New report on the impact of the internet on adoption

Last week, lost amidst the horror of Friday's events, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released a report, "Untangling the web: The internet's transformative impact on adoption." 

Using-Computer

I first heard about the report via this NPR story that came across my newsfeed. I gave the article my typical 5 raspberries on a scale of 1-5 for it's framing and ignoring adoptees and birth/first parents, which is typical since MPR simply can't seem to figure out that anyone other than adoptive parents matter in this transaction we call adoption. In addition, this particular story comes perilously close to sounding like baby-buying. 

The New York Times, which I often give at least 5 1/2 raspberries to for its poor framing and coverage of adoptees surprisingly began its story discussing how adoptees and birth/first families have used the internet to search and connect and find support (I wasn't surprised after learning who wrote the story, however, as I have spoken with reporter Ron Nixon and have found him to be incredibly more nuanced about adoption than most reporters). 

The Adoption Institute report covers both – how the internet and social media and social networks affect the pre-adoption process as well as the life-long impacts on adoptees and birth/first families that most people don't even consider in the emotional first days of an adoption placement. 

As the report states, "the internet is having a profound, permanent impact on modern adoption." It has had many beneficial effects on my life both personally and professionally, and yet I also see the many ways that the internet and use of social media and social networking sites have also harmed people.

Before I was blogging, I found online discussion groups and that is where I found my virtual community. Even though I grew up in a state that claims to have the highest per capita rate of Korean adoptees, growing up I didn't know they existed. Internet groups were my way of dipping my toes in the water, reaching out to meet others and learn that my experiences were similar to others.

And then I discovered blogs and adoptee bloggers and for a while there was a whole group of us. Sadly most of the others have quit. The blogs were also where I found adoptive parents, domestic adoptees, foster alum and birth/first parents. Blogs were an amazing way for me to get to know the other parts of the adoption constellation. 

As a county worker I used social media sites and the internet to look for family members, extended relatives and other former important people for the youth on my case load. The internet was a place where youth's profiles were sometimes uploaded as a tool for recruitment. The youth also could create Foster Club accounts and connect with others in foster care. 

There tends to be a lot of concern about the ethics of the internet in both pre-adoption recruitment and marketing, as well as in the post-adoption search and reunion areas. I agree that both of these areas are ripe for unethical and illegal activities – however I believe strongly that the internet is a tool, not a cause- and that the internet and social media sites are merely one more place where people behave, in both positive and negative ways. The instantaneous nature of the internet makes such behavior visible on a larger scale, to a larger number of people and harder to erase (which is itself practically impossible these days). 

Another issue I have is when adoptive parents over-share about their children, in particular the really negative stuff. There is one blog which I will not link to that several people over the past few months have told me to check out, where the adoptive parent gives great detail about her daughter's mental illness. While I fully support the intent to educate and find support, I think we need to remember that when talking about someone else's life, particularly a child's, we are adding vulnerability to an already vulnerable person. When a parent lays out their child's mental health problems, medical history, problem behaviors, it is out there for everyone. I think it's particularly hypocritical to be criticizing young people for sharing TMI on the internet when I see adoptive parents as being quite egregious in that department myself. Adoptive parents are not the only ones that share too much on the internet – adoption workers sometimes do as well. Agencies need to be thoughtful about what information about children is shared on the internet. Public profiles garner the page hits and inquiries, but may be violating the child's right to privacy. Just because a child is in foster care through no fault of their own is no reason to broadcast his or her information on the internet.

A few minor grievances: in the section about the internet's impact on information, support and affiliation for adoptees, the report perpetuates that adoptees are "young" by stating "[b]ecause they are by definition the youngest members of the adoption community…" (p.22). This is irritating since I am in my mid-forties and don't think adopted persons my age and older need to continue to be lumped together with children, youth and young adults – particularly since I am the same age or older as many adoptive parents and/or birth/first parents – so why are adopted persons always described as the youngest member of the triad? We are not children. Several of my adoptee friends are grandparents!

 I agree with the report's findings that key stakeholders need to come together to work on how best to safeguard children and families from unethical and illegal adoption practices and to craft a best-practices standard guide. However, the report lists stakeholders as "key organizations and experts in the fields of child welfare, foster care and adoption" (p. 53).  Last time I checked, adopted persons, first/birth parents and adoptive parents were both stakeholders and experts too and any best practice guide should also include those voices. 

For the whole report, see "Untangling the Web: The Internet's Transformative Impact on Adoption" on the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute web page. You can also read the executive summary. 

 

ETA: 1:54 pm. I just learned today that Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, will be on NPR's Talk of the Nation discussing the report. I will link to it when it becomes available. 

4:27 pm. The link to the discussion is now available here. You can also listen to it here below.

MPR Talk of the Nation – Internet and Adoption

Adoptees of Color Roundtable

Position statement on Haiti

This statement reflects the position of an international community of
adoptees of color who wish to pose a critical intervention in the
discourse and actions affecting the child victims of the recent
earthquake in Haiti. We are domestic and international adoptees with
many years of research and both personal and professional experience in
adoption studies and activism. We are a community of scholars,
activists, professors, artists, lawyers, social workers and health care
workers who speak with the knowledge that North Americans and Europeans
are lining up to adopt the “orphaned children” of the Haitian
earthquake, and who feel compelled to voice our opinion about what it
means to be “saved” or “rescued” through adoption.

To read the rest, click here for the Adoptees of Color Roundtable blog

Friday links

This week's links include two stories of Korean adoptees who received unexpected information about their birth families, and two stories of international adoption corruption.

1. This story is a good example of how we cannot always assume that children are voluntarily relinquished for adoption. This is not the first time I have heard that a woman leaves her child with the father and either the father or the father's family member places the child for adoption. In fact, I personally know two Korean adoptees where this is what happened.

From the Harrison Times: A long journey to the past.


Willie Whitescarver — once known as “Jo Kyung-Nam” — is flying
back to his native South Korea this month for the first time since he
left in 1957 as a 2-year-old. He’s going to meet his birth mother, whom
he hasn’t seen in 52 years.

The story of how the little Korean boy ended up in an orphanage
is a complicated one. According to Choi Chun-Hak’s letter, she was
married to a man who had been married twice before and had three sons.
After their marriage and the birth of their son, now known as Willie,
Choi’s husband’s second wife came back to live with her husband’s
family. Choi, who “wanted to become a worker for God,” was
uncomfortable with the situation, and left Willie in the care of his
father’s family while she went to school to study theology. At some
point, without Choi’s knowledge or permission, Willie was taken to an
orphanage, and Choi was not able to locate him and lost track of her
little son for 52 years.

2. This story is one that I have really been trying to keep my eyes on. A friend of mine who blogs at Uniting Distant Stars has been trying for a very long time now to get people's attention to the corruption involved at WACSN. Heather once volunteered at WACSN and was good friends with the founder, Maria Luyken, until Heather questioned what she saw as unethical and illegal adoption practices happening.

From Front Page Africa: Freedom at Last: 37 Liberian Kids Survive Illegal Adoption; Trafficking Denied

 
Members of the Liberian National Police take children freed from the West African Support Network Thursday.


Thirty-seven
Liberian children who have been kept at the West African Children
Support Network (WACSN), an adoption agency for several months without
access to their parents in violation to a Liberian government
moratorium on adoption have finally gained freedom through the efforts
of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Save the Children, Don
Bosco Homes, the United Nations Children Fund and other local and
international agencies as they are now in the care of Don Bosco Homes
after been released Thursday.

The
Children have been placed in the temporary care of Don Bosco Homes, a
local children rehabilitation center for care until they are reunited
with their families.

3. From the Irish Times comes this story about the arrest of Vietnamese officials for fraudulent adoptions.

Six Vietnamese health officials and charity workers in the northern
province of Nam Dinh have been sentenced to jail for arranging over 300
fraudulent adoptions.

While the vast majority of
adoptions from Vietnam are legitimate, there have been question marks
over some unscrupulous operators after the US embassy in Hanoi last
year accused the Vietnamese authorities of failing to properly control
the country’s adoption system, and said it had found evidence of
corruption, fraud and baby-selling.

The officials were found to have filed false papers to allow as many as
266 babies from poor families to be adopted, many by parents in France,
Italy and the US.

4. Last week I wrote about "motherland" tours. In this link, reporter Jenny Hurwitz and her sister, both Korean adoptees, go to Korea on one of these tours and experiences the heartache of looking at their adoption files.

From the Times-Picayune: Reporter returns to orphanage, learns truth about birth family.

5. Finnish study says internationally adopted youth feel "at home" in Finland.

From the Helsinki Times.
Personally, I would like to see more information about this study. What
age were the participants? I'm actually quite skeptical.

Something
else I see often in studies of international adoption in European
countries is this common theme of how international adoptees are seen
as being "better" than immigrants. I find that piece quite disturbing.
There is an article in the Laura Briggs/Diana Marre anthology titled "We do not have immigrant children in this school, we just have children adopted abroad."

Children who are adopted to Finland from abroad grow up identifying
themselves as Finnish, according to new research. For adoptees whose
appearance sets them apart from native Finns, growing up different can
be a trying experience. The study also found that, in general, Finnish
attitudes towards international adoptees are more positive than towards
immigrants.

“In group interviews, some adopted youths even said that their
cohorts considered being adopted as a cool thing,” says researcher
Heidi Ruohio, whose study on the experiences of international adoptees
in Finland was published by the Family Federation in August. She also
conducted in-depth interviews with adult adoptees who have grown up in
Finnish families.

        full article is here.

Quote from a book I’m currently reading

EthicsofTransracialAdoption[1]

"Transracial adoption helps individual children by placing them in permanent adoptive homes, but it does nothing to repair the web of racial injustice that makes so many black children available for adoption in the first place."

— Hawley Fogg-Davis, The Ethics of Transracial Adoption.

ETA: Although this quote is about domestic transracial adoption of black children in the U.S., it could easily be changed to:


"Transracial/transnational adoption helps individual children by placing them in
permanent adoptive homes, but it does nothing to repair the web of
racial/social/political/government injustice that makes so many children available for
adoption in the first place."

Is international adoption protecting the child or a breach of human rights?

In this Conducive article, author Roelie Post, who spent years uncovering the fraud embedded in Romanian adoptions chronicled in her book Romania For Export Only, The Untold Story Of The Romanian ‘Orphans’ offers her perspective. From the article:

Author
Roelie Post wants to distance herself from pro and anti-adoption labels
and direct the discussion back to the heart of the matter: whether
intercountry adoption is a child protection measure, if children have
rights in their own country, and if intercountry adoption is ultimately
a breach of such rights? Post ends with the crucial question: can
intercountry adoption be legislated without it leading to a
demand-driven child market?
Romanian banned intercountry adoptions, Post will describe the experience and the consequences for other countries.  

You can read the article in full here.

The price we all pay

A new piece from Conducive by Kevin Minh. The Price We All Pay: Human Trafficking in International Adoption.

Adoption is already steeped in the legacy of loss for the child and his family. Add to this the recent revelations of the selling of babies for adoption in countries like Vietnam and India, and one needs only to reconsider who exactly is benefiting from adoption. Kevin Minh Allen, a Vietnamese adoptee, explores ways to effectively address this element of human trafficking. These include, but are not limited to, having the U.S. government sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and diverting funds away from the adoption industry and into worthwhile child welfare programs in their home countries.

Noteworthy, is that the U.S. State Department does not consider the procurement of a child for adoption through either coercion or other forms of intimidation, or the adopting out of a child for profit, to be human trafficking.

Read the rest of the article here.

Coercing women to give up children for adoption in the name of Christianity

From The Nation comes Shotgun Adoption, an article by Kathryn Joyce about how Christian-run crisis pregnancy centers use deceptive tactics to convince pregnant women to place their child for adoption.

Reminiscent of the "baby scoop" era documented by Ann Fessler in her excellent book, The Girls Who Went Away, what is frightening about this article is that it is happening now, not "in the past."

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), the nonprofit pregnancy-testing
facilities set up by antiabortion groups to dissuade women from having
abortions, have become fixtures of the antiabortion landscape,
buttressed by an estimated $60 million in federal abstinence and
marriage-promotion funds. The National Abortion Federation estimates
that as many as 4,000 CPCs operate in the United States, often using
deceptive tactics like posing as abortion providers and showing women
graphic antiabortion films. While there is growing awareness of how CPCs
hinder abortion access, the centers have a broader agenda that is less
well known: they seek not only to induce women to "choose life" but to
choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves, as in
Bethany's case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies.
Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies
demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their
children.

I thought this part of the article was especially telling:

The cultural shift that had followed World War II switched the emphasis
of adoption from finding homes for needy infants to finding children for
childless couples. Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh, founder of the Baby Scoop
Era Research Initiative, has compiled sociological studies from the era,
including Clark Vincent's speculation in his 1961 book
Unmarried
Mothers that "if the demand for adoptable babies continues to exceed
the supply…it is quite possible that, in the near future, unwed
mothers will be 'punished' by having their children taken from them
right after birth"–under the guise of protecting the "best interests of
the child."

and as for supporting women? Only if they give up their child. According to Joyce,

Most homes are religiously affiliated, and almost all promote adoption.
Many, like Christian Homes and Family Services (CHFS), reserve their
beds for women planning adoption. Others keep only a fraction for women
choosing to parent. Most homes seamlessly blend their advertised crisis
pregnancy counseling with domestic and international adoption services,
and oppose unmarried parenthood as against "God's plan for the family."

My adoptive parents were (and still are) big fans of James Dobson. It's no surprise to me that he and his organization, Focus on the Family, have advocated strongly for adoption.

In recent years, the antiabortion push for adoption has been taken up as
a broader evangelical cause. In 2007 Focus on the Family hosted an
Evangelical Orphan Care and Adoption Summit in Colorado Springs. Ryan
Dobson, the adopted son of Focus founder James Dobson, has campaigned on
behalf of CHFS and Unruh's Alpha Center. Last year 600 church and
ministry leaders gathered in Florida to promote adoption through the
Christian Alliance for Orphans. And a recent book in the idiosyncratic
genre of prolife fiction, The River Nile, exalted a clinic that
tricked abortion-seeking women into adoption instead.

Finally, I thought this was also chilling.

Such enthusiasm for Christians to adopt en masse begins to seem like a
demand in need of greater supply, and this is how critics of current
practices describe it: as an industry that coercively separates willing
biological parents from their offspring, artificially producing
"orphans" for Christian parents to adopt, rather than helping birth
parents care for wanted children.

These are just small excerpts, please read the entire article. I think it's worth noting that we often think of unethical and corrupt agencies are a thing of the past or that coercing women to relinquish babies only happens in "foreign" countries. This article is a reminder to all of us that we should look at what's happening in our own back yards. The article in full is here.

Guatemalan women demand justice for children stolen for adoption

I have been given permission to post an email I was sent via Marie from Stephen Osborn, who along with his wife Shyrel have been working in Guatemala with their organization, Love the Child/Amor del Niño. For more information, check out Stephen's blog.

As long as adoptive parents turn a blind eye to this, then they are condoning these practices.

Please
consider sharing this wherever you can.  The good name of
adoptions is being ruined because the "Christian" adoptions agencies
and fearful adoptive parents will not distance themselves from those
who would perpetrate and profit from serious crimes.   While
the U.S. Adoptions community debates the rights of the adoptive parents
to privacy, the rest of the world lumps all Americans together, and
believes we condone stealing babies from their mothers.

I just left my wife, Shyrel, in
the middle of Guatemala city, and drove away with more than a lump in my throat,
past prostitutes and pimps, and drunks, and all sorts of night people..  She is sleeping in a small tent in front of
the Supreme Court of Guatemala.   She and
a small number of women have engaged in what the press is calling a hunger
strike.  The participants say it is
fasting and praying.   They are seeking
justice.  They are so vulnerable there in
that tent tonight.   The “Palace of
Justice” towering above them is locked tight, with a high tech security
system.  They look so helpless during the
day too.  Among the hustle and bustle of
the high court litigants and supplicants, they maintain a humble stance, and a
broken hearted vigil.  In other words, she
is practicing true religion.  But it is
out of step with the Christian world in Guatemala.    There are no Pastors here, no church
leaders.   Just my wife and these other
women.  Three of them are mothers whose
children were stolen.   They have not eaten since Tuesday, and will
not until the judges respond to their request for a review of the cases of
their stolen children.

 

Shyrel’s determination to do this
has moved our theological discussions from theory to reality.  Once again, I find myself trying to wrap my
head around her motives.  Frustration at
a failed system?  Yes.  Sympathy for the completely helpless
women?  Yes.  But I think in the end, she knows it is what
Jesus would have her do.   Love your neighbor
as yourself.  What does love look like
when your neighbor’s child was stolen? 
Maybe it looks like empathy.  
Jesus put himself in our shoes, didn’t he?

What would you do if someone stole your child?   What would you do if you knew where your stolen
child was?   As a Red Blooded American
male who believes in truth, justice, and the American way, I would take up my
constitutionally assured arms, and go resolve the issue.  If that might not be the best tactic, then I
would go to my police, the FBI, or Interpol if needed, and they would for sure
hear my case, or my congressman and Senator would be all over them.  I would have my child back.   When something bad happens to us who are privileged,
we have resources.   We will get justice.

Now, try to imagine you are a poor Kachikel woman in Guatemala.   The last thing you remember is that you were
offered a cool drink on a hot day by a woman who offered to help you walk from
your bus stop to the bus stop that would take you to a relative’s house.  Seeing your Bible, she had remarked that she
too was a Christian.   Now you realize she
drugged you, and stole your child.   When
you went to the police station, they laughed at you.  The Justice Ministry suspected you were one
of those women who sold your baby, and now want to complain when the lawyers
tricked you out of what was promised.  
Spanish is not your first language, so your attempts to explain your
predicament are difficult.  You are
humiliated rather than helped by the authorities.  Then you learn that your child was sold to
people in another country.  You identify
her from a series of pictures presented to you. 
But still.  No one will do
anything.   Justice is a word that has no meaning in your
world.

Now; imagine you are a follower of Jesus. 
You have promised, that in exchange for salvation of your soul, you will
obey Him, and live by His rules.   You
hear that there might be a number of poor women who have been robbed of their
children.  You hear the testimony of this
mother.  You wince as you fear that their
children may have been put into the frenzied market that is the Guatemalan
adoption world.   But you know people who
have adopted from Guatemala.  And isn’t
adoption a good thing?  You heard for
years that there were rumors of “corruption”. 
You relegated those rumors, if true, to be simply that of government
officials accepting bribes.  You didn’t
ask why there would be a need for bribes if everything was above board.   Let it lie, you say.  Focus on the good.  Ignore the bad.

There are way too many Christians in the United States, that pre-eminent
country, who heard rumors about Guatemalan adoptions, but went ahead, and got
that baby.  Now, with at least 3 cases
proven of stolen children having been processed for adoption, these helpless,
hopeless, vulnerable women make them feel very uncomfortable.   This may be only the tip of a sordid ice
berg.  So they do not want justice.  They want it all to go away.

In Matthew 25, Jesus relegates to outer darkness those who ignored the needs
of the least of thes.  He doesn’t say
they actively engaged in anything wrong. 
I think He would approve of the saying that for evil to prevail, all
that is required is that good men do nothing. 
I don’t think, as I read Jesus, that He would approve of Good Men who do
nothing.  I don’t think He would buy the
excuse that it would be dangerous to do something.  I also don’t think He will accept our excuse
that the situation was too universal, or too complex, or too distant.  Or too inconvenient.

As we think about the incarnation of the Word of God, and the fact that
Jesus bids us follow him in ministering to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives,
those who are bound, and mourn, what do we really think He is asking us to
do?   Praise harder? Sing louder?   Protect ourselves with more alarm systems in
our church buildings and wish this world wasn’t so desperately evil, but so
glad we will one day be out of here in the hereafter.   According to Amos, God thinks otherwise.

Amos 5:21-24 (Contemporary English Version)

21I, the LORD, hate and despise your religious celebrations
and your times of worship. 22I won't accept your offerings or animal
sacrifices–not even your very best. 23No more of your noisy songs!
I won't listen when you play your harps. 24But let justice
and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry.

Radio show on international adoption

From Chicago Public Radio. Just the synopsis suggests to me that I already know the direction of this piece, even without hearing it yet.


Madonna with adoptive son David from Malawi.

Adoption
offers the opportunity for something wonderful. Children who need good
homes find loving parents. The process of an international adoption
multiplies the challenges in achieving the goal of a happy family.
Today, on Worldview we’ll talk about efforts to make international adoptions a safe and healthy process for every one involved.

 

International
adoptions seem fairly common. Everyone knows someone who has done it.
Then there are the constant stories in media about celebrities involved
in international adoption. Madonna’s recently rejected adoption in Malawi is just the latest chapter and controversy. A judge rejected her adoption in part because he was worried in it would encourage trafficking.

To hear the story, click here.

New York Times: Ethicist’s take on the morality of adoption

NYT Blogger Randy Cohen's take on morality and adoption. Cohen writes,

As long as there are orphans, the ethical question is not whether it
is O.K. to adopt but how to do it. Jacqueline Novogratz, the head of
the Acumen Fund, a non-profit
that promotes anti-poverty efforts throughout the world, says:
“Reputable adoption agencies know where children come from. Some
children are abandoned and some are placed in orphanages when their
families can’t afford to raise them. Finding those children good,
stable, healthy homes could change their lives immeasurably. Going
through the right agencies is key.”

Sadly, such scrupulousness, while necessary, may not matter much in
the end. If Malawi (or Russia or Ethiopia or Guatemala) threw open its
doors to everyone on earth who wished to adopt — no rules, no red tape,
no embarrassing Madonna-indulgences — it would barely diminish the
heart-rending parade of homeless or orphaned children stretching to the
horizon. Most estimates put their number above 100 million worldwide.
And who will adopt those who are not adorable infants — a traumatized
11-year-old Pakistani street kid or a 5-year-old Nigerian with AIDS or,
for that matter, a teenager shunted around New York’s foster care
system?

You can read the whole opinion piece here. At the end, Cohen writes, "In considering international adoption from an ethical perspective, I hope I’ve suggested fresh ways of seeing it." Actually, I don't think there is anything fresh about what Cohen's perspective. He brings up issues that many people have been considering for a while now. Guess he hasn't heard of Ethica, PEAR, Fleas Biting or the many others listed in my side links under Ethics, Advocacy and Support. And trotting out the same "experts" that are in every article, like Jane Aronson, doesn't exactly convince me that he's looking outside the box. Still, there are some points he makes that I agree with, other points I disagree with, but like everyone else, he is jumping in on the Madonna bandwagon. Just like the rest of us.