Summer Adoption Programs

I tend to have a hard time falling asleep at night, having suffered on and off with insomnia for the better part of twenty years. Late at night, I often flip through the channels hoping for some mindless show that will help me drift off to Nod. A few weeks ago, I was watching BET’s re-run of "A Different World," the spin-off of The Cosby Show that takes place at "Hillman College"

In the particular episode I was watching that night, Blues for Nobody’s Child, Freddie befriends a young boy named Alex who turns out to be living in foster care. She follows him to a "meet and greet" event – for those who aren’t familiar with this, it’s where kids and prospective parents interact with the hopes that a "match" will be made. If you think this is like speed dating, you’d be right. In this episode, Freddie is outraged when she sees this boy walking up to families, trying his best to get their attention, only to have the prospective parents fall in love with a younger kid.

Thanks to Rich for bringing this story about a "meet and greet" on steroids to my attention. This news clip brings a few things to mind. First it reminded me of the program in which Irish children are brought to the US for the summer and stay with a host family.

However, the point of this summer vacation is not to give children in a war-torn country a respite but to have them audition for a family.

I am disturbed by the "try out" aspect of this current story. When I worked for the County we often facilitated these kinds of "matching events" where kids and prospective parents interact (let me add as an aside that the kids are almost always teenagers). On the one hand, I have a huge ethical problem with them. As much as you prepare prospective adoptive parents that the focus of these events is to get to know kids beyond a piece of paper and a photograph and that the idea is to get to know who the kinds of kids in foster care are, inevitably there is always a PAP who blurts out to a kid, "Would you like me to adopt you?" And there is always at least one kid who goes up to a PAP and asks, "Would you adopt me?" There is no way to honestly and compassionately prepare these kids for the kind of rejection they are likely to face.

It’s heart-wrenching and yet, there are almost always at least a few adoptions that happen because of these events. Because for many PAP’s, they look at the kid’s profiles and can’t really get a sense of who these kids are. Because some have opened their hearts up to tough, tough kids after spending an afternoon getting to know them. In fact, last week I attended an adoption move-in ceremony for one of my former kids, who met his adoptive father at one of these events.

Ethically, I really struggle with these things – the photographs and descriptions of kids on web sites and flyers; the "matching events," and all the ways in which children are marketed for adoption. One of my youth on my case load told me, after watching his "Thursday’s Child" segment, "I feel like I’m being sold to the highest bidder, like I’m for sale."

How could these kids in these orphanages in Taiwan deal with knowing
that they had spent the summer with a prospective adoptive family only
to find out later the family didn’t want them? Just like one of my kids asked me, as we were driving to one of these events, "I wonder which one of these people will adopt me?" As it turns out, none of them did. And still today, a year later, he waits.

I know the result of these marketing efforts and programs means some children get adopted

— but at what cost to their dignity?

— And what about all the others who put themselves on the line and never get adopted?

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

10 thoughts

  1. I see your point that these kids shouldn’t be shopped out to prospective parents. I spent my freshman year at a women’s college, and the one, and only, dance I went to was awful – it had the feel of a meat market. There’s *got* to be a similar off feeling to these events.
    How could you restructure them to achieve the same ends but with the children as the focus? Maybe something more like a big brother/big sister program so it’s one-on-one rather than prospective parents effectively perusing their options for their favorite?

  2. We met our daughter at a matching picnic. It was wretched. There were maybe three dozen couples there at the start. Then, after the kids arrived, mostly school age, the PAPs started leaving. Only about ten people stayed to be with the kids. I couldn’t take the meet and greet so I just played kickball with some older boys who were not feeling the whole thing either. My husband served in the lunchline and fell in love with a funny little girl who kept getting sandwiches, eating the insides and throwing the bread out, and getting back in line. That was many years ago, many happy, joyous years. If we hadn’t all endured that picnic we never would have found each other. So, I’m glad such events take place, but there has to be a better way. I felt so wretched for all the kids there. The PAPs wouldn’t even stay to play with them. Argh.

  3. I went through a brief phase when I was about 8-9 and I was worried that my parents had picked me out, puppy-pound style, and I was furious at the idea. However, I did ask, and my mom said that they were interviewed and the social worker made the match for them. For some reason, that made me feel better.
    I don’t know how to protect those kids from getting hurt. We need more fostered adults to speak up for them and suggest better ways of doing things.

  4. I agree this is an ethical dilemma. People were commenting earlier on this blog about the merits of prospective adopters of domestic infants creating what some feel are “marketing” materials to sell themselves to birth parents. I think it is ironic and sad that, when the kids who need to be adopted are adolescents, not infants, the situation is flipped: the kids have photos and profiles written up to be shared with prospective adopters.
    Regarding the issue of children being “chosen:” I once saw an adoption/birth announcement that read, “She wasn’t expected, she was selected!” Ugh…

  5. Our caseworkers tried to get us to go to these events several times, but we decided each time we wouldn’t be able to handle it emotionally.
    I also know that workers sometimes use hard-sell tactics to prospective families to get them to show up at these events. I know a woman who was only open to adopting a toddler who was sent to these events even though all the kids would be 10 and up… the workers convinced her she should go just in order to network with other workers.
    Nobody wants or likes these events. They really suck.
    But what’s the alternative? How do workers help older kids and adult families figure out if they belong together?

  6. What a difficult situation. Perhaps if there were a one-way mirror for observation as a first step, then perhaps the prospective parent could “volunteer” to read to the kids or play games with them to “help out”, without it seeming like it were an actual interview. They need to set up guidelines to the parents to make sure they know what -not- to say.

  7. We accidentally met our daughter for the first time. Had we just read about her diagnoses and history we would have run for the hills. But we got to put a personality to the issues. Part of the problem is that the issues and reasons for placement moves are what is highlighted in children’s histories. What is left out is the sound of their infectious laugh, how they LOVE root beer floats, and dancing in the rain and all the lovable stuff that makes them these irresistable human beings. I think videos could be substituted for these events. It gives that one-way mirror effect without anyone seeing each other and saying inappropriate things. But kids DO need to be shown to prospective parents and vice versa (wouldn’t it be great if older kids got to see a video clip of their prospective parents before they met them – stress reducer – I’m sure people will pick that apart, too).
    Yet, there are too many kids who are not being matched with families at ALL. Their workers are working on hotter issues cause that kid is in a safe place. There are only 147 kids listed on the photo exchange in MN the other day. There are 600-700 kids waiting for permanency at any given time that don’t have an identified family. MN state law stipulates that these kids be listed on the SAE, yet it doesn’t happen. The kids that get their workers actually searching for them, and get them on Thursday’s child and photolisted and more are the ones who have advocates. You can pick it apart all you want but at least they are trying to do SOMETHING.

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