Examining an “Adoption Culture”

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 10.56.11 PM.pngBy: 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.

¹ http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=1194

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

10 thoughts on “Examining an “Adoption Culture”

  1. Thank you for this timely and important article. No disrespect intended, but wouldn’t it be more consistent with the core beliefs of most faith groups to help create a “family preservation culture”?


  2. This is a very interesting perspective – because it calls for the need to understand adoption in context – of history, of children, of families – and the need for conversation about what it means to care for and raise children and who is best suited to do that under what circumstances and how those arrangements are made. “Adoption” as practiced in the western world is a modern invention – it has also been largely institutionalized and privatized for profit – there are many arrangements people have made across centuries for the care of children that need to be recognized as a ‘diverse’ culture of adoption.


    • Definitely need a conversation, big topic, unfortunately right now, it appears the “best suited” decision is based on incomplete information.


  3. Pingback: Examining an “Adoption Culture” | dianaskelton

  4. I suspect all adoptions are imposed on birth parents, one way or another. My family, and some of my friends, have been honored immensely from the adoptions of my not biological nieces and nephews, (but they have been very conscious about their International and local families of origin,; to make as sure as they could that their decisions was as “voluntary” as possible). That understood, I think the idea of a “culture of adoption” is repugnant,,Adoption should always be understood.as an exteme “necessity” . But if we do not understand why people have to make this “choice”, if given a chance to choose, and then help in actions to give real alternatives based on that knowledge,how can the “necessity” or “choice” be honestly defined? There are many historical and cultural considerations for sure, and the for profit, patronizing attitudes complicate things a great deal. But adoption should never be “chic” or easy, Its ramifications for all of us can be enormous..


  5. There is a great article with Kathryn Joyce over on Buzzfeed


    where she puts the adoption situation into a women’s rights context and even argues that there isn’t a real orphan crisis at all, that the numbers are being mis-represented.

    Personally the more that I read all of this the more I’m reminded of the slave trade. An industry has developed to bring people across the Atlantic to the United States. There is a sort of civilizing “Manifest Destiny” justification behind it, and for many people involved in the process it is simply a question of money. Children are being taken from their families under coercion, false pretexts, or against their family’s wishes…

    I think Diana’s point is really important in the end – that the voices of children who have been adopted and the families that have been affected by these kinds of adoptions are missing in this discussion but that they have an important perspective to add.


  6. I very much appreciate these comments. Another one was posted on Twitter by Nicholas Crawford ‏(@bullmeister), saying “I appreciate your perspective and agree with the intl pitfalls, but how will poor Congolese families ever come to the table?” There are in fact already people living in poverty in the DR Congo (http://bit.ly/12HOT3a) and in many other parts of the world who have chosen to speak out together with others. But I agree that many more efforts are needed to create constructive dialogue among a wider diversity of people.


    • Thanks for this link, Mike. The article is very interesting: “Judge Stephen Dillard said he is frustrated by the court’s approach to state attempts to permanently sever parents and children. ‘An order terminating parental rights is the death penalty of civil cases,’ wrote Dillard, ‘and this Court should start treating it as such’.” He’s right, but it’s unusual for a judge to have such a finely-honed understanding of this kind of case.


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