Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest—tost to me,”
And we will send you ours?
The Littlest Casualties
Worldwide, there are approximately 143 million “orphans” based on figures that include children with only one living parent, approximately 90% of them (Oreskovi and Maskew, 2009). Approximately 2.6% of these children are housed in orphanages (Ibid).
Within the United States half a million children are wards of the state in foster care system, despite the well documented risks, impermanence and cost. Of these, an estimated 129,000 no longer have any chance of reunification with their families and could be adopted.
What is in their best interest? Is redistributing them to far—off cultures and expecting these children—many who may have learning disabilities and other emotional, attachment and physical challenges—to learn new languages in addition to being separated from family and community they likely remember?
Do domestic and international adoption policies put the best interests of these most vulnerable children first and foremost, or are they being used as pawns in a multibillion dollar industry designed to meet the demand for younger and healthier infants?
The number of American children in foster care who are eligible to be adopted is startling in view of the fact that an estimated 10 million American couples who “would likely attempt to adopt an infant domestically if they felt they had a realistic opportunity to do so,” according to a poll by the National Council for Adoption (Wirthin, 2007).
An August, 2008 survey of the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that nearly 600,000 women are seeking to adopt. Even using this more conservative figure it is incomprehensible that the children in temporary care are being by-and-large left behind.
Children adopted from foster care used to be called “hard-to-place” which evolved to the more sensitive and politically correct “Special Needs” children. American adopters, however, still prefer international adoption (or domestic infant adoption, albeit in short supply since birth control became widely available, abortion rights were upheld, and increased acceptance of single mothers, even providing for expectant mothers to continue high school.
International adoption is preferred over adoption from foster care for three main reasons:
- The desire for younger children from outside the country.
- The belief that internationally adopted children and t are less “damaged” despite reports of attachment difficulties of children coming form orphanages, fetal alcohol syndrome and other health issues, many of which are not revealed accurately and thoroughly by international adoption agencies here and abroad.
- Alleviation of the fear of an original parent (by birth) wanting contact, returning at any point, or worst of all attempting to overturn the adoption because of coercion—subtle or overt—including the lack of the birthfather signing a release of parental rights. However, these concerns would only apply to the small number of infant adoptions. The parents of children coming from state social services have had their parental rights terminated.
These fears, myths and misconceptions, coupled with the glamorization of rescuing orphans, are perpetrated by an adoption industry that generates an estimated 6.3 billion annually worldwide and 23 billion domestically.
The reversal of supply and demand created a need for adoption profiteers to put a new positive spin on marketing. As opposed to the focus being on helping “wayward” girls of the 50’s 60’s and 70s ridding themselves of the shame of their indiscretions, today, adoption is encouraged as a way to rescue children from orphanages in impoverished parts of the world. This has resulted in international adoption by Americans nearly doubling during the 1990s, reaching twenty thousand annually and approximately 250,000 children in the last thirty years making the U.S. the number one receiving country. Globally, over a quarter million children have been redistributed by adoption in the past three decades.
Yet, one by one countries, which had been prime suppliers, have begun to investigate and validate the claims of corruption and child trafficking that is rampant in nations in political turmoil and developing countries with low per capita annual incomes. These investigations resulted in Vietnam, Romania, Guatemala disallowing the international adoption of their children at least until more restrictions can be enacted to prevent widespread corruption, Russia increased restrictions in an attempt to reduce the alarming number of Russian children murdered by their American adopters, and others sent back, abused or institutionalized.
The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, an international agreement between participating countries requires their member nations adhere to two primary goals: to protect the best interest of children, as laid down in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are considered with each intercountry adoption, and to prevent abduction, exploitation, sale, or trafficking of children.
These restrictions have limited the supply of babies and in turn the incomes of adoption profiteers who now rely on international adoption to make up for the loss of domestic adoptions. Many American adoption agencies have closed as a result of the reduction in numbers of adoptions and the cost and difficulty complying with Hague requirements and becoming accredited.
The concerns of these entrepreneurs are represented by The National Council for Adoption (NCFA), lobbyists paid to represent the interests of adoption agency owners and employees in affecting U.S. adoption polices favorable to the encouragement of adoption and to assist in creating marketing programs aimed at mothers in crisis to increase adoptions.
The international equivalent of the NCFA is the Joint Council on International Children Services. In addition, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), lobbies congress to effect incentives such as tax benefits and payments states to increase family separations. The CCA also sponsors National Adoption Day and Angels in Adoption program to honor those who adopt and help facilitate adoptions.
Adoption attorneys, are represented by The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (AAAA) and Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program (CAP) and the Center for Adoption Policy. ACT for Adoption, based in Rye, NY, is a coalition of adoption profiteers mobilized in late 2008 “to communicate with the White House, Members of Congress, government agencies and the press to educate and advocate for legislation, policies and administrative procedures supportive of adoption.”
ACT for Adoption is sponsored by the Center for Adoption Policy, and the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School intentionally both of whom intentionally grossly overestimate numbers of orphans, repeatedly quoting the figure of 143,000, well known to be extremely overinflated as 88.7% of children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans and not eligible for adoption (UNAIDS.2004). Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Bartholet of ACT and CAP, applauded Madonna’s second adoption and, speaking at the 2009 Adoption Policy Conference, “International Adoption, the United States, and the Reality of the Hague System” stated that heritage is over-rated.
To counter these facts, ACT creates newspeak such as their newly coined term “unparented children” and applaud the adoption of children of living parents while recognizing that International adoption “has come under fire recently from UNICEF” because corruption and baby selling. They also use language such as a need to eliminate “barriers that hinder children from realizing their basic right of a family and ways they might act to eliminate them” without any consideration of a child’s foremost basic right to have his family receive the resources they need to remain intact or reunify.
Pawns of Pretense
Pro-adoption lobbying is not difficult in a nation that does not prioritize family preservation and instead vilifies mothers because of age, marital or financial status, would cast a legislator as a villainous scrooge. Legislators are particularly eager to support adoption promotions and incentive programs which are proposed as helping children languishing in foster care to find “forever families”
Susan Jackson, a family advocate and member of CPS Watch observed: “No one dares risk being politically incorrect, even to save hundreds of thousands of children who are sentenced to a life of disassociation and despair in multiple foster homes, and then, if they are ‘lucky,’ into an adoptive home, never to see their parents or siblings again (TCB 2007).”
And so the U.S. enacted state incentives to move children quickly into “permanence.” in 1997, Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and states quickly enacted legislation modifying child welfare procedures to conform to ASFA’s guidelines and qualify for federal funding. The new procedures place a premium on removing children from their homes—often because of poverty and lack of resources such as adequate child-care. Well-documented maltreatment of children in foster homes is then used to utilize AFSA bonuses to states to accelerate substantially the time frame for severing their original parents’ constitutional right to parent without due process.
“The federal government offers a perverse incentive to states when they think that a family is having problems: Take children away and we’ll pick up a large share of the tab” observes Richard Wexler (2006) commenting on the rush for removals. “[The money is unlimited; the federal government helps pay for every eligible child thrown into foster care, no matter how many are taken. But if a state wants to use safe, proven alternatives to foster care, the state often must pay almost all of the bill itself.”
Through waivers, states may spend Federal funds in alternative manners, since 1996, just 17 States have implemented 25 child welfare waiver programs including: assisted guardianship/kinship care; services for caregivers with substance use disorders; and adoption. A barrier to implementation of these programs is that while Federal title IV-E payments help States pay foster parents and adopters of special needs children, these funds cannot normally be used to pay subsidies to extended family members who provide legal guardians. According to the National Family Preservation Network, “[E]very dollar invested in keeping families together saves $2-$3 on placement services.”
In addition to state incentives to increase family separations and adoptions, the U.S. Federal government, prompted by pro-adoption profiteers and their lobbyists, enacted Adoption Tax Benefit legislation in starting in 1996 “to encourage further the adoption of special needs children.”
The “special needs” wording in the original legislation was the foot in the door need. A summary of the data from the U.S. Treasury Department to determine who most benefits from the credit, however, reveals:
- The vast majority of adoption tax credit recipients completed private or foreign adoptions rather than adoptions from foster care. The tax credit disproportionately supports higher-income families.
- The tax credit primarily supports the adoption of younger children.
Nearly 90% of those receiving the credit have incomes above $100,000 benefitting only one in four adopting from U.S. foster care, but nearly all who adopted children from other countries were supported by the tax credit. . From 1999 to 2005, the vast majority of adoption tax credit recipients adopted infants or younger children via private domestic or international adoptions, doing nothing to reduce the number of children in foster care, despite that being the alleged intent of the tax incentive.
In 2004 just 18 percent of children supported by the tax credit and 17 percent of the funds so allocated, assisted children from foster care. In 2005, nearly 90 percent of filers with, and 71 percent of all families adopted children under age five. Only about 10 percent of higher-income families adopted from foster care, and very few adopted older children.
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, whose goal is to promote ethical adoption polices and legal reforms, reported (1999), “The federal government, for example, offers financial incentives in the form of tax credits to families who privately adopt infants (and who are often affluent), yet does not offer the same support to those families who adopt children in foster care (and who usually have the greatest need for such support). Is it ethical that intermediaries and those least in need benefit the most from these tax credits?”
“Today’s reality,” comments Joe Kroll, executive director of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) “is that the original intent of the adoption tax credit legislation has been turned upside down. Those who most need support to adopt (lower-income families who are adopting children from foster care) are receiving the least benefit, and those for whom the financial outlay is not a barrier to adoption benefit the most.” Elizabeth Samuels (2005) likewise found that “federal tax benefits for adopters generally provide greater benefits to families involved in more expensive healthy newborn and international adoptions, although the benefits are promoted as a means to increase adoptions of children out of foster care.”
And, as with state incentives, these funds are allocated to adopters but are not available to assist families in crisis who are instead stigmatized if they need and or accept government financial assistance. Nor are tax credits available for extended family who care for a related child.
Exportation of American Children
While Americans are adopting allegedly unwanted orphans from impoverished orphanages, in larger number than those of any other country, plans are underway to increase the adoption of our own children who are fostered and institutionalized in small orphanages called group homes… by exporting them.
Placing American born children out of the country is nothing new. Quietly, approximately19 states including Oregon, Washington, California, Texas, Florida, New Hampshire, and Arkansas allow “home state finalization” for the outgoing international adoption of U.S. children. The U.S. State Department indicates that seventeen American adoption agencies have been accredited or temporarily accredited under the new Hague rules for outgoing adoptions. Some, American based adoption agencies such as VidaAdoptions.org and IllienAdoptions.org, have included exportation of children as rates of international adoptions into the U.S. have dropped post Hague.
The process has been called “reverse commute adoptions” by attorney Michael Goldstein and his social worker wife, Joy, founders of Forever Families Through Adoption (FFTA), who claim to have placed some 65 American born babies for adoptions out of the U.S. between 1997 to 2007. Some of Goldstein’s adoptions have been high profile cases such as two American babies adopted by British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and his wife.
Additional international demand for U.S. born children is currently being created by same sex couples in Europe who see America as the perfect source inasmuch as it is currently the only country which allows––in at least some states––for adoption by same sex couples. But these type of adoptions and those conducted by FFTAs are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Donaldson Adoption Institute estimates the current number of children exported from the U.S. for adoption at 500 a year (Smolowe, 1994) while Thomas DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services in Virginia puts the number of American children exported for adoption at “[a]pproximately 800” a year going to “Canada, Mexico and France,” adding that Irish families who wish to adopt privately from the U.S. are also free to do so (Palmer 2008). In 2008 189 American children were adopted by Canadians, second only to China.
Intercountry adoption has traditionally been divided into sending and receiving countries with the senders being nations under political and social unrest or entrenched in widespread poverty making incomprehensible the out of country placement of children born in America—an industrialized stable nation with millions vying to adopt and taking children from all over the world.
The redistribution of children is frowned upon by NGOs such as Save the Children. Sarah Jacobs, Save the Children’s Africa specialist, working on issues of child protection, hunger, health and education asserts that “children are much better looked after, even if they’ve lost their parents, within their home communities.” Dominic Nutt, spokesperson for Save the Children UK concurs (CNN, 2009) on opposing Madonna’s Malawian adoption: “children in poverty should be best looked after by their own people in their own environment.”
Likewise, Roelie Post (2008), of the European Commission, who has an intimate knowledge of the exportation of Romanian children and defines herself as neither pro- not anti-adoption, asks: “is intercountry adoption a child protection measure, or do children have rights in their own country and is intercountry adoption the ultimate breach of such rights?”
Proponents of the redistribution of children in and out of the U.S. have a clear financial stake in adoptions and have persuaded well-meaning organizations and politicians that the need to perpetuate all of these adoptions is noble. They claim that nations such the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Great Britain—all of which have adopted American children—have less issue with adopting non-white children than do Americans, pointing to reports that indicate African American children are over represented in national foster care, have to wait a long time for permanent placements, and leave institutional care at an older age. During the time adoption and reunification are being weighed and options sought, non-white infants remain foster care, often in several families or homes, notes those in the Netherlands and elsewhere eager to obtain such children.
The Dutch Minister of Justice, Hirsch Ballin, is quite mindful of American adoption trends and polices and has argued that Americans are less inclined to adopt children over the age of five—as are the majority of adoptable children in U.S. foster care. And thus would be suitable for Dutch adoption. Additionally, a recent Dutch petition pointed out that foster families in the U.S. often have as many as six l children at a time, breaching the principles of the Hague Adoption Treaty. Conversely, the pursuit of younger babies than are available to be adopted domestically is what drives U.S. citizens to prefer to adopt internationally.
Once again children in foster care—America’s most vulnerable—are being used to support the adopting infants who have never been in state care. Goldstein, in fact, claims that most of the children he places out of the country, like those adopted by the Milibands are “healthy white Caucasians” (The Rye Chronicle, 2007). Additionally, the The Texas Cradle places 10 to 20 percent of American children with wealthy Mexicans who seek white children.
Babies are being kidnapped, stolen or coerced from their mothers and trafficked to meet the demand (Smolin, 2007) while older children, and children with disabilities are left behind and are like a lost leader in advertising to push the sale of the higher priced goods––younger and presumably healthier babies.
How large a community should it take to share the responsibility of children in need? With adoption in the hands of entrepreneurs in a “free market,” which is more often than not a fair market, who is advocating for the interests of these voiceless victims? Is passing them around ever in their best interest? Is it as some opponents say, cultural genocide to sever children form family, extended kinship or is it preferable to remaining in institutions or foster care within their own culture?
Hw do we justify using our most needy children as “fronts” to promote adoptions that do nothing to help the children in the most need here and abroad? “The most vulnerable children are not the group most in demand for international adoption. Demand is focused on quite a small group of under three-year olds, where the number of potential parents far exceeds the supply of children,” according to Riitta Högbacka, University of Helsinki, Finland (2006).
When reviewing the pros and cons, it is imperative to consider the financial motivation of those weighing in as “experts” on what is best for children. Adoption practitioners including, but not limited to, attorneys? Lobbyists? Professional marketers? None of these actors have any specific education or training in child care of social services and their income is derived directly or indirectly from non-relatives placement of children. Save the Children, on the other hand, spends 92% on services and just 4% on fundraising and another 4% on management and all other expenditures.
ACT for Adoption is right on target when they state that children being dislocated from their families “have no seat at the policy table, and no voice.” Their claim, however, that their pro-adoption position speaks for or represents the children whose custody is being transferred assumes that children want advocates who support adoption over helping their families overcome non-endangering problems and remain intact.
Many pro-adoption organizations as Donaldson (which recently partnered with LifeCare to encourage employer benefits in support of adoption) and Ehica want to see adoptions, including international continue, as long as they are ethical. However other than agreeing that child trafficking needs to be curbed, there are few guidelines for what is ethical and what is not, rendering the word as meaningless and subjective as the word nice. Ignoring and exploiting our treatment of our tiniest and most at-risk victims—our foster children—is neither nice nor ethical.
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. 1999. Money, Power and Accountability: The “Business” of Adoption. Conference summary Anaheim, November.
Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. International Fact Sheet International Adoption in the U.S. Prompted by War, Poverty and Social Upheaval.
Hilborn, Robin, “2008 jump in international adoptions to Canada: latest statistics” Adoption Helper.
Högbacka, Riitta. 2006. “The Global Market for Adoption.” SixDegrees. Feb 22.
Kroll, Joe. 2007. “The Adoption Tax Credit: An Ethical Dilemma” Fall Adoptalk North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC).
National Council for Adoption. 2007. Adoption Facebook IV.
Oreskovi, Johanna and Maskew, Trish. 2009. Red Thread1 Or Slender Reed: Deconstructing Prof. Bartholet’s Mythology of International Adoption. Buffalo Human Rights Law Review. Vol. 14.
Plmer, Caitriona 2008. “So you want to adopt a baby … then head to the United States where it’s an easier, but more expensive, process than in Ireland.” January 2.
Post, Roelie 2008. “The Perverse Effects Of The Hague Adoption Convention” Research Center of Ministry of Justice.
Samuels, Elizabeth. 2005. Time To Decide? The Laws Governing Mothers’ Consents To The Adoption Of Their Newborn Infants. 72 Tenn. Law Rev.
Smolin, David 2007. Child Laundering as Exploitation: Applying Anti—Trafficking Norms to Intercountry Adoption Under the Coming Hague Regime, Vermont Law Review.
Smolowe, Jill, 1994. “Babies for Export,” Time, Aug. 22,
TCB Chronicles Staff. 2007. “Dorothy’s Never Coming Home: New Law Puts Families in Crisis: States Report They are Increasing Efforts to Take Children From Their Homes to Collect Federal Bounty” From CPS Watch, ©2000. Oct.
Wexler, Richard. 2006. “‘Family Last’ Policy May Have Killed Ricky.” Detroit News, March 8.
UNAIDS, 2004. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “Children on the brink 2004: a joint report of new orphan Estimates and a Framework for Action.”