Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why I Think International Adoptions are a Bad Idea

This morning I was once again going through my blog logs, and I noticed that a site called Rally Ethics for Orphans & At-Risk Minors had linked to me.  It turns out that I'm not only on this site's blog roll, but my series on the costs of special-needs adoption was also mentioned in one of their posts.

I'm flattered, and I'd like to give this blog a shout-out, because I think they have some valuable things to say.  Now it's important to point out that I do not agree with everything this blogger says but there is one thing upon which we absolutely agree:

The adoption system, both domestic and international, is desperately broken.

Ever since I started blogging back in 2006 on my now-defunct blog, Navigating the Maze, I haven't been a big fan of International adoption.  Now I won't go so far as to condemn people who have done it, but it's just that I've always felt that children within our own country deserve priority.

So this morning, when I was trying to think of something to write about, and discovered the Rally site, I thought that I should share why I think International adoptions are a bad idea.

No Guarantees - As with the domestic adoption system, there are no guarantees when one adopts from overseas.  However, when one adopts from a foreign country (which usually includes an assortment of legal, cultural and linguistic barriers) there is even less assurance that a child has been treated well.  Although some countries are known for their caring orphanages, others are not, which makes the likelihood of adopting a mentally and physically healthy child even smaller.

Family and Medical History Less Available - In the United States, most children who come into the foster care system have some type of history.  There are case files, interviews with parents, and medical records that are provided.  When one adopts from overseas, the family and medical history may be incomplete or non-existent.  If one doesn't speak or read a child's language, important medical information may be missed, even if it is provided, due to poor or incomplete translations.  A domestic adoption (even if mostly closed) offers some possibility for continued exchange of important medical and family information.

Expense/No Financial Support - Adopting from overseas is expensive.  Parenting children is expensive, and parenting special-needs children is even more so.  Many children, especially older or special-needs kids, require a lot of help, which falls upon the adoptive family to provide.  If a family adopts from the domestic foster care system, financial help can be available.  Many special-needs children are automatically covered by some form of adoption assistance, which often includes state-sponsored medical insurance.  Although coverage under this system isn't perfect, it's better than nothing.  Although many adoptive families go into the process at a time when they are financially secure, that can change.  Having a little extra help, even if it is from the government, can sometimes be a life-saver.

Loss - All adoptions create loss, but International ones create even bigger losses.  Although a child might be disconnected from his or her family and culture with a domestic adoption, at least some things remain the same.  The child remains in his or her country, and a possibility of contact with birth family members still exists.  With an International adoption, that is rare.  Children lose not only their birth family, their culture, their religion, and their language, they lose everything that was once familiar to them.  Not only do they lose everything, the possibility of finding their birth families later is very small.

Even when families are reunited, the end result isn't always happy.  Sometimes linguistic and cultural divides make it impossible for the adult child to make a happy homecoming.  If you haven't seen it, check out the movie Daughter from Danang.  It's an absolutely wrenching tale of a half-American Vietnamese child who was sent to the United States to be adopted.  Her adoption wasn't happy, and her reunion with her birth family was not, either.

Charity Begins at Home - Although I absolutely agree that we should help those less fortunate, I think the reality is that charity must begin at home.  Especially during these difficult times where our country is in financial turmoil, we need to take care of our own people first.  Yes, it's laudable to help children in need overseas, but we need to help our own kids first.  We have hundreds of thousands of children trapped in our domestic foster care system, and those are the kids who need help first.  Although one can certainly argue that many of those children shouldn't be there at all, the ones who are legitimately there need our help, first.

Loss of Resources - On an individual level, perhaps adopting a single child from overseas makes no difference to the foreign land.  But, when these adoptions are multiplied by the thousands, the country loses a valuable resource -- people.  These children are the country's future, and when they are sent overseas, their skills, talents and brains are lost forever.

And, certainly in the case of China, adoption has contributed to a huge gender imbalance.  Although it's not fair to blame adoption for the problem, as China's one child policy and preference for boys created it, certainly adoption has contributed to the problem.  After all, the majority of the children adopted from China are girls, and it provided a convenient way for Chinese mothers to dispose of their unwanted children.

Child Trafficking - The last, and probably most serious, problem with overseas adoption is that there's no way to be certain the child is legally free.  Guatemala, for example, has been investigated for this sort of corruption.  If you adopt a child from another country, how can you be absolutely sure that he really is an orphan, and wasn't stolen from his mother?

You can't.

If you can't be sure that a child is truly an orphan, even if he's currently housed in abysmal conditions, are you doing the right thing by "saving" him?  I'm not so sure.  As long as he remains in his home country, there is a chance he will be found by his biological parents.  If he is sent to the United States, that chance all but disappears.

And finally, how do we know that these children are really "better off" being ripped from their roots?  If a child is loved by his mother, even if he lives in appalling conditions, isn't that better than being raised by strangers?


  1. I can understand your view points. However, as a parent of a child adopted from India at 18 months I know I did what was "right" for me.

    First, my child was found abandoned, put in an orphanage and suffered a neo-natal neck wound before the age of 6 months. She was a newborn when found.

    I adopted her from an orphanage where there was never enough to eat, wild cats prowling, and poverty. But I know the workers loved my child and did the best they could with what they had.

    Maybe my reasons for adopting international don't "really" matter- but as a single mother I felt my options in the U.S. were minimal.

    I did not want to adopt from foster care- I wanted a younger child (under 3) and knew that there would be a chance in foster care to have a child placed with me that would be taken and put back in a bad situation.

    I was not being "chosen" by birth mothers because I was single. The adoption agency I used had a wonderful program for minority children w/minimal cost, but I was told that my chances were lower of every being chosen or of having a bmom not care if a child was placed with me.

    Being an inner-city teacher for 6 years, I didn't feel capable of raising a black male (I am white) and had black friends tell me that I couldn't properly raise a black male in this society. This may or may not be true- but I knew I needed a strong male role model for a son and didn't have any close relatives and very few men of color for a son to look up to.

    Anyway- after years of research and soul searching I knew I wanted to adopt- always knew it would be a child of color.... And India was where I wanted to adopt from.

    I don't regret what I did- how could I with my wonderful kid? I just wish there were more Indians in my area, more adopted kids for us to connect with.... I am now dealing with other issues and am searching for resources to help my child out.

    Be that as it may- I know that living in a family who loves her is much better than being raised in an orphanage where she would be married off as soon as possible with no education or left on the streets to make a living however she could when she turns 17.

    Would I feel the same if she had been stolen from her family? I don't know. I do know that my one big regret is that I have no family history. I would love to be able to find her b-family for her... to let them know she's okay, she's loved. To answer some of her questions. That may never happen but we'll work on it together when we can.

  2. First I wanted to point out that our kids adopted from the US foster care system aren't technically orphans either. Most of them have biological parents. Yes, they've had parental rights terminated, but a true orphan IMO is one whose parents and other family members are all dead.

    Did you read the story of the mom who spent years looking for her stolen daughter and finding her in the US? Specifically the MSN article
    is very troubling. It states that the agency that facilitated the adoption knew the child was stolen (because the woman who brought the child to the agency to put her up for adoption failed the DNA test showing she was NOT the mom even though she claimed to be) and the agency didn't do anything! They didn't call the police. They didn't try to find the bio mom. Instead they did the paperwork to declare the child an orphan. My question is ... why didn't the agency call the police on the woman who failed the DNA test as her mother? Furthermore, now that they have this woman's DNA ... why aren't they looking for her? To arrest her and whoever else is involved in the child theft/trafficking ring? But I keep coming back to the agency ... THEY are responsible for this too. They accepted money for the child (from the US parents). They failed to look for her bio mother when they found out the child was stolen. They may even be part of the child trafficking ring.

    Read on to the part where the lawyer who is quoted as he talks about his adopted kids from India. He found out that they were stolen. He makes up for it by letting the bio parents do visits. OMG! Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I envision Indian parents who can't afford to fly to the US to see their kids that were STOLEN and are now being raised by an affluent white lawyer who specializes in adoption ETHICS (HA!). But maybe the Indian parents are affluent too. Or maybe the US lawyer flies the kids to India to visit their bio parents. Maybe.

    Either way, it makes a good case against adopting internationally due to the chance that the kids might not be orphans at all (note: most US foster kids aren't technically orphans either).

    But then I read news articles complete with pictures of starving children in places like Somolia and I see that as being a potential case for adopting internationally. But if we can't even get food in to these places, I'm guessing the kids aren't coming out of these places either. Even if they were, the loss of culture is still an issue.

    But on that note, one could use this same argument regarding the US and our child welfare system. CPS can remove a child from his/her home if they suspect abuse or neglect (and we all know that the system is flawed and sometimes even corrupt so we have to be realistic in knowing that some children may be removed when they shouldn't be) this is essentially removing the child from their "culture". We often see this as a positive though because it breaks the cycle of abuse or dysfunction or drug addiction or poverty or whatever (in this regard adopting internationally might have this same effect - breaking the cycle of poverty, of hunger, of being raped by rebels, etc).

    I don't really think it's all right/wrong or black/white, it's more complicated than that.

  3. Another negative is health care. Private health insurance is NOT required to cover adopted children. Group health through an employer is, but if you buy it privately, they can deny your newly adopted child. I have a friend who adopted a 6 yo with severe special needs from Russia, she did not know the laws regarding medical coverage, and now she has a child with major special needs and has no health insurance for the child, nor any way of getting any. I have no idea what they are going to do to pay for treatment.

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