Friday, September 28, 2012

Charity Begins at Home: Adoption Tax Credit

OK, as you know, I can't stand equating adoption and charity, but the author of the article titled it thus; the Family Law Prof blog reports on a new law review article arguing that the adoption tax credit should be discontinued for international adoptions:
DeLeith Duke Gossett (Texas Tech University School of Law) has recently posted her article If Charity Begins at Home, Why Do We Go Searching Abroad? A Call to Sunset the Portion of the Federal Adoption Tax Credit that Subsidizes International Adoptions, Lewis & Clark Law Review (forthcoming) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Unlike the media frenzy that surrounded Angelina Jolie’s and Madonna’s international adoptions, noted director Steven Spielberg’s adoption of two African American children from the Los Angeles foster care system received very little fanfare. Spielberg went on to establish the Children’s Action Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding permanent homes for the thousands of children stuck “in the system” of foster care. He documented their stories and their hopes of someday being adopted. For many, however, adoption is a dream yet to be realized. 

Currently, nearly half a million children reside in United States foster care, some “aging out” without ever having been adopted. Beginning in the 1980s and carrying through the 1990s, Congress passed a series of legislative measures aimed at helping those children in the system. As incentive for placing children in permanent homes, and as part of the Adoption Promotion and Stability Act of 1996, a tax credit was made available for those who adopted children. Since that time, the federal adoption tax credit has risen to as high as $13,360 per child, some years as refundable and other years as non-refundable. 

* * * 

In recent years, international adoption has become the new social trend, fueled by celebrity and evangelical circles alike (although arguably for different reasons), even though a large number of children remain in the foster care system. Children from other countries are now being imported to form the new American families, and those who adopt internationally, whether they receive $13,360, or even $6,000, are receiving the same tax benefits as those who adopt domestically. And while this may add to the diversity of our culture, and provide those adopting with a sense of fulfilling a higher purpose, the very ones who were the intended beneficiaries of the legislation, those “lost in the system,” remain there and are not being helped as the statute originally intended. Because the tax credit should be used to reclaim children from the foster care system — not to subsidize international adoptions — it is time to let the international portion of the tax credit sunset and focus taxpayer resources on those whom the tax credit originally sought to help.
I posted last week about how we adoption tax credit users are part of the 47%. And for an impassioned and cogent argument for why the adoption tax credit should be abolished alltogether, check out this post at Musings of the Lame.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

School/Health Issues for Adopted Kids

More on that study I posted about yesterday, this one from U.S. News & World Report:
A school project that requires a baby photo, classmates who tease, well-meaning counselors who say the wrong thing, uncommon medical conditions -- these are just a few of the challenging issues families with adopted children experience in their day-to-day lives.

A new report summing up adoption research shows that the portrait of adoptive families in the United States is changing and so are the needs of those families, said lead author Dr. Faye Jones, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville.

Jones said the research suggests that families would benefit if their pediatricians were more aware of their unique needs -- specialized counseling and emotional support, connections to other adoptive families and tutoring service recommendations, for example. Adoption experts say educating schools and communities would help too.

"The key point is that families and children are going through a lot of different types of adjustments and it doesn't stop when the papers are signed. It's a lifelong process," Jones said.

* * *

As far as health issues, 39 percent of adopted children were classified as having special health needs, compared with 19 percent of the general population. The authors recommend pediatricians offer a roadmap to families -- help them locate any specialists, therapists and medical-equipment providers they might need, even before parents bring their new child home. 
* * *

Family doctors and teachers can ease communications with adoptive families by learning to use terms like 'birth parents' and 'biological parents,' and not saying 'real parents,' Goldwater said. Teachers should also know what might trigger a youngster's anxiety.
"An assignment that requires a baby picture can be traumatizing for a child who has no photos of herself as a baby," Goldwater said. Family-tree projects and Mother's Day may also spark deep emotions.

"Getting teachers to be aware of how they talk about family, what kinds of language they use, what might be embedded in their curriculum that might be difficult is important," she said. She recalled one family whose daughter, adopted from China, "fell apart" in school one day when her class was reading a textbook that described how baby girls in China are sometimes abandoned or given to orphanages.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pediatricians Need to Support Adoptive Families

From Medicalxpress:
As more children are adopted each year, pediatricians must be knowledgeable about adoption issues and model positive language for adoptive families, according to a clinical report published online Sept. 24 in Pediatrics.   

Veronnie F. Jones, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Early Childhood and Council on Foster Care, Adoption, and Kinship Care, examined the role of the pediatrician in supporting adoptive families.

The researchers report that approximately 120,000 children, representing 2 percent of the U.S. population, are adopted every year. The role of pediatricians may start with reviewing preadoption health records to help families assess the health needs of children they plan to adopt. The pediatrician can help parents decide how and when to communicate about adoption with their children. They should introduce adoptive parents to available resources and provide support for parents during the child's developmental understanding of adoption. Pediatricians should be encouraged to model positive adoption language for adoptive families. This effective communication is key in promoting the long-term mental and physical health of adopted children and their families.

"As more children each year become part of permanent families through adoption, it is becoming increasingly important for pediatricians to be aware of and knowledgeable about adoption," the authors write. "Pediatricians play an important role in helping families deal with the differences, the losses, and the many other issues surrounding the adoption of a child."

You can read the whole article in Pediatrics magazine.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Adopting a Kid, Not a Cause

From the Her.meneutics blog at Christianity Today:
There are three bad things that happen when we emphasize the missional aspects of adoption while minimizing our longing for children.

First, we marginalize those women, our sisters in Christ, who suffer the trial of infertility and who pray month by month for the Lord to open their wombs . . . and we’d do well to remember that the Lord often received their plea for children with compassion. Their desire is not inferior in his sight.

Saving the world one adoption at a time also risks objectifying our children. Adopted children are no longer allowed to be simply kids. They become involuntary ambassadors for a cause.

I live in Mississippi. I am the Caucasian mother of two black children. But my children were not adopted to be overtures of peace in a racial reconciliation campaign. One of my children came from a continent where a child dies every minute from malaria. But he is first and foremost my child, not my personal platform for children’s health initiatives. . .

Finally, when Christians focus on response to a need—the number of global orphans, the bleak future of older orphans, and so on—we encounter a third problem: a false hierarchy where some adoptions seem more worthy than others. For example, there’s a sense in the adoption community, to which I belong, that couples who adopt international, special-needs kids are doing something more valuable than couples who adopt same-race, healthy infants. By ignoring our common joy in family, adoptive parents often lack mutual respect for one another.
My problems with adoption-as-a-cause include this author's number two problem -- objectifying our children, making them "involuntary ambassadors for a cause."  But I have other problems with it, too, as I said in a post entitled What's wrong with rescuing orphans?:
The first problem -- gratitude.  Have you ever heard the old saw that a man ought to date a homely woman, since homely women are likely to be grateful for the attention?  It's an ugly suggestion, isn't it?  And we can all look at such a relationship and see it as inauthentic, exploitative, unhealthy.  Any relationship where one person feels superior and the other is expected to be grateful is completely corrosive.  Talking about adoption as the rescue of needy, pitiful orphans by white knights on white chargers sets up that same unequal power dynamic.  Feeling inferior is profoundly damaging to self-esteem, identity, human dignity. I think it's not just damaging to adopted persons, but to adoptive persons, too.  Feeling superior does terrible things to your character, too.
And the suggestion is that, like that homely woman, the "rescued" adoptee should be grateful for everything that everyone else gets to take for granted. 

* * *
Which leads me to a second problem with "rescuing orphans" -- ends justify the means.  Movements can be world-changingly positive.  They can also be dangerous.  Sometimes when we focus on the great need of orphans to be rescued from deplorable conditions, we start to believe that ANYTHING we do to cure this great wrong is justified.  We don't stop to ask if the children are truly orphans or if they have extended family who can care for them, or if they truly need to be adopted. 

* * *
A third problem with adoption as rescue -- it won't work.  Let's face it -- the "orphan crisis" we hear about, the 132 million or 147 million or the 163 million orphans around the world (those are UNICEF numbers, but they don't really represent true orphans), will not be solved by adoption.  Even if we successfully placed all 163 million orphans in new adoptive homes, the conditions that produce orphans -- war, poverty, illness, gender inequality -- would keep on churning out orphans.  The ONLY way to resolve the orphan crisis is to work to end the conditions that cause kids to need out-of-family care.  The orphan crisis will end when we take care of vulnerable FAMILIES.
* * *

A final problem I have with the rescue theme is that it is often presented as a uniquely Christian obligation to adopt orphans. .  .  .
And once adoption becomes a uniquely Christian obligation, we start excluding suitable adoptive parents based on some Christian beliefs, having the perversely opposite effect of making it harder to place orphans.  Gay and lesbian parents, unmarried couples, single women, Muslim parents, atheist parents, parents considered insufficiently Christian or the wrong kind of Christian, just won't do, it seems, when we see adoption as a Christian mandate.

There are lots of churches and organizations and individuals, Christian and otherwise, who are doing great work in caring for orphans.  I applaud their work, I donate to such organizations.  But caring for orphans and adopting children are two different things.  I don't confuse my charity work with the adoption of my girls.  I wish the rest of the world would keep the distinction in mind, too.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Adoptive Parents: We Are the 47%

There's been a lot of talk this election season about people depending on the government for handouts, culminating in the recent comments by Mitt Romney about the 47% of people in America who don't pay federal income taxes, that they are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. . . . . And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

There's also been a lot of attention paid to some groups in that 47% -- like seniors, active-duty military, the working poor (those earning less than $20,000), thousands of millionaires, etc.  I was curious, though -- how many in that 47% are adoptive parents who have utilized the adoption tax credit and thus pay no taxes. I couldn't find any figures for how many adoptive parents take advantage of the adoption tax credit each year, much less how many use it to meet their entire tax obligation. . . .

So I took a look at the tax tables for 2011, looking to see at what income level a person's taxes would have been completely paid by the $13,360 adoption tax credit.  I was actually a little surprised by how high that income was -- a single person taking nothing but the personal exemption of $3650 and the standard deduction of $5800 could earn up to $78,400 and not pay a penny of federal taxes because the adoption tax credit covered their tax obligation.  A married couple taking nothing but the personal exemptions of $7300 and standard deduction of $11,600 could earn up to a whopping $103,350 and not pay a penny of federal taxes because the adoption tax credit covered their tax obligation. AND the adoption tax credit is refundable -- meaning that if your tax obligation is less than $13,360, you get the balance as a refund! Government handout, anyone?!

Of course, the adoption tax credit is a one-time thing and doesn't seem to suggest some long-term dependency, right?  But then, we don't know whether that's true for the rest of the 47% as well.  All we know is that in any given year a certain percentage of people don't pay any federal income taxes, not how long they haven't paid any income taxes. And don't get me started on adoption subsidies that do last year after year. . . .

So, if you're disturbed by the specter of 47% of Americans not paying federal income taxes, then it's time to get rid of the adoption tax credit, right?!  In fact, those of us who took the credit in the past should be ashamed of ourselves for taking that government handout, for our dependency on the government, for sucking at the government teat.  Right?!

Hmm, I'm not sure many adoptive parents would agree to that.

So when you look at the 47%, remember that one person's "dependency" is another person's deeply-prized tax break. . . .

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Falsified Adoption" from South Korea

Interesting story, though why the headline is "falsified adoption" rather than "adoption trafficking" is anybody's guess:
As Australians find it harder to adopt babies from overseas, one woman has discovered she was falsely adopted from South Korea, where her biological mother was told her baby was stillborn.

Emily Will* was pronounced dead at birth. Born in a small maternity home in the countryside of Geoje, Gyeongsandnam-do, the midwife allegedly told her biological parents the baby was “stillborn”.

“I don’t know how this could have happened to me,” she says. “Why would someone (the midwife) do that? Why would someone make a choice for someone else?”

“Her decision changed my life.”

For 23 years, Ms Will believed she was put up for adoption after her biological parents decided to part ways. Her adoption papers said her parents were in a de facto relationship, a status considered shameful in traditional Korean society, with two daughters.

It was not until she became a mother herself, Ms Will became curious about her biological roots.
“After my daughter was born, something changed. Something changed in me,” she says.

“I didn’t know my medical history. I didn’t know what I could have passed on to my kid. I didn’t know if there were any genetic heart diseases. Nothing.”

After three years of searching and waiting, Ms Will thought she was prepared to meet her biological parents.

“It’s well known that you may possibly or most probably have a false story given to you so you brace yourself,” says Ms Will, 24, a mother of two in Sydney. “But when you finally get the real story, the story you thought you had prepared yourself for… it definitely throws you.”

Her emotional reunion with her biological family was set up in a small room at her South Korean adoption agency, Eastern Social Welfare Society.

“When I saw them my mind went completely blank. I didn’t know what to think at that stage. It was a bit of a shock. I really didn’t think this day would come. It was very surreal.”

It was at this meeting Ms Will became aware of the truth of her past; she was a stolen baby and her parents had in fact been married at the time.

The experience of Ms Will is uncommon, but not unheard of. Intentional fabrication, falsification of documents and unintended adoption has been previously reported in South Korea.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Adopting Children/Adopting Pets

A writer recounts a conversation with preschoolers who only know about adoption as something that happens to pets:
Months ago I went to a preschool moving sale. Everything was for sale. I enjoyed watching several children reminiscing about their time at this school. They were taking turns reading to each other in an unstructured setting they chose.

The preschool director and two little girls were sorting stuffed animals. I sensed that they were consoling the director. When offered a chair, I readily became involved. Among the treasures was a box of hand puppets. We each chose one and pretending to be that animal, we talked together.

After a few minutes the girls asked me if I had children, where they were, and how old they were. I shared photos of them when they were 3 and 5 years old and said my boys were now men and dads to their own children. I told the girls both my sons were adopted. They looked perplexed; I was prompted to ask if they knew what “adopted” meant.

They conferred, one saying, “Adopted, adopted, I heard that word before.” The other one said, “Yeah, me too.” They scratched their heads, they asked their hand puppets, and still a bit unsure, the older girl announced, “I know, I remember now.” She then looked straight at me wide-eyed and quipped, “You adopted your kids from a shelter? Did you go there and look at a bunch of babies to pick them out?”

A little surprised, realizing they associated adoption with pet shelters I tried to satisfy their new curiosity by telling them that adopting children is different from choosing a cute pet. That little interaction gave me pause.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

DYI Adoption

From the Wall Street Journal The Juggle (juggling work & family) blog:
Get a lawyer, set up a website, create an advertising budget. These may sound like steps needed to launch a business venture, but this is actually the advice professionals give to people looking to adopt a newborn in the U.S.

When my husband and I started to look into adoption, we didn’t realize we would have to be proactive in the process. We were baffled by the idea of self-promotion, but both our adoption attorney and licensed agency were adamant that we get ourselves “out there” to attract someone who might be considering an adoption.

More and more, the “match” between an expectant parent and a prospective adoptive one is done without the intermediation of a licensed agency, in what is known as an “independent” adoption. Our agency noted that around 65% of annual placements of newborns were identified adoptions, meaning the adoptive family had found the birth family through their own advertising.

Oh, and great job of reinforcing stereotypes of birth parents: "Brace yourself for getting some exposure to a diverse group of expectant parents. We were contacted by a sex worker, a junkie, a high-school student, a homeless woman, a single mother of four, to name a few situations. And of course, there were cases of expectant families looking to make the most of an unplanned situation."  Sigh.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Family Secrets

That's the title of a fascinating and troubling article in Open Magazine focusing on the searches of international adoptees from India for birth parents, including the search of Netherlander Carina Roodenburg, and what those searches say about international adoption:
Carina’s is not an isolated case. As we spoke to Indian borns who were adopted in the 70s and 80s by White couples abroad, we found a pattern to their stories: they grew up in an environment where their physical attributes were a constant reminder of their difference.

Some did well, but many of them had difficult—even traumatic—childhoods. They were haunted by one big question: why had they been given up? Some even wondered if they had been kidnapped.

The question gnawed away at them, drawing many to India for what would be the most arduous quest of their lives—the mothers who bore them. In some cases, it meant crossing hurdle after hurdle put up by adoption agencies, orphanages, powerful families and governments. Information, they found, was a nightmare to obtain. If they got hold of documents, they found their birth records fudged. They had to take recourse to the courts to force agencies to reveal information.

Most of those who succeeded found their biological parents leading lives of poverty.

Others still struggle. No one gave up.
And then another article, titled Gandhis vs a Swedish nurse: The murky secrets of international adoptions, looks at the Open Magazine article and highlights the role of the Gandhi family in another adoption search, with the provocative first sentence, "Why are the descendants of the Father of the Nation trying to keep an Indian adoptee from finding out who was her birth mother?"
The main issue, of course, is birth mother confidentiality. Arun Gandhi told her in an email that the father and mother have a right to privacy and that information cannot be divulged until they waive that right.

But then it gets more intriguing.

Arun Gandhi wrote to Arnes: ‘You must remember: you are assuming that your mother lives in poverty and destitution. That is not so. Anyone who could go to a private nursing home for delivery has to be upper middle class.’

When she persisted it started getting uglier.

Tushar Gandhi to Arnes: I am going to write to the Indian embassy in Stockholm requesting never to give you a visa to come to India, and believe me they will listen to me.

And it didn’t stop there. Gandhi went on to call Arnes her birth mother’s “curse not her offspring” and a “curse on her fate since the day you took root in her womb”.

The Gandhi name jumps out of this story but what Srivastava is writing about are the enormous bureaucratic hurdles adoptees face trying to ferret out their history from within our paper raj. In a culture that often gives short shrift to privacy, adoption is still shrouded in so much stigma that privacy laws kick into high gear when it comes to protecting the parents’ identity.
And I think it's no coincidence (OK, it probably was) that these articles came to my attention today, the 20th anniversary of the movie Sneakers.  What, I hear you cry, does that non-adoption caper movie have to do with adoption?!  Remember the premise of the movie -- the ultimate code-breaker, which is revealed with the translation of the phrase "TOO MANY SECRETS" to the phrase "NO MORE SECRETS."  Get it now?!  And yes, I really loved that movie.  And yes, I've linked it to adoption before. . . . And yes, these stories about adoption searches remind us how painful family secrets -- adoption secrets -- are. . . .

Sunday, September 9, 2012

First U.S. Couple Adopts Under New Guatemalan Adoption Law

Widely reported AP story about the first U.S. couple to adopt under the new Guatemalan adoption law, put in place after the scandals that ended adoptions from Guatemala:
It should have been good news.

The U.S. Embassy called to say the Guatemalan government would begin to authorize adoptions five years after a scandal froze the system that sent as many as 4,000 Guatemalan children a year to the United States.

Ryan "Bubba" Hooker and his wife, Jess, might finally be able to collect the little boy they wanted to adopt and bring him home.

But Hooker wasn't sure. This would be his 36th trip to Guatemala City. The 18-month-old toddler they had met in an orphanage was now a 6-year-old kindergartener. The couple had moved homes, passed up a job, spent untold amounts of money trying to adopt Daniel.

If all went well, they were told, they would be the first U.S. family to adopt under the Central American nation's new adoption laws.

At least, that's what they told him over the phone.

On Aug. 21, an anxious Bubba boarded the plane for Guatemala City. All he had to do was get an adoption certificate, a birth certificate and a passport, meet with the people at the U.S. Embassy yet again, get an adoption visa, and then he and Jess could bring Daniel home.

Maybe this time it would work.

* * *

As the family walked through the doors of the Louisville airport late Saturday night, friends cheered, then joined them in prayer.

"WE'RE HOME!!!!!! We did it! We made it! And we can't believe it!" the family said in an emailed message to friends on Sunday.

"I wish you all could have seen Daniel's face as he ran around our house exploring his new domain. He couldn't believe he had his own room. He gawked at the size of our bathtub ... It was AWESOME!"

Subsidies as Incentives for Adoption

The structure of a federal program that provides monthly subsidies to promote the adoptions of special needs children in foster care may actually be delaying some adoptions, according to a new study by University of Notre Dame economist Kasey Buckles.

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (AACWA), passed in 1980, provides an average of $670 per month for foster parents of special needs children, while adoptive parents of special needs children receive an average of $571 per month. “Special needs” refers to foster children who may be harder to place in permanent adoptive homes because of age, race, or mental or physical disability.

Forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources, Buckles’ study shows that the number of adoptions increases when children become eligible for an adoption subsidy, and most of the increase is from adoptions by foster parents. However, the age of subsidy eligibility for children varies by state since states can choose how they define a special needs child. As a result, children in some states become subsidy eligible at age 2, while others are not eligible until age 12.

“A foster parent who adopts a child who is not yet eligible for the adoption subsidy forfeits $670 per month, on average. This creates an incentive for foster parents to wait until their foster child is eligible by age to formally adopt.”
And then what happens when the subsidy ends when the child reaches age 18? This New York Times article highlights the problem of failed adoptions where former foster kids are adopted and then dumped at age 18 when the subsidy runs out, leaving them homeless. . . .

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Death of the Traditional Family?

Interesting piece at Salon:
If you want what’s best for your kids, one surefire way to provide them with a healthy, happy home is to make sure they have lesbian parents. In the longest-running study of lesbian families to date, zero percent of children reported physical or sexual abuse—not a one. In the general population, 26 percent of children report physical abuse and 8.3 percent report sexual abuse.

When this news broke, the responses were mixed: It spread like wildfire among LGBT groups and news outlets, the mainstream media reported it as the latest in recent news about LGBT parents being as up to par as straight parents, and—unsurprisingly—conservative groups picked the study apart, trying to find reasons why it was incorrect.

No matter the reactions, however, the study undoubtedly put yet another nail in the coffin of the traditional notion that children need both a mother and a father. This research was just one study in a long line of work showing that children of same-sex parents are just as well adjusted and happy as those raised by heterosexual parents.

A five-year review of eighty-one parenting studies published in the 2010 Journal of Marriage and Family, for example, reported that children raised by same-sex parents are “statistically indistinguishable” from those raised by straight parents in terms of self-esteem, academics, and social adjustment. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association all agree that same-sex couples are just as fit to parent as their heterosexual counterparts.

Today’s “perfect” family is not what it used to be.

In the United States, 29.5 percent of children live in single-parent households (up 10 percent from 1980) and 40.6 percent of children are born to unmarried mothers (up 22 percent since 1980). Most of those unmarried moms are actually in relationships, and a study from Princeton and Columbia, which followed more than five thousand children from birth, found that more than 50 percent of the unmarried parents they studied were living together at the time their baby was born, while 30 percent were in a relationship but not living together.

The use of reproductive technology by straight, gay, married, or unmarried couples is on the rise, and the way Americans choose to create their families is increasingly more fluid. The nuclear family is on the way out.