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?

“An Adoption Nightmare”

From ABC News, an article about Fleas Biting blog author Desiree Smolin and her family

An Adoption Nightmare
– An American Couple Adopted Indian Sisters, Only to Learn They’d Been Stolen

One of the things I’m always looking for are the sound-bites from "experts" and how these statements continue the typical rhetoric and justification for the continuation of the status quo. For example, this following bit from Adam Pertman, Executive Director for the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

"The truth is there are problems with the international adoption system. But American parents are often saving children from poverty, pestilence and war and we should not let the bad guys taint the good work many agencies are doing," he said. "If there is one child kidnapped and adopted, that is one too many. I can’t speak about every adoption and bad stuff does occur, but the majority are above board."

"Parents need to be careful. They need to be good consumers — not consumers of children, but of services. Too many people get caught up in getting a child that they miss the red flags," he said.

“Adoptees say local adoption system not free from irregularities “

An interesting article about Korean adoption. With the recent news about Vietnam, some adoptees in South Korea respond.

Adoptees say local adoption system not free from irregularities

I have often wondered about the numbers of adoptees who find birth family when they search. This is just from 2005. I am so curious about the total number of reunited adoptees.

According to government statistics, 13,068 overseas adoptees made
efforts to locate their biological families in 2005, but only 316 —
about 2 percent — were reunited.
Some of the foreign adoptees claim that they found out in the process
of searching for their biological parents that their adoption documents
were switched.

Molly Holt, head of South Korea’s largest adoption agency Holt
Children’s Services, admitted last week that some child placement
agencies in the past used fraudulent documents in order to get children
adopted overseas.

   "Though people would sign their parents were dead, but they were
not. We didn’t know that," she said. "Some of their adoptees had their
names changed."

Read the whole article here.

ABC News: “China’s Lost Children”

This article from ABC is another reason why we MUST look at the possibility of trafficking of children for international adoption.

From the article:

The 2007 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons report says that
domestic trafficking "remains the most significant problem in China."
It estimates that there are up to 20,000 victims each year, but because
this is an underground practice, it is virtually impossible to track.
Some estimates put the number of children kidnapped or sold on the
black market closer to 70,000. The Chinese government says the number
is more like 10,000.

Some of the kidnapped children are forced into work, girls
often into the sex trade. Others are purchased by families in China who
desperately want a child, usually a boy to carry on the family name.
But there is also a growing concern that some make their way overseas,
with unsuspecting foreign adoptive parents who don’t realize that some
orphanages have baby-buying programs, offering cash for children.

Another quote (from an orphanage spokesperson):

"We buy babies from migrant workers and farmers from poor provinces.
& After the business is done, these people disappear and never come
back," she said. She told us the cash-for-babies practice is legal but,
according to Chinese law, it is not. It is against the law to buy or
sell a child.

Another orphanage worker tells the reporter they pay $300 for a baby girl. Later on the director of this orphanage denies that it buys babies.

And finally this quote talks about the impact foreign adoption is having on families in China who wish to adopt. I take special note of this because some of these concerns were also issues in South Korea for families who want to adopt. Any time agencies receive more money to send their children overseas than to families in the country, I think there is a problem because it encourages agencies to send kids overseas and does not support or encourage domestic adoption.

Pi Yijun, a scholar at the China University of Politics and Law, says
that the numbers of international versus domestic adoptions are
strictly confidential.

National figures are not even provided to Chinese researchers.
He said foreign adoptions are an embarrassment to the government.

"It is considered a negative thing to discuss disabled or
abandoned babies. It has to do with China’s birth policy and the social
insurance system. It’s a very sensitive issue."

The influx of foreign applications to adopt Chinese kids is, in
many cases, making it more difficult for Chinese couples who can’t have
children to adopt from orphanages here.

At the orphanage in Changde, the gatekeeper said that foreign
families usually spend five to 10 times more on adoptions than Chinese
families, which often makes foreign families more attractive.
leads to long wait times for Chinese couples, many of whom resort to
the other option, an underground market for infants.

One post on a chat room for Chinese parents looking to adopt
expresses the frustration in wait times. "It’s very hard to adopt a
healthy baby from orphanages in Shanghai. You have to wait probably for
five years. & If you really want to adopt one, you will probably
have to go to orphanages in other places."

The Chinese government has recently put into effect new
restrictions, making it harder for foreigners to adopt Chinese
children. There is a definite push by the central government to
encourage domestic adoptions, but for some Chinese families, the
process is not getting any easier.

The Yang family has been waiting three years to adopt a child.
They are both in their late 20s and have been married for six years,
but Mrs. Yang can’t conceive. They want to adopt a healthy baby girl
but have been unsuccessful.

"We visited orphanages, checked orphanages online and put up adoption ads
online, but without success," Mr. Yang told ABC News.

Yang says, for some babies, the costs involved with legal
adoption are too high. And they are fighting the urge to turn to the
black market. "

We don’t want to adopt babies from traffickers. Some people
introduced to us babies from traffickers, but we don’t even want to see
them," said Mr. Yang.


When There’s No Place Like Home

Children’s advocates can’t agree on how much to emphasize intercountry adoption as a solution. From Newsweek.

UNICEF argues that intercountry adoption is not the only—and certainly not always the best—option for the world’s orphans. Alexandra Yuster,
a senior adviser in the child-protection section, claims the
organization advocates the inclusion of international adoption in the
mix of potential solutions for countries seeking homes for orphaned
children. But it is much more focused on helping birth families get
adequate support from their governments so they can take care of their
own kids. "That’s our priority because that will help a much larger
number of kids—as will promoting domestic adoption," she says. "It’s
not that we’re against intercountry adoption; it’s just not a main
focus for us."

part, that’s because UNICEF fears financial profit is the driving force
behind many intercountry transactions. Because few healthy infants are
available for adoption in Western countries, she says, the amount of
money prospective parents are willing to pay to complete adoptions of
healthy babies has increased. And corruption inevitably follows the
money. UNICEF is especially concerned about poor countries like
Guatemala, where private attorneys largely control the process and
charge upwards of $35,000 per child—almost twice the going rate in
countries like China and Vietnam, where government agencies oversee

That kind of profit margin creates a market
where one didn’t exist before. "We’re concerned with the
commercialization of vulnerable children," says Yuster. "It gives an
incentive to intermediaries to look for the kind of children these
families most want to adopt." Some poor mothers are tricked into
relinquishing healthy babies, while disabled and older children living
in state institutions are left out of the foreign adoption loop because
there’s no profit incentive to match them with families. "Adoption is
supposed to be about finding homes for children, not finding children
for families," she says.


Talk outlines risks in international adopting

This was an interesting article from the Daily Iowan

Talk outlines risks in international adopting

Ashton Shurson – The Daily Iowan

Issue date: 3/25/08 Section: Metro
As Chinese adoptions increase around the world and especially in the United States, a few UI students have been looking into the darker side of adoptions in the Asian country.

UI law students Patricia Meier and Joy Zhang gave a presentation Monday on the Hunan baby-trafficking scandal and how it exposes vulnerabilities in Chinese adoptions to the United States.

In November 2005, police in China uncovered a baby trafficking ring involving six orphanages and babies primarily from the southern part of the country.

It is unclear how the children were obtained, but defendants claim the babies were abandoned while prosecutors in the case accused the Hengyang Social Welfare Institution of knowingly buying abducted babies.

For the whole article, click here.

The Baby Thief: The untold story of Georgia Tann, the baby seller who corrupted adoption

This was a fascinating book. I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the current social philosophy regarding expectant mothers, poor single mothers and their children.


From the author’s website comes this synopsis:

For almost three decades, Georgia Tann was nationally lauded for her
work at her children’s home in Memphis, Tennessee. In reality she was
selling many of the boys and girls – often stolen from their parents –
to wealthy clients across America. While building her black market
business Georgia also invented modern adoption, popularizing it,
commercializing it, and corrupting it with secrecy by originating the
policy of falsifying adoptees’ birth certificates – a practice that
continues to this day.

Not only did Georgia Tann exploit women and children, she also capitalized on the zeitgeist of the times in post-WWII America and essentially "created" the adoption "market" as it is today. Anyone interested in adoption history should read this book. As I read this book I was continuously surprised by how much of the current practices in the adoption industry today is direct descendant of Tann’s unethical adoption work, and how both the courts and society still pretend that closed records are for the "protection of the birth mother" when it’s evident that no one ever really cared a damn about birth mothers.

Author Barbara Bisantz Raymond is an adoptive parent who investigated Georgia Tann. This is the story of America as well as the individual person; without a society that turns its back on the most vulnerable, a single woman – no matter how evil – could not have accomplished such horrific acts alone. This book implicates us all.

My right to know

I know I’m opening up myself for some dissent here, as any mention of halting or slowing down adoptions from any country immediately brings defensive rejoinders, but I feel this is an important issue. I believe that the loss of the information and history of our famiiles of origin is a fundamental right that was taken away from adopted individuals (though I know many other adoptees share this position I recognize not every adoptee does).

In discussions about adoption, many people often make statements about “the rights of children to have a permanent, loving home.” Yet, rarely do I hear about another right that I believe all human beings – including children – are entitled to: that of knowing who they are and where they came from.

I have been attempting to find out information about my Korean parents for the past 9 years now, to no success. Often, people will tell me that my Korean mother may not want to be found and that I should respect that. But why are her rights privileged over mine?

When I was in the hospital recently and going through a series of tests, I had to go through interview after interview answering “I’m adopted” in response to my medical history. Although I understand that my Korean mother may have felt she had no choice – or perhaps someone else made that “choice” for her – not having any idea on my family history is not acceptable.

That is why I am alarmed to find out that in Vietnam, there has been a growing trend in children being “abandoned” when previously they were “relinquished.”

This is no minor distinction. The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam is estimating that 85% of the children being placed for adoption are classified as “abandoned” compared to 38-39% around 2000-2002. The vast majority of children adopted from Vietnam in the earlier time frames who were relinquished had at least one – and many had both – biological parents information on record.

So why the sudden growth of “abandoned” children in Vietnam? According to Ethica,

There is simply no societal reason in Vietnam for the practices to have so abruptly changed from pre-closure to post-closure. There are, of course, a few possibilities about why it is happening now. It could be happening at the direction of orphanages, at the provincial level (one agency reported that some provinces are making rules that only abandoned children can be placed), or in some cases, at the direction of agencies or overseas facilitators. It could be happening to make processing easier, or to avoid investigations. It could be happening because people haven’t thought about the long-term ramifications. There likely will be a mix of opinions about why this phenomenon is occurring. Equally likely is that there probably are several different reasons.  But one thing is certain—regardless of the reasons, there are two end results. First, children are losing their identities, an unacceptable ramification of this practice. And secondly, there is a very real risk that this behavior will affect the future of adoptions from Vietnam. 

Ethica, along with the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, has called for greater investigation into the background of these children classified as “abandoned” and of course, that is leading to delays in the adoption process. Adoptive parents are outraged. The U.S. government and Vietnam are attempting to re-negotiate an agreement and many adoptive parents are advocating that Ethica stop its investigations because of the chance it will hurt the negotiation.

I don’t understand why any adoptive parent wouldn’t want to know for certain that their child was legitimately and legally abandoned or relinquished before they went ahead with the adoption. Cambodia’s adoption program essentially ended for this reason; there was too much evidence that “abandoned” children were actually unethically or illegally placed for adoption.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the long wait time for international adoptions. I understand that the process to adopt is agonizingly slow. Two years is a long time to wait for an adoption. But this is not about the adoptive parents. This is not just about Vietnam. This is about what’s ethically just for the children involved.

This is also not about pushing people into opposite camps. It’s not shut down a country’s adoption program vs. adoptee’s rights to information. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

The desire for a faster adoption should not be the reason that eyes are closed. If even one child is found to be illegally adopted, that is enough reason that adoptive parents, agencies and Vietnam should slow down and do what’s right.

People want to say that it’s in the best interest of the child to be adopted and that causing a child to have to live in the orphanage longer than necessary is damaging. But what is damaging to me – a child who lived in two orphanages – is losing everything that tied me to my family in Korea. This isn’t in negation of or in place of  my adoptive family. This is in addition to. This is about my right to know where I came from and my history and the fact that everyone else’s needs were too selfish to consider my future needs as an adult without a family history.

Averting one’s eyes is more dangerous to the future of adoption – not just in Vietnam but in every country. It’s not about being pro- or anti-adoption this is about being ethical. Agencies and orphanages in Vietnam are lying to the U.S. Government about its practices. They are also undermining investigations by the U.S. Embassy into illegal and/or unethical adoptions.

I feel the same way about these developments in Vietnam as I do about Guatemala.

Why would anyone want to push forward with their adoption if there is a chance it is illegal or unethical?

Isn’t doing the moral thing more important than speed? Isn’t the protection of children’s rights the most important issue here?

I spent over two years living in an orphanage. If I were to find out today that I was delayed for 6-12 months because the orphanage and agency in Korea was double and triple-checking that I wasn’t kidnapped, trafficked or otherwise illegally procured for adoption, it would have been worth it.

For more about the controversy in Vietnam, check out Ethica’s positions:

Operation Identity:Cooperating to Protect the Identity of Vietnamese Orphans

Updates on Vietnam adoptions

U.S. State Department:

Vietnam Intercountry Adoption Concerns 1/28/08

Warning Concerning Adoptions in Vietnam

Other responses:

Borrowed Notes – Operation Identity

Land of the Not So Calm – Operation Identity and Vietnam Adoptions

Ethnically Incorrect Daughter – Operation Identity

“The baby I turned away”

This article has been circulating around my many list-serves and from friends. What do you think about this woman’s decision? I thought it was interesting that she voiced what I think so many adoptive and prospective adoptive parents are unwilling to say out loud for fear of being judged. The orientalism and negativity about birth parents and naivite about adopting babies from other countries as being less messed-up are topics I’m not going to address in this post. What I’m really interested is in this idea of adoptive parents deciding what they can handle.

The baby I turned away (the article at requires you to sign up for a membership. I also have the article archived here.

I didn’t want a second opinion; I wanted my perfect daughter back. Back home, Neil went online and looked up head circumference and height and weight charts for rural southern Indian girls. She wasn’t on that chart either.

I wished we were different people, the kind who would welcome this child, welcome the risks, with no questions asked. I wanted to help her, to make her OK. But what if I couldn’t? Could I love her anyway? To a parent, this question must be unthinkable. You love your child no matter what, accepting all limits and gifts. But we had a choice, and the magical thread that had spun us around this child for the previous two days was beginning to unwind and tangle. Until we signed the referral papers, until an Indian judge granted us legal guardianship, she was not ours. We had a choice.

That passage really struck me in a familiar way.

Once I made some prospective adoptive parents cry. We were in a meeting and they were frustrated by how long the process was. As prospective parents, they had spent the last several months submitting their home study for several children and they had not been chosen by these youth’s social workers. They were feeling rejected. However, at this same meeting their home study worker had a 4" binder filled with photos of waiting children and I watched as one after the other they’d reject these youth based on "too high needs" or "too old" or "his parent’s history of mental health" or "just doesn’t seem like a good fit."

So when they expressed frustration about being rejected by all these youth’s social workers, I couldn’t help but remind them that they’d just done the same thing to a binder full of children. As this thought sank in, they realized the truth of that statement. I didn’t intend to make this couple cry, but I wanted them to realize that "matching" parents and children isn’t just as easy or romantic as picking someone from a photo. Workers for both children and parents have a tough job. These adoptive parents were focusing solely on their own needs and their feelings. They’d had six months of rejection, these children in the binder had years. Children aren’t perfect and prospective adoptive parents are looking for that gem in the haystack. But often social workers for the children are doing the same thing. We’re looking for that parent or parents who won’t reject our children and who we think will be the parents that can best meet their needs.

Read this article (also archived here) and share your thoughts.

Korean adoptee discovers a twin who was kept

Why oh why does this happen? Secrets and lies are never a good thing and usually aren’t kept secret. This article, I think, highlights what I hope are outdated methods of adoption practice and mythology. I know that people think openness is messy and complicated and it can be – but the secrets can be devastating.

I find it so amazing (in a bad way) that adoption professionals seem to be the main proponents of keeping secrets and lies in "the best interest of the child" or as in this case, to prevent "confusion over bonding." What hogwash.

Emily Saunders finds the missing piece of her puzzle

Jennifer Simonson, Dml – Star Tribune

St. Paul resident Emily Saunders learned, six months ago, that she has a twin sister living in South Korea. Saunders will travel to South Korea to meet her birth sister and birth mother after the new year.

Emily Saunders made a startling discovery this year – she has a twin sister who lives halfway around the globe. This week, the two will come face to face for the first time since their birth 21 years ago.