Sunday, November 09, 2008

Anonymous Judgment of All of Us IA Parents - Part 3

After a church break and leaf raking party, let's get back to the task at hand, shall we? We will begin where we left off:

"Westerners have been sold the myth of a world orphan crisis. We are told that millions of children are waiting for their “forever families” to rescue them from lives of abandonment and abuse. But many of the infants and toddlers being adopted by Western parents today are not orphans at all. Yes, hundreds of thousands of children around the world do need loving homes. But more often than not, the neediest children are sick, disabled, traumatized, or older than 5. They are not the healthy babies that, quite understandably, most Westerners hope to adopt. There are simply not enough healthy, adoptable infants to meet Western demand—and there’s too much Western money in search of children. As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes. "

Let's look at these bold yet somewhat contradictory statements.."Westerners have been sold the myth of a world orphan crisis. We are told that millions of children are waiting for their 'forever families'..." and then 2 sentences later we read "Yes, hundreds of thousands of children around the world do need loving homes.". Hmmm...I don't know about you, but is that double speak? How can we be sold a "myth" if it is admitted in the article itself that there is truth to this "myth"?

As we read further it becomes apparent that the author's true concern is that Western parents want infants, not older children who are available in far larger numbers than the "healthy, adoptable infants" she refers to. It is very true that orphanages throughout the world are stacked ceiling high with older or special needs children, and it is also true that many adoptive parents are looking for a healthy infant for many valid reasons. I do agree as well that this supply and demand circumstance causes an imbalance and that Ms. Graff's statement that "As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes.".

While I know many would argue with this statement, I happen to find it to be unequivocally true. Having called no less than 7 agencies myself within the past 2 years to locate one willing to work with us on an adoption of older children which would require some legwork prior to the completion of the adoption, it became quite clear within 2 minutes of the phone call that all but the one we ultimately went with were immediately disinterested once they realized this was not going to be a quick, easy infant "in and out" adoption. The unwillingness to even speak with us about our particular and unique circumstance spoke volumes to me about how upside down the adoption arena can be, and that many (note I do NOT say "all") agencies do view it as Ms. Graff finding children for Western homes. I will also say that the agency who heard my plea, Pearl S. Buck Foundation, is a long time advocate for children via international adoption and much like another long time well respected agency,Holt, it was quickly obvious to me that they were in it to help children find homes, not the other way around.

But there is one thing missing from Ms. Graff's attempt to present international infant adoption in a less than flattering light. Having adopted both infants as well as an older special needs child with 2 older children on the way, I feel as qualified to speak to this as any other parent in our shoes. I ask only this rhetorical question, what do you think happens to those infant children...healthy or special needs...who do not get adopted in their "prime" infant months? They become those older children languishing in orphanages! The healthier infants soon become "special needs" due to lack of stimulation and one on one contact, and believe me that can happen sooner than anyone would dare think.

However, that said, I have a hard time disagreeing with the fact that there IS too much Western money in search of children. Sadly, greed is a powerful motivator and when large sums of money are on the table for a healthy infant, there always have been and always will be people willing to go to great lengths to profit from the infertility of one person and the unwanted pregnancy of another.

But whose fault is this really? Is it the fault of the adoptive parent, that they are willing to pay exorbitant sums of money for a child? Is it their fault when they ask over and over where "country fees" go to and there is no real answer other than "Orphanage support"? Here is where I walk a slippery slope, I know in stating what we ALL have felt at one time or another but hesitate to ever say very openly. We fear that if we question too loudly, we will end up empty handed.

So, what do we do? Do we simply not adopt children internationally because fees can not always be justified? Or because we are uncertain where a child came from? If we were looking for ironclad evidence, I personally wouldn't have any of our own children home...nor would most adoptive parents. You see, it is not we who created the "culture of secrecy" surrounding adoptions, both domestically and internationally. If there was more transparency, more willingness on the part of birth mothers to provide more information upon relinquishment, then there would be far more traceable evidence and fewer instances of corruption. Unfortunately, many birth mothers are living in societies where the shame and stigma of relinquishment or unwed parenthood cause them to look for a way to extricate themselves from their circumstance with as little attention as possible.

"Since the mid-1990s, the number of international adoptions each year has nearly doubled, from 22,200 in 1995 to just under 40,000 in 2006. At its peak, in 2004, more than 45,000 children from developing countries were adopted by foreigners. Americans bring home more of these children than any other nationality—more than half the global total in recent years. Where do these babies come from? As international adoptions have flourished, so has evidence that babies in many countries are being systematically bought, coerced, and stolen away from their birth families. Nearly half the 40 countries listed by the U.S. State Department as the top sources for international adoption over the past 15 years—places such as Belarus, Brazil, Ethiopia, Honduras, Peru, and Romania—have at least temporarily halted adoptions or been prevented from sending children to the United States because of serious concerns about corruption and kidnapping. And yet when a country is closed due to corruption, many adoption agencies simply transfer their clients’ hopes to the next “hot” country. That country abruptly experiences a spike in infants and toddlers adopted overseas—until it too is forced to shut its doors. "

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that I do agree that there is corruption in international adoption. There, I said it. There is no way any thinking adoptive parent would dare say otherwise, and we all have read the widely publicized reports about "baby selling" from certain countries, which I think I speak for just about every adoptive parent when I say none of us wants to "buy a baby" in the sense as is being conveyed in this article. We realize there are problems with the systems and the lack of regulation within various countries leads to further abuses and to victimization of all parties involved...the birth parents, the child as well as the adoptive parent. But lets look at the hard facts of the above statements painted with such a broad, and yet misleading stroke.

Ms Graff writes: "Nearly half the 40 countries listed by the U.S. State Department as the top sources for international adoption over the past 15 years—places such as Belarus, Brazil, Ethiopia, Honduras, Peru, and Romania—have at least temporarily halted adoptions or been prevented from sending children to the United States because of serious concerns about corruption and kidnapping."

Does anyone see something amiss here? As I read the list of these countries used as her prime examples for this argument, I see the LOWEST placing countries in terms of numbers. Where is Russia? Where is China? Where is Kazakhstan? Where is Korea? Since our author is using statistics over the past 15 years to make her claim, let's see where the numbers really sit. If we take 2002 there were 21,100 children adopted internationally by US citizens. Following is the adoption statistics for the countries listed by Ms. Graff

Belarus: 163
Brazil: 26
Ethiopia: 102
Honduras: 6
Peru: 21
Romania: 169

Now let's look at the top 5 sending countries during that period not mentioned by Ms. Graff during that same time frame (2002) as having issues regarding kidnapping or corruption complaints:

China: 6062
Russia: 4904
Guatemala: 2361
South Korea: 1713
Kazakhstan: 801

As I add up the figures, the countries listed by her as problematic I see that she is talking about 487 adoptions in 2002 from concerned countries versus 14,615 adoptions from countries that were not listed in her statement as being involved in accusations of kidnapping and corruption. While I hesitate to include Guatemala in the figures as it is indeed a country which in later years was found to have corruption issues, it is obvious that the vast majority of international adoptions are from countries where the adoption practices are relatively stable, where sadly there is a surplus of orphaned children residing mostly within institutional care settings, and where the process runs smoothly and adoptive parents can rest in the certainty that they are not adopting a child who was "stolen" or who was not truly "orphaned". While I doubt any of the three of our sons are orphans in the truest definition, they were unwanted, neglected, unloved and in desperate need of a loving home...I also lay my head on my pillow at night with no doubts at all that I am parenting a child that was stolen. Kenny's 8 years in institutional care with not a single visitor (with photos for proof over his childhood) as well as his own words attest to that, and I rest easy knowing full well that both Matthew and Joshua would have had the same fate had they not been adopted as infants.

"And yet when a country is closed due to corruption, many adoption agencies simply transfer their clients’ hopes to the next “hot” country."

True, true...some countries DO become the next "hot" country, the one where perhaps an adoptive family can move in quickly and take advantage of lower fees due to the lack of experience of an agency, or can perhaps receive the referral of a healthier child of their choice before other parents "discover" it and jump on the bandwagon. Quite frankly, if this hadn't happened to us with Kyrgyzstan, our family would be finished with 2 children as we did not have the funds to go back to Kazakhstan, doors kept closing in other countries, and when we first learned about Kyrgyzstan and jumped on it. There is nothing wrong with this, regardless of what the tone of this statement implies. We were one of the much earlier families adopting from Kazakhstan as well when we brought Matthew home, with a much shorter travel time and much lower fees compared with today. Could we have found ourselves subject to a corrupt system which over time has proven to be relatively safe and predictable (as far as IA adoptions go)? Sure!

Here is where the IA parent research comes into play. The truth is, that any well read adoptive parent can get a pretty decent idea of countries to stay away from...rumors fly on the internet and just as one can save themselves the heartache of using a dishonest agency one can avoid going to a less well established country if that is ones choice. If you adopt from Russia, China, Korea, Kazakhstan, or Kyrgyzstan you can pretty much rest assured your child was not stolen. Not surprisingly, in the case of Russia, China and Korea these are the countries with the longest history and the highest number of adopted children coming into the US. In the case of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan they follow closely with the Russian system due to their roots and again, once can rest fairly easy about children adopted from there. Can kidnapping happen even in these countries? Sure it can...but the odds are far, far lower despite the outcry of this article of the supply and demand creating this circumstance.

I guess, as in all things, it is Buyer Beware...even in country selection. It was the comment I made in my published letter to the editor at Reader's Digest when speaking about corrupt adoption agencies. It took only about 5 minutes of online research to determine that one of the agencies which was the subject of their article was not one we wanted to risk working with. If one does their research about countries by participating in online country specific discussion groups it also doesn't take long to get a feel for how things are going, what problems are arising, etc. What it DOES take is a willingness to walk away if you feel things are not on the "up and up", it takes an honest heart to move beyond your own desires for what appears to be a simple adoption and recognize that it might actually be YOU who IS taking advantage of a less than ethical situation and you have the choice to turn a blind eye or not. Of course, few adoptive parents would ever admit that they might do that...and therein lies the problem. Pretend "ignorance" is not an excuse, relying solely on your agency for ANYTHING...information, etc. is laziness on the part of the adoptive parent. We have been blessed to work with agencies who have quickly and willingly answered any and all questions we approached them with, including rumors from the internet about country issues, etc. There was no hesitance to address anything, and there was no attempt to tell us we should not look to outside sources for information. One of the first signs you have an unethical agency, in my opinion, is that they insist you remain uninvolved in online forums and chats, that you trust ONLY what you hear from them and they get angry if you broach a subject with them. Silence allows corruption, and that has been proven over and over again over the past 10 years to me as I have followed the news stories and recognized agencies who appear within them.

Well, I am done for the brain is fried as I consider all of this from so many different angles and carefully read all of your comments. I hope this is proving to be an interesting joint discussion for all of you, and I hope that everyone goes back and reads the well thought out comments posted in response to what I am writing and what Ms. Graff wrote.

I will talk to you all tomorrow!


rachel said...

Cindy, I feel as though you represnt the new age of adoptive parents...those of us who not only are open with our children, but choose to not disregard the realities of adoption and issues that come out of it. I know this is a hard subject and I commend you for taking it on.

I also agree about corruption in some agencies (and definitely in some countries). If an agency has a gag order, such as Commonwealth did, where families cannot share negative information, run, run, run. They may not be brokering children, but something is obviously not right.

I do not believe my children were stolen. There is too much evidence to the contrary. But, I do believe it happens at times and I would love for all of us, APs and those against IA, to somehow work together to stop it without just abandoning the children left in orphanages. This can only be accomplished by individuals, not governments. Let's face it, most just do not care. Find homes for the rest of the children (ACTUAL homes, not group homes just so they can stay in their own country...that does no good) and help those who want to lovingly parent their children do so.

When someone asks, "What gives you the right to call yourself her Mommy?" the best answer is, "Because she has the right to have one."

Anna said...

I had an additional reason for adopting internationally that I have never seen in print, and only occasionally talked about with others -- I wanted, and like having, an international family.

I have travelled widely, speak (poorly) 2 or 3 other languages, and my date ratio is about 6/1 international to US guys. After making a shortlist of countries allowing single mother adoption, I chose the one I was the most interested in and would be happy being connected with for the rest of my life. I have embraced the culture of my children's birth and now have friends from that county, and am pretty well versed in its history, culture and politics. My international adoption has, by design, opened my life and my learning beyond just parenthood.

For how many other families does this factor into their adoption decisions?

Lori said...

Cindy--you are completely accurate in that it is the responsibility of the adoptive parent to be as sure as they can about all aspects of their child's beginnings. As well, as you stated, while it may be hard to turn or walk away, it is my faith in God and my desire to do His will that would allow me to do so if need be. In reading all of this, and commenting, I have had to really think about what I would do if I thought a referral may not be on the up and up...and as you know, my heart's desire as a little one. The bottom line is that there is no thinking...for as much as I want a child, the thought that the birth mother of that child also wanted him or her--the thought of her crying for her child as much as I cry for the one I have yet to have is unbearable. I doubt any pre-adoptive mom could allow another mother to grieve that way, and that knowledge, as well as my faith, is what I would lean on with any situation.

Jamie said...

Thank you Cindy for these honest and unapologetic digests. You are boldly addressing topics many of us shy away from. This has raised some really interesting points, and addressed many of the fears our family had when we entered this process. I do not know a single adoptive parent who would ever dream of stealing a child away from a parent who wanted to raise it. But you are so right that we need to be sure we do our homework and do everything possible to make sure we are not contributing to corruption in any way because, yes, there are many case studies that can prove the system is far from perfect. But for an anonymous commenter to say that because of these cases of corruption, we should not reach out and help children who are genuinely in need...I find that hard to digest. The fact is, no child- old or young, perfect health or special needs- deserves to languish in an orphanage unwanted and unloved.

Anonymous said...

I will never forget the faces of the children (babies and toddlers) that I saw in the orphanage, those “left behind,” and I will do everything I can do promote the cause of adoption. To prevent problems mentioned in this article, use well established agencies with good reputations and adopt from countries with good protections in place (as Cindy mentioned).

Regarding this article – just because somebody writes something and posts in on the internet, doesn’t make it all true. And just because there have been cases of child stealing, doesn’t mean we should let the rest of the kids rot in orphanages.

If I remember correctly, there were about 200 children, aged birth to 4 years old, in the orphanage we adopted from. That is one facility in one city in one country. There IS great need for loving homes for these children.

The country we adopted from has many protections in place, including a 6 month waiting period for an abandoned child to be eligible for adoption. Again, if I remember correctly (it has been a few years!), this waiting period is to make sure the birth parents have an opportunity to reclaim their child, or to enable a citizen from that country to adopt the child. If birth parents visit or can be found during that 6 month waiting period, then the child is not available for adoption unless the parents relinquish their rights. There is also a required court appearance to make sure the adoptive parents are sincere in their desire to care for the child.

So to all you waiting parents out there: because there have been devastating problems in some countries and with some agencies, don’t give up. Do your homework, research carefully, ask for references, check for accreditation. It can be a long road, but one worth every step, for you and for your child. May this verse be a comfort to you, as it was to us, on our journey to the blessing of adoption: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Peggy in Virginia

Anonymous said...

"Rot in an Orphanage" Listen Peggy, that is not up to you to decide the future of a child that is NOT YOURS. For too long American Adoption agencies thought they knew what was best for other countries children.
FYI, many of those children in group homes aka orphanages are children of people who are simply too poor to provide for them. Many of the parents have NOT relinquished their rights to the children.
If Americans really wanted to help instead of buying er adopting a child. They should get off their pants and start more International Homes (which some of us have) it is a hell of a lot cheaper than forking over $39,000+ for a questionable adoption.
Do you really think for one minute International Adopition agencies want to improve the poverty status of these families? Hell NO that would take away their stock of available children.
So the next time an Agency claims to have a Humanitarian program, you might want to check for free their IRS 990 tax returns on Some of these agencies ...including now closed Commonwealth grossed over $8 million a year! While you are at it check out the salaries of the CEOs, Executive Directors, etc.,
"Non-profit" don't think so they are in it for the money.
Very few agencies are humanitarian in nature.
Countries closing, Adoption agencies closing for a reason.
Now where are the current hot spots? Ghana, Uganda, Haiti, Kenya, Ethiopia,
Everytime a country gets too hot they are off to the next "new country" Watch the migration of these agencies the last 8 years:
Romania, Russia, China, Ukraine and other Eastern European Countries---whoops Russia is pissed off they think Americans have attitudes lets dump our real sick children on up? China, Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia. Whooops Guatemala and Vietnam now Closed. Ukraine tightens up except for sickly children.
Next......Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Krygzstan and other "stans" whoops the Hague is watching because the adoptions are not clean and we are getting more sickly kids. Lets hop over to Ghana, Uganda, Peru,
poor African countries. The more poor the more advantage to finding healthy kids for a price.
Adoption agencies are closing down for a reason! I am Russian and happened to know that Americans are not well liked. Most of these countries would much rather have Europeans adopt their kids.

Anonymous said...

Here is a point on which I think we all agree: we want to do what is best for the children. No one wants abuses in the system, and many are willing to work to improve the situation. That is why so many countries have strict rules, and that is better for everyone. Everyone who has adopted has gone through months of paperwork, from fingerprinting, to opening our medical and financial records, and even having our driving records checked. We go through all this knowing that this is part of the system that protects the children.

If you are able to visit orphanages, and look into the faces of the waiting children, you might see a different perspective. If you are not able to travel, then I would encourage you to seek out and talk to people who have visited orphanages and know the children there. Some children may be in an orphanage temporarily for economic reasons, that is a much different situation from those who have been permanently abandoned and may grow up never knowing the love and care of a mother or father. That is an emotional scarring that goes far beyond any economic depravation. You also could talk to children who were adopted about their experiences. Again, I emphasize, no one condones abuses, but it is wrong to deny children the opportunity for a home, and for love, because some people have abused the system.

Cindy has been generous enough to open up her blog to this discussion. I want to encourage everyone to use kind words, even when we disagree, and to be respectful of each other.

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

Let us all remember that everyone who takes time to be part of this discussion does so because we care about the well-being of the children.

Peggy in Virginia

Rachel said...

Cindy, I wanted to leave a comment as I posted a link to your blog. Thank you so much for your thoughtful posts on this article. I think you have a lot to add and I'd also suggest looking at the discussion on AAR, too.

I think you have a lot of really good points. One thing I would say is that the older children in orphanages have not necessarily languished there since infancy - it really depends on the country, and whether that country had an open infant program or not. There is certainly evidence for PAPs moving from one "hot" country to the next, though, and many will warn about various new countries with the closure of VN and Guatemala (and the tightening of regulations in China).

One thing I could not agree more with you on: PAPs have the obligation to do their research, to hire an ethical agency and call around. No one should be able to claim naivete in this process.

Thanks so much for opening your blog to this discussion.

Rachel (a different one from above!)

Lori said...

Anonymous (the one with the potty mouth)--

As a VERY proud American, I have no belief whatsoever that I know what is right for 'other countries' children' nor have I ever claimed to. I simply, totally and wholeheartedly believe that I have been given a heart to be a mother--and a desire to do what is right for ANY child of any origin. In fact, I do s every a TEACHER.

As for children in orphanages being the products of parents unable to afford or care for them, and who don't relinquish rights--GUESS WHAT? Those kids are NOT ADOPTABLE. I know of several wonderful families (two internationally, for the record) who are not only committed to children in Kazakhstan emotionally, but financially--even though they are not legally able to adopt them because one great uncle twice removed won't relinquish rights...or something to that effect. Those "parents" have promised to bring these children to America, should that be their choice, and legally adopt, care for and educate--when they are of age. Until then, they remain as loved as they can be from a world away. They ALSO do what they can for the families of these children. I am one little woman in my great big country--I imagine many others know of similar stories.

Yes, agencies claiming to be humanitarian and are not EXIST. Duh. That's why it is imperative that when adopting, one do as much research and exploration (including GuideStar, which very easily gave me my agency's tax info and I am just fine with) as one can. That is ALL anyone can do. I'd like to see you back your statements up with statistics, though, because your usage of the words 'very few' sounds very vague and not supportive of your argument.

As for most countries preferring Europeans adopt their children, though you make your statement based on your "Russian-ness," again, I'd love to see some numbers. If there is one thing America DOES seem to be known for by Europeans (though not European by birth or citizenship, I still have many European relatives, family members living there, father spent career in CIA working with Russians in various circumstances, spent significant amounts of time in various places, etc...)it is our perpetual desire to do things bigger, bolder, better. Yes, some see this as America's gluttony and ostentatious lack of 'class,' I guess, but however it is thought, America consistently proves itself to be a place where there is more--opportunity, advantage, possibility...You said most of these countries would prefer Europeans to adopt their children? I'd beg to differ that parents of these children would prefer whatever they felt was the best for their children--be it America, Europe, whatever...

I'm sad you say you feel so strongly about the welfare of children, yet so easily attack people who also feel very strongly about children--and who have been nothing but civil and open-minded in discussion--with language and attitude. That's another one of those things that is allowed in America--aren't we so very lucky?

Anonymous said...

I do wonder what those judgemental people listed on your comments are doing with their money and their time-I pray they walk their talk and are investing all they can into helping the families of all these children. Anyone heard of the whole Hague thing? They are trying to clean up the whole adoption thing. An orphan is a child who has no family to care for them. If each church in this world would help support or adopt but one orphan each, the orphanages would no longer have to exist. So much easier to throw insults than to dive in and help.