Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year in Review, Part I

Just for the heck of it, I decided to look over my posts for the last year, and share some of them again.  I'm including some posts that got a lot of comments, or that marked an important adoption event of the year (Artyom, anyone?), or that marked an important event in our lives.  I'll do the other half tomorrow.  Happy New Year!

January 2010

Friends and Sisters Forever, a sweet drawing by Zoe

When the Family Business is Child Trafficking, an interview with the traffickers at the heart of the Hunan, China scandal

World's Oldest Mother:  Age and Adoption, looking at how the law treats age of adoptive parents in adoption

"An abduction, not an adoption," about the ten missionaries arrested in Haiti for child trafficking for the purpose of adoption.

February 2010

"Mama, What's an Orphan?"  Maya wants to know.

Asian Americans, Adoption & Jim Crow, looking at how Jim Crow laws treated Asian Americans and transracial adoption.

Conversation Starters, about taking the opportunities that present themselves to talk casually about adoption with our kids.

March 2010

From the Economist:  Gendercide, looking at several articles in the Economist focusing on the "international war on girls," including China's one child policy.

Race:  Are We So Different?  about a museum exhibit on race that we visited over Spring Break.

April 2010

Another and Another and Another. . .  recapping two years worth of adoption disruptions

. . . and Another, introducing Artyom, the 8-year-old Russian boy put on a plane alone by his adoptive mother who no longer wished to parent him.

Talking About Artyom With My Kids, raising that difficult topic so they hear it from me first, not from someone on the playground.

Perpetual Foreigners & Arizona's Immigration Law, why international adoptive parents should care about Arizona's "Papers, Please" law.

May 2010
China Adoption, Birth Parent Searches, Corruption Conversations, summarizing some articles on these topics from Adoptive Families magazine.
Names in Adoption; what should be considered in giving a new name to an adopted child?
Adoption-Competent Therapists:  how to select a therapist when you think your adopted child might benefit.
Zoe's Poem:  Whole Heart & Maya's Poem: Feelings Come to Me; the girls write about adoption and feelings.
June 2010
Another "What Would You Do" Story;  what would you do if your child's birth parents found you and said their child had been kidnapped?
"Thinkin' of the things we used to do," sitting with my dad in hospice in his final days.
Adoption & Anger, looking particularly at anger directed at adoptive mom by child.
Ashes to Ashes; adding Grandpa to our Father's Day tradition of burning notes to the girls' birth fathers.
Is Illegal Adoption Human Trafficking?  The State Department says no.
Adopted -- Past or Present Tense? Is adoption a single event that happened in the past, or a lifelong event?  (Includes a video clip from the terrific Adoption Mosaic website).

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adoption News Links

Some interesting stories out there this week:

Adopted woman limited by law in search for biological family, about a woman's search for her birth mom made more difficult by closed records.

Stricter norms for domestic, international adoption, from the Times of India:
NEW DELHI: The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) has moved to tighten adoption norms, proposing stringent monitoring of international and domestic adoptions, including a thorough scrutiny of the sourcing of each child placed for adoption.
Teen dad in uphill battle against adoption, highlighting problems faced by unwed fathers wanting to parent their children when the mothers want to place the children for adoption.

Blessed with a tiny gift: Johnson City couple rescue one child from famine and poverty in Ethiopia, about what you'd expect from that headline (blech!).

Jane Aronson, the 'orphan doctor' with a foundation that helps kids globally, a profile of Dr. Aronson.

Quake opens gate to adoptions, about Haitian adoptions post-earthquake.

Couple's battle with UK's tough adoption laws; the actual headline complains about UK not allowing transracial adoption (?), but the really amazing thing about the article are the over-the-top complaints about the homestudy process:
Next, the pair had to submit to a Home Study. A 50-page questionnaire filled in by social workers on visits to prospective parents, the form assesses a couple's suitability to adopt. [the HORROR!]

* * *

Francesca was instantly struck by how intrusive and surreal the questions were.

* * *

"The most intrusive questions were about our sex life. They wanted to know how good and regular our lovemaking was and whether I was happy with it.

* * *

As part of the Home Study, Francesca and Rick had to install child gates and raise the medicine cabinet for a baby they might never get. [SHOCKING!]
Local couple turns to billboard to help adoption process, seeking to reach potential birth mothers via billboard.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

DNA Adoption Networking

Here's an interesting post about different types of internet DNA sites relevant to adoption:
With advances in computer technology and DNA science, it seemed likely that a way would be found for the far-flung children of China to find their birth families. That day seemed far off in the future. However that day is here now, and it has arrived 20 years before I expected it. A new kind of internet website provides the means for adopting parents of children adopted from China to discover if their child has a sibling, half-sibling, cousin or other relative adopted anywhere in the world. In addition, birth parents in China will be able to search for their biological child who has been adopted by a family living somewhere in the world. While China adoptions are the largest example of what is now possible, it applies to every adoption in the world today. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that this is the most startling development in the field of adoption information in the past 25 years.

There are two new kinds of sites in particular that seem useful to the adoption community. They are interesting because both kinds are the first of a new genre of websites. The first are DNA social networking sites; the second are primarily gene-decoding sites.

1. DNA Adoption Networking

DNA Adoption Networking is a part of a new internet service the New York Times has called Zygotic Social Networking. These networking services permit users to build a social network around shared genetic material. Similar to Facebook, users are able to post photos, update their profiles, blog, and send messages to each other. More importantly, for adoptive families they facilitate searches for relatives and allow members to compare genetic makeup.

* * *
2. DNA Gene Decoding Sites

The second type of service now on the web that will impact adoptions is the ability to decode your child’s DNA. Adoptive families will find this site useful for many reasons. Your child’s DNA is decoded, providing you with much valuable information. The experience is simultaneously unsettling, illuminating and empowering.

* * *

A recent survey of adopting parents (by the China Adoptions DNA Project) found that while the adoption community is keenly interested in learning more about how a DNA database could benefit their children and families, the overwhelming majority of parents currently do not know enough about it or are not comfortable enough with what they do know to take the next step and join a database. I encourage adoptive families to spend time on the DNA websites listed at the end of this article.
Read the whole thing for more complete descriptions of the various services, an extensive list of "cautions" to think about, and links to lots of other resources.
Have you used DNA services to try to find birth relatives or more information about an adoptee's background?  Please share your experiences for the benefit of the rest of us!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Postwar adoptee spends final days helping orphans

Interesting article about a young North Korean adopted in 1961 by an American professor, now terminally ill with cancer, and trying to give back to North Korean orphans:
A photo of a 12-year-old North Korean boy on Sam Han's laptop computer pulls the dying man a half-century back in time, across continents to a place where he once wandered alone in search of his parents.

Separated from his family during the Korean War, Han was sheltered by strangers until an unlikely meeting set him on a remarkable journey to the United States. He was adopted by a Minnesota professor, immigrated under a special bill from Congress and years later became a successful business executive.

Han, a 65-year-old cancer patient, wants to give other overseas orphans a shot at making a life for themselves, but there are plenty of obstacles and so much to do.

And his time is running out.

The soft-spoken man with twinkling eyes sleeps little. He spends most days working to ship soy flour and rice meal packages to North Korean orphanages and help build a school for orphans in Tanzania. He spends nights on the phone with advocates overseas and punches out letters to lawmakers to push for a bill to let Americans adopt North Korean orphans.
 Recall, most adoptees from Korea are from SOUTH Korea.

Elton John is a Daddy

Remember this story, about Elton John wanting to adopt an HIV-positive Ukrainian toddler? He was deemed too old.

Well, he and partner David Furness have a new child via surrogacy, according to this CNN report:
Sir Elton John is a father. The boy was born on Christmas Day. And he shall be Levon. Or, more accurately, Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, the singer's publicist said late Monday.

"We are overwhelmed with happiness and joy at this very special moment," John and his long-time partner, David Furnish, said in a statement. "Zachary is healthy and doing really well, and we are very proud and happy parents."

* * *

The baby was born in California via a surrogate, according to Fran Curtis, a representative for the couple. Curtis said she would not discuss the details of the surrogacy arrangements.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Adoptees should have their birth certificates

Glad to see an adoptive mother take this position in the Watertown Daily Times:
Last month we celebrated our daughter's 40th birthday with over 100 people, including her birth mother. Lola has known her birth mom and siblings, aunts, uncle, a grandfather, cousins, niece and nephews for several years now. Many of her natal family attended her wedding in 2001.

Lola has peace of mind knowing her relatives. She has a copy of her hospital record of live birth from the old Canton Hospital. What our daughter and thousands of New York adopted adults do not have is their original birth certificate (OBC). Ontario, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Alabama, Kansas and Alaska adoptees can access their OBCs. The latter two states never did seal the records.

As a grandmother, I don't have a lot of years left to fight for open records. How sweet it would be if more of the younger generation would take an active role in overturning archaic (since the 1930s) laws that deny a minority group their birthright.

Special Christmas Gifts

 My sister turned ordinary cardboard boxes into special treasure  boxes for Zoe and Maya, and they were thrilled!  Not only is each box in the girl's favorite color, but each is embellished with their Chinese Zodiac sign, sheep and dragon, AND the Chinese character for sheep and dragon!  I'm incredibly impressed with how much work Aunt Kim put into these boxes, and the girls are delighted with their new treasure chests.

And this picture is just because I think Zoe looks cute as a button in her new fleece hat and panda slippers, reading her new Kindle!

Friday, December 24, 2010

He's Here!

He's here (at Mimi's house)!  (Courtesy of Capture the Magic)

Waiting for Santa

All I want for Christmas

From this site, the words of an adoptee:

Dear Santa Claus,

This is what I want from you:

I want to meet my mama, I want to see her face.
I want to know that in her heart, I have a special place.

Can you help me Santa, and bring me this one thing?
This gift will mean so much to me.

You see Santa, This is about the journey of my soul,
and this one present will help to make me whole.

author: P. Bohannon

Thank Deng Xiaoping for Little Girls

In an article, The Enlightened Despotism of Chinese-Style Family Planning, at Reason Magazine, Jacob Sullum explores  the Chinese Human Rights Defenders report on the 30th anniversary of the one-child policy, "which lays bare the brutal reality of the violently oppressive policy so glibly supported by rich Westerners who take their own reproductive freedom for granted."

Sullum also links to his 2007 article,  Thank Deng Xiaoping for Little Girls, where he explored the relationship between the one-child policy and international adoption:
As I gradually realized, the truth about Chinese adoption is more complicated than the conventional story about Westerners who magnanimously take in China’s unwanted girls. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say these girls are “unwanted” only because the Chinese government has made them so. Although the government’s oppressive, family-destroying policies have had the incidental benefit of bringing joy to the lives of adoptive parents in the U.S. and elsewhere, it will be a great victory for liberty when such heartwarming stories stop appearing on newsstands and bookshelves. These adoptions would not be occurring if the Chinese government did not try to dictate the most basic and intimate of life’s decisions.

NORAD Tracks Santa in China!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa Won the Adoption Lottery

At, Lanita M. blogs about the Christmas special, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and the fact that Santa was a foundling adopted by the Kringle family. I've also noted the adoption theme in that program,  And I should have also noted then that the adoption by the Kringle family is clearly a closed/secret adoption -- the baby is found with a necklace engraved with the name Claus.  But that name isn't shared with Kris until he's an adult. . . .

But what's really notable about the post is this:
Santa’s adoption story is not uncommon in the world of international adoption. A baby abandoned at birth, potentially destined for an unhappy life, until fate steps in and delivers the baby into the warm and loving arms of a family. Santa grows up tall and red headed in a house of elves, where his differences are celebrated. It sounds a bit like Elle or Bunny’s adoption story.

My family has always told Elle and Bunny they won the adoption lottery the day they were adopted. I’m not sure the girls would entirely agree, especially when they have been naughty, but they were one of the lucky ones. So many children around the world don’t get adopted.
Won the "adoption lottery?!"  Lucky they were adopted, unlike so many children around the world who won't get adopted?  Nothing like enforced gratitude and survivor's guilt, all in one pretty Christmas pudding . . . .

What would you do if your family told your adopted children that they had won the adoption lottery?

French Families Adopt from Haiti

From the French Tribune:
Many French families have reached Haiti and are going to adopt a group of Haitian children. This bunch consists of the kids who lost their parents and other families during the earthquake that devastated the region almost a year ago.

French Ambassador Didier Le Bret who was happy about the whole process and was very relieved when the families arrived said that these French families had been waiting for almost a year. They had given up hope but finally the good news came to them.

The French families arrived through a government-chartered plane in Port-au-Prince. The ambassador also said that these families have set up examples and have always respected the stand taken by the Haitian government.

Some 105 parents are a part of the group and some 113 children are going to be involved in the mass adoption process. Besides this, some 318 adopted Haitian children are already part of the special program in which France has tried to help the victims of the earthquake.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cap and Trade in Babies

At the Huffington Post, an article from John Feffer of Foreign Policy in Focus, the Baby Trade, talking adoption and Ted Turner's proposal to curb population growth worldwide by paying people not to procreate:
First of all, the global baby trade is a market. Adoptive families pay a lot of money -- to the sending country, adoption agencies, and lawyers. For many years, South Korea was the leading sending country, and the hard currency it earned from international adoptions helped the country recover from the Korean War's devastation.

Like any market, the unscrupulous find plenty of ways to make money.

* * *

For the most part we try to do everything possible to obscure the fact that international adoption is a market. Adoption agencies paint a pretty picture of children saved and adoptive families enriched. Much of this is true. The international adoption business has certainly saved children from poverty, stigmatization, and even death. It has created thousands of hybrid families that are just as happy, sad, and complicated as any other family. But it's still a business, which suffers from all the problems of a business (and then some).

* * *

Businessman Ted Turner recently proposed adding a new twist to the baby trade. Rather than pay families for their babies, he wants to do the opposite: pay them not to have babies. The global population is expected to peak around 10 billion people in 2050. More people will produce more carbon emissions, Turner argues, so an obvious solution is to control population increase the Chinese way: by adopting a one-child limit globally. Imposing such a rule would be neither popular nor feasible, so Turner proposes a market incentive system. By selling their fertility rights, poor families could profit by their decision not to breed. Turner's proposal sounds suspiciously like a modern eugenics program.

* * *

What Turner ignores, of course, is that Americans are responsible for nearly five times the global average for per-capita carbon emissions. Even the most environmentally responsible Americans have a carbon footprint twice the size of the global average. In other words, our consumption of things -- not their production of babies -- is the problem.

The solution to climate change, therefore, is obvious. The countries that have the smallest carbon footprints should adopt U.S. babies. We should send our children to Cambodia, Guatemala, and Moldova where they won't have such a damaging effect on the global environment. Reverse the baby trade now! It's not likely, however, that Ted Turner, the environmental movement, and the international adoption agencies will adopt this slogan any time soon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Follow-up Post About Ethiopia

Voice of America has posted a follow-up to this article, headlined Ethiopia Working with Child Advocacy Groups to Clean Up Adoptions:
Ethiopia is vowing to put a stop to what has been described as a 'free for all' in the adoption of its children by foreigners. But cleaning up a system rife with fraud and deception will require international assistance to fight well-entrenched and well-financed interests.

* * *

As the focus of adoptive parents has shifted to Ethiopia, so have many of the troubles that forced shutdowns in other places. And as with many poor countries, Ethiopia has proven ill-equipped to handle unscrupulous actors chasing the large sums Westerners are willing to pay for the perfect child.

* * *

Adoptive parent support groups have sprung up on the internet sharing horror stories of their experiences with a few disreputable agencies and orphanages in Ethiopia. Parents report being lied to at many stages of the process, including about the condition or age of their child, about hidden fees, or even whether the child is a true orphan.

Federal judge Rahila Abbas presides over Ethiopia's only court handling adoption cases. She admits there is little the court can do to fight fraud, even when she suspects witnesses are lying, and that officially certified documents presented to the court are false.

"Some families prefer to lie about their history," she said. "I think the reason [is] they are destitute. I think that is the reason why they lie about one of the parents have died or absent. They lie. Maybe later it will be found, but the authorities couldn't know each child's history, because they are not going to their home. They simply bring witness saying my husband died. [We] have to believe the witness, [we] can't do anything about it."

* * *

Ethiopian officials have announced plans to set out non-Hague accredited agencies and shut down dozens of orphanages. But they say they are not ready to set a definite time frame.

The United Nations children's agency UNICEF is working with the government to improve safeguards in the system. Doug Webb, chief of child protection at UNICEF's Addis Ababa office, says tasks such as closing orphanages must be done carefully to avoid unnecessary dislocation of vulnerable children.

"If orphanages are closed too quickly, children are de-institutionalized badly, and we've seen that in many different contexts. It's not easy to do. We were very concerned and quick to be ready with technical assistance with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Women's Affairs to provide them with the tools, and we've just in the past couple weeks received an official request to help with this de-institutionalization process," said Webb.

Webb says he is hopeful Ethiopia may turn out to be a story of success in cleaning up a broken system without taking the drastic step of shutting it to intercountry adoptions.

* * *

Ethiopian officials shy away from setting deadlines, but express confidence that with international help, they can fix the system. As child rights protection director Mahadir Bitow put it, "we have the commitment, we have the information, so within a [certain period] of time, we will stop this illegal practice."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chinese School Open House

Today was the last day of Chinese School for the semester, and that entitles me to a bragging mama moment!  My kids got their certificates and prizes (bookbags emblazoned with "Fort Worth Chinese School") for their performances in last month's speech contest, and their classes performed today.  Maya's class sang and Zoe's class put on a skit.  All the kids were adorable (though none quite as adorable as mine, of course!), and here are the pictures to prove it!

So now we are OFFICIALLY on Christmas break!  Let all the relaxing and lollygagging and slacking begin! (Yeah, right!)

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Touch of China Christmas Tree II

Last year, I posted photos of some of the ornaments that bring a touch of China to our Christmas tree (and Tonggu Mamma posted hers here and Xiaoning of ChinaSprout posted a few of hers here).Here are a few new ones we added this year, including the Year of the Sheep ornament above.  That one is Maya's since she is a sheep.  The ornament is actually a key chain I got from Pier One (on sale!) last year.  I also got the dragon for Zoe, since she was born in the Year of the GOLDEN Dragon (she loves to add the "golden" part!).  Zoe uses hers as a backpack ornament, but Maya wanted hers on the tree.

Zoe spotted this pagoda at World Market last night.

I don't remember where I got this little qi pao.  I think I bought it to use in scrapbooking, but it makes a great Christmas ornament!

This lantern, and the fan below, are from World Market -- a boxed set with a kimono-clad girl.  I really like the fan, since we didn't have one before on our tree.

If you've blogged about special adoption or country-specific ornaments on your tree (with pictures!), add the link in the comments so we can ooh and ahh at your ornaments!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winding Down

Whew!  We're finally winding down to Christmas break!  Tomorrow is the girls' last day of school (and a half-day at that!).  Saturday is the last day of Chinese School.  Piano ended a while back, and this week each girl had their last day of ballet until the new year.

The last ballet class is always a demonstration class for families to observe how much their little ballerinas have learned.  Not surprisingly, Zoe and Maya are coming right along as dancers:

I was quite the proud mama at the demonstration classes, and the girls definitely enjoyed showing off their skills.  But we're all looking forward to a few weeks where we're not at the studio three days a week!  Now we just have the busyness of Christmas and all it entails . . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Paper Pregnancy, Country Ultrasounds, Faux Maternity Photos

Have you seen this one?
What about this one?
And this one?
At Pregnancy & Baby, adoptive mom Laura Willard talks about these kinds of images, and a new one for me, adoption "maternity" photos taken with a beach ball in lieu of belly:
I don’t talk about adoption too often here because this is a Pregnancy and Baby blog, but as I’ve shared several times, I’m the mom to two young kids who came to me through international adoption. My learning curve about adoption and the intricacies has been steep. I have a very different understanding and knowledge of what is involved in adoption, and it’s a whole lot more than “getting a baby.”

There are so many issues to discuss. But I’ll try to remain focused for this post! Society seems to do their best to liken pregnancy to adoption for the adoptive parents’ benefit. We have a need for “sameness” and to make everyone feel good. I have no idea why! Adoptive parents are validated every. single. day. Mainly, by the act of parenting. But also by so many people around us. I spend too much of my time at the grocery store correcting strangers who want to validate me.

So, people want sameness. Except I don’t think photos like this make birth/first moms feel good. They might make adoptive parents feel “normal” and part of the pregnancy experience…but we’re not.

To me, my kids each had a mom who grew them in their bodies and then had to let them go. I had to sit around and wait, fill out paperwork and pay more money than I’m even comfortable admitting (because I believe adoption, while often well-intended and often a wonderful thing, is a money driven business, for the most part — there are always exceptions). The two experiences — giving birth and adopting — are nothing alike.

I can feel many adoptive parents shaking their heads at me, scoffing at “one of their own” criticizing us all. That’s okay. The world is full of opinions and that’s what makes it go around. I don’t like to hear the terms “paper pregnancy” and I curl up in the fetal position — no pun intended — when I see “ultrasound photos” of an intended country of adoption, occasionally complete with a little red heart.

Adoptive parents shouldn’t need things like this – or terms like “paper pregnant” — to make them significant. We are SO significant — we get to raise the children we adopt.

* * *

I think this is disrespectful to the women who actually brought our children into the world. Circumstances for relinquishment or abandonment aside — judgment aside — we owe it to our children to remain respectful. The last thing I ever want my children to think is that I care more about me or my feelings — about wanting to experience something relating to pregnancy – than I do theirs.
I think she NAILS it! Be sure to go to the original post to see the beach ball "pregnancy" photos.

Ethiopia Plans Crackdown on Baby Business

From Voice of America:
Ethiopia is planning to shut down dozens of orphanages and withdraw accreditation from several foreign adoption agencies, in an effort to halt what critics say is a thriving baby business.

* * *

This year, foreigners will take away about 5,000 Ethiopian orphans, often paying between $20,000 and $35,000 each for the privilege.

Half that number, nearly 2,500, will go to the United States. That is a ten-fold increase above the numbers just a few years ago.

* * *

The rapid rise in Ethiopian adoptions has set off alarm bells among children's lobby groups. The U.S. State Department issued a statement this month expressing concern about reports of adoption-related fraud, malfeasance and abuse in Ethiopia.

The statement warns prospective adoptive parents to expect delays in the adoption process. It says additional information may be required to determine facts surrounding a child's relinquishment or abandonment and whether the child meets the definition of orphan, under U.S. Immigration law.

Embassy consular officials say nearly two years of data collection has enabled them to identify individuals and agencies involved in unusual adoption activities.

* * *

Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform did a study of Ethiopia, this year, after detecting a pattern of troubles similar to those in Vietnam and Guatemala before they were closed to American adoptions. The PEAR study turned up evidence of unethical practices by adoption agencies and the use of coercive methods to persuade mothers to give up their babies.

Conditions in orphanages were found to be particularly severe. Some had no running water or sanitary facilities. Children are said to have suffered sexual abuse and beatings.

Ethiopian officials say their own studies confirm PEAR's findings. Mahadir Bitow, head of Ethiopia's Child Rights Promotion and Protection Director tells VOA one of the first priorities will be to close dozens of orphanages that appear to have sprung up to meet the demand for children.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

International Adoption Changes the Face of American Judaism

I've posted before about adoption and religion -- whether religion is part of that culture that we want to maintain for our children.  This article talks about the growth of international adoption among American Jews:
Like so many Jewish women, Anne Suissa pursued her education and career with gusto, earning degrees from Cornell and MIT and going on to manage 27 people at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Suissa always knew she wanted marriage and family, but by the time she had found her husband and began trying to have a child, she was in her late 30s. Doctors told her the fertility treatments she had begun would not likely succeed.

Today, the Suissas are parents of two children from Guatemala, both of whom they converted to Judaism. Though their lives are full and rewarding, Suissa still wishes someone had encouraged her to start a family earlier.

In Jewish families, it’s “education, education, education,” she said. “But nobody told me that college might be a good time to meet a nice Jewish boy.”

The general track of Suissa’s life is not unusual among Jewish American women. As a group, they’re highly educated—a fact demographers say contributes to their relatively low fertility rates.

Still longing to be mothers, they often adopt, and frequently, their children are of Latino, Asian or African descent. And that, in turn, is slowly changing the face of American Judaism.

* * *

“People don’t blink when they see these kids in synagogue today,” said Susan Abramson, the rabbi at Temple Shalom Emeth, a Reform synagogue in Burlington, Mass.

* * *

“Judaism is a religion, not a race, and we are enriched by the diversity these kids bring,” said Jenna Greenberg, the associate cantor at Washington’s Adas Israel Conservative synagogue, who recently presided over the baby-naming ceremonies for two girls from Guatemala.

* * *

Paul and Joanna Tumarkin of Tucson, Ariz., married in 1994, the same year Joanna earned a doctorate in ecology. Then in her mid-30s, she discovered earlyinto fertility treatments that chances of conceiving a child were poor. The couple turned to China, where they adopted two girls.

Adopting two orphans in need of a home, she and her husband said, would be a personal expression of “tikkun olam,” or the Jewish responsibility to help heal the world.
 I found the link to this article in another article about religion and adoption in the National Catholic Reporter.  The writer says:

I don't have any beef with Catholics' attitudes toward adoption, but I am frequently frustrated by evangelical Christians who believe adoption is a way to "save" an orphan--both from poverty and the heresy of a non-Christian life. A number of evangelical churches has started adoption ministries to encourage families to adopt. Some do focus on adopting harder-to-place children, who desperately need homes.

But most adoption specialists agree that an attitude of "orphan saving" is psychologically detrimental to adoptive children and later adults.
Hmm, I'm not sure that any religion gets a pass on the "save an orphan" meme -- look at the last line I quoted from the article about adoption and American Jews:  "Adopting two orphans in need of a home, she and her husband said, would be a personal expression of “tikkun olam,” or the Jewish responsibility to help heal the world."  And don't get me started about Catholics and adoption -- suffice it to say, that prohibitions on reproductive assistance often lead Catholics to adoption before they've really resolved their infertility issues. . . .

Monday, December 13, 2010

Honor and Realism About Birth Countries

In this post at Slate, adoptive parent KJ Dell'Antonia discusses the difficulty of honoring China in light of the oppression of its people:
In September of 2008 I wrote a letter to the Chinese government. In it, I promised to always honor the Chinese culture and to raise any child it chose to put into my care to honor it as well. Two days after we arrived in Beijing to adopt our daughter, Chinese authorities appeared outside our hotel room at midnight. Within a few hours my other kids, my mother, and I were securely behind armed guards in a quarantine hotel, and my husband was locked in a hospital room being treated for an H1N1 flu so mild he hadn’t even realized he was sick. If by “honor,” we mean “show deference to power,” I now had it covered. If we intended to use any of the more common senses of the word, I had a problem, because for what I felt toward China, at that moment and since, has little to do with the kind of honor I’d like to feel toward my daughter’s home country.

China has spent millions of dollars over the past years improving its "soft power." That effort has been very successful. It's now very easy, with all we've heard about the efficient subways, the expansive mobile networks, the stable population, and the high-speed trains carrying new workers to new destinations, to forget that behind the “One World One Dream” Olympic façade, China is run by a regime that believes its power still lies in its willingness to oppress when necessary. China's fury over the Nobel committee's choice to honor Liu Xiaobo stems from its fear that in distinguishing Liu for his criticism of Beijing, the world will look behind the curtain at the real costs of the unilateral power that has led to so many gains.

* * *

China has always been a tough sell for the honoring adoptive parent. If China afforded its own people the simplest of human rights—the right to keep and raise their own children under any circumstances—it’s likely that most adoptive parents would travel there only to see the Great Wall. (There may be more to my particular daughter’s story, but the issue remains.) I have long struggled to figure out how to honor China's past without being willfully blind to its present. In Liu Xiaobo, I've found one answer. In awarding the Nobel to Liu, the international community may shame China for its failure to allow dissent, but it honors China as well, for producing a citizen willing to speak boldly in support of what’s right for his country and countrymen, knowing that he’s likely to be called upon to accept and endure the worst of what he protests. It’s a contradiction worthy of China itself.
How do you straddle that divide, between honoring your child's country of birth while being honest about its faults?  I'm assuming we want to honor our children's birth country; feeling positive about being Chinese, or Russian, or Haitian, or whatever, is necessary for positive self esteem.  But what happens when we hide a country's faults?  Or fail to hide a country's faults?  It is a balancing act, isn't it?

When Zoe was 4.5, and we returned to China to adopt her baby sister, she was excited to visit Beijing.  From my guidebook, she had fixated on the large image of Mao over the entrance to the Forbidden City.  As we were waiting to go under that portrait into the city, Zoe was singing, "Mao, Mao, Mao-y, Mao, Mao!"  She was excited -- I was worried we'd be arrested for heresy!

As we passed under the portrait, Zoe said, "I think Mao was a good man."  I answered, "Some people say he was a good man, but others say he was not."  Zoe turns the stink-eye on me as says, emphatically, "Well, I say he's nice!"  Alrighty, then! 

We've revisited this topic many times since.  We've talked about the good things Mao has done, and the bad things that Mao did.  I think Zoe has a more balanced view of Mao now.  We've talked about the one child policy, and she knows I don't approve of the policy.  But we've also tried to separate out our problems with the government and government policies and our love of the Chinese people.

What advice would you give adoptive parents on this topic?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Adopted Kids as Guinea Pigs

If you've been hanging out here for a while you know I love research studies.  It's part of my job, admittedly, but it goes much deeper than that. It's that geeky need for knowledge for knowledge's sake.  I've admitted to being a research-based parent -- mother-instinct?  phooey!  Give me something empirical!

But this study, How can we boost IQs of “dull children”?: A late adoption study, bothers me.  Here's the crux of it:

Our study contributes in a direct manner to the question of the extent to which environment, defined by the SES of adoptive parents, can alter the cognitive development of disadvantaged children after early childhood. Late adoption represents the only human situation that provides a scientific opportunity to conduct a methodological evaluation of the impact of a total change from a deprived environment to an enriched one.
What's bugging me about the study, I think, is that it really isn't about adoption.  It's simply using adopted kids to prove some unrelated point about the malleability of IQ.  At least in other studies where adopted kids are the guinea pigs, we're studying adoption, and hopefully coming up with a better understanding of adoption that will directly benefit the guinea pigs.  Here, the adopted kids are merely instruments who happen to inhabit "the only human situation" that allows for a study of something unrelated to adoption.  There's just something icky about that, to my mind.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Words a Cell Can’t Hold

Liu Xiaobo, the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, won't be in Oslo today to receive his prize. China has forbidden him to travel to the award ceremony.  The New York Times printed one of his poems on their op-ed page yesterday;  here's a portion:
Deep in the night, empty road
I’m biking home
I stop at a cigarette stand
A car follows me, crashes over my bicycle
some enormous brutes seize me
I’m handcuffed eyes covered mouth gagged
thrown into a prison van heading nowhere

A blink, a trembling instant passes
to a flash of awareness: I’m still alive
On Central Television News
my name’s changed to “arrested black hand”
though those nameless white bones of the dead
still stand in the forgetting
I lift up high up the self-invented lie
tell everyone how I’ve experienced death
so that “black hand” becomes a hero’s medal of honor

Even if I know
death’s a mysterious unknown
being alive, there’s no way to experience death
and once dead
cannot experience death again
yet I’m still
hovering within death
a hovering in drowning
Countless nights behind iron-barred windows
and the graves beneath starlight
have exposed my nightmares

Besides a lie
I own nothing

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Adoption to the Western Mind and the African Mind

An African pastor writes about Adoption, Orphanages, and the African Extended Family System:
I have just returned from the USA. One of the major changes that I have observed from my earliest days of visiting that nation (i.e. from the late 1990s) is just how many families there are excited about and actually adopting African children. Whereas this phenomenon is not new, it has certainly grown exponentially. What I found rather surprising, however, was the lack of knowledge and appreciation of the African extended family system. So, although I initially set up this blog in order to give my church a peep into the outside world, I thought of writing a blog to inform the West about what is common knowledge back home. Whereas to the Western mind, an orphan, having lost both father and mother, is destined to either be adopted or spend the rest of his or her childhood days in an orphanage, to an African mind, the child still has many fathers and mothers, and consequently many homes to live in.

* * *

The problem with coming to Africa and adopting one “orphan” from the extended family system is that your help is limited to one person only and not the rest of his family. The child changes his name and his family, and grows up in a context of the state system. His sense of connection with the wider family is lost and so even if he was to come and visit later in life, as was the case with Obama on his last famous visit to Kenya, his mind is already moulded by the state system and the extended family system is very foreign to him.

* * *

Please do not get me wrong. I am not against adoption and orphanages, per se. . . .

So, I think there is a place for both adoption and orphanages. However, knowing the extended family system suggests A DIFFERENT EMPHASIS in caring for African orphans. My Western friends should consider empowering homes where younger or older “fathers” and younger or older “mothers” are looking after children of their deceased siblings as a viable way to care for orphans. It may be totally foreign to the Western mind, but it is the most natural way for us as Africans to look after orphans. It is not either-or but both-and. (Hence, the title of this blog is not “Adoption, orphanages OR the African Extended Family system”). So, if you are able to adopt an African child, by all means do so. For that child, it is a dream come true—from the squalor to the States! But, while adoptions continue to grow exponentially in number and orphanages are opening up with support from the West, what are you doing to support what is more natural to us?
 A great education for the Western mind in this post. . . .

Star Wars, Geek Girls, Anti-Bullying & Adoption -- What's Not to Like?!

Great anti-bullying story:
Katie Goldman's universe extends from her home to her first-grade classroom. She is a big sister to Annie Rose and Cleo, a piano player, a Spanish student, a wearer of glasses. She loathes the patch she has to wear for one lazy eye. She loves magic and princesses and "Star Wars," an obsession she picked up from her dad.

The 7-year-old carried a "Star Wars" water bottle to school in Evanston, Illinois, every day, at least until a few weeks ago, when Katie suddenly asked to take an old pink one instead. The request surprised Katie's mom, Carrie Goldman. It didn't make any sense. Why would her little sci-fi fan make such a quick turn?

Goldman kept pressing for an answer. She wasn't expecting Katie's tears.

Kids at school insisted that "Star Wars" was only for boys, her daughter wailed. She was different enough already -- the only one who was adopted, who's Jewish, who wears glasses, who needs a patch. If sacrificing Yoda for the color pink would make her fit in again, so be it.

Goldman's heart sank.

These weren't nameless, faceless bullies who taunted her daughter. They were good kids Katie ran around with on the playground. They were getting older, though, and starting to see what made people the same -- and different.

Now, it was about "Star Wars," but Goldman wondered what lunchroom teasing would progress to in middle school, high school or college.

"Is this how it starts?" Goldman wrote in her blog, Portrait of an Adoption. "Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted?"

A few days later, in Orlando, Jen Yates clicked on a link that led to Goldman's blog. Yates couldn't shake Katie's image when it flashed across the screen -- a little girl with long blonde hair, no front teeth, square-rimmed glasses.

"When you hear about bullying, it's like an abstract concept," Yates said. "When you put a face on it, an adorable little girl's face, with glasses, it brings it home."

* * *

"I know a Katie. I was Katie."

So Yates did what any geek would -- she went back to her computer.

"My fellow geeks," she wrote on her blog,, "I need your help."

Later that day, in yet another time zone, Catherine Taber clicked Yates' post about a little girl and her "Star Wars" water bottle -- Katie.

* * *

Taber found Katie's mom's blog, sent it to everyone she knew, and left a comment she hoped would help.

"I am [the] actress who has the great honor of being Padme Amidala on 'Star Wars: the Clone Wars!' I just wanted to tell Katie that she is in VERY good company being a female Star Wars fans," Taber wrote. "I know that Padme would tell you to be proud of who YOU are and know that you are not ALONE!

"THE FORCE is with you Katie!"
It gets even better from there, so go read the whole thing!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do you feel LUCKY?

You never know where it's going to come from, do you?  I'm doing my job backstage as kid wrangler for Zoe's and Maya's performance for Ballet Concerto's Holiday Special.  I'm talking to another mom, and the conversation goes something like this:

Me:  Complain, complain, tired of rehearsals, kids exhausted, didn't get to bed until 2 hours past bedtime, no end in sight. . . .

She:  My daughter loves this stuff, lives to perform, as a little girl she'd dance naked around the house.  I had a friend who had a daughter who loved ballet and someone approached her and said she could get her daughter into a company if she'd attend her school for a year.  But my friend didn't want to send her 16-year-old to a ballet boarding school, but now she kind of regrets not doing it.  She had all kinds of trouble with her daughter, drugs, all the wrong men.  And she became a stripper.  Who knows, maybe it would have happened that way even if she'd gone to that school.  After all, SHE WAS ADOPTED AND YOU NEVER KNOW WHERE THEY COME FROM.

Me:  Stare in stunned disbelief, mouth hanging open.

This is a mom who has known me and the girls through ballet since Zoe was 3.  She knows Zoe and Maya are adopted, because even if I hadn't told her so, any idiot would know it by looking at us!  And THIS is her attitude toward adoption.  And THIS is what she thinks is okay to share with me.  Sigh.

Oh, and in the further meandering backtracking that followed, when she figured out that maybe this wasn't quite the right thing to say to me, she reveals that the adoptee-stripper is doing much better now.  And that her parents named her LUCKY.  Yes, her actual given name by her adoptive parents was LUCKY. Yeah, I actually took the trouble to explain to this lady why giving an adopted child the name LUCKY is all manner of wrong. Sigh.

And yes, that's Zoe in costume as a "Little Boo" (think a Who Down in Whoville) in the "Christmas Grump," er, what the heck, just call it "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!"  I certainly felt pretty Grinchy during that conversation this morning.  And yes, this is all a thinly veiled excuse to post a cute picture of Zoe (except the conversation did actually happen.  Sigh.).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Is 'bastard' a bad word?"

My heart stopped for a moment when Zoe asked that question after school yesterday.

Deep breath.  "Why do you ask?"  Zoe told me that kids in her class were talking about what words were really bad, and one little boy spelled out b-a-s-t-a-r-d and told her it was the WORST of all words. 

He told her it meant someone who doesn't have a father.

Zoe replied to him, "Well, I don't have a father and I don't know what's so bad about that."

The little boy clammed up, and nothing more was said.  Zoe said he wasn't calling her a bastard, they were just talking about bad words. Whew!  At least the "stigma" of being "fatherless" hasn't reached her playground yet.

Zoe and I talked about the meaning of the word, and the historical context.  I explained that it didn't mean you don't have a father;  after all, everyone has a father since it takes a man and a woman to make a baby.  There was a time, though, when the law didn't consider a man a father unless he was married to the mother.  And having a baby without being married was considered a really bad thing, and people sometimes blamed the child, which was kind of silly, by calling the child "illegitimate" or a "bastard." 

I'm glad that Zoe stood up for herself -- she always amazes me!  But I wish I didn't have to explain to my ten-year-old the stigma of illegitimacy, of being "fatherless."  Sigh.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Teaching Tolerance and Diversity

From Babble, an article giving ten tips on how to explain other cultures to kids:
1. Start with things, not people

Rather than jumping right into skin color or religion, try introducing the concept of difference to very small children through objects. Maureen Costello, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, explains that it can be as simple as showing children a bunch of balloons and discussing how they are different colors, but they are all balloons. . . .

2. Remember that recognizing difference does not equal discrimination

* * *

3. Use language children can handle

* * *

4. Bring other cultures into your children’s lives

You can use books, toys, and electronic media to introduce different languages and cultures. . . .
5. Avoid censorship

This is what I call the “Little House on the Prairie Dilemma.” You’re reading Little House to your kid when suddenly Ma Ingalls tells Laura she is as brown as a savage. Do you read that sentence or do you leave out Ma’s racist comment? Costello cautions against censorship. . . .

6. Talk about diversity before the topic comes up

* * *

7. Use the situations that arise

Don’t shy away from answering your child honestly when she asks about a person’s accent or clothing. “Children are naturally curious about things that are different to them,” Gay explains. . . .
8. Be natural

“Treat differences as natural,” Nieto advises. [Don't make] a big production of talking about diversity. . . .

9. Be considerate of other people’s feelings

* * *

10. Bring different cultures into your life

“Become more of a multicultural person,” Nieto advises. “You need to enact it in some way” if you want your children to value diversity. . . .
In number 9, be considerate of other people's feelings, the author continues the story she uses to introduce this piece;  she mentioned that her son stared and pointed at a woman wearing a burka and she was at a loss at how to deal with it. Should she answer his question right then, "completely objectifying the woman," or she could pretend he was pointing at the emus and ignore it?  She chose to invite her son to ask the woman why she was dressed the way she was.

What do you think of this approach?  Isn't this a version of what we sometimes complain about, strangers approaching us to ask personal questions?  Making us and our kids feel like a living experiment in diversity? Being just another stop on the "diversity fieldtrip?"

The expert advice given in the article was this:

“I do think that most adults would prefer to be asked than to have someone just staring at them,” says Nieto [author of Affirming Diversity]. “But it doesn’t always work out. You have to use your judgment.” She adds that adults should demonstrate “respect and humility and broach the issue in a respectful way.”
The article's author says it was a good choice for them to ask the woman about why she was wearing the burka:  "Fortunately, the woman at the zoo was cool. She simply told him, 'I dress like this because I am a Muslim.'”

What have you done in similar situations?  How do you approach it when your child points out something "different" about a stranger?

Another '50s Era Baby-Selling Ring

Remember the Cole Babies -- adopted out illegally by Katherine Cole from the 1930s to the 1960s? Here's news of another group out of Florida doing the same thing:
On Nov. 24, 1958, teenager Barbara Johnson held the daughter she had just given birth to at a doctor's office in Williston, looked into her blue eyes and said, "Some day, you will come find me. I know you will — you've got to."

Today, 70-year-old Barbara Johnson Weeks Rainey is living in Alabama and still waiting to find the daughter she gave life to and then gave up to what she thought was a legitimate adoption agency in Gainesville.

What she says she later discovered was that "Col." Robert Ryan, the man running Gainesville's Southern Rescue Workers' maternity home — the unlicensed facility where Barbara lived during her pregnancy — was actually selling the babies born of the mothers living there.

In an era when the societal stigma against giving birth to a child outside of wedlock was strong, unmarried pregnant girls were sent away to homes like the Southern Rescue Workers facility so their reputations — and their families' — would not be ruined. Friends and relatives often were told the girls had gone to live with a sick aunt or grandmother.

And Robert Ryan (the honorific title of colonel was bestowed by Southern Rescue Workers) learned he could take advantage of the situation by exploiting the girls and extorting the potential adoptive parents.

Ryan was arrested in 1962 after being on the run for almost two years. He was charged with "receipt of compensation for child placement services" after an investigation by the Florida Legislature, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, the Gainesville Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The law enforcement agencies alleged he was selling the babies for between $1,500 and $5,000 each and extorting money from couples desperate for a child, but he was never tried on four counts of selling babies.

But what happened to Ryan afterward — and how a man with a criminal record ended up running a maternity home to begin with — has been lost to time, with Gainesville historians, retired doctors and longtime residents struggling to recall the home, let alone the fate of a man many of the girls grew to fear and dislike.

The black-market baby legacy he created continues to this day, as children and birth mothers struggle to search for one another. But their searches are difficult, if not impossible, because Ryan and his successor destroyed most of their files.
These kinds of illegal schemes can flourish -- then and now -- because of closed records, shame and secrecy in adoption.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Save the Children?

Excellent post from Patricia J. Williams' Diary of a Mad Law Professor at the Nation:
'Twas well after midnight when I came across some morsels of advice from the Ontario-based website Under the listed advantages of international adoption is the proposition that "it allows adoptive parents to be matched with children that share their ethnic heritage.... It also allows socially conscious couples to bring a child into a much more advantageous and privileged living situation than would be possible in the child's country of birth."

Contrast that with the site's description of domestic adoption: "One major drawback is that there is no guarantee that the child you want will end up being placed with you. Public adoption agencies serve the interests of the child, not the parents, and will always place the child in the situation they feel is best for him or her.... You must also accept that many children waiting to be placed...come from difficult backgrounds and may have been emotionally, psychologically, physically or sexually abused. Developmental delays and medical conditions...[are] a risk you have to assume as a prospective parent of a domestically adopted child."

I spend a good bit of my professional life studying the ethics of adoption, and is hardly alone in its assumptions. There are at least 18.5 million children worldwide who have lost both parents, and their plight is largely shaped by North American parenting preferences. From the rushed airlifts of Vietnamese, Korean and Haitian babies (some who later turn out not to be orphans at all), to the rage for Chinese girls, to Madonna's splendiferous beneficence—popular culture too often interprets international adoption through the lens of a "first world rescues third world innocents" narrative. What's missing from this tidy plot is sensitivity to the social disruptions that render so many children homeless to begin with.

* * *

The plight of homeless children in war-torn or poverty-stricken places is surely heartbreaking. And relatively speaking, children in the industrialized West are many times better off than the average child in Sierra Leone. But let's not confuse "helping" global crises with the individual decision to adopt a child. We have an international crisis of child protection; but that's not something that adoption alone, or even primarily, can fix. It's just not a great idea to adopt a child because you want to end war or cure world hunger. Maybe you should work for an NGO instead or help plow a field. Such efforts are often undervalued, but they contribute significantly to the betterment of dispossessed children.

To posit adoption as "rescue" from turmoil risks inflecting the personal family dynamic with missionary smugness in a way no child should be asked to endure. For example, if you adopt your nephew and raise that child with the message that you are Mother Teresa for having taken him in and that he's ever so lucky to have been rescued from sluttish "Aunt Sally"... Well, it's got to be hard for a kid not to feel ambivalent about the part of himself that is born of Aunt Sally. Similarly, in many international and interracial adoptions, kids are raised to look down on their origins and "feel lucky"—to their documented distress.
"Socially conscious couples?" That's a new and icky way to posit "saving a child" through international adoption.  I'm glad Professor Williams is calling foul on it.

Santa Picture


NOTHING can make me go to THE MALL (insert scary music) at this time of year.  Well, almost nothing.  Let Zoe break her glasses and need new ones,  and suddenly we're headed to the mall (AND we get to go back to pick up the glasses, too!).

And lo! and behold, there was NO LINE at Santa's house!  So this year, we have a cute Santa picture (and new purple glasses)! (I do think unplanned Santa pictures always turn out better.  Not quite as much stress in getting ready and all Christmasy and all matchy-matchy (matchy-matchy was accidental this time!)).

The girls are still debating about whether this is the REAL Santa or just one of his helpers.  What's your vote?

Friday, December 3, 2010

China Daily Roundup: Orphan Stories

A few interesting articles from China Daily:

China to give annual financial aid to underage orphans:
The Chinese government said Friday it will provide annual financial assistance to underage orphans to improve their livelihood.

An orphan in less developed western provinces will receive 4,320 yuan ($635) this year, a Ministry of Civil Affairs statement said.

An orphan in China's central provinces will receive 3,240 yuan while those in eastern provinces will receive 2,160 yuan.

The ministry said the nation has not supported orphans enough.

Orphanages have run short of professional nursing staff and many orphans face education, medical and employment difficulties.

This year the central government will give 2.5 billion yuan in financial assistance to underage orphans.

The money will be disbursed to orphans' personal bank accounts, those of their guardians or the corporate accounts of orphanages.

The government will continue to give financial assistance in future years, the statement said.
Orphans cope after loss to AIDS:

A photo story: Children play outside their classroom in Shangcai county, Central China's Henan province on Nov 30, 2010. The children, who are healthy, have lost their parents to AIDS. But they are growing up with good care at this school, where 78 orphans study on the first floor and live on the upper one. This social welfare institution, known as China Red Ribbon Home, supported by China Red Ribbon Foundation and All-China Federation of Industry & Commerce, provides the children with primary and middle school education. [many more photos at China Daily]
Touching orphans' souls with sound of music:

After hearing the big news, the classroom erupted with screams of excitement as children ran into the halls to tell their friends: Professional musicians were coming to Beijing Angel Training School to teach them how to play the violin.

It did not matter that most of the students had no idea what a violin is.

"When the violinist opened the case and held up the instrument, they all screamed, mouths wide open," said Zhang Mei, 59, who teaches some of the 76 orphans at the school.

On stage was Chen Qian, one of several highly trained musicians with the Wings of Music, a charity project aimed at helping disadvantaged youths gain confidence and lay solid foundations for a better future.

A 2003 nationwide study by the China Center of Adoption Affairs showed that 74 percent of abandoned and orphaned children develop behavioral problems, six times that of children with parents.

"By touching the souls of needy children through classical music, we want to drive away the inferiority and loneliness brought by the mischief of fate," said Chen, 29, who is also the project's executive director.
Life in orphans' home in North China city:

Photo story: Zhang Weishi watches a girl writing the Chinese character "home" in the SOS Children's Village in Tianjin municipality in North China on Nov 20, 2010. Zhang, 9, lives in the village which has been home for more than 300 orphans since its opening in 1984. The children here study nearby on weekdays and take part in some extracurricular classes during the weekend, including calligraphy, painting, Beijing opera and dance. [many more photos at China Daily]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

UN finds irregularities in Guatemalan adoptions

A brief report in the Washington Post:
A United Nations anti-corruption commission has found irregularities in Guatemala's adoption program despite government efforts to prevent fraudulent adoptions.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala says in a report it found cases where Guatemalan children were given to foreigners who were listed as their "foster parents" to circumvent a ban on international adoptions.
I was intrigued by this small blurb, because I hadn't heard that there was any U.N. commission investigating adoptions in Guatemala (and I pride myself on keeping up with these things!).

Well, that's because the focus of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) isn't adoption -- it's organized crime.  From a very informative article in the Journal of International Criminal Justice, this brief explanation of the mandate of the CICIG
CICIG’s mandate is ‘unprecedented among UN or other international efforts to promote accountability and strengthen the rule of law’15 as it is the first hybrid mechanism whose subject matter jurisdiction is not related to serious human rights violations but rather to dismantling organized crime.

* * *

[I]ts mandate was tailored to address the current infiltration of government institutions by criminal clandestine organizations and the operation of violent illegal security forces outside of the control of the Guatemalan state. . . .  These groups operate with almost total impunity given links to the very state actors tasked with prosecuting them.
Let that sink in for a moment.

In investigating organized crime, which in Guatemala is linked to government actors, the CICIG came across information about adoption corruption in Guatemala.  Look at what the CICIG is working on in Guatemala, according to that same article in the Journal of International Criminal Justice:
As of July 2009, CICIG had been admitted as a private prosecutor in eight cases: (i) a case against the daughter of a member of the Guatemalan Congress for human trafficking and illegal adoptions; (ii) the murder of 11 people in Zacapa during a clash between drug traffickers; (iii) a case against four members of the National Civilian Police who engaged in extortion and assault; (iv) a case against Senior Prosecutor Alvaro Matus for obstructing justice and destroying evidence; (v) a case against General Enrique Ros Sosa, son of former Guatemalan General Efrain Rios Montt, and five other ex-military officials for embezzlement; (vi) a case against the kidnappers of Gladys Monterroso, wife of the Human Rights Ombudsman; (vii) a case against ex-President Alfonso Portillo for embezzlement; and (viii) an embezzlement case against ex-Defence Minister Eduardo Arevalo Lacs. In all eight cases, the accused are directly and visibly connected to government institutions, politicians or drug-trafficking organizations.
Good company, eh?  Organized crime in Guatemala is involved in murders, embezzlement, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and illegal adoptions.

For more information about the CICIG, check out their website.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Adoption Allowed for 12 Air-lifted Haitian Kids

The Washington Post reports today:
After months of uncertainty, the way has been cleared for U.S. families to adopt 12 Haitian children who've been living at a Roman Catholic institution near Pittsburgh since a chaotic airlift that followed the devastating earthquake in January.

The Haitian government had sent a letter formally approving the adoptions, State Department spokeswoman Rosemary Macray said Wednesday, and the children will be matched with U.S. families over the coming weeks.

Unlike some 1,100 other children flown out of Haiti to the U.S. after the quake, the children at the Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, Pa., were not part of the adoption process prior to the disaster and, according to some legal experts, shouldn't have been eligible for the emergency program. Most of them had birth parents still living.

However, Macray said those parents, who were interviewed by U.S. officials, have formally relinquished custody.

"Get out of my way, I'm entitled to adopt!"

I'm pretty much used to anti-UNICEF feeling in the adoption community, mostly from agencies and adoptive parents who feel that UNICEF is "anti-adoption."  It's pretty popular to declare, "MY kid won't be collecting for UNICEF this Halloween."  "I'd NEVER send a UNICEF Christmas card."  Fine, whatever. A recent article in the Washington Times, UNICEF's Effective Attack on Inter-Country Adoption, by adoptive parent Andrea Poe setting out her grievances against UNICEF left me shaking my head and thinking, "Is that the best you've got?!":
UNICEF claims that international adoption robs children of their heritage and culture. The organization’s has staked out a firm position: children must be given to birth parents, regardless of the circumstance. In lieu of that, children should go to extended family. Next, to his or her “community.” Finally, domestic adoption should be explored. Inter-country adoption is “one of a range of options” according to UNCEF and should be turned to as a last resort. The organization goes so far as to claim that international adoption must be “subsidiary” to in-country adoption, at all costs.
It's not just UNICEF that says that -- the subsidiarity principle has been a staple of international adoption forever, and is ensconced in the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, a document so main-stream that it's been signed by 83 nations, including the United States.  If you have a problem with the domestic-adoption-before-international-adoption idea, your problem is with the Hague Convention, not with UNICEF!
UNICEF declares that inter-country adoption “is not as a good as being raised in their families of origin but better than staying in orphanages.” That would make sense if the world was a perfect place and this Polly Anna viewpoint had any basis in reality. But that’s not the world, nor is it the reality of millions of orphans around the world. Shared DNA does not make for the best families, contrary to UNICEF’s claims. Children wind up eligible for adoption for myriad reasons, ranging from poverty to abuse to neglect.
Huh?  What is outrageous about saying that adoption is not as good as being raised in their families of origin?!  Of course it's not!  The best possible thing for my daughters would have been for their birth parents to have raised them, if they had been able.  That's been the "best possible thing" for the vast majority of people on this earth in the past, in the present and in the future!  I was raised by my family of origin, my parents were raised by their biological parents, and their parents were raised by their biological parents, and their parents' parents were raised by their biologican parents, and so on and so on and so on. . . .  And would you like to know how many of those people were raised in poverty?  An awful lot!  There are 13.3 million children living in poverty in the U.S.  Should they all be removed from their families of origin to be raised in "stable" adoptive families?  Of course not -- we mean children in poverty in OTHER countries!  Well, there are 1 billion children living in poverty around the world.  Should they all be placed for adoption in Western countries?

And UNICEF says that adoption is better than orphanages -- how is that a block-adoption-at-any-cost position?
In some cases, UNICEF’s positions border on racist. In a position paper on inter-country adoption the organization states, that every effort should be made to keep a child “within his ethnic group.” Huh? Some vague notion about cultural ties should trump the basic human rights of children? For what end UNICEF does not say.
Actually, culture IS a basic human right of children.  The U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all recognize this. So if you want to argue otherwise, your problem isn't with UNICEF, it's with the entire world!
There’s a disconnect between UNICEF’s position and the welfare of children. Somewhere along the way the behemoth organization lost track of advocating for children and began abstracting the issue.

You can even hear it in the language used in the organization’s Innocenti Digest entitled “Impact of International Legal Standards and the Safeguards of The Best interest of the Child in Domestic and Intercountry Adoption,” where “different stakeholders” in intercountry adoption are mentioned. Stakeholders? What about the children?
Oh, come now!  You're being quite disingenuous here, aren't you?!  YOU, Ms. Adoptive Parent, are a "stakeholder" in intercountry adoption, aren't you?  Don't you want UNICEF to consider your interests?!  Seems to be what this whole article is about -- YOUR interests over any other stakeholder!

Aren't the COUNTRIES offering to send their children abroad for adoption important stakeholders in inter-country adoption whose interests should be considered?  Or do you advocate ignoring their interests and simply invading and taking children to "better" adoptive homes?  I think not!

And if you're not interested in reading someone else's cherry-picked assessment of that UNICEF document, read the whole thing and decide for yourself if it shows that UNICEF doesn't care about the children.
To promote its agenda, UNICEF points out that abuses have taken place with inter-country adoptions. They are right. They have. Just as they have and do with domestic adoptions, which UNICEF advocates. The Hague Convention was developed to provide guidelines for inter-country adoption with the hope of reducing abuses of the system and reducing the risk for child trafficking and profiteering from orphans. This issue so often raised by UNICEF is a canard. C’mon. Who isn’t against corruption and abuse?
A canard?  Abuse, including child trafficking and profiteering, is a canard?  I don't think the author knows the meaning of the word canard:  "a false or unfounded report or story; especially: a fabricated report; a groundless rumor or belief." She just conceded that abuses happen, so UNICEF also saying so is the OPPOSITE of a canard!

And if she thinks the Hague Convention has solved the problem of corruption in international adoption, she hasn't been paying attention.  First thing on her reading list should be the article by David Smolin that I posted earlier in the week. Professor Smolin makes a compelling case, supported by evidence, that the Hague Convention has not fulfilled its promise to end corrupt practices in intercountry adoption.
What’s so disappointing about UNICEF’s position is that for years the organization has been a leader in child welfare around the world. The work that they do to help feed and immunize children is unimpeachable. And perhaps this is the problem. The organization’s success in this area has jaundiced UNICEF’s view on adoption.
That's a pretty damning charge.  Proof, please?  If I were to say, "Adoption agencies don't really care about the welfare of the children, they just want to keep them healthy enough to be adopted so they can make a boatload of money," wouldn't you insist on proof?  You certainly should.  So I can demand proof when others declare, "Child welfare organizations don't want kids adopted so they can get boatloads of donations to take care of the poor orphans."
Arbitrary national borders on a map have become a greater priority to UNICEF than the complicated issues of placing children with safe, loving families wherever those families may be.
You know, "arbitrary" national borders certainly seem important to us when we're trying to keep people from crossing ours;  they only become unimportant when we're interested in crossing others' borders.
UNICEF has repeatedly stated that it prefers the expansion of social welfare programs for poor families within countries, so that children can stay in kinship groups. The practical outcome has been that unparented children are being denied the best homes so that UNICEF can score cheap points in the international arena about the insufficient aid poor countries receive. The pawns here are the children.
Again, proof that UNICEF is trying to score cheap points and doesn't really care about children?  Again, wouldn't you demand proof if I said, "Agencies and adoptive parents in the West don't want aid to families in poor countries because they want to have unfettered access to adopt children of poor people;  they don't care about the plight of poor people, they just want to take their children?"

That's the only damning thing in this paragraph, throwing unsupported accusations about UNICEF's motivations.  Arguing that we should provide more aid for poor families is actually a good thing, I think.  Keeping children with their "kinship groups" (known as "families" when we're talking about our own, but talked about in tribal terms when we talk about "the other") is a good thing.  Not allowing poverty to be the thing that tears families apart is a good thing.  Saying that no child should lose his or her family because of poverty is a good thing.  Kids don't really care about having "the BEST homes;" they care about having their family.

You know, it's quite possible to think rich countries should aid poor countries in order to keep families together, and IN THE MEANTIME, believe international adoption is appropriate in some cases.  That seems to be UNICEF's position.
Harvard Law School’s Elizabeth Bartholet, an adoptive parent herself and a well-regarded child advocate, has publicly stated that “international adoption is under siege,” largely because of UNICEF’s unrelenting assault on inter-country adoption.

In Batholet’s paper International Adoption: The Human Rights Position she writes, “Preferences for what UNICEF calls permanent family or foster care [in country] are dangerous. UNICEF’s argument is that such care could preserve children’s birth and national heritage links. But foster care doesn’t exist as a meaningful option in most sending countries – unparented children are instead relegated to orphanages. UNICEF wants foster care expanded, but denying children adoptive homes now because in the future foster care might exist is unfair to existing children.”
Bartholet's position on international law and international human rights is not in the mainstream;  it is decidedly fringe.  Bartholet has even argued that baby buying is no different from surrogacy -- if we allow one, we should allow the other.  After all, what's the difference between eggs carried by a surrogate and children already born to other people?!

Yes, UNICEF wants foster care expanded so children can be taken care of in-country, wants domestic adoption expanded, so children can be taken care of in-country.  So does the Hague Convention.  But it also recognizes that when that isn't possible, international adoption is appropriate.  And that's what UNICEF says, too! 
The influence of UNICEF on the world community cannot be overstated. It has used its reputation as a leader in children welfare to lobby countries, including the United States, to reduce the number of inter-country adoptions. The results have had dire consequences for children around the world. International adoptions have plummeted and most countries are now closed to American parents.
I think adoptive parents and agencies overstate UNICEF's influence in this area. There are way too many much more powerful actors in the international adoption arena.UNICEF is a popular bogeyman, but where's the PROOF that UNICEF has caused the reduction in international adoption?  Correlation is not causation.  As Professor Smolin says in his excellent article:
The current decline in intercountry adoption, and the recurrent shutdowns or slowdowns of intercountry adoption in many sending countries, are not caused primarily by pre-existing ideological opposition to moving orphans outside of their countries of origin. The primary problem is not ideological disagreement about intercountry adoption, but rather regulatory failure leading to recurrent child laundering scandals and other destructive practices. Recurrent child laundering scandals reveal intercountry adoption systems driven by a combination of profit-seeking and rich-nation demand for children. Sustaining the legitimacy of intercountry adoption under conditions of recurrent child laundering scandals is vain, as the claim to operate for the good of orphaned children is fatally undermined in systems whose “orphans” are frequently purchased or stolen children. Thus, preventing child laundering and related abuses needs to move to the center of the intercountry adoption agenda, rather than remaining a largely peripheral concern.
The causes of the decline in international adoption are so clearly about corruption -- that's what's caused shutdowns in Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia -- and the special case of China.  China was such a large actor, and I think we can all agree that UNICEF has little influence with the Chinese government!  For China it is changing attitudes about girls and better economic position for many in China.  That isn't UNICEF's fault, too, is it?!
The dark and highly influential shadow that UNICEF has cast on intercountry adoption has left millions of children around the world stranded, without homes and without hope.
This is part of the either-or discussion of international adoption. It's either international adoption or orphanages.  It's either international adoption or death.  And how many "millions of children around the world stranded, without homes and hope" are we talking about, anyway?

UNICEF's figure that there are 132 million orphans is popular to bandy about, usually by the same people who hate everything they think UNICEF stands for!  But that figure defines orphans as children who have lost ONE or both parents.  When you really start to dig down, you learn that only 13 million have lost both parents. And the vast majority of those 13 million children are living with the surviving parent, grandparents or extended family (you know, the same thing that would happen with our children if one parent should die.)

If you're looking at it as international adoption or orphanage, there are about 2 million children in orphanages, and not all of them are orphans.  They're there because poor families need help taking care of their children.  So the alternatives are not what the author here suggests -- international adoption or a slow lingering death in an orphanage.

And before blowing off better aid to poor families and expanded foster care, you might want to check out this report, Families, Not Orphanages, which argues -- with supporting evidence -- that change is possible.

If you're interested in really finding out what UNICEF's position is, instead of assuming that whatever this author wants to say is true, you might want to look at what UNICEF actually says:

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides UNICEF’s work, clearly states that every child has the right to grow up in a family environment, to know and be cared for by her or his own family, whenever possible. Recognising this, and the value and importance of families in children’s lives, families needing assistance to care for their children have a right to receive it. When, despite this assistance, a child’s family is unavailable, unable or unwilling to care for her/him, then appropriate and stable family-based solutions should be sought to enable the child to grow up in a loving, caring and supportive environment.

Inter-country adoption is among the range of stable care options. For individual children who cannot be cared for in a family setting in their country of origin, inter-country adoption may be the best permanent solution.

UNICEF supports inter-country adoption, when pursued in conformity with the standards and principles of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoptions – already ratified by more than 80 countries.
So you disagree with UNICEF's position on adoption?  I don't. Disagreeing with UNICEF's stated position is tantamount to saying, "Get out of my way, I'm entitled to adopt!"