International adoption under siege?

After a day at the 2010 Adoption Policy Conference.

I’m not an adoption expert, but I know more today than I did yesterday. Spend a day in a room full of legal experts, advocates and activists devoted to promoting and facilitating international adoption, and you’re bound to learn something. But these days you’re also bound to get a feeling that the whole enterprise is under siege.

What had looked like a tidal wave of adoptions into the U.S. just a few years ago now looks like a roller coaster whose ride is coming to an end:

One of the most articulate versions of the siege story came in the talk by Elizabeth Bartholet from Harvard Law School, which mostly drew from this recent paper:

International adoption is under siege, with the number of children placed dropping in each of the last several years, and many countries imposing severe new restrictions. Key forces mounting the attack claim the child human rights mantle, arguing that such adoption denies heritage rights and often involves abusive practices. Many nations assert rights to hold on to the children born within their borders, and others support these demands citing subsidiarity principles. But children’s most basic human rights are to grow up in the families that will often be found only through international adoption. These rights should trump any conflicting state sovereignty claims.

The forces of siege were not well represented at today’s conference, which revolved around the crisis in Haiti. Many advocates have been frustrated with UNICEF in particular, which sounded the alarm about the potential for abuse and trafficking in the aftermath of the earthquake. To the critics’ minds, this just follows UNICEF’s historically negative attitude toward international adoption. UNICEF’s statement on the practice in general lists international adoption as “one of a range of care options,” not as good as being raised in their families of origin but better than staying in an orphanage. In practice, however, UNICEF seems to treat international adoption as a failure of the domestic system, rather than as a necessary response to the needs of parentless children.

On the other hand, one of the heroes in the room was Whitney Reitz, the representative from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services who was credited with engineering the “humanitarian parole” of more 900 Haitian children after the earthquake. These were children whose adoptions were already approved and matched to American parents before the earthquake, but whose final paperwork had not been completed. Reitz and her colleagues, with explicit support from above in the Obama administration, jury-rigged a system to approve their entry into the U.S., which required a signature from Haiti’s prime minister in each case. That system is imperfect — for example, they are not U.S. citizens yet, as orphan adoptees normally are upon arrival — but considering the building with their files in it collapsed, that is to be expected.

On the other hand, I wasn’t sure I was happy to hear Reitz say, “The idea was to help the kids. And if we overlooked Hague, I don’t think I’m going to apologize.” That’s a reference to the Hague Adoption Convention, which the U.S. ratified, and the principles of which the U.S. “strongly supports.” (To clarify this, since Haiti is not a signatory to the Convention, its rules don’t apply to adoptions to the U.S.) Of course, everyone was against corruption and abuse anywhere in the adoption process, under the oft-repeated triple mandate: “ethical, legal, and transparent.”

Anyway, I can’t resolve the battle of competing rights — the right to a family, your original family, a loving home, a secure permanent setting, etc. Everyone seems to agree explicitly that “there is no right to adopt, only the right of the child to be adopted,” but the reality is that the demand generated by adoptive parents is one of the driving forces in this arena — and that includes their money. (As Bartholet points out, of course, that also means international adoption is a way of helping children without government spending.)

Ironically, although many advocates for children are adoptive parents, I am starting to get the feeling that if policy is going to be true to that premise — children’s rights, not adoptive parents’ rights — then the adoptive parents shouldn’t be in the room when the policy is written. In other words, the humanitarian impulse, at least ideally, could be the foundation of public policy — but we can’t expect it to be the motivation for adoptive parents any more than it is for birth parents.


Filed under In the news

8 responses to “International adoption under siege?

  1. Pingback: Adoption Services Reviews |

  2. Sandy

    Adopting parents who cannot see corruption and how prevelant it is, and adoption agencies who profit from adoption (for-profit or non-profit) should NOT be in the room when policy is written. Churches that provide adoption services should also be removed from the equation.

    Corruption is rampant in international adoption, individuals like David Smolin (albeit an adoptive parent) who have the ability to see corruption and refuse to bury their heads in the sand should be in the room. Individuals who make up the organization called PEAR is another example of who should be in the room.

    Being adopted is not always the best solution whether the adoptee is intercountry or domestic.


  3. Andrea

    I referred back to the Bartholet article you cited and it’s really hard to garner anything worthwhile because of its bias against UNICEF and pro-international adoption stance (even when there are some issues–which Bartholet makes every attempt to dismiss as either exaggerated or of low prevalence. Knowing pretty well the situation in Guatemala I disagree with her assessment there, for sure, and know of contradictory evidence to the brain studies she cites.) I’m getting my PhD in another field but I can still tell it’s not a very rigorous article–the sole purpose/research of the article seems to be to support her belief that int’l adoption is the best thing for kids.

    My understanding from all of this is that for Bartholet (and others who perceive reform as a “threat”) is that individual rights (those of the adoptive parent, and their perspective of the rights of the adopted child) trump any sort of collective rights and that the U.S./European standard for wellbeing trumps all others. If you’ve ever visited adoptive parent blogs this is shouted loud and clear (“even if our baby was stolen, they’d have a better life here in the U.S.” “we need our child home”, etc.). But precious little time and space is devoted to proposing solutions for the systemic problems in place (poverty, maternal education, health care, corruption, lack of political incidence, governmental responsitivity, global inequality). Bartholet dismisses this in a sentence when she says that these issues need attention but they won’t take care of kids NOW. Well I don’t see her or any of the other international adoption advocacy groups doing anything to address those problems and very little to acknowledge the role of int’l adoption in exacerbating/causing some of those problems either (and I don’t think that charity is an acceptable antidote for addressing those problems). I also take issue with the idea that private spending is somehow preferable to government spending–isn’t the idea that governments should be able to care for/respond to the needs of their citizens?


  4. Pingback: Russia’s institutionalized children « Family Inequality

  5. Sandy

    Interesting post on the Russian Orphanages and from what I have read Russia has been making changes through pilot programs and models based on other countries social services (not that other countries are perfect), perhaps not fast enough but it appears the intent is there and they are working on it.

    NYT has another article on lawsuit filed by AP regarding the information they received from their agency re Russian Adoptee.

    In my opinion, as long as adoption is big business with a good or high profit margin with no end on the ‘demand’ side of the equation, coupled with lack of oversight – there will not be meaningful resolutions or changes.


  6. Pingback: Citizenship: Because I said so « Family Inequality

  7. Pingback: Philip N. Cohen: Citizenship: Because I Said So |

  8. Pingback: Evangelicals, adoption, and adoption corruption « Family Inequality

Comments welcome (may be moderated)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s