By: Diana Skelton (France)
Many families have transformed their lives in order to adopt children, both internationally and in their own country, who would otherwise be living in underfunded institutions, or shuffled from one foster home to another. The Southern Baptist Convention (a network of churches with 16 million members) in 2009 launched a call for “creating an adoption culture,” calling on its churches to, “provide financial and other resources to those called to adopt, through grants.”¹
There are many pitfalls in international adoption, such as those denounced in The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption²: corruption, fraud, or simply an enormous divergence in the way adoption is understood in different countries. For instance, an American family hoping to adopt children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo eventually met the children’s relatives “who said they were hoping that the three children would be taken to America, get educated and eventually send cash home or sponsor other family members to emigrate.”³ The Congolese relatives imagined a lasting connection between their two families, while the American family had thought that the children had no future in the Congo and would leave their past behind. When the article relating this and other issues about international adoption was published in the New York Times, the comments thread filled up with insulting remarks: some criticizing the adoptive families and their religious beliefs; others criticizing anyone who disagrees that this “adoption culture” is the best response to the ravages of poverty, illness, hunger, and warfare.
What is striking is that despite the din, some voices are completely missing. There are so many people who were born into poverty and then adopted away from their birth parents. Sometimes they are children who grew up in foster care, without their own parents, who are later assumed to lack parenting skills and see their own children placed in foster care or put up for adoption at birth before even having had a chance to care for them. Still other parents, struggling to make ends meet, and with nowhere safe to leave their children while working long hours or coping with illness, ask that an orphanage take in their children for a little while. They often visit and maintain close contact with these children—and can be shocked to learn that an international adoption might prevent them from ever seeing their children again. In addition, there are non-profit groups that have specialized in supporting parents and children facing challenges with the foster care and adoption systems, such as the Child Welfare Organizing Project in New York City, or ATD Fourth World.4 Recently, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International, USAID and several other institutions co-authored an excellent report on the international guidelines for the alternative care of children who are not with their parents.
How can we create a context for all of these people to be part of a dialogue examining efforts to “create an adoption culture”? The Southern Baptist Convention and adoptive families love children and are investing heavily to try to shape a better future for them. But their initiative should be informed by the experiences and the intelligence of the children and parents who had adoptions imposed on them.
² By Kathryn Joyce (Public Affairs, 2013)
³ Eckholm, Erik. “Eager to Adopt, Evangelicals Find Perils Abroad.” The New York Times, 31 May 2013.
4 Cf. How Poverty Separates Parents and Children: A Challenge to Human Rights, by ATD Fourth World — http://www.atd-fourthworld.org/How-poverty-separates-parents-and.html