Idaho, is listed on the nonprofit incorporation papers filed in Idaho for the organization. The address was listed in November on papers Laura Silsby filed to establish New Life as a nonprofit. Two days after the papers were filed, records show, Ms. Silsby sold the house at a substantial loss.

Signs in front of the house on Tuesday offered it for sale as a foreclosed property."
Fishy? Yes, indeed.
posted by ericb at 4:57 PM on February 4, 2010


We were in the immigration line with several different flights and fully one third of the people in the queue with us were white American couples holding female Chinese toddlers.

I know the question of China is particularly troublesome but this was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.


DarlingBri, perhaps if I can explain some things to you, you'll feel better about the experience. Americans wishing to adopt from China make arrangements through one of several agencies here in the US. The prospective parents are thoroughly investigated - background checks, means tests, autobiographies, multiple interviews with social workers, etc. - before they are approved for adoption. The children cannot have any identified relatives. If they do, they are not eligible for international adoption. A Chinese government office, the China Central Adoption Agency, chooses which children go to which parents. At least one of the adopting parents must travel to China to get the child.

Here's the part that affects your experience: the parents travel to and from China in groups, as arranged by the adoption agency. There were about thirty couples in the group we were a part of. What you saw at JFK was one or more of those groups. Most flights from China to JFK probably do not carry any adoption groups.

I'm not sure what "the question of China" is that is troublesome. I will say that if the Chinese authorities get any hint that you think you are somehow "saving a child from growing up in China," you will never be allowed to adopt there. That's not addressed to you as much as to iminurmefi's concern with "saving through adoption."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:58 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


But I do, sometimes, question the motive of my cousins who spent $30,000 on in vitro fertilizations. It worked, and their children are beautiful, and I love them, but ...

I knew that given enough time, this conversation - which has so many important, difficult, well-considered and thoughtful ideas and comments in it - would come around to shitting on infertile couples. Now, we're damned if we adopt internationally and damned if we spend more money than someone else thinks appropriate on IVF. Believe me, your cousins - like me - really wish they didn't have to spend $30k to have children. We don't do it out of vanity. Infertile couples are not necessarily any more able to parent special needs children than healthy couples, and while I admire greatly those who do it and hope that my life path brings me back there someday, it's not an obligation one can reasonably put on others. Those who can are doing a great thing by doing so. Those who can't are doing a disservice to all involved by being pressured into doing so.

I don't have a lot of great insight on international adoptions, but I know that it seems like so difficult a situation that I'm not comfortable treading into it. Knowing that we are infertile and planning a surrogacy, but always in part considering adoption as well, I got a call from a family member close with an agency letting me know when several Haitian orphans were flying into Pittsburgh. The kindness and love in my husband's eyes when he considered that we, who lost a child, could provide a home to a child who lost parents, even if we never 'replaced' (bad word, but deliberately used) those parents was beautiful, meaningful and selfless. For various reasons, we were not able to consider doing so, and rightly did not go down that path at this time.

But, that said, I acknowledge the colonialism and paternalism inherent in the background history of international adoptions, as some here have pointed out and explained. On the other hand, I think we do a disservice to adoptive parents and adopted children if we falsely paint that background onto the intentions of most individual adoptive families. I also agree very, very strongly with comments above that it is not necessarily appropriate to expect a higher level of generosity from infertile couples than from other adults. I hope, fully, that all people exhibit that generosity, however.
posted by bunnycup at 5:06 PM on February 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


As I'm following the story out of Haiti, I stumbled across this quote from the lawyer for the Americans that I haven't seen referenced yet by any of the major news networks:

The Haitian lawyer who represents the 10 Americans portrayed nine of his clients as innocents caught up in a scheme they did not understand. But attorney Edwin Coq did not defend the actions of the group leader, Laura Silsby, though he continued to represent her.

"I'm going to do everything I can to get the nine out. They were naive. They had no idea what was going on and they did not know that they needed official papers to cross the border," Coq said. "But Silsby did."


This, combined with the other items that the Idaho Statesman has pulled together about Silsby raises major flags. Enter the Christian Defense Coalition, which seems determined to place the blame on Obama and the White House unless all of the Americans are released unconditionally (this despite the fact that they would be screaming bloody murder if the rolls were reversed and an expatriate walked free from the States without being investigated.)
posted by jeanmari at 5:50 PM on February 4, 2010


A bad apple does not always spoil the bunch. I am actually an adoptive parent, having gone through the adoption process 5 years ago (our son is now 4).
Last year, 98 percent of U.S. adoptions from Guatemala were "relinquishments": Babies who had never seen the inside of an institution were signed over directly to a private attorney who approved the international adoption -- for a very considerable fee -- without any review by a judge or social service agency
So let me tell you about that lack of review or social service agency in the Guatemalean system, or rather, let me tell you the truth about the process.

Before a family even made it to Guatemala, it has to be qualified to become a foster family. The process requires intensive training classes (called "Home Study") to cover issues relating to parenting, parenting an adopted child, and parenting an adopting child of a different race. During this process, you have to go through the process of being able to dig in to your own reasons for adopting and figure out how to express those feelings in a constructive fashion. You then learn to identify what could be an adoption related issue vs. what is a general parenting issue.

After that, you're taught about revealing the adoption story, or how and when to approach the subject and what parts of it to tell your child at which age. It's a lengthy process (home study generally takes about 6 months to a year). Once you've done that, you go through a lot of other paperwork (fingerprinting, visits by social workers, background checks, criminal record check, financial records check) to become qualified as a foster family in the United States.

If you haven't given up by then, you go through the same kinds of checks from the department of homeland security to become a foster family for a child from a foreign country.

You then get your "referral", a thin medical file about a child that was born a day or two ago and review that with a local doctor in the United States to identify any potential medical issues that could arise in the future. At that point, the child is indeed in foster care and you, as a potential adoptive parent, agree to pay for the foster care during the adoption process in Guatemala. The purpose of foster care is to ensure that the child gets the best possible care in the early months of development. It is generally expected that a child will be in foster care anywhere between 6 months and a year before the adoption is finalized.

Guatemala is a very catholic country where abortion, even in case of rape or incest, is not an option. It is also a very poor country and adoption there is frowned upon by a large segment of the population. The court system does not like to see kids being adopting and tries to do anything it can to keep kids from being adopted. Part of the process includes bringing the birth mother to Guatemala City at least 3 times to have her testify that she is willingly giving her child up for adoption. For many women, this is a very long trip and the whole purpose of those interviews is to discourage them from giving up their child for adoption.

The PGN (Procuradoria General de la Nacion) is the court system through which the adoption goes. Going through PGN is a very lengthy process with all the data you submitted to become a US foster parent being translated into Spanish and evaluated. Your family history, references from friends, neighbors, and co-workers, your financial situation, pictures of your house (or apartment, in our case), of you, your criminal, medical, and financial history are all evaluated by an administration that appears to be attempting to find any possible flaw to reject your adoption application. Many families find themselves caught going back to Guatemala multiple times to get things moving along. The purpose of the PGN process is to ensure that all parties involved are looking out for the best interest of the child. In their view, this means that the birthmother fully realizes that she is giving her child up for adoption (even though she is strongly discouraged from doing so); for the foster family, it means that they fully realize that this will be their child, and thus their responsibility for the rest of their lives.

In our case, we actually were lucky. We only had to do the requisite minimum 2 visits to get our adoption finalized by the Guatemalan government. The first visit is a bit of a strange experience for anyone who hasn't been prepared. You are given a choice of 3 different hotels where you can stay in Guatemala city. Those are appointed as "official" adoption hotels. A few minutes (or hours) after you check-in, the foster mother is on site, with your lawyer and your (hopefully) future baby. After talking about the basic needs of the baby, he or she is handed over to you, only to be picked up again on the day you leave Guatemala. During your time there, however, you are not allowed to leave the hotel ground with the baby, as your adoption is not finalized yet.

So you're a parent, in a hotel, with a baby for the first time in your life. It's a humbling experience and everything you thought you knew from all the preparation you received during home study is just about to go out the window as you try to figure things out. Fortunately for you, you're one of hundreds of families in the hotel going through the same experience and you bond with people there, some of whom have already gone through the experience once, twice, sometimes more (we met a family who was there adopting their 5th child). You figure things out over the time you're there, you bond with the child and then, the most horrific experience, you have to give the child back to the foster mom before you leave.

More months go by as the process unfolds in PGN, and eventually, if everything goes well, you get a pink sheet (the experience among adoptive family is known as "getting pink") that certifies that you are the parents of a Guatemalan child. His/her birth certificate is altered to show that this happened. At this point, though, your child is not an American citizen yet so you now have to go through the process of getting the child a visa for the United States and kick off the naturalization process. Your lawyer gives you 2 thick files, one for the US government and one for your own use (and your child's). In it are all the documents that went through PGN, or roughly 300 pages. The story of the birth mother, her surroundings, the events that led to her deciding to put her child up for adoption, and the process she went through are all there. Having read through my own son's birthmother's file, I cried and I felt that she was one of the strongest person I've ever had the change to be associated with. The review she had to go through and the things she had to reveal throughout this process would make most of us crack and say "forget it". So I feel particularly enraged when people tell me that there is no review by judges and social services in Guatemala.

To be perfectly honest, the process of adoption has, in my mind, made better parents of us. Learning parenting and learning about some of the challenges ahead has helped us many a time in the last few years and I feel that we are more ready to answer the tougher questions a child may raise about adoption. It's also opened our eyes up to some of the underlying social and racial tensions in this country. In many ways, America is a white country that is attempting to be less white but not always succeeding. It's not the big blatant things that are most interesting but the small things people fail to acknowledge.

But the other thing is the greater adoption community and the bonds it creates. Adoption experiences are many and are varied but one thing that always find fascinating is how many people are willing to open up their heart and their friendship to fellow adoptive families and to the countries from which they adopted. A couple of years ago, Guatemala was hit with a number of mudslides that killed people in the thousands. It didn't make the front page news in the US but, in the adoptive community, people rallied in support, raising money and organizing interventions from the United States. Had it not been for the adoptive ties those families have to the people back in Guatemala (from traveling back to meet with foster families and, if your lucky, birth mothers to just staying in touch because it will be important to our children to return as some point or another in the future), the action of thousands of volunteers in the USA would have been focused somewhere else.

So if you ask me, are international adoption helping or hindering, I will have no doubt with my answer: they are helping, not just the kids that are being adopted but also, in a very different way, by establishing better ties between countries.
posted by TNLNYC at 5:53 PM on February 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Well said, bunnycup, and I'm sorry, truly sorry, to have insulted anyone out there dealing with the true pain of infertility with my (admittedly rather rude) comments about my cousins, comments which of course are tied up with all kinds of other family dynamics not necessarily germane to this discussion.

I was trying to think aloud about my own conflicted feelings about what are the right things for me to do to help my family, my neighborhood, my world. I can't be like the Selwin family mentioned above (who sold their house and gave half the proceeds to charity). I also dislike the idea of the Selwins or anyone else telling me that I'm not doing enough because I'm not following their choice on how to use their money. And so, along those lines, I shouldn't be criticizing others (such as my cousins) for making their own choices.

Is there a line, somewhere, so that people far enough away from it are clearly in the right or clearly in the wrong? Is it ever that clean and clear? The altruism of the Selwins lead to a book deal, a book tour, and an appearance on the Today show, so does that move them closer to the line of ambiguity?

Anyways, I've wandered a bit afield from the issue of adoption. Lots of good links in the many comments above, and I've spent a lot of time reading them. My (mostly anecdotal) experience leads me to believe that adoptions in the future, both domestic (US) and international, will be moving away from infants and more towards older children (ages 5+). Some countries already prohibit international adoptions of kids under the age of 5, and it's rumored that when Guatemala reopens, they will do the same. Here in the US, the national register of foster children available for adoption has just five infants (12 months and under), all with moderate to severe medical issues such as cerebral palsy. In comparison, there are over 160 ten-year-olds.

Another thought about adoption. Let's remember that even in the best of cases, adoption is both wondrous and tragic. Wondrous, because a family receives a child they can pour all their love into. Tragic, because that child is only theirs due to an extremely, horrifyingly difficult decision on the part of the birth family, which, whether out of poverty or illness or other sad circumstances, is unable to care for the child and must instead give the child away.
posted by math at 6:44 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damn you, math, for making such a reasonable and kind response. I have no idea what I'm going to do with this torch, tar and feathers now.
posted by bunnycup at 6:53 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and reading TNLNYC's excellent post makes me wonder if perhaps adoption also serves a long-term greater good. With the thousands and thousands of children born in Russia, China, Guatemala, Ethiopia, etc., now raised in the US as adopted kids, what will this mean in twenty or thirty years? We will surely have among them many well-educated, successful, even powerful people with an intense connection to their nation of birth and with the desire to strengthen the ties and connections between their home country and their home country. What would it mean to have a Guatemalan adoptee in the state department, or a Vietnamese adoptee on Capitol Hill? I can only think that this would be a good thing, particularly for desperately poor countries like Guatemala.

Many adoptive parents say that adoption has made them better people. Can one also argue that adoption makes the USA a better country?
posted by math at 6:58 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


TNLNYC, the process varies significantly by state and by the thoroughness of the social worker(s) and agencies involved. Home studies, especially, can be very perfunctory.
posted by kathrineg at 6:58 PM on February 4, 2010


Aw shucks, bunnycup. But don't worry. This is the internet, after all... there's sure to be plenty of need for your tar and feathers. And I'm bound to say something else stupid or insulting at some point (sadly, I usually do), so best to keep that torch lit, just in case.
posted by math at 7:02 PM on February 4, 2010


I have lived my entire life in the United States. I wish I had been adopted by a loving family.
posted by SPrintF at 7:08 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll hold the matches close by, but my ire cools so damn fast!

Part of my sensitivity is because, while my daughter was living, she had brain cancer, giving her special medical needs. Acknowledging that many parents can step up when they have to, even when they think they can't, I just don't think every family is prepared for the challenges that I know come with special medical needs, or that I understand will come with adopting or fostering an older child or one with special emotional, psychological or social needs. My heart is with sick and needy kids before it is with healthy and secure adults, but I don't think pushing families into certain types of parenthood (especially if they've not parented before) is best for the kids. I don't have an easy solution - foster or institutional care is not best for those kids either - but I would support encouraging/incentivizing able families to give more care, and I am against anything that makes infertile families feel pressured to enter into a parenting system they might not be able to handle well. Now, as happened to me, those same parents may think they are having a healthy child and their child may be sick or get injured, but we can't control that. Unfortunately, the fact that the number of children in need outweighs the number of families who can provide, doesn't mean we can just harangue more families into providing (which I am not, on reflection, accusing anyone here of doing, just a general comment).

I think this is such a hard topic, and I wish there were better solutions.
posted by bunnycup at 7:10 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


TNLNYC, the process varies significantly by state and by the thoroughness of the social worker(s) and agencies involved. Home studies, especially, can be very perfunctory.
posted by kathrineg at 6:58 PM on February 4 [+] [!]


I'm sure that home studies can be perfunctory. However, in Illinois with our agency we had three interviews, two sets of fingerprints, two sets of background checks, a physical fitness check for us and our pets, five letters of recommendation, a financial check, four visits to our home that included looking through our closets and drawers, 6 weeks of classes, two more visits at the agency, and the open-ended invitation to 5 different groups of people who could "show up at our house anytime" in the first six months we had our children.

Combine that with changing deadlines for when we will get our daughters and a three month visitation schedule with the foster family and combine that with the fact that they could be taken away at any time....

well, I don't feel I'm being altruistic or doing a good deed by adopting these two girls, but damn it, I don't like it hear people saying the process isn't thorough enough. If it was more thorough then I wouldn't do it.
posted by aetg at 8:28 PM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


well, I don't feel I'm being altruistic or doing a good deed by adopting these two girls, but damn it, I don't like it hear people saying the process isn't thorough enough. If it was more thorough then I wouldn't do it.

Hear, hear. If my partner had known in advance how invasive the home study process would get, he would never have consented to it.
posted by not that girl at 8:32 PM on February 4, 2010


Y'know...It's probably never a good thing to have the words "in a Haitian court" in a sentence about you. Just sayin'.


I'm not too sure about that, Thorzdad, it's all relative...

Haiti isn't in this list of countries. But the US is:

Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Botswana, Chad, China, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States Of America, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe
posted by joz at 9:26 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hague-compliant international adoption is a long, expensive and gruesomely detailed process. There is absolutely nothing cursory about it, as everyone with first-hand experience here attests.
posted by Wolof at 9:27 PM on February 4, 2010


Sorry if it's too obvious:

"Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child."

I have no sympathy for these colonialist scumbags. They still don't even think they did anything wrong, only admitting that "we now know we broke the law". You fucking tried to steal kids out of a country that was just almost wiped completely off the Earth in order to take them home and raise them in the religion of their former slavemasters. Fuck you, die in a fire.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:27 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


My goodness! So this international adoption thing is only open to the kind of people willing to put up with miles of red-tape, and the total and complete invasion of their privacy. This, somehow, proves them more fit as parents?

I apologize most sincerely to those seeking such adoptions, but I can't get past the idea that this is requiring such prospective parents to submit (yes, submit) to an un-American degree of invasion of government into one's home. Go through your drawers? And this proves what, exactly, other than that you are willing to submit to authority to an extreme? And I ask that most seriously.

Mind, I am not in anyway denying the problems associated with child trafficing. Nor would I suggest that parenting classes aren't a great idea. Indeed, some of this should be required for anyone wanting to have a child in the normal way. But most folks don't have a cocoa plantation in their backyard, calling for child slavery to tend to it. The vast majority of would-be adoptive parents are just out to have kids, surely. Or maybe I should say, I think damn few people would be out for anything other than to be, simply, parents. (infants take a lot of money and effort to raise into useful slaves, I should imagine).

And I'm sure the ill-feeling this has all caused is influenced by "homeland security" being involved. How is the security of the "homeland" threatened by international adoption?
posted by Goofyy at 2:54 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hague-compliant international adoption is a long, expensive and gruesomely detailed process.

For us, the prospective adoptive parents, yes. (And, while grueling and frustrating to wait, the invasion of privacy is necessary and important for the safety of the child. Especially if it helps to avoid atrocities like this and this.)

However, the process has a long way to go in being as thorough and as careful on the OTHER end for SOME agencies (not all). The end where an agency interacts with a child and family members. That is where the Hague doesn't go far enough, in my opinion.
posted by jeanmari at 4:24 AM on February 5, 2010


However, the process has a long way to go in being as thorough and as careful on the OTHER end for SOME agencies (not all).

This agency in my case was the Chinese government. I had not a whit of anxiety over their care and thoroughness.
posted by Wolof at 6:14 AM on February 5, 2010


Same for me, Wolof.

And this proves what, exactly, other than that you are willing to submit to authority to an extreme?

It is intended to weed out drunks, addicts, pedophiles, and criminals in general, and to assure that the prospective parents are serious about the whole thing.

In the case of China, the authorities over there do not want any of the adoptions to go bad, since any that did would redound upon them. If the Chinese people had news of the children being abused in America, they would raise the kind of stink that results in executions.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:33 AM on February 5, 2010


I apologize most sincerely to those seeking such adoptions, but I can't get past the idea that this is requiring such prospective parents to submit (yes, submit) to an un-American degree of invasion of government into one's home. Go through your drawers? And this proves what, exactly, other than that you are willing to submit to authority to an extreme? And I ask that most seriously.

In addition to what Kirth Gerson said, it weeds out those who are adopting on a whim, who are misinformed about the process, and who don't take the time to prepare for things and take them seriously. I am not an adoptive parent, but I am infertile so I've looked into it. I think particularly with international adoptions, children are often now a bit older and there are challenges associated with adopting older children. Parents need to be prepared for that. and the psych evaluations that examine their reasons for adopting and their level of emotional health, etc., are helpful toward that.

I said this in a different thread recently, but remember that sometimes adoption terminates the parental rights of one or both birth parents. If the state is going to be involved with even a consented termination of parental rights, it reasonably undertakes to be sure it is doing so appropriately. I know that if my parental rights to a child were to be terminated, again even if I agreed to it, I'd want to know the adoptive parents were safe, sane, loving people. The processes are onerous, probably too onerous for me, but appropriate.

I won't say that I think they never go overboard - I do think it is too much in some ways. But that there should be a process and it should be carefully handled, I agree wholeheartedly.
posted by bunnycup at 6:47 AM on February 5, 2010


This agency in my case was the Chinese government. I had not a whit of anxiety over their care and thoroughness.

Look. I'm adopting internationally. I hear you. AND there needs to be more conversations about what can happen in-country that puts children into the adoption system. There will be adoptions where, no question about it, a child enters the system lawfully and ethically without parents or without parents/extended family members who truly don't want them. AND there have been, and will continue to be, adoptions where either the circumstances about how the child came to be eligible for adoption are questionable (1, 2, 3, 4), or where there ARE parents/extended family members who want this child and see no other options but to surrender them.

Look, we all WANT desperately to believe that the children that we are adopting are unwanted by anyone in their home country when they come to us. It is an easier story. I doesn't present complications. But we HAVE to acknowledge that these stories may be more complicated than we are led to believe, and prepare ourselves for addressing that if/when questions get asked by our children. We have to advocate for more transparency in adoptions, more chain of custody information, EVEN IF IT MEANS less adoptable children, children who are kept with their first families instead of being available for adoption, and longer wait times. Because to do anything less is thinking of ourselves first, not the welfare of the child and their biological families. Not many adoptive families want to hear this or discuss it. But it is part of the adoption story, even if it may not be part of YOUR adoption story.
posted by jeanmari at 7:20 AM on February 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


I haven't adopted internationally, but I have adopted interracially here in the US. I talked about some of the complexities and ambiguities on my blog last fall.
posted by not that girl at 8:41 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Look, we all WANT desperately to believe that the children that we are adopting are unwanted by anyone in their home country when they come to us. It is an easier story. I doesn't present complications.

I don't believe my child was unwanted for a moment. I believe the birth family was not financially or socially in a position to keep her so she was abandoned at the age of one month on a busy intersection. The mother likely waited hidden to see that the child was picked up.

The abandonment was a fact. The rest may be a convenient narrative, based partly on statistics and partly on anecdote. I do, however, feel that it's at least credible and I don't think this is merely the blind rationalisation of desperate will to believe in some fiction of unencumbrance. And yes, my child will know all of this in due course and will be free to seek out her birth parents should she choose to in the future.
posted by Wolof at 5:18 PM on February 5, 2010


The abandonment was a fact.

That may be true. The possibility of it being true is pretty high because, as you know, birth families are forced by adoption laws in China to not leave a trace of identifying information with any child that they must--by poverty or social pressure--give up for adoption. Which carries its own complications for birth mothers and for some adoptees as well.

But recent investigations are demonstrating that not all Chinese babies are abandoned:

The conventional wisdom is that the babies, mostly girls, were abandoned by their parents because of the traditional preference for boys and China’s restrictions on family size. No doubt, that was the case for tens of thousands of the girls.

But some parents are beginning to come forward to tell harrowing stories of babies who were taken away by coercion, fraud or kidnapping — sometimes by government officials who covered their tracks by pretending that the babies had been abandoned.

Parents who say their children were taken complain that officials were motivated by the $3,000 per child that adoptive parents pay orphanages.

“Our children were exported abroad like they were factory products,” said Yang Libing, a migrant worker from Hunan province whose daughter was seized in 2005. He has since learned that she is in the United States.


The LA Times is doing a series of articles on this issue right now (1, 2), but it's not a new topic (3, 4, 5). Article #3 is one of the most poignent ones on this topic, IMO. And that first article makes the exact same point that I think the Hague Convention SHOULD address:

Given that China is still the largest source of adopted babies in the United States, however, it is imperative that U.S. officials demand openness and transparency regarding the background of these children, and that U.S. agencies deal only with proven, reputable orphanages in China. The Chinese must bend over backward to clarify the origins of babies and to create a thorough databank of information to ensure that all babies are offered for adoption voluntarily. No parent should be forced or tricked into relinquishing a child.


I was discussing adoption with a friend and neighbor who has an adopted child from Latin America. She lived in the country with her husband when they adopted their daughter and they have visited since, so they have more access to the process than most North Americans who adopt from there. She explained that when she took her daughter back to the orphanage to visit, the women there told her the real adoption story of her daughter. It was still sad, but it was very different. The baby was not found abandoned as she was originally told. The mother relinquished the little girl. She had problems with the child who was eventually found to have an undiagnosed deafness in one ear and severely reduced hearing in the other when my friends brought her back to the States. It has been several years and the orphanage told her that they didn't know where the mother was, but my friend wonders if they were telling the truth. It is all very murky and it is not a nice and neat story, tied up with a bow. But my friend dutifully tried to find out all that she could, because she knew her daughter would ask someday. Even though some part of her really didn't want to know. It was easier for her not to know. But this was not her story to begin or end. It was her daughter's story, and she was the person who had to help her make sense of that story eventually.

Our children deserve to know. We deserve to know. And birth families deserve to be known. THAT is what the Hague Convention needs to address, I believe. In all its messiness.
posted by jeanmari at 6:45 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


My goodness! So this international adoption thing is only open to the kind of people willing to put up with miles of red-tape, and the total and complete invasion of their privacy. This, somehow, proves them more fit as parents?

I apologize most sincerely to those seeking such adoptions, but I can't get past the idea that this is requiring such prospective parents to submit (yes, submit) to an un-American degree of invasion of government into one's home. Go through your drawers? And this proves what, exactly, other than that you are willing to submit to authority to an extreme? And I ask that most seriously.

posted by Goofyy at 5:54 AM on February 5


No, it's not a question of proving people to be more fit parents but to ensure that the child will get the best care available. Remember that this is no submission as much as it is an agreement. No one is forced to adopt, and no one is forced to adopt internationally. As Americans, we still have the right to choices, don't you think and, in the case of adoptive families, we choose to have some of our privacy temporarily invaded so we can get a chance at adopting. It's a personal choice and it's par for the course.

TNLNYC, the process varies significantly by state and by the thoroughness of the social worker(s) and agencies involved. Home studies, especially, can be very perfunctory.
posted by kathrineg at 6:58 PM on February 4


It's true that the process varies from state to state but, in my experience (and I can only talk about 30 or so states, as I met adoptive families from those), it seems pretty thorough in the states I'm aware of. Sites like guatadopt have more information on this and the experience recounted by members in other states seems to be consistent with the level of scrutiny we underwent for our process.
posted by TNLNYC at 7:11 PM on February 9, 2010


As an update, here is a story that is breaking in the US today (finally!) about Christian World Adoption...an agency with questionable ethics operating in Ethiopia who is accused of recruiting children from healthy families with the line "they will be educated in the States and come back".
posted by jeanmari at 7:37 AM on February 16, 2010


More stories from CAFAC in Canada, Netherlands (1, 2), Celebrate Children Intl in the United States, and the suspension of adoptions between Ethiopia and Australia, Spain.

We need to push for in-country adoption reform now. Any parent with an adopted child does not want to answer the question, "Was I sold?" Let's make sure that there is no question. Unethical adoption agencies hurt ethical efforts at adoption and create stigma for kids.

Concerned parents and other individuals in the U.S. can support ethical adoption reform through Ethica and PEAR.
posted by jeanmari at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2010


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