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." 


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


Mia Farrow criticizes illegal Haiti adoptions

From the AP

GENEVA – UNICEF goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow has criticized as "deplorable" attempts to take children out of Haiti illegally after last month's devastating earthquake.

U.S. actress says groups or individuals who want to help Haiti's
children should rather support orphanages or their families inside the

Farrow, who herself has adopted 11
children, says offering parents a better life for their children
elsewhere is "completely unacceptable and immoral."

Read the story here.

Heartbreaking, yet not surprising

This is a disturbing story from the LA Times. I think it also shows that we can not be too careful when considering the legality of children "available" for adoption.

How many more stories like this one are going to come to light? I think what is most interesting is that so many advocates of adoptions from China have believed that the adoption system there was clean and straightforward. It's just all abandoned daughters, after all, right? Unlike the widespread and widely known trafficking of children from other countries, there has been a sense of "not us" about China. Unfortunately, now we know otherwise.

A mother-and-son business in China

Duan Yuelin and Chen Zhijin, his mother, who get children from the
rural poor and adopt them out to foreigners, talk about their business
in their home in Changning, China. Chen says the children are better
off with their new parents. (Barbara Demick / Los Angeles Times / January 15, 2010)

What merchandise was he selling? Babies. And the customers were
government-run orphanages that paid up to $600 each for newborn girls
for adoption in the United States and other Western countries.

"They couldn't get enough babies. The demand kept going up and up, and
so did the prices," recalled Duan, who was released from prison last
month after serving about four years of a six-year sentence for child

From 2001 to '05, the ring sold 85 baby girls to six orphanages in Hunan.

His story, which is backed up by hundreds of pages of documents
gathered in his 2006 court case, shed light on the secretive process
that has seen tens of thousands of unwanted girls born to dirt-poor
parents in the Chinese countryside growing up in the United States with
names like Kelly and Emily.

"Definitely, all the orphanages gave money for babies," said the 38-year-old Duan, a loquacious man with a boxy haircut.

At first, Duan said, his family members assumed that they weren't
breaking the law because the babies were going to government-run
orphanages. It had been an accepted practice among peasant families to
sell unwanted children to other families.

To read the story, click here.

Minnesota couple caught up in apparent adoption fraud

I don't know if this happens as often in other countries, but this seems to way more common among Indian adoptions. I personally know of one family (that also dissolved the adoption) when a family adopted a "3-year old" girl from India who turned out to be at least 6 years older than it was stated (they found out when she began going through puberty at supposedly 6 years of age). I've heard of several other cases of Indian children being many years older than their adoption papers say.

5adopt1220 From the Star Tribune.
A Minnesota couple were excited to become parents of sisters from India
— until they made a shocking discovery that raises questions about the
U.S. effort to stop international adoption fraud.

In court papers that paved her way to Minnesota, Komal is described
as a 12-year-old girl from northern India, eligible for adoption in the
United States.

She liked to assemble puzzles and briefly attended fifth grade, but
the 112-pound orphan displayed a violent streak that soon left a Mayer,
Minn., couple wondering if they were told the truth about the two
Indian siblings they spent $30,000 trying to adopt.

Within months of their arrival, and before the adoption became
final, Komal confessed: She was 21. Her younger sister, Shallu,
admitted she was 15, not 11 as advertised. The sisters said they were
told to lie about their ages and backgrounds by orphanage officials and
an India-based representative for Crossroads Adoption Services of
Edina, which handled the failed placements.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

Adoptions re-open in Guatemala

Just a quick update, thanks to Sarah who told me last night about this news story.

According to the Washington Post, Guatemala is re-opening their international adoption program. They say the "problems" have been resolved. According to the Post,

Legal reforms established during the suspension will prevent problems
in the future, according to the National Adoption Council, which said
in a statement on its Web page that it will start a pilot program
involving four countries.

The Council did not say when the program would start or which countries would be involved.

You can read the story here

And now, back to our regularly scheduled homework break.

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.

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.

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.

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

“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.

Some Chinese parents say their children were stolen for adoption

From the LA Times comes this story.

In some rural areas, instead of levying fines for violations of
China's child policies, greedy officials took babies, which would each
fetch $3,000 from adoptions.


Yang Shuiying and two of her daughters on the front porch of her house in Tianxi village, Guizhou province. Another daughter was taken away by a family planning official, who said he was going to sell the child for foreign adoption. (Barbara Demick / Los Angeles Times)

You can read the article here.

ABC report about corruption in Ethiopian adoptions

R435878_2094833I've had no less than four readers send me this link! I'm impressed how quickly people are responding. I had planned to post this later this week but since so many people are sending me the story, here it is.

Personal note, I was bawling after watching this documentary. I was also incredibly angry.

From ABC News Australia – an article by Mary Ann Jolley for Foreign Correspondent

Foreigners prefer younger children – babies to five-year-olds. Older
children or those with health problems are more difficult to pitch. So
while many children languish in underfunded and overcrowded orphanages,
some international adoption agencies are out spruiking in villages
asking families to relinquish their children for adoption.

It's a phenomenon known as "harvesting" and it's shocking to see.

Parents are often unaware of what they're doing when they offer
their children for adoption. They're led to believe they'll hear from
their children regularly and their children will be well educated and
eventually bring the family wealth.

But in reality, the parents and families never hear from their
children and receive little information about where their children have
gone. We filmed a room full of grieving mothers who gave their children
for adoption after agencies promised they'd be given regular updates.

Some were even told the agency would help support their remaining children. Their stories are gut-wrenching.

No one disputes there is a real need for international adoptions,
but for the sake of the children and adoptive parents there needs to be
some protection from unscrupulous agencies who purport to be driven by
humanitarian interests, but in reality are stuffing their pockets with
dirty cash.

The entire article can be found here.

The video of it is here, click on Fly Away Children.

Also, a related story from AM radio, Australia. Ethiopian children exploited by US Agencies.To listen to this radio show, or to read the transcript, click here.

Guatemalan army stole children for adoption

Very disturbing report that will definitely affect families in the U.S. From CNN. Many of us already suspected that this happened, since it has happened in many other civil wars/conflicts in Europe, South and Central America.

The Guatemalan army stole at least 333 children and sold them for
adoption in other countries during the Central American nation's
36-year civil war, a government report has concluded.

Around 45,000 people are believed to have disappeared during Guatemala's civil war, 5,000 of them children.

Around 45,000 people are believed to have disappeared during Guatemala's civil war, 5,000 of them children.

Many of those children ended up in the United States, as well as
Sweden, Italy and France, said the report's author and lead
investigator, Marco Tulio Alvarez.

In some cases, the report
said, parents were killed so the children could be taken and given to
government-operated agencies to be adopted abroad. In other instances,
the children were abducted without physical harm to the parents.

"This was a great abuse by the state," Alvarez told CNN on Friday.

Investigators started examining records in May 2008 for a period that
spanned from 1977-89, said Alvarez, the director of the Guatemalan
Peace Archive, a commission established by President Alvaro Colom.

Of 672 records investigators looked at, Alvarez said, they determined
that 333 children had been stolen. The children were taken for
financial and political reasons, he said.

Alvarez acknowledges
that many more children possibly were taken. Investigators zeroed in on
the 1977-89 period because peak adoptions occurred during that time
frame, particularly in 1986. They will investigate through 1995 and
hope to have another report ready by early next year, he said.

Alvarez said he has attended several reunions of abducted children — now adults — and family members.

"I can't tell you how happy that makes me," he said.

"Adoption has served as a source of income in Guatemala for decades. The
war just made it easier for abuses at the hands of soldiers to occur."

You can read the rest of the article here.