International adoption is often seen as a mutually beneficial relationship between children in need of a home and financially stable adults wanting to raise a child. But it is also big-money business. In line with neoliberalism, or the hollowing out of government services, many adopted children are born to single mothers who are offered little to no resources to care for their children. International adoption agencies have stepped into this gap by offering homes, and making a profit in the process. The transformation of adoption into a global business creates a further incentive not to assist mothers, who may turn to adoption out of desperation, not desire. Adoptee activists are working to shed light on this issue. Focusing particularly on South Korea, author and co-founder of Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) Jane Jeong Trenka argues the process should be re-engineered to put the money and fateful decisions back where they belong: with the mothers and their children. TRACK is now working with the Korean government to get the the voices of birth parents and Korean adoptees heard in South Korean adoption law revisions.
One of the arguments I have been trying to make for several years as a social worker who has worked for adoption agencies is one that Jane points out as well – that adoption is a band-aid and that social workers, adoption agencies and society should be working to eliminate the pre-existing conditions that lead to adoption as a service. Jane writes,
The adoption agencies would like to portray themselves as the leaders of the movement to end the monetary incentive behind transnational adoption. They would like to be perceived as the people who originally came up with the wonderful idea to preserve families instead of separating them. But, let’s look at this logically. The ideal situation, which everyone seems to pay lip service to, is for children to stay with their own families in their own countries. Therefore, the adoption agencies should be working to put themselves out of business. The agencies say that they are doing wonderful work in “sending countries” to support families, but the reality is that the adoptions themselves fund this work. In other words, supporting vulnerable families is directly at odds with their main source of revenue. Adoption agencies exist because of adoption, not in spite of it. Their work to support families will therefore always be half-hearted. This contradiction exists on the organizational level.
On an individual level, the very jobs that adoption agency workers keep, with which they support their own children, are dependent on keeping the existing order intact. In other words, if the adoption agencies stop doing adoptions, a lot of people are going to have to get job retraining. On the other hand, people who do not have any business ties to the adoption industry have no vested interest in continuing adoptions or constantly renewing their customer base.
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