Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Just what is the first resort?"

I've posted before about the tendency of adoptive and prospective adoptive parents to blame any downturn in international adoption on UNICEF.  Interesting timing, in light of the latest revelations about trafficking in Guatemalan adoption, the Washington Post's egregious Red Thread blog continues that blame game this week:
When I speak to people outside the adoption community, many are incredulous that UNICEF, the very organization that provides so much aid to children worldwide,is behind restricting inter-country adoption. On the surface it just doesn’t make sense.

To fully understand what is happening, why countries around the world – from Guatemala to Vietnam to Kyrgyzstan -- are under enormous pressure to reinvent, reduce and, in some cases, end their inter-country adoption programs, you must understand the “why” behind the “what.”

When pressed for reasons why the U.S. Department of State (DoS) and UNICEF they actively engage in closing inter-country adoption programs, the very first response from both entities is that they are protecting children. They say they are working towards an adoption system that works against child trafficking. That goal is laudable.

The safety of children, of course, is paramount and must be the cornerstone of any adoption program. I have yet to meet an adoptive family that believes otherwise. The good news is we all agree. So where’s the problem?

Ultimately UNICEF, and to a lesser extent the Department of State, are opposed to inter-country adoption, calling it a “last resort” for children. Just what is the first resort?
Just what is the first resort?  Really?!  That's a slam dunk -- not stealing children from loving parents for one.  Not creating international adoption programs poisoned by money motives for another.  And how about the obvious one -- working to KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER. 

I'm not going to repeat everything I said in the previous post I referenced above, but I want to point out one thing -- the utter disdain this adoptive parent has for family.  Oh, yes, she is pro-adoptive-family, that "last resort" she thinks should be a "first resort."  But natural families? They're merely an impediment to adoption!  How DARE they be a "first resort?"  How DARE anyone think that adoption isn't just as good as -- nay, BETTER THAN -- giving birth! 

How dare UNICEF think that children should remain with their biological parents?!  Never mind that that is the way it's worked since Adam and Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel, or since the first humans oozed up from the primordial slime.  Never mind that I was raised by my biological parents who were raised by their biological parents who were raised by their biological parents who were raised by their biological parents. . . .

As an adoptive parent it's pretty easy to get soooo focused on adoption that you forget it really isn't the norm.  You hang out with other adoptive parents, you read blogs of other adoptive parents, you read books by other adoptive parents.  Suddenly, it seems like everyone in the world has adopted.  It's like the cartoon in the front of the first edition of Adam Pertman's Adoption Nation (I'm doing this from memory, so not a direct quote!):  there's a couple talking with another couple with a very obviously pregnant wife, and the first couple says, "Oh, I'm so sorry you couldn't adopt!"  Funny, huh, completely reversing that "so sorry you couldn't get pregnant" thing that adoptive parents sometimes suffer through.

That's what this adoptive parent is doing -- so focused on adoption she can't even SEE that adoption isn't a first resort for children. In this adoptive parent's view, the entire biological basis of family is turned on its head.  Suddenly, adoption is normal, the natural order of things, not a last resort. Adoption should be the "first resort" for children?!  Give me a break.


Elissa said...

Um, I hate to point out the obvious here but "first resort" choices are generally unavailable if a child is in an orphanage. And as someone who has been personally affected by UNICEF, I can't disagree with you more about their actions. There is a little boy living in an orphanage in Nepal who could be sleeping in the empty bedroom next to mine if not for UNICEF's unfounded speculation about trafficking in that country. None of the cases processed after the closure were found to be fraudulent, and I would venture to guess that no "first resort" solutions have been found for the hundreds of orphans who had families around the world approved and waiting for them.

It's a shame so many people still don't get this.

Anonymous said...

I think you're missing the point. The author isn't saying adoption should be the first resort. She isn't saying adoption should be for kids with parents who want them. While I LOVE your blog it saddens me to see that you don't fully understand UNICEF's role in IA adoptions, specifically in relationship to the "culture" of various countries outside the 'big ones'. Lasly, PLEASE tell me how China is different? Please tell me why it is OK (required) to bring gifts to the people in country involved in adoptions? Please explain why China is better? Please tell me why UNICEF isn't all over China. Money? What's going on over there is crazy in comparison. The kids left behind in Guat, Nepal, Viet are just as deserving of families as those in China. Seriously, no fraud found in the Nepal cases and what on earth is the DOS doing with the Viet cases? Come on.

Girl*wander said...

Have you done any work with your Nepalese contacts to try to find a local placement for that child? If you were willing to pay many thousands of dollars to move the child to the US, it is feasible that the money could be used to help place and fund the transition of that child in to a Nepalese family.

Furthermore, I think UNICEF is on the right track if
a. they provide a means for well-meanings wealthy westerners like yourself to provide aid for orphans so that they can transition in to family or local homes
b. create programs that empower women so that they can work to support their families (as well as have access to birth control) with dignity in a safe environment.

This is a definitely a human rights and women's issue - it is a shame that so many people still don't get that.

Anonymous said...

Seriously folks do you honestly believe there is no trafficking in babies for international adoption? Really? Demand driving the supply never entered your conscious mind? Poor countries where when big money enters the equation will not be a hot bed of people willing to do anything for that type of money?

Black market adoptions are something everyone should be actively talking about and making sure NEVER HAPPEN. Take your want out of the equation and look at reality.

I support UNICEF and all the other educated groups that also work to stop trafficking babies.

Sarah said...

The first resort is ALWAYS to remove the reasons why women feel cornered into "giving" their children up for adoption.

It's mind-boggling how people get so self-righteous once they feel they're entitled to something that isn't theirs, never was, and probably shouldn't be.

If the only thing standing between a mother and her feeling coerced and forced into "giving" her child up for adoption is money-related, and I have the money to alleviate that problem, then it is my MORAL OBLIGATION to see to it that her needs are met so that the mother-child bond isn't destroyed over material reasons.

Anything else is wrong.

I wouldn't want to stand in front of God on judgement day and have to explain to Him how I felt so entitled to a child that I took one from a poor woman rather than alleviating her poverty (as He has so commanded) so she could raise her OWN child.

I hope to God all international adoptions are ended, and sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, while I don't entirely disagree with you, the answer is much more complex than simply alleviating a woman's poverty so she can keep her child. I do hope you were just using that as one example.

Mei Ling said...

Anon, poverty stems from what? Class, economic disadvantage and lack of privilege. Lack of human rights laws. Lack of human fundamental rights.

I have rarely heard of a mother who *had all resources necessary* who still "wanted" to give up her child. Who gives up their child if they have the monetary support/supplies they need?

Not many.

Money is not the only factor in adoptions. But money plays a damn big part.

Sarah said...

If poverty is the only thing standing between a mother who desperately wants her child, yet feels there is no way she can possibly afford to keep her child, then, YES, alleviation of poverty (via contributions, activism, etc.) is the only moral response.

Thinking you're a good person for benefitting from another woman's plight is wrong.

As long as the US continues to provide demand for the commodity of healthy, young children, people will take advantage of the most vulnerable to provide a supply to meet that demand.

sharon said...

I too have personal experience with UNICEF. I've met with staff from both ASIA and Europe regarding adoption issues. Many good people work there. Unfortunately, many good people who work there don't necessarily feel that a child is better off in a home than in an institution. Of course family or domestic adoptive placement is best, but lacking those options, a foreign family is better than an orphanage...but UNICEF doesn't operate as if they believe this is true, regardless of any written policy statements to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

I agree that if children are in orphanages they don't have the option of the 'first resort'! We are talking about children who don't have birth families to care for them. These children need families and homes and a bright future. Adoptive parents don't want children who have been kidnapped or stolen from their birth familes they want children who have no one but orphanage worker to care for them. I'm having difficulity understanding why you have two daughters that are adopted from China. You seem very anti-adoption at times.

OmegaMom said...

Anonymous at 8:28--You are aware, aren't you, that oftentimes the children in orphanages aren't orphans? That in some countries, poor parents or single parents needing help place their kids in orphanages as a temporary measure, only to find out, when they've got the money again to get back on their feet that their children have been adopted out?

Or that some orphanages buy children to place for adoption, because the official adoption "donation" is high enough to make it well worth the orphanage director's while to pay a small sum? (This has turned out to be the case a few times in China, and given the Chinese government's resistance to publicizing anything detrimental to policy, I end up assuming it's a much worse problem than we know.)

FWIW, I, too, have a daughter adopted from China. I read the news stories with my heart in my mouth, watching the estimated start of known child trafficking edging further and further back, closer and closer to when my daughter was "abandoned".

Anonymous said...

The Red Thread Blog is in the "Washington Times" not the "Washington Post." I just wanted to make that distinction because they are VERY different newspapers!
Courtney, AP to KAD

Sharon said...

I just want to add in response to OmegaMom and others: we often hear in these discussions the point that "most" kids in orphanages have parents who are using institutional care as a stop gap. Certainly this is true sometimes, but it's also true that there are many more thousands of orphanages in the world that DON'T send kids for int'l adoption than do. Institutions sending kids abroad are likely required to have a specific license to do intercountry adoptions. While there have been terrible cases of kids sent for adoption who indeed had parents who wanted them, it's not helpful, in my opinion, to assume that all the kids being internationally adopted actually have bio families who could have/wished to parent them.

In India, for example, kids are still abandoned at an alarming rate, particularly older kids, who enter the system via police or NGO rescue groups. India now has a system with several safeguards in place to attempt to trace birth family before the child can be considered for domestic or international placement. Reunions sometimes do occur. Ethiopia, in contrast, has no means to trace family of abandoned kids and has ceased making those kids available for int'l adoption due to fears of fraud. The result? Abandoned kids are piling up in the few orphanages that will take them; without int'l adoption, most institutions have no source of funding, so they're turning abandonment cases away now.

These are the kind of complicated realities that international adoption debates also fail to address...and issues that UNICEF, in my opinion, frequently mucks up.

Anonymous said...

@Mei Ling. I don't disagree with you but Sarah mentioned stopping international adoption. Where poverty isn't the only issue. Yes, it "plays a damn big part" but depending on the sending country there are a lot more issues that contribute to it. Take China for instance. Just because you eliminate a woman's poverty doesn't mean you are going to eliminate China's polices on family size or cultural influences. Yes economics plays a huge role in anything anybody does including adoption. However, simply by taking poverty away isn't going to solve the problem overall in a lot of cases. That is a huge generalisation. I agree with a lot of what others have written that there is so much more that needs to be done.

(Staying anonymous because I'm tired of the cyber-bullying that comes from all sides of the adoption discussion)

Anonymous said...

I'm an AP and I have to say that I disagree with most people who who are on either end of the spectrum. Adoption, and the reasons for and against it are extremely complicated. Ending all adoptions will not help all children and blindly supporting adoption will not help all children. It's something that has to be picked through carefully and that requires many people with different viewpoints working together to make as many right choices for children as possible. There is never a solution that is right for everyone.

My reaction to this piece at first was truly to be stunned. What stunned me was not the actions of UNICEF, but the tone of this article. It was written with an "ugly attitude" and made me cringe that I have to share the title of adoptive parent with that person.