Sunday, May 20, 2012

In Defense of International Adoption

In recent months there have been several articles in prominent newspapers, like this one from the Wall Street Journal, that have cast international adoption in a bad light. I've held off blogging about them because I have a lot of ambivalence about this issue and I don't consider myself to be an expert about it by any means. However, I have been a part of the adoption world for long enough and am connected to enough other adoptive families that I can say that I don't think it's fair to paint all of international adoption in a negative light. It's beyond horrific that the birth family profiled in the Wall Street Journal article was lied to about what would happen after their child was adopted. It's indefensible and it never, ever, ever should have occurred. I don't think this was an isolated case, but I also believe there is evidence that the vast majority of adoptions from Ethiopia are not corrupt and are the result of children who legitimately needed new families to raise them.

Paul and I consider our children's adoption stories to be private for them, which is another reason I've held off voicing my own opinions about this issue. It's hard to narrate my sentiments without giving personal examples and this is frustrating because I sense that one-sided articles such as the one linked above cast aspersions on the way we formed our family. Here is what I feel can be said: We independently investigated (this is key, because you can't necessarily trust information given to you by adoption agencies)  all four of our children's stories. We personally traveled to three of their hometowns with an investigator and sent our trusted investigator to the fourth town to reconfirm what we had heard from another independent citizen earlier on about that child's case. All four of our investigations showed that our children genuinely needed new families. One of our children was terribly ill with malaria when s/he came into care. Another was in dire need of a corrective surgery without which s/he would have been disfigured and possibly died. One was so ill that all of the parties involved were shocked to hear that s/he was still alive. Another child was suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. Their stories and need for new families were confirmed by a wide variety of people, including young children who gathered around to participate in the discussions about the cases. These children were probably the most convincing of all to me because I'm pretty sure we could never get Atticus or Norah to falsely relate an exciting history without blabbing out the truth.

Without a doubt, there were many things that could and should have been in place to prevent our children from entering the adoption system - better access to preventative medical care and medical treatment, more tolerance for single mothers, easy access of emergency funds and food to help families stay intact, and a greater ease and acceptance of domestic adoption in Ethiopia would all be a great place to start.  International adoption should always be a last option, with the best option being for children to stay with their birth families.  The fact remains, however, that those other options were no longer on the table for any of our kids. They didn't have family or neighbors who could take care of them. When they were brought to the orphanages, they were already at Plan Z.

This is the room where one of our children spent several months of his/her life:

There are more than a dozen children currently living in this orphanage who are considered by the government to be unadoptable and they will therefore remain at the orphanage until they turn fifteen and then be turned out into the adult world to fend for themselves. The nannies and director we met at this facility seemed nurturing and loving towards all the children, but I hardly think that this is really the best option for any child.

Another argument by adoption foes has been that if international adoption disappeared the communities would begin to absorb the orphaned children themselves. One of the police stations we visited during our investigations had done exactly that. There was a ten-year-old boy living there who had been orphaned and is now living at the police station, sleeping under a desk, and cleaning the courtyard and offices to earn his keep. The police officers seemed very maternal and appeared to genuinely care for this young man, but I'm not convinced that it's exactly a fairy tale ending for him.

We visited five orphanages in Ethiopia and all of them were nearly at capacity with children who need families. We photographed the intake log books of these facilities and they all feature a handful of children whose final destination is listed as "deceased". It's undeniable that there truly is a need for someone to provide loving homes for the children who find themselves in these waiting rooms of last resort.

In recent years, the Ethiopian courts and the U.S. Embassy have taken many steps to prevent corruption in adoption. Relinquishing birth families are now required to attend a court date in Addis Ababa in which adoption is explained to them and they are asked specifically if they understand that adoption is irreversible, they won't receive any financial compensation, and they likely will never see their children again. This is done before the adoption is ratified by the Ethiopian government and there have been several cases in the past year in which adoptions in process were halted and reversed when birth family members willing to parent the children were found. In cases of abandonments, fliers with photographs of abandoned children along with contact information for those seeking information about them is posted outside of police stations in the towns where children were found. Neighbors and those who found the children are informed of where the children will be residing in case birth family returns wanting to reclaim their children. At one orphanage we visited, the director confirmed that he had seen this system work on occasion and birth parents took their children back to raise. The U.S. Embassy is scrutinizing cases carefully and demanding more information when facts don't line up. It's agonizing for potential adoptive parents to go through this additional screening, but a necessary and reassuring step to insuring that completed adoptions are ethical and are the result of a true need for new families for the children concerned.

Adoption is not a solution to the societal problems that plague any country, including the United States. It doesn't fix the root causes that lead families to feel they can't raise the children born to them. For the children trapped in the morass that already exists, however, it's a vital way to avoid being raised in an institution that is incapable of substituting for a loving family. This adoption attorney and this adoptive parent provide even better insight into this matter if you're interested in reading more.


Julie said...

I agree. Thanks for writing.

Serendipity 7 said...

Powerfully expressed...I couldn't agree more. Thank you for sharing this.

aja said...

well written. we are just beginning our adoption journey and through our research we have come across some pretty negative articles. most recently, to my surprise, i have come across some articles/blog entries from adoptive moms who are pretty much saying that international adoption isn't very ethical, it's not the best thing for the child, etc. now that their kids are home they seem to have changed their views and i find that to be a bit frustrating. of course, things need to be done ethically, but the bottom line is these orphaned kids need loving parents. their govt. is broken, the system is broken. i guess we need to keep the bigger picture in mind.

kn said...

Thank you so much for writing this. I've been at a loss for what to write for so long.

Our experiences were much what yours were and I'm at a loss to see how some people would advocate completely shutting down the country.

Your writing is succinct and well written. I appreciate it.

Kristin said...

What a great post! Thank you.

Do you know the blog I've learned a lot about the ethics of international adoption (and many other things!) from it. Your perspective remind me a lot of hers.