Thursday, March 24, 2011


Now there's a sexy title!  I'm sure it will draw countless readers to this blog post. . . .

I've been thinking about subsidiarity a lot this week since my Adoption Law class will be turning its attention to international adoption next week, and since news broke about people trying to adopt Japanese quake orphans when Japan can very well take care of its own, and since I read this sweet story of a family going back to Ethiopia to adopt the biological brother of the two children they had previously adopted:
Three siblings from Ethiopia have been reunited in Canada thanks to the efforts of their adoptive parents and an outpouring of support from a Saskatchewan town.

Four years ago Ryan Killoh and Treena Constantinoff of Warman, Sask., adopted a brother and sister, Tseganesh and Misgana, from the impoverished African nation only to learn that a second brother had been left behind.

Tseganesh, who was five years old upon her arrival and spoke little English, "was trying tell us about someone named Tesute," said Constantinoff.

"It took about six months for us to figure out that she was talking about an older brother that was still in Ethiopia."

"I said to Ryan, ‘I'm going to fly to Ethiopia to see if I can find him,'" she told CTV News Saskatoon.

Constantinoff contacted the orphanage in Ethiopia, which led to the village where Tesute lived with his grandmother.
It is a sweet story;  I think most people would agree that siblings ought to be together in adoption.  So what has me fretting?

That grandmother.

And subsidiarity.

Here's a simple explanation of the principle of subsidiarity:
The principle of subsidiarity, as applied to child welfare, states that it is in the best interest of children to be raised by family or kin. If immediate family/kin is unable, or unavailable, domestic placement with a foster or adoptive family is the next best option. Finally, if neither of these alternatives is viable, then permanent placement with an appropriate family in another country through intercountry adoption is best.
The Hague Convention respecting intercountry adoption [yes, I know Ethiopia isn't a signatory of the Hague Convention, but I'm talking not so much about this particular story, but about intercountry adoption more generally] contains that subsidiarity principle.  In its preamble it says that "each State should take, as a matter of priority, appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin," yet recognizes that intercountry adoption may be appropriate, but only for a child  "for whom a suitable family cannot be found in his or her State of origin." 

So there you have it, one, two, three.  Biological family first, domestic adoption second, international adoption third.  The principle of subsidiarity. I freely admit that I was a third best choice for my kids -- and depending on your attitudes toward transracial adoption and single parenting, I might be the fifth best choice for my kids.  That's the principle of subsidiarity in a nutshell.

My concern isn't about this little boy being adopted and thus able to join his previously-adopted siblings.  My concern is that the first two children were adopted internationally when they had a grandtmother who was apparently able and willing to take care of at least one of her grandchildren.  Was she unwilling to raise the other two? Could she afford to raise only one of the three?  Would she have been able to raise all three if offered support?

Now, I'm not making the argument that adoptive parents should take the money from the adoption, and give it to impoverished families so they can raise their own children (while a laudable sentiment, it's not likely to happen). But we must all recognize that many, many more extended family members would be quite capable of raising orphaned children if given assistance.  With that assistance, the subsidiarity principle becomes a practice rather than a principle more honored in the breach than the observance.

What changes would have to be made to intercountry adoption to make the subsidiarity principle meaningful? One would be for the U.S. to restrict adoptions from non-Hague countries who may not feel bound by the principle in the first place. Another would be for the U.S. to restrict adoptions from sending countries with weak family preservation infrastructure. What other changes would you suggest?


Sunday Koffron Please Stand Up said...

"U.S. to restrict adoptions from non-Hague countries who may not feel bound by the principle in the first place. Another would be for the U.S. to restrict adoptions from sending countries with weak family preservation infrastructure."

Both seem like a good start and perfictly do-able.

Anne said...

What's your definition of "assistance" and where would it come from? I often see this term bandied about with no discussion of what it would entail and who would provide it.

Anonymous said...

Malinda - I read that story to and was upset that the grandmother was for all intentions just left behind. How will the kids feel when they are fully grown and realize their grandmother was left to die alone...

I think if you are a Hague signatory receiving (and sending) country you should not allow non-Hague adoptions... Simply because you are saying we will protect kids from specific countries, but adoption provides go ahead and open up huge programs in non-Hague countries where you don't need to worry about the ethics and we will turn a blind eye until the corruption gets so bad it is blatant to the world and if we don't do something we will look bad too. Seems like talking out of both sides of your mouth... You are either on board or not.

Dani said...

Thanks for the post. Agree with your ideas. And I have also never understood how a Hague country "do business" with a non-Hague country.

Angela said...

While this principle and process look great on paper, may I suggest that the doing of it -- especially the step about domestic adoption -- may take a quantum (e.g. multi-generational) cultural shift in some countries. I'm talking about the many developing nations where orphans are considered little better than dogs and if adopted domestically would be more than likely destined to a life of servitude to their new "family" or worse.

I think Dept of State knows about this and is powerless to stop it if they stand unwaiveringly behind the principle of subsidiarity.