' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Foreign Adoptions Aren't Plunging Fast Enough

Friday, August 10, 2012

Foreign Adoptions Aren't Plunging Fast Enough

“’The era of the boom time for international adoption, I think, has passed us by’” Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, told National Public Radio reporters Jennifer Ludden and Marosa Penaloza. To which First Mother Forum says: Good by and good riddence.

Since its peak in 2004, the number of foreign adoptions has plummeted from nearly 23,000 to less than 10,000 in 2010. Considering the known corruption in international adoption--and the 115,000 American children in foster care waiting to be placed--that figure is still obscenely high.

The NPR report, "Would-Be Parents Wait As Foreign Adoptions Plunge," features Barb and Mike Cannata who adopted an infant girl from China a decade ago. They decide to adopt again in 2007. They  ruled out China when they learned the wait would be at least three or four years. They looked at Guatemala, but adoptions there had been suspended because of a baby-selling scandal. Ditto for Viet Nam, which they tried next. Finally, they lucked out in Bulgaria where they settled for a two-year-old girl with a “speech delay.”

Pertman and the Cannata’s blame "delay" in adoptions on The Hague Treaty, which establishes common standards for all international adoptions, and on countries such as China and Russia--once large providers of babies for the international market--now strongly prefer that children be adopted domestically. Sending their babies all over the world turned out to be a huge embarrassment for the national pride of both countries. FMF views these delays as a positive sign. Less corruption results in fewer children snared into adoption.

According to the NPR report, adoption agencies have suffered as well. Revenues are down. Several of the biggest players—Lutheran Family Services and Children’s Home Society and Family Services--have had to curtail operations. Hundreds of smaller agencies have closed.

While portraying the Cannata's, other would-be adopters, and those who make their living off the misery of others as victims, the NPR report ignores the true victims--mothers who lose their children, and children who might have a better chance of growing up with their own mothers.

While Perman acknowledges that The Hague Treaty was “much needed and well-intentioned, ”he claims that it has left tens of thousands of children “languishing in foreign orphanages.” (Note: the orphanages are not foreign to the children in them, any more than the French language is a foreign language to the French.) As scholars such as E. G. Graff have shown, the claim that foreign adoption rescues “children languishing in foreign orphanages” is largely a myth--no question there are these children, but until the market tightened, they weren’t being adopted. The Cannata’s took the “special needs” child only when they learned there was a long wait for a Chinese doll.

Unfortunately, many of these children rescued by Americans have not fared well in their new "foreign" locales. According to the Digital Journal, at least seventeen Russian children have been murdered by their adopters and more have been sexually or physically abused. A couple of years ago, Tennessean Torry Hansen placed her seven-year-old adopted son on a plane alone and shipped him back to Russia. The clamor in the press, as well as tales of the murdered children, was too much for the Russians, and they drastically curtailed adoptions, shutting them down completely for all extent and purposes. As we've written here, writer Anita Tedaldi disrupted the adoption of a “special needs child,” a boy from South America, because he didn’t "attach" to Tedaldi and her family. More recently writer Joyce Maynard terminated her adoption of two sisters from Ethiopia, and found other homes for them in this country.

One of our readers, responded to FMF’s post about Maynard telling us that “You have no right to judge.” She and her husband adopted three Russian siblings ages 10, 11, and 12 after the couple was asked to be a “’host family’” for the children at a “’church summer camp in Florida.’” Writing under the cover of Anon, she denies that they are “do-gooders.” After five years, Anon tells us, the youngest two children are doing “ok.” The oldest put them through hell, “continually and deliberately harming those around her” and “putting them through a child abuse investigation.”

Anon didn’t tell FMF how they finally dealt with their daughter. Some parents resort to sending their misbehaving foreign adopted children to specialized (and expensive) “treatment programs,” often in rural areas. One such program is Montana’s Ranch for Kids; Russian adoptees constitute 10 of its 25 residents. According to the Huffington Post, Ranch for Kids has its own problems. It has been operating without a license since the State Board of Private Alternative Residential and Outdoor Programs refused to renew it in November 2010 for failing to conduct background checks on employees, (a scarlet flag in FMF’s opinion), failing to show the buildings are up to code, lacking a disaster plan, and having no statement on the rights of program participants. The Ranch’s owner, Joyce Sterkel, claims the Ranch does not need a license because in October, 2011, she signed an agreement with Epicenter International Missions Ministry, which works with lepers in India and is affiliated with a small church in Eureka, Montana. Her attorney claims that state law exempts adjunct missionary organizations from licensing requirements. Sterkel has refused to allow Russian officials to enter the ranch to check on the welfare of the Russian children.

Fortunately, in addition to The Hague Treaty, others are trying to right the many wrongs in foreign adoption.  According to the New York Times News Service, Spanish doctor Jose Lorente, an expert in forensic genetics, has persuaded 16 countries, including Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Thailand, to build DNA data banks of parents whose children were stolen or lost. When children are found, they can be matched with their parents rather than taken to orphanages or placed for adoption. Lorente sees DNA databanks as “playing a crucial role in preventing the adoptions of stolen children and in dismantling trafficking rings….So far, he says, the tests have been used in reuniting about 550 children with their families, most of them in Guatemala and Peru. The tests have also stopped more than 200 illegal adoptions.”

The NPR report should have but did not address the obvious answer for couples like the Cannata's--adopt American children who truly need homes. Adoption guru Adam Pertman could have directed NPR listeners to these children, and encouraged those wishing to help children languishing in foreign orphanages to donate to international relief organizations. Adopting American children would be not only be quicker, the children would come with financial and other support, as well as fewer cultural and language barriers.

FMF encourages those interested in adoption to check out AdoptUSKids, a service of the US Children's Bureau.

From FMF:
Returning a Child: It Happens More Than You Think

For further reading about the impact of international adoption:

Somebody's Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption by Laura Biggs.
"A brilliant and wide-ranging book, Somebody's Children makes a powerful contribution to the study of adoption. The public policy implications of Briggs's work are stunning, and I hope this book will contribute to reshaping adoption practice in the United States."—Rickie Solinger, author of Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America

International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children, a collection of essays edited by Diana Marre and Laura Biggs:

"A powerful and intelligent volume. Its attention to inequalities associated with class, race, sexuality, nation, and globalization, as well as its serious engagement of cultural ideas about kinship, make it a critical resource for scholars, students, practitioners, and others interested in adoption in the contemporary era."  Click on images for more information and to order.

"This lively collection of seventeen essays is devoted to variations on the theme of international adoption. The essays . . . present a comprehensive overview of a wide range of issues, with thought-provoking contributions on a variety of case studies from sending and receiving countries." -Giovanna Bacchiddu,Social Anthropology


  1. Thanks for the plug for US foster kids, Jane...the last on the list of desired children.

  2. from a piece by Elizabeth Larsen (see earlier blog) in Mother Jones, Did I Steal My Daughter?:

    "We never discussed adopting from the U.S. foster care system or an Eastern European orphanage; we wanted a baby who had never spent an hour in institutionalized care." and "(Wanting a girl, we'd opted for the sure bet that adoption offers.)"

    What can we do to make adopting from foster care the option for adoption, rather than export/import?

  3. What this doesn't tell or maybe can't is that often there are families wishing to Foster/Adopt who continually watch the children in their care (whom the care for and love) bounced not back to their First Families, but rather through a flawed, scarred system until they themselves truly do become "the unwanted" as mentioned by Sunday above. It's hard to watch that when your family stands ready to adopt children of any background, sibling groups and those of an older age.

    So yes, we looked overseas to complete our family. ( we have one biological child) and found horrific conditions in all 4 of the "Babyhouses" we visited. The two children we were fortunate enough to bring home were both considered SN due to their Preschool age and developmental delays. Both were 4, significantly malnourished (wearing 12-18 month clothing), no emotional affectation and the scars from their institutionalized time is still with them 7 years later.

    And we? Couldn't imagine our lives without them. Were they true orphans in the Webster definition sense of the word? No. But their respective Overseas Mothers signed the paperwork allowing them to be placed for adoption, knowing the alternatives were grim. Many children in each of the Orphanages we visited did not have that same consent, as its routine for children to be placed in government care when the family cannot support them. Sadly for most, if not all, of them that is a life sentence, ending at age 15 when they age out of the system with little or no life skills, no financial, familial or other support. The rates of suicide and prostitution are astranomical. That too is fact.

    So why didn't we send aid to a First Family to keep in intact rather than adopt? Why didn't we rage against the systemic predujice against unwed or impoverished mothers? Why didn't we take a stand against the lack of social supports in place to support struggling families?

    Actually we did and do support such support groups doing meaningful work overseas; trying to make that very change.

    Change is slow and when trying to affect and influence a foreign government....well, tricky and complicated don't even begin to cover it.

    So 2 came home with us all those years ago and more than 30 have been supported in the intervening years by the awareness our adoption process brought to us.

    Why not U.S.? Well, the question should really be? Why not any child in need, regardless of where they reside.

    Why not U.S.? Well, we still await that placement here and still have watched even more children cycle in and out, continually; not to end up back home with their First Families or extended family but rather on to the next home, while our government tries to figure it all out.


  4. While, Like Sunday, I know what it is like to be unwanted, I am also a mother that was victimized by the foster care system.... We have to remember that children in foster care have families. If we encourage a great deal of adoption, the one thing we have to remember is that social services is not above "creating" new younger children, toddlers and infants that need adoption. After all, they get paid bonuses for adopting out children and no one wants that teen that is not ever going to be the perfect little one.

    Just saying - it all has a down side.

  5. Given that there are so many children in foster care and children throughout the world who really do need homes, there is absolutely no need to encourage any more family separations. Given the fact that we do so, especially in the U.S., just shows that adoption really is a business and not about the welfare of the child. If we really did care about the child we would work our hardest at finding families for those who truly were abandoned not encouraging perfectly capable young expectant mothers to give up their 'desirable' infants to strangers.

  6. Lori,
    I agree with you. There are children in foster care who should be with their families and there's a real danger that CW officials will or are targeting young, attractive children in order to supply the adoption market. Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform has written about this. On the other hand, as a commentator wrote, there are kids who bounce back and forth between their home and foster care who would be better off in a permanent arrangement.

    I think long term guardianship might be preferable to adoption for some children in foster care who can't go home but need contact with their families.

    At the present, time, though, adoption is the only alternative for some children. It makes no sense for would-be adoptive parents to go to the ends of the earth for children when there are many here who would do just fine. The adoption industry portrays these kids as "damaged" and scares potential adoptive parents away from them. Then the industry palms off severely damaged kids from Russia, South America, and so on who would be better off in their own country where at least they know the language.

  7. Most parents who adopt from Russia are the first to condemn the horrendous heinous acts of some adoptive parents. Sadly, all one has to do is turn on the news to learn of the latest parent (adoptive or not) who's abused or killed their child. Sadly, it's not a "myth" that these children are floundering in orphanages. If it were, they wouldn't be "graduating" in Russia with an average life expectancy of thirty years old. Many who are adopted at an older age are practically feral, and the adoptive parents haven't done their homework on how to deal with an institutionalized child.
    Fortunately, you are absolutely wrong in that Russia has not curtailed adoptions. They have required people to travel 3 to 4 times to visit with the child (a good thing) but that makes it cost prohibitive for most people, hence the numbers have decreased. I know many families who've brought children home just in the last few weeks, and most adoptions are completed within a year. Sadly, despite strong efforts by the Russian government, domestic adoptions by Russians has barely budged. When Russians do adopt, they often fake a pregnancy and bring an adopted newborn directly home from the hospital. Their domestic system is no better than ours.

    There has been human trafficking in Russia, but it's typically those children who've aged out of the orphanage, who have no one to care for them, who fall prey.

    I'm glad you live in a world where it's ok to have kids starving in an orphanage because it's not "foreign" to them. It must be great to be so naive. Travel over there and do your homework.

  8. Barbara, We absolutely agree that Russian and other children are in orphanages and likely to stay there until they age out.

    The myth I mentioned was the myth that international adoption helps these children in any significant numbers. Most people who adopt internationally eschew children in orphanages and demand healthy infants as did Elizabeth Foy Larsen whom Lorraine wrote about in the previous post. I encourage you to read E. J. Graff's article, The Lie We Love

    Now that it's tougher to get infants, some would-be adoptive parents are taking older or disabled children. Adopting a few thousand of these children does nothing to reduce the number of children in orphanages or living in dire poverty, which UNICEF estimates at one billion.

    Money spent on international adoption would be better spent on NGOs which provide education, funds to start small businesses, clean water, and the like.

    Couples willing and able to take older or disabled children should help needy American children where their efforts can make a difference.

  9. I couldn't disagree more but appreciate your reply

  10. I love the quote by David Smolin at the end of the article you recommend: "there is no fool like the one who wants to be fooled". He foolishly adopted two older girls from India without bothering to either learn their language or travel to their country. It's no wonder he adopted girls who'd actually been kidnapped. All the points in the article are valid and reiterated in many other areas. Again, though, there's no discussion of Russia. The only major problem with Russian adoption is people ill equipped to adopt an institutionalized child. Many of these kids who are only "social" orphans are third generation institutionalized kids. Their mothers and grandmothers never learned to bond or love anyone. They give up their children despite the government subsidies they'd receive for up to two kids. They won't even take money to keep their own off-spring. Experts have predicted that even with strong government and NGO support, as well as a necessary turn-about of the Russian economy, it would take 30 years to eliminate the "need" for Russian orphanages. They are unlike anything I've ever seen.

  11. http://sasha-sashafromrussia.blogspot.com/

    I don't know if Sasha's blog will change any of your views about Russian adoption, but it might be worth a look.

  12. Barbara, I did take a look at Sasha's blog. Thanks for sharing this. It's great that things have worked out so well for Sasha and her little sister.

    I still believe, though, that in spite of its successes, international adoption is not an effective way to help the vast majority of children abroad who need help. It can be very harmful, both in financing child abductions and in placing children in dangerous situations.



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.